Sr. Rosaleen Zdunich
Deemed a Canadian pioneer for her work in fostering strong ecumenical and interfaith connections between diverse people and communities, Sister Rosaleen Zdunich will receive the highest honour the Province of Alberta has to offer.
Shortly after Vatican II, ecumenism became a stronger focus in the Church. This important work took people like Zdunich to make it progress. A friend recently introduced her as "one of the architects of interfaith."
For more than three decades of work in this area, Zdunich will be honoured Oct. 17 with the Alberta Order of Excellence.
"I had the opportunity to really establish a lot in the archdiocese and in the city in both ecumenism and interfaith. I started in this work about 30 years ago. Things were moving in ecumenism but moving slowly," said Zdunich.
Her parents inspired her to value harmony among people of different faiths.
"I grew up in a home where my parents instilled in me, by their example, respect for all people. My parents never turned anyone away who came to our door," said Zdunich, who is with the Sisters of Our Lady of the Cross.
Her innovative efforts, foremost as a full-time teacher, involved directing the archdiocesan Ecumenical Commission.
She was also the founding coordinator of the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action, an organization she served for 10 years.
Both the archdiocesan office for ecumenism and interfaith as well as the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action operated out of her home until official offices were established.
"My work is part of the history of the archdiocese, and I think it is appropriate and wonderful that this work is being recognized during the jubilee year of the archdiocese," said Zdunich.
Her ideas have led her to organizing many ecumenical events and activities.
Most recently she has been leading the Phoenix Multifaith Society for Harmony, a Jewish/Christian/Muslim organization. Her work with these organizations offers powerful models for the growing movement to encourage peace in our communities and the world.
"I am still frequently requested to sit on interfaith panels and give the Christian perspective. But most of all I give presentations, 'How do we as Christians enter the multifaith world?'" she said.
A turning point in her life came in 1975 when she traveled to Israel and studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, becoming more acquainted with the Jewish traditions. When she returned to Alberta, she wanted young Catholics to be more familiar with those same religious practices, so she arranged educational trips for both students and adults to the synagogue.
"With the Ecumenical Commission, I worked with a wonderful group of members. We organized many Saturday dialogues with Lutherans and Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Roman Catholics. We organized the first institute in ecumenism," she said.
In 1986 she coordinated, along with Archbishop Joseph MacNeil and a rabbi from Beth Shalom Synagogue, a prayer dialogue service among Catholics and the Jewish people.
Another first came in 1990 when she worked with the social justice committee to coordinate the inaugural Gulf War prayer service, which included Jewish people, Christians and Muslims praying together. The event attracted media from across Canada.
A modest woman, Zdunich focuses this prestigious honour on her ecumenical and interfaith work, and not on herself.
"I always worked with committees. I never did this work by myself. I always had the support from the archbishop and the priests. I couldn't have done it without all of their help, and the help of the other sisters and the laypeople," she said.
Zdunich is one of eight Albertans to receive the honour this year. The others are Robert Hironaka, Roger Jackson, Irving Kipnes, Griffin Lloyd, Preston Manning, Ronald Southern and Robert Westbury.