Srs. Ann Coster and Henriette Morin enact a skit about human trafficking.

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

Srs. Ann Coster and Henriette Morin enact a skit about human trafficking.

May 23, 2011
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

EDMONTON — The Grey Nuns, Sisters of Providence, Faithful Companions of Jesus and other religious orders of women have been working in Alberta for more than 150 years, since well before Alberta was a province.

Sisters were responsible for active ministry in hospitals, schools, churches and isolated communities. Over the years, the roles of consecrated women have changed.

The 1940s and 1950s were a time for vocations, functioning religious communities and active seminaries. Following the Second Vatican Council, new structures were established in the Church, including parish councils and the council of priests.

As part of the Vatican II renewal, Archbishop Joseph MacNeil approved the formation of the Sisters' Council in 1974 as a way for women of all religious orders to get together.

VOICES GREW

In an era when women were reclaiming their place in the world, the council gave women religious a more prominent voice in the Church. They influenced policy, and played a more significant role in archdiocesan decision-making.

The Sisters Council changed its name to Council of Women Religious and, in 2008, to Council of Consecrated Women. The council held its annual meeting May 13-14 at Providence Renewal Centre.

In attendance was Sister Cornelia Ramirez, with the Religious of the Virgin Mary, originally from the Philippines. She does sacramental preparation at St. Theresa's Parish in the Millwoods area.

"Coming to this (council meeting) helps me to deepen my spiritual life. It gives me the opportunity to meet other sisters from different congregations," said Ramirez.

The meeting included a memorial for recently deceased members, updates from individual orders, and Eucharist with Archbishop Richard Smith.

With many sisters retiring and congregation numbers diminishing, sisters' roles have changed from generations ago. Now the focus is more on working together and supporting one another as sisters in Christ, regardless of what congregation they belong to.

Margot Bilodeau, with the secular institute of the Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, said attendance for council meetings varies from year to year. The main speaker seems to be a determining factor in how many consecrated women show up.

After listening to O'Reilly's talk, Hope in the Midst of Darkness, Bilodeau wished that the council meeting was open to more people, not only consecrated women but especially young people contemplating a religious vocation.

Bilodeau often meets young women who are searching, and she helps guide them in their discernment.

"There are young people today who are interested in committing their lives to Christ," remarked Bilodeau.

SPIRITUAL SUPPORT

While not a sister herself, Rose Pham and sisters from Vietnam formed Marguerite of Universal Charity Society, a non-profit organization that provides charity to the marginalized and poor. She attended the council meeting to interact with more sisters.

"I like the sisters here, and they really touch my soul. Sometimes I feel in the darkness, but if we pray and have hope, I have experienced the support of spirituality very necessary," said Pham.

She does social work and family counselling in the inner city. She enjoys working alongside the sisters because they provide comfort and assurance when needed.

"If the people around me recognize my strength, it is really good for me. They encourage me when I feel that I am underground, and they give me a nice push," said Pham.