Sr. Mary Alban Bouchard spent 20 years walking with the poor in Haiti.

PHOTO | COURTESY OF SISTERS OF ST. JOSEPH

Sr. Mary Alban Bouchard spent 20 years walking with the poor in Haiti.

October 7, 2013
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Sister Mary Alban Bouchard has been called a prophet in our midst and a courageous woman who dedicated her life to the cause of peace and social justice.

The Sister of St. Joseph of Toronto, who spent time in Edmonton in the early 1980s, walked, fasted, prayed, wrote and spoke against the development of nuclear weapons and spent more than two decades helping the poorest of the poor of Haiti.

Bouchard died peacefully Sept. 10 in the 65th year of her religious life. She was 81.

It was a 1978 meeting in New York with the Hibakusha – the survivors of the American atomic bombs dropped on Japan – that made Bouchard a fierce proponent for peace, Toronto Star writer Antonia Zerbisias wrote Sept. 16.

As Bouchard would recall in 2001, "I realized more and more the importance of what was happening with the arms race and the division of the world, and the great danger that was being created by the arms race. So, I got more and more involved in the peace movement."

And so this petite member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto would lead peace education and non-violence workshops, join an anti-nuke walk from Toronto to Ottawa, organize rallies, fast for 30 days in Washington, D.C., march in front of the White House and the Pentagon and write numerous books and pamphlets on the subject, in both English and Creole, the language of Haiti, where she spent most of the past 24 years.

In 1981 Bouchard and 12 companions went on trial in Toronto for trespassing in a non-violent Holy Thursday protest on the property of Litton Systems, the company that produced the navigation system for American cruise missiles. She received a suspended sentence.

In 1982 she came to Edmonton to help her congregation plan Caritas, a private Catholic school that opened that year.

While here, she participated in local protests and went to Cold Lake to speak against the testing of cruise missiles in Alberta.

"I don't believe in any war but there is no comparison between conventional war and nuclear war," she told the WCR at the time. "There is no defence against nuclear war; that's a hoax."

Just two weeks before she died, Pax Christi Toronto presented Bouchard with its first-ever Teacher of Peace Award.

"She was a prophet in our time," said Bob McKeon, coordinator of social justice for the Edmonton Archdiocese, who met Bouchard during her stay in Edmonton. "When she was in town, she was quite a force. I'll remember her as a strong, articulate and courageous woman."

Born to homesteading parents in Saskatchewan, the youngest of eight children, Bouchard joined the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1948, at the tender age of 16. She taught for 20 years and then spent 15 years working for peace and social justice in various forms.

WRITINGS ON PEACE

Among her writings, Bouchard published Peace is Possible in 1986, Until the Son Is Risen in 1998, and Overcoming Loneliness Together: A Christian Approach in 1991.

In 1990, Bouchard went to Haiti, where she ministered until last March. Among other things, she helped women to begin micro-businesses so they could support themselves and she oversaw the building of houses for the poor.

"Mary Alban's leadership in justice and peace issues was rooted in a deep spirituality and sense of union with God," said Sister Sue Wilson of the Office for Systemic Justice for the Sisters of St Joseph of Canada.

Sister Rosemary Fry, who worked with Bouchard in Haiti, said Bouchard, gifted with interminable energy, was ready to return to Haiti when illness struck her a few months ago.