Jeannette Romaniuk, 90, penned her book to raise money for the city's homeless.

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

Jeannette Romaniuk, 90, penned her book to raise money for the city's homeless.

July 4, 2011
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

EDMONTON — Jeannette Romaniuk had a passion to help the homeless.

"My sister and I were obsessed with the plight of the homeless in Edmonton," said Romaniuk.

The two came up with ideas for helping them — buying a farm where homeless people could live and grow vegetables; buying empty buildings in which they could live. But none were feasible.

Finally, she started selling the paperback copies of the story of her family, Gathering Roses Among the Thorns, for $20 apiece and hardcover copies for $25. She donated the proceeds from her book sales to causes that help the homeless.

"Soon I had book signings and interviews at churches and shopping centres. Money kept coming in. Before I knew it, I had $4,000. I knew it was only a drop in the ocean," she said.

Book sales are now nearing $11,000, most of which has gone to the Edmonton Inner City Housing Society, with another $1,000 going to the Champion's Centre, and $1,000 to the Greater Edmonton Alliance.

She also arranged for Denis Grady, a gospel country singer from Calgary, to put on fundraiser concerts at St. Charles and St. Alphonsus churches. Grady is known for raising money for the street people of Calgary. About $3,000 was raised at the two concerts.

"The money is a token of my gratitude for all of the blessings that the Almighty has showered upon me," she said.

Employed with Edmonton Catholic Schools for 37 years, she taught at St. Kevin, St. Gerard, St. Vladimir, St. Rita and St. Timothy schools. She retired in 1984.

MOTHER'S STORY FIRST

Romaniuk, 90, got into writing 10 years ago when she wrote the life story of her mother. Her mother was an intellectual woman, poor financially, but rich in spiritual gifts. She was talented in music and drama and was the social butterfly of any community she lived in.

So, at age 80, Romaniuk, a member of St. Charles Parish, learned how to use a computer and started writing.

"A woman with that many gifts and such a story should not be forgotten," she said. "I couldn't let her die without telling her story."

The book, Bread Upon the Waters, was self-published in English and French. About 200 copies were distributed to family and friends who requested it.

"It talks about the difficulties and the joys of being raised on nothing material, but a great deal of riches spiritually," said Romaniuk.

She has seven children and an adopted child, raising all of them on her own. After reading her first book, her children thirsted for more, and wanted to know their own mother's story as well.

It took several years, but Romaniuk completed a second 384-page book, Gathering Roses Among the Thorns.

Again she self-published a handful of hardcover copies for friends and relatives. Then she contacted a B.C.-based publisher, Trafford Publishing. The book was published as a paperback in June 2008.

Gathering Roses tells the heroic struggles and hardships of Romaniuk's family, times when there was no respite between one calamity and the next. Her story is that of incredible courage, resilience and unwavering tenacity when confronted by seemingly impossible circumstances.

"When we're in a desperate situation, the Good Lord takes over. We're not really doing it all by ourselves. It was almost a miracle that we scraped through," said Romaniuk.

"Now my children are a treasure in my heart. I don't have much money, but I have a lot of treasures."

Her efforts on behalf of the homeless have not been without criticism. Many have told her that homeless people choose the street life and they get what they deserve. Moreover, some homeowners do not want low-income housing in their neighbourhood because it lessens the resale value of their homes.

Even her own children passed judgment on Romaniuk's cause. At times they have questioned whether giving the book profits to the homeless is the best idea. Since all of her children persevered through tough times and had a determination to succeed, they believed everybody should do the same.

CHILDREN QUESTION

"My children ask whether it's a valuable project because they feel that it's their own fault for being on the street.

"But who are we to judge?" asked Romaniuk. "It's true that a certain percentage of them are shiftless, but most of them are out there because of circumstances beyond their control."

Her own children are hard workers, and this led to much success in life. But for those with mental illness, physical handicaps or addictions, Romaniuk realizes finding a job and a home proves difficult.

"I know that if a child of mine was living on the street, I wouldn't want them freezing to death — even if it was their own fault," she said.

She is working on a third book, a novel. She described the main character as the embodiment of Paul Bunyan and Evil Knievel who endures many "crazy exploits." Again, all proceeds will go to helping the homeless.

"That's what I want to spend the rest of my life doing," she says, "raising money for the homeless."