Published on October 08, 2013
While moving to Green Lake in the 1940s, a group of Sisters of the Presentation along with some Métis people load supplies onto a wagon.
Published on October 08, 2013
A group of Sisters of the Presentation of Mary sit in a canoe at Green Lake in the 1940s.
Published on October 08, 2013
The Sisters of the Presentation of Mary take a ride in a sleigh after moving to Western Canada.
Published on October 08, 2013
One of the first houses the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary had when they moved to Western Canada.
It is a huge project more than 100 years in the making.
The Sisters of the Presentation of Mary are working on a history book for the 100-plus years they have been in Canada.
The idea for the history book came from Sr. Lise Paquette, the Prince Albert provincial superior.
“I felt it was time to write our history,” Paquette said. “I feel that our history is important to share with the people we have been with in the places we have lived in. I thought it was time to write down our history because it will never be done (otherwise).”
At first she asked Sr. Albina Labonté to write the book but when they discovered how large the project was Therese Jelinski, former journalist and author of “My Mom Lives Here,” was brought onboard.
“It is quite the undertaking,” said Monica Bayda, one of the Presentation of Mary’s Heritage Committee members. “I think it is wonderful that the sisters kept so much documentation. The history is there. A lot of organizations will destroy it about after seven years and keep housecleaning. The Sisters just don’t so that.”
The Sisters have archives going back before their time in Canada -- in fact some of the material dates back to the 1700s in France when Sr. Marie Rivier first founded the congregation.
“We had written on a day-by-day or week-by-week, the important events, the things that struck us that were meaningful, the comings and goings,” Labonté said. “Some of it is not useful for what we are doing now, but it is all in there. You have to read miles of (archives) to find the just of it, but it is all there since 1903.”
There are not only archives from the sister who lived in Prince Albert -- there are journals from Duck Lake, Marcelin, Le Pas, Prince Albert, Wakaw, Laurier, St. Lazare, Zenon Park, Green Lake, Debden, Manning, Spiritwood, St. Boniface, Bellevue, Makwa, Vawn, Albertville, Winnipeg, Melfort, North Battleford, Whitefish and Regina.
“Everything from (all the communities) we have copies of hand written (journals),” Labonté said. “We have been going through that. The first ones are amazing because they are written in the script of the French sisters, Their script is more curly-cue, more fancy than ours, and difficult to read.”
“There are a lot of felling in the past (journals),” Paquette said. “Now, the ones we write are very practical.”
“We tend to just give the facts,” Labonté added. “They expressed how they felt when they arrived and when disaster struck. They talked about flu epidemics and measles epidemics in the communities.”
Sr. Beverly Pillar, Sr. Gertrude Lareau and Sr. Patricia Brochu have all been helping Labonté go through the archives to supply Jelinski with material.
Not only is Jelinski using material from the archives, she is also adding to the history with facts about the communities the Sisters worked.
“She has done a fair amount of research herself as she went along, especially to tie our story with the story of the towns,” Labonté said. “She has done a lot of that on her own. She goes to archives, libraries, websites … she is good that way.”
Since she is adding that information as well, the book will not just be about the Sisters journey.
“This will make the book not alone about the Sisters’ lives,” Bayda said. “It will be about the community as well. It will appeal to a lot of readership.”
“She really puts it really in context of the history because we originated in France,” Paquette said. “That context is there, from France to Quebec, then Western Canada.”
Jelinski also had the opportunity to visit France where Rivier lived, which enhanced her understanding of the founder.
“The first chapter, which is France, Quebec and coming here, is not very long compared to chapter two, which is the beginnings of life in Canada,” Labonté said. “It sets the stage for what we are, who we are, why we came, who inspired this kind of involvement, our foundress.”
Rivier founded the congregation in response to the needs of the people during the French Revolution, Paquette said. When they came to Canada, the Sisters continued to respond to the needs of others.
“When we came to Quebec and Western Canada, there was a need for education and always some health care,” Paquette said. “We always worked with the poor and how do you work with the poor? Give them an education to give them a voice. That’s what the religious communities have done and that’s what we did and still do.”
For many years, the Sisters were involved in small town schools and were the only teachers and principals in the schools, the Sisters explained. Eventually laywomen, and even later men, started to work with them.
“The communities have a great love for the sisters because you were always there for the communities,” Bayda said. “In times of trouble they came to them a lot.”
Now they have many associates, who are not part of the convent, but share the Sisters’ spirituality and love of Rivier.
“They are helping continue the mission we have been given,” Paquette said. “It has been good because for years we maybe thought we could do it alone but events say we cannot do this alone. We’ve always been with the people of the towns and villages, close to them, but we are sharing that mission or gospel.”
The associates have even continued carrying out the Sisters mission after they were no longer able to continue providing a service in the community.
Since they have such an enormous history, a history book is very important to the Sisters still in Prince Albert.
“I just felt I loved my community and it needed to be done,” Paquette said. “The younger ones don’t have a sense of that history yet.”
“Some of the Sisters have died whose brains we need here today,” Labonté said.
Many other communities of Sisters have already written their histories, which is another reason it was important to Paquette to get theirs written.
“This one is, as we say, long overdue,” Bayda said. “Archives are wonderful, but all the information is in boxes and no one gets to read it. Once in a while it is taken out, put on display and then it is put away again for another 25 years.
“When you publish a book, it can sit on a coffee table or in a library and you can browse through it. I love history books,” she added. “Once a book is published, it is out there for the people to enjoy. I’m looking forward to reading this book.”
Labonté, who has been working on the book since its inception, recently went back to read what has already been written.
“I went back and read the first chapters and surprised myself,” Labonté said. “It is good. There are some parts of the story I didn’t live obviously. It happened before I was here. It is fascinating to find out, the history of the sisters and how much courage they had and how much trouble. The sisters were very tough.”
“It will be a wonderful book and a must for any person who is a friend of the Sisters, a former student, family, anybody,” Bayda said. “We are taking preregistration. We want to stress that.”
Anyone who is interested in preregistered for a copy of the book is encouraged to contact Bayda at 306-764-4828 or email her at email@example.com.
“What we are endeavouring to do is reach out to friends, family and former students of the sisters to let them know we are publishing this book,” Bayda said.
They have had difficulties getting in contact with many former students of the Sisters, Bayda said.
“That is not the problem but a challenge to be able to reach out and contact them to let them know we are publishing this book,” Bayda said. “There are only going to be so many books published and we don’t want people disappointed. Once they are published, that is it. There is not going to be a second (edition).”
The amazing foundress
In the first chapter of the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary’s history book explains not only the journey a group of Sister took to Canada, but also explains the amazing woman who founded the order.
Jelinski describes Sr. Marie Rivier as courageous although she “stood less than four feet, seven inches tall and was physically disabled and frail.”
The tiny woman was “hardly the type of person one would expect to rally others and attract fervent followers” but yet “demonstrated enormous courage, a prophetic faith and a clear vision that continues to inspire people today” and “her bravery and organizational talents have been compared to Napoleon.”
Rivier not only had to fight for her beliefs, but also stand up to the French soldiers as she founded the Presentation of Mary during the French Revolution.
This inspirational women is still the cornerstone of the Sisters in Prince Albert, who look up to her example at all times.
“We are where we came from,” Paquette said. “Our geographic affects us and it is a very rugged country where she is from. She had the ruggedness of persistence and faith to go with it … I think we like who we are and where we came from.”
She is not only a role model for the Sisters, but all women, Bayda said.
“She is a great inspiration to young women,” Bayda said. “The spirit of Marie Rivier lives in the sisters.”