WCR FILE PHOTO

Providence sisters, associates and volunteers serve the hungry at the Anawim Food Bank.

October 29, 2012
ELOI DE GRACE
SPECIAL TO THE WCR

Mother Emilie Gamelin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence, lived in Montreal from 1800 to 1851. Her parents taught her to help those who were needy or suffering.

Her own life taught her, too, what it was to be needy and suffering; she lost her parents when she was very young and had to rely on the charity of relatives for care and education. She had a happy and prosperous marriage, but her husband and her three children died within a few years.

The young widow put all her energy and finances into helping the poor, sick and oppressed. She organized with other lay women to form an organization, the Ladies of Charity, to care for the sick poor, to visit political prisoners and to provide a home for orphans and homeless elderly women.

Ignace Bourget, Bishop of Montreal, founded a community of sisters in 1843 so that Emilie Gamelin's works of charity would continue even after her death. Bourget told the Sisters of Providence that it was their calling to respond to the multiple needs of the poor by meeting needs not met by others.

Mother Gamelin died on Sept. 23, 1851. In 1981, her cause was introduced in Rome and she was beatified on Oct. 7, 2001.

The sisters founded by Mother Gamelin are an international community serving in Canada, the United States, El Salvador, Haiti, Chile, Argentina, the Philippines, Egypt and Cameroon.

In their many ministries, they are united by their deep faith, total confidence in providence and compassion for those they serve. Today the Sisters of Providence live from a worldwide vision, attentive to creation and the needs of the poor.

The sisters first came to Western Canada in 1886 to establish Saint Mary's Hospital in New Westminster, B.C. From there, they were called to serve at many other locations in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Yukon, caring for the basic needs of children, the sick and the elderly.

The houses of the Sisters of Providence in North America were first organized into entities known as provinces in 1891.

By 1912, the community had grown so much that reorganization was needed, creating the new Province of Holy Angels with 14 missions in Western Canada. The headquarters of the new province moved twice before settling at Lacombe Home, Midnapore, Alta., in 1920, then moving to Providence Centre, Edmonton, in 1965.

The sisters are celebrating the 100th anniversary of Holy Angels Province, the administrative region for Western Canada.

RURAL AREAS

The sisters served mostly in rural areas where for years it was difficult to get qualified help in their work. They taught in 21 localities in the West.

They founded and/or worked in 11 hospitals, some small like Sacred Heart Hospital in McLennan and larger ones like St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver and Saint Mary's Hospital in New Westminster.

The sisters were also involved in founding child care centres and long-term care residences for the elderly. The best known currently is Father Lacombe Care Centre, Calgary, which is descended from the Lacombe Home, founded in 1909.

Today the sisters in Western Canada provide for the needs of the marginalized and vulnerable by working with existing social, education and health care organizations.

In British Columbia, although no sisters are employed in hospitals they are involved in health care through boards and societies.

In northern Alberta, the sisters minister in pastoral care in McLennan and serve as pastoral animators in Wabasca.

In Edmonton, they have their provincial administration at Providence Centre and actively support Providence Renewal Centre, a retreat/conference centre.

Anawim Place, an inner city food bank, is a favourite place of ministry for the sisters. They also serve in the justice system as prison chaplain and Cantonese-English interpreter for the courts.

MINISTRIES

For almost 30 years, the sisters have been actively involved with St. Mark's Catholic Community of the Deaf. In Calgary, they minister at Father Lacombe Care Centre, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chinese Parish and Agape Hospice.

Providence Associates also serve in Western Canada. They are lay women and men who share the mission and spirituality of the Sisters of Providence, but are not members of the congregation.

Providence Associates and the Sisters of Providence enrich each other and the people of God through their sharing of Gospel values and growth in the work of providence.

The Sisters of Providence have an archives and Heritage Room located at Providence Centre. Documents of enduring importance kept in the archives are the memory of the sisters' work and activities as good and faithful stewards wherever they served.

Also the Heritage Room, showing artefacts connected with the sisters' ministries in Western Canada, testifies visibly to their works, re-visiting the past and linking us to the future.