Bob McKeon


March 22, 2010

Last week I was invited to an interesting meeting in my inner city neighbourhood of Boyle McCauley in Edmonton. The meeting was called to plan for the upcoming celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Boyle McCauley Health Centre.

I have a personal interest in this because I was part of the initial organizing committee and a member of the first board of directors 30 years ago. The meeting was an opportunity to talk about the early history of the health centre, and particularly about the role of the Medical Mission Sisters in the organizing, and visioning during the early years of this unique community health centre.

The Medical Mission Sisters came to Edmonton in 1979 from their home base in Philadelphia. The sisters were looking to start a Canadian project, and after visiting communities across Canada, they decided to focus on Edmonton's inner city for their work.

They found a situation where the need for an inner city health centre had been well documented, and where different government officials, front-line community agencies and health practitioners were willing to support a community heath centre, but none were willing or able to take on the challenging responsibility to lead such a new initiative.


The Medical Mission Sisters, who had helped to organize community health projects in countries around the world, were willing to take up this challenge in Edmonton. However their way of operating was not to take on long-term commitments to run health facilities themselves, but rather to facilitate, train and mentor members of local communities to run their own community organizations.

This meant the sisters committed themselves to work with members of two of the poorest neighbourhoods in Edmonton to organize and operate an innovative inner city community health centre.

The sisters moved into the McCauley neighbourhood and shared the life of the local community. They brought incredible skills and vision in health care, community animation and leadership development.

Their work in Edmonton was successful. Thirty years later, the Boyle McCauley Health Centre is highly successful, making major contributions to the low-income neighbourhoods it serves and still operating under the leadership of its own community board.


Faithful to their own missionary charism, the Medical Mission Sisters left Edmonton several years later, their work completed and the local community much enriched and transformed. Other successful Edmonton community inner city agencies, such as Operation Friendship and Edmonton Inner City Housing Society, have a similar history of fruitful partnerships with members of Catholic women's religious orders.

In Canada, religious orders have been incredibly creative in finding other ways of supporting transformative initiatives in low income communities.


One example is the Canadian Alternative Investment Cooperative (, where Canadian religious orders have been the primary contributors to a multi-million dollar social investment fund which provides loans to low-income projects across Canada. Several Edmonton projects have been supported by this national fund including an inner city housing coop, mental health housing projects, a community day care centre and an organization providing outreach to those engaged in the sex trade. The Vatican II document, The Church in the Modern World, called Catholics to a renewed engagement with the world.

A series of subsequent magisterial social teaching statements insisted that this engagement with the world should centre on action for justice and be grounded in ethical principles such as respect for human dignity, solidarity, participation, subsidiarity and an option for the poor.

The mission initiative of the Medical Mission Sisters in Edmonton, and similar initiatives by religious communities across Canada and around the world, provides wonderful case studies of one type of faith-based engagement with the world called for by Vatican II and the embedding of Catholic social teaching principles in actions for justice.

There is a "value-added" to this mission approach. The mentorship provided by the Medical Mission Sisters helped all of us many years ago contribute to the early success of the Boyle McCauley Health Centre.

However, for me this time of mentorship provided a life formation for personal and community transformation that continues to bear fruit today.

(Bob McKeon: