WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Honoured sisters crowd in front of the Service Through Christ statue on the Legislature Grounds.
EDMONTON — It was an emotional Premier Ed Stelmach whose eyes filled with tears Sept. 28 as he spoke of the powerful impact of religious sisters in his life.
Stelmach unveiled the three-metre statue, prominently displayed in front of the Legislature, that honours the contribution of Alberta’s orders of religious women in building the province.
The premier began his talk by giving glory to God and said that without the sisters’ influence and teaching he would not be premier today.
“There are tremendous bonds in communities and we have to learn from the past, the roots,” he said. “If we want to know where we’re going as a province in the future, we always have to look back to the past.”
Alberta’s first Catholic premier will soon step down from his position and the dedication of the statue will be one of his last acts as head of the government.
The bronze statue, created by St. Paul artist Henry Poulin, evokes the loving presence of the Virgin Mary. The sister figure is dressed in traditional attire. Wearing an apron as she moves forward, she symbolizes the ready service through action.
“Their strength, their faith and compassion is still inspiring all of us 150 years later,” Stelmach said of the religious women.
“I know that the services they established in this great province are still serving Albertans today and we can certainly look forward and constantly remind ourselves of the immense power of humanity.”
Forty-nine cities and towns in Alberta owe their origins to the Catholic sisters, who demonstrated practical wisdom in building hospitals, opening schools and orphanages, and providing social welfare programs during challenging times.
To honour them, Covenant Health led the Catholic Sisters’ Legacy Recognition Project in collaboration with Edmonton’s other Catholic agencies.
Their resilient spirit helped build Alberta long before it became a province, said Gordon Self, vice-president of mission, ethics and spirituality for Covenant Health.
The statue will be an enduring reminder of how all Albertans display compassion and generosity through selfless service to those in need, Self said.
The prosperity enjoyed in Alberta today is largely due to the gifts, vision and risk-taking spirit of ordinary Albertans who see a need and respond graciously to meet it, he said.
“Time and time again the Catholic sisters embody this practical service, infused with the love of Christ, challenging all of us to carry their legacy forward in the work we are each called to do,” said Self.
Like many of the sisters being honoured at the event, Sister Réjeanne Beaulieu, a Sister of Charity of Notre-Dame d’Evron, was brimming with pride after the premier unveiled the statue.
WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Premier Ed Stelmach remembered the profound impact sisters had on his life.
“I think it’s wonderful because the sisters have really contributed a lot, and they are being recognized, so it’s just marvellous,” Beaulieu said.
“I feel that I am a part of having built Canada and the province of Alberta,” she told the WCR.
Throngs of sisters and other visitors at the unveiling studied the statue, viewed the symbols in the stained glass, and were overjoyed to have their pictures taken with it.
The stained glass that the nun statue holds contains four symbols that express the heart of the sisters’ mission.
The sun symbolizes warmth, healing and light. The cross represents Service through Christ, the name of the statue. The chalice and host represent strength, nourishment and sustenance. The cradle signifies security, comfort and love.
“The statue is beautiful and it means a lot, very significant,” said Beaulieu, as many sisters crowded around the monument. “Hopefully we’ll get to see it closer when there aren’t so many people around.”
Students from Sister Annata Brockman School raised a banner at the celebration that read: “We love Sister Annata Brockman!”
“I am very grateful, and it is wonderful recognition,” Brockman said about the statue.