Lisa Persche

May 16, 2011

Lately my eldest daughter has been asking about her great-grandmothers. I've been digging out photos and telling her what I can about those on my side of the family.

Unfortunately I didn't know my maternal grandmother, whose name was Mary. She was born in Prince Edward Island on Christmas Day, the second child of French Canadian parents. Following her marriage to my grandfather (14 years her senior), she moved to southern Ontario where some good friends had settled.

She and Grandpa raised a son and a daughter, adopted almost two decades apart. Not many children were available for adoption in those days, and you were lucky to get even one.

When Grandpa developed a health condition that made it difficult to work at the predominant kinds of labour, Grandma went out and got a full-time job, initially in a grocery store and then a department store.

They moved to an apartment building where Grandpa functioned as superintendent, cooked their meals, performed household chores and cared for my mother before and after school (her brother was grown by then).


Grandma liked to cook on weekends and do handwork, including sewing and crocheting. A devout Catholic, she was actively involved in her parish community and was a founding member of its Catholic Women's League. Being an avid reader, she maintained subscriptions to several Catholic newspapers and magazines.

Her faith sustained her through difficult times, including the accidental death of her brother, the infant death of her first child, an inability to bear more children and almost losing custody of my mother before her adoption was finalized.

Sadly, Grandma developed cancer and died during Mom's teenage years. She experienced excruciating pain during her final days in hospital but did her best to conceal it, in an effort to spare loved ones from witnessing her suffering.

That's the kind of person she was: concerned about others and courageously accepting of what she couldn't change, trusting in God's goodness and his divine plan for her.

My other grandmother, also named Mary, was one of seven children, born and raised in Austria. When she wasn't in school or toiling on the family farm, her social Life centred on the village church, attended by her family on Sundays and the many feast days that were celebrated.

Grandma came to Canada at age 22, securing employment as a domestic worker in Edmonton, then Montreal, until her marriage a few years later. She bore 13 children over the next 20 years. That's 10 more than I have - and I feel my hands are full.


I can't imagine how she managed, especially without the conveniences today's mothers take for granted - such as automatic washers and dryers - and given their modest-sized family home, now considered a starter house.

She was still raising children when my sisters and I were growing up; since my dad was the oldest of her offspring.

Eventually her grandchildren numbered more than 30. She was one busy lady, throughout her life.

Yet she didn't appear frazzled and was never known to complain, despite the self-sacrifice her life involved. In fact, she used to remark how blessed she was to have so many children, all healthy (she had lost a brother and sister to illness when they were 16 months and 13 years old respectively).

When Grandma turned 80 (by then a widow), the family rented a hall for a special celebration. One of her daughters prepared a biography and presented it in This is Your Life fashion.


To excerpt: "No doubt your many tiring and strenuous times as a young farm girl back home and out West prepared you for the tremendous challenge and responsibility of caring for so many so well, day after day.

"Without your rich faith and trust in God's provision, you would be the first to admit, you couldn't have done it alone. Tough times made you rely all the more on your Heavenly Father and drew you closer to him."

What a wonderful legacy of caring, service and faith both my grandmothers left behind. My parents are continuing it.

I hope and pray my children, and future grandchildren, will be able to say the same about me someday.

(Lisa Petsche is a mother of three and a freelance writer specializing in family life.)