Year of Consecrated Life: Sisters of Providence served missions in the North

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By Archbishop Gerard Pettipas, C.Ss.R.

Below is part of Archbishop Pettipas’s letter to his flock in the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan, Northern Alberta:

In each monthly letter until the end of the Year of Consecrated Life in February 2016, I will highlight a Congregation of women or men with roots and ministry in our Archdiocese. I begin with the Sisters of Providence.

Blessed Emilie Gamelin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence (1800-1851)

The Sisters of Providence is an international congregation, founded in Montreal by Blessed Emilie Tavernier Gamelin in 1843. Today there are more than 700 Sisters and over 1000 Providence Associates who serve people in Canada, the United States, El Salvador, Haiti, Chile, Argentina, the Philippines, Egypt, and Cameroon. While each culture is unique and the needs vary, the Sisters of Providence in these many nations are united by their profound faith, total confidence in Providence and compassion for those they serve.

The Sisters of Providence first came to western Canada in 1886 and established St. Mary’s Hospital in New Westminster, British Columbia. From there, they were called to serve at many other locations in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Yukon, caring for children, the sick, and the elderly.

Holy Angels Province is the name of the western Canadian region of the Sisters of Providence of Montreal. Formed on August 8, 1912, the headquarters for Holy Angels Province was first located at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, BC. The provincialate was moved to St. Eugene Hospital, Cranbrook, BC in 1914, to Lacombe Home in Midnapore, AB in 1920, and to its present location at Providence Centre in Edmonton, AB in 1965. Today, the Sisters in western Canada provide for the needs of the marginalized and vulnerable by working together with existing social, education and health care organizations.

Sisters of Providence

The Sisters served mostly in rural areas, where it was very difficult to get qualified help in their work. Besides carrying heavy workloads, the Sisters had very little to work with. Their early letters home were “begging letters” asking for medicine and clothing for their boarders and patients and for other people who came for help. They asked for school supplies, toys and musical instruments for their pupils, and asked for basic supplies like oil for lamps and cloth to make clothing for the needy. And when the barges came with crates of donations, the Sisters and the children would gather round to gasp and wonder and sometimes weep with joy at the things they received. The Sisters also organized annual begging trips in order to get money to maintain the institutions they operated for the care of the aged, the homeless and the sick.

The first Sisters of Providence in the West were French Canadian. They were quickly joined by young women from the West, of many ethnic backgrounds and speaking a variety of languages. They had some very important things in common: a spirit of adventure, a trust in Providence, a desire to help others, and the call to let other things go to follow Jesus.

It was during World War II that the social safety net which is now part of our national identity really took shape. Today Canadians take it for granted that it is a public responsibility to provide help for our citizens’ most basic needs. Between 1950 and the 1980′s most of the Providence institutions and works were taken on by the public through government at one level or another. The Sisters of Providence now look to new horizons such as palliative care, pastoral care, and ways to combat family violence. Like Mother Emilie Gamelin, they keep trying to see with a larger vision and to dare with a larger heart. (Information taken from the Sisters of Providence website)

In the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan, the Sisters of Providence began and operated several hospitals which are still serving the public (though not under the Sisters’ care), such as St. Theresa’s Hospital in Fort Vermilion, Sacred Heart Health Centre in McLennan and St. Martin Health Centre in Wabasca. They also taught in several schools.

Presently, there are two Sisters of Providence living and serving in the Archdiocese: Sisters Dolores Blanchette and Rita Schiller, in McLennan.

Sincerely in Christ the Redeemer,

+ Gerard Pettipas, C.Ss.R.
Archbishop of Grouard-McLennan