Sr. June Dwyer a YWCA 'Woman of Distinction'

  • April 29, 2010
Sr. June DwyerTORONTO - For the past 15 years, Sr. June Dwyer, 72, has been helping women escape the cycle of addiction and violence at Nazareth House, a transitional home in downtown Toronto for women and their newborns.

But the Sister of St. Joseph couldn’t believe her ears when she learned she would receive the YWCA Toronto Woman of Distinction Award for Health and Healing on May 12 for doing her job.

“I didn’t know how to feel really,” Dwyer said. “Nazareth House has done for me more than I’ve done for it in so many ways. I guess it’s a wonderful way to end this career, to know that I’ve done a good job and I’m appreciated for it. But I just feel like I’m in ministry with the Sisters of St. Joseph and this is what we do. We’re just helping women to own their own power and to be able to use that appropriately and to know that they’re really loved.”

The Women of Distinction Awards, a secular event, tries to draw attention to the contributions women make to the life of the city, with an emphasis on their commitment to women and girls. The May 12 awards dinner also serves as a fundraiser for the YWCA’s many programs for women and girls across the city that focus on issues such as self-esteem, violence prevention or offer services like housing or counselling programs for women with mental health issues. Dwyer will receive her award alongside seven other Toronto women being recognized in the areas of education, leadership, community service, mentorship, youth leadership and social justice.

Dwyer is a nurse by profession but has enjoyed working as executive director of Nazareth House, overseeing staff and residents, gathering the 11 women for daily meals and ensuring they get all the outside support they need for programs that will help their recovery.

“Her work reveals that compassion and meaningful support can empower women to live lives marked with dignity, independence and well-being,” said YWCA communications manager Raine Liliefeldt.

To former resident A.S, who didn’t want her name used, that couldn’t be more true.

“Sr. June builds community. It’s amazing. It’s an atmosphere of love,” she said. “You may only live (at Nazareth House) for a little while but it’s one of the best houses you’ll live in for a long time.”

The young mother said she came to Nazareth House grudgingly, only because Children’s Aid gave her the option of living with her newborn at the transitional home and becoming clean from her crack addiction, or losing custody of her baby. Her son was born just a week after she moved in.

“Coming here let me come home with him and start to build a bond and have a place that was safe because I never had a place that was safe in my whole life,” she said. “It taught me to live in love and safety with my son. Sr. June would say, ‘that’s all I want you to learn.’ ”

She said it was amazing having to take turns cooking supper for each other and then sitting down together. And whether a resident had a problem with knowing how to cook or containing outbursts of anger, the approach didn’t change.

“Our problems weren’t better or worse, they were just different.”

Residents stay at Nazareth House for a few months to a year, where they are close to a multitude of hospitals and rehabilitation or treatment programs. But even after they leave her care, Dwyer readily welcomes any of them back with open arms.

“After I left here I got out of an abusive relationship and I came back here and said to Sr. June I lost all my furniture and she made me a referral to the furniture bank. She’s just always been there for us,” said A.S.

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