WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Sr. Harriet Hermary, a former teacher at Theresetta School, holds two books related to the founding of the Daughters of Wisdom.
July 22, 2013
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
While the town of Castor is known for its duck and geese migration as well as its agriculture and mining industries, Sister Harriet Hermary remembers the people for their special spirit.
"They are so giving, the way they live and work together," said Hermary, a Daughter of Wisdom who taught at Theresetta School from 1958 to 1962.
Area residents, meanwhile, have fond memories of the sisters who founded the boarding school and taught there for nearly 70 years.
"Our community was blessed by their presence in so many ways," said Margie Ries Harper, a student at the school during the Depression era.
The Catholic school will celebrate its 100th anniversary with festivities Aug. 16-17.
CONVENT BOARDING SCHOOL
At one time, there were as many as 80 Daughters of Wisdom in Alberta. Today, only four remain. Hermary taught Grades 1 and 2 for a couple years at the convent boarding school, and later Grades 5 and 6.
"At the school, you had strong support from the parents," she recalls. "It was a nice place to teach.
"The school produced many teachers, many nurses."
It was common for students to leave Castor upon graduating, but it was also common for them to return either to farm, or find other work locally.
Harper, now 93, had completed Grade 9 at her country school in Willow Prairie in 1935. In contrast to the many opportunities available to women today, during that era there were three main career options: teaching, nursing and secretarial.
Harper's ambition was to train as a nurse, which required a high school diploma. This was during the Depression when money was scarce, compounded by poor crops due to the drought, the dust storms and grasshoppers.
After some deliberation, her parents decided that they would arrange for her to stay at Theresetta School. Room and board was $12 a month.
When the next school term came around, 1936-37, the Depression was even more acute.
"I thought I might take a year away from school to ease the financial strain, but thanks to Mother Superior, I was able to work off a considerable part of my room and board, as a number of the other boarding girls were doing. Some helped in the kitchen, cleaning the dormitory and school classrooms," said Harper.
The boarding students came from the surrounding communities of Heisler, Strome, Provost, Consort, Hanna, Bulwark and Veteran.
"On looking back, one cannot help but admire the efficient management of the sisters, of the fine hospital, and a boarding school program that accommodated students from elementary to high school," said Harper.
"The convent boarding school closed in 1963 and Sister Xavier was the last Daughter of Wisdom piano teacher giving lessons until June 1982."
Harper said those privileged to get a high school education, especially during the Depression years, are most grateful to the dedicated sisters.
These students boarded with the Daughters of Wisdom in the 1920s.
Brian Pedersen started teaching at the school in 2001, and has been principal for the past two years.
"It seems like an eternity ago that they (the Daughters of Wisdom) were here doing all that work.
"But in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't that long ago. Coming in as a new teacher, you do hear the stories of the school and some of the old teachers," said Pedersen.
"It's kind of neat knowing that there was this long tradition of Catholic education here, and a real rich culture."
STAYING IN TOUCH
Students recently prepared a history book that gives details of the school's colourful past. It speaks of the school's close connection with the Daughters of Wisdom, a congregation of women who have had an active presence in Alberta since 1908.
The school still has an ongoing correspondence with at least one former teacher.
"Sister Margaret (Suntjens) still sends letters to the school, and keeps a connection that way. We send her our newsletters, and she reports back, and can't believe all the things we get to do now. It's kind of a neat connection that way," said Pedersen.
Suntjens, as well as Sister Eleanora Baier and Sister Rosalie-Barbara Gaulker, who turned 104 years old, spent time at the school either as boarders or teachers, and now live at Providence Centre in Edmonton.
Today, Theresetta School remains a progressive rural Catholic school that fosters Christian values, tradition, respect, individual growth, and involvement of family and community.
Students take part in strong academic programs, athletics and fine arts, respecting the uniqueness of each child's needs and interests within a Gospel-centered environment.
"You see people (former students) coming into the office and doing little tours around the school now and then. People are in the area, and they drop by the school. Since it was renovated three years ago, they are curious to see how things have changed," said Pedersen.
FORMER STUDENT WELCOME
His hope is that some Daughters of Wisdom and more former students attend the centennial celebration.
Castor's population is less than 1,000 people. Into the 1980s, the school went up to Grade 12, but the student population was not high enough to keep the high school viable.
For about the past 25 years, the school has served students from kindergarten to Grade 9, and then they must transfer schools.
With the centennial celebration, registration and a meet-and-greet will be held Aug. 16. Some people will camp outside the school.
The next day, the mayor, a former principal and local dignitaries will give their greetings. A supper will be held at the community hall, with music, storytelling and further presentations.
"There will be old jackets and clothing and yearbooks that have been collected all the way back to when the school started. Those things will be on display, and there will be tours of the school," said Pedersen.