Published on January 26, 2014
Niece and well-wisher Mary Cusitar gives Sister Irene Ouellette a hug during her 100th birthday celebration at the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary hall.
Herald photo by Jodi Schellenberg
Published on January 26, 2014
Sister Irene Ouellette's 100th birthday cake.
Not many people know the secret to a long, happy life, but Sister Irene Ouellette may be one who does.
On Sunday, Ouellette celebrated her 100th birthday, surrounded by friends, family and those she inspired throughout her life.
Ouellette was born on Jan. 30, 1914 in a little town south of Prince Albert called Domremy. Growing up, she attended a boarding school and helped the younger girls. Soon after graduating, Ouellette felt called to be a nun and joined the Sisters of the Presentation.
“They thought when I became a sister I would be good with the girls so they put me in charge of the boarders and I did that for 21 years at Prud’Homme,” Ouellette remembered. “I love children very much.”
She was known as Mother John at the Prud’Homme boarding school.
“In French it is Mere Jean, but the English girls of course had fun with the John,” Ouellette said. “I would be outside or something and hear, ‘Mother John.’”
She loved working with the girls and staying with them at the school.
“I had sometimes 50 -- they would stay all week and go home on the weekends and then on the weekends I would have a little bit of rest and start again on Monday,” Ouellette said.
After her time in Prince Albert, Ouellette spend a year in Leoville, which she greatly enjoyed, and then went onto another small centre before heading back to Prud’Homme.
“Then I came back to Prud’Homme and we closed the school and then I went into little (communities),” Ouellette said. “There I was in charge of music and I would cook for the sisters.”
Then she was called to Prince Albert in 1963 by the Mother Superior to help with the boarding school in the city.
“They asked me to come to P.A. to take care of the girls so I came,” Ouellette said. “I had seven years with the girls, then we closed the school.”
Continuing to serve her community, Ouellette went to St. Michael’s Church, where she worked as a spiritual mentor with the priest and directed the choir.
Ouellette said her secret to living so long is just being happy.
“I think I was just happy and I loved what I was doing,” Ouellette said. “I loved those boarders like my own. I am not a person who would brood over things for days.”
She enjoys playing cards, having fun and enjoys a good joke, but mostly she just loves the people she has been surrounded by her entire life.
“I love people -- Love is my favourite word,” Ouellette said. “I love the people around me, the people I worked with.”
The hall at the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary was packed full with well-wishers of all ages coming to celebrate 100 years with Ouellette.
“I think they came because they want to show their gratitude -- they want to show that what I have been doing is worth something, it helped them,” Ouellette said. “I meet people and they say, ‘Oh Sister, when you said such and such, it went right to my heart.’ It makes me feel good.”