WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Sr. June Schlereth, left, and Sr. Teresa Schlereth, Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement, led a recent prayer session that involved painting birdhouses.
EDMONTON – Nuns who distributed food and clothing to Vancouver's most disadvantaged residents are taking on a new mission in Edmonton.
The Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement, a New York-based order, arrived in Vancouver in 1926. If they had stayed until October, it would have been an 85-year stint.
Instead, with few women joining their order, the remaining sisters left their convent last August, and relocated to Edmonton.
Sisters June and Teresa Schlereth, have come to Alberta's capital city to launch a prayer group and a prayer request phone-in.
Over the years in Vancouver, the sisters offered language programs, religious education, kindergarten classes, a clinic, and provided room and board. They also ran a daycare until 1993.
"We had a prayer ministry there. We had a group on Monday and another group on Thursday. We like to follow our Franciscan Atonement spirituality," said Sister June.
"It was time for us to go. Mostly we don't have vocations, and we are getting older. The ministry was more than just prayer. There was also a breadline and a clothing room with over 200 volunteers," said Sister Teresa.
The nuns served food to an average of 500 people per day, seven days a week, from their East Cordova Street convent, next to Oppenheimer Park on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Through the sisters' influence, many of the underprivileged men and women who stood in line for soup and sandwiches became active in everyday Church life.
Another religious order, the Missionaries of Charity, set up by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, moved into the sisters' convent to continue their work.
Their ministry kept them busy every day for 12 years. Closing down a convent was also a lot of work, and now the sisters are getting a well-deserved break.
They are using their time in prayer, reflection, readjusting to a new city and getting to know people around them at various parishes, including Santa Maria Goretti, St. Alphonsus, Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, and St. Joseph's Basilica.
Something that Sister June felt strongly about in Vancouver was the need to build a faith community that allowed people to nurture and strengthen each other.
Their dream of building a strong faith community in Edmonton is much the same, but in a different way.
For starters, they have initiated a one-hour prayer group every Monday at 10 a.m. and Thursday at 2 p.m. at 11035-92 St. This is for anyone curious about praying or growing in their faith.
There is another new component that the sisters are offering to institute.
"This will be the first time we've ever done it. Individuals will be asked to call in and request prayer," said Sister Lucinda May Patterson, chair of the Franciscan Sisters Benevolent Society.
"It's very important to be able to speak to people right then and there. Especially if they are calling in for prayer, they may need prayer at that very moment," said Sister June.
Callers might be in need of spiritual support, and the sisters would be pleased to pray with them for any special needs they are facing.
The prayer line (780-422-7263) will be open Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. until noon and 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. They are considering setting up a voicemail for the off hours so people can leave messages.
When asked about the goals of their new ministry, Sister June said, "We want to set the fire of the Holy Spirit burning here, and let it spread.
"We want to bring people into a deeper relationship with God and one another."