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There is no ‘typical day’ in sister’s ministry

By Sister Bernadette Feist, OSU

01/20/2016

Sister Bernadette Feist, OSU, a new member of the CMIC board of governors, shares this article about her typical day in the missions. This is from the winter issue of Catholic Missions in Canada (cmic.info) and is reprinted with permission.

This was one day in the city of Regina, one hour from our Valley Native Ministry in Lebret, Sask.

10 a.m.: We have a SARA meeting (Sisters Association of Regina Archdiocese) to prepare for celebrating “Consecrated Life” year, declared by Pope Francis.

12:30 noon: Mass at Campion College to meet with Rev. John Meehan, SJ, who presents monthly teachings to First Nations parishioners at the Valley Native Ministry Program. Then, over to Burns Hanley to pick up religious supplies and materials to use in ministry for 25 reserve communities. Then, a visit to Webb’s Copier for toner. Ink ran out the day before.

Driving out of the city, a stop at Superstore for bread buns for the Friday “Too Good To Be Threw,” where about 60 lunches are served weekly.

Into the evening, a phone call: “Could you please come and pray with us? Mom will soon leave us, she’s asking for you.”

My reply: “Give me tonight to rearrange my tomorrow (confirmation gatherings) and I’ll see you in the morning.” But — where do they live in Regina? Abraham set out for a land he did not know (Hebrews). By faith he arrived. So did I. And so the following stories to share.

Irene’s last goodbye

Just recently, many of us gathered at the home of the late Francis and Irene Desnomie on the Peepeekisis First Nation, for the traditional wake of recently deceased Irene Desnomie.

I was present as a friend of the family for 35 years, and as one of others who had come for prayers of the sick and receiving of holy communion in Irene’s home in Regina. The day before she died, family had called me — at Irene’s request — I could only continue her journey with her, as friends and family gathered on the reserve for the wake. The event was taken up with much visiting, storytelling, drum-songs speaking, and meeting relatives and visitors. Time passed quickly, and after a couple of hours, an elder came and gave me a hen pouch of tobacco, asking if I would say a few words when called upon. I accepted the tobacco and joined in their prayers as the evening passed.

At some point, I was able to speak what was “so right” to share. I told of the experience of first coming to the house 35 years ago, when the late Irene had said to me, “You must be very welcome in our home, because the dog under the porch steps feeding her young did not bite me, or even stir.”

More stories followed about those years, but the most important one was when I visited the day before she died. After prayers and a couple hours with her family, Irene said to me: “If you have to go now, that’s OK, it is done.” She had earlier also received holy communion with us. And then she added, “But they should feed you first.”

Yes, I did enjoy soup, sandwiches, coffee, and more visiting. Then I returned to Irene for my goodbye. We began to talk about every line in Ecclesiastes — “There is a time . . .” Finally, I said to her, “Irene, now it is time for me to go.” Her eyes lit up, shone like stars, and with a big smile on her face, she said: “And me, too.”

The following day, family had called that Irene had completed her journey here on earth, peacefully going to her God. The traditional wake continued, until close to 8:00, when one of the sons spoke.

He said: “Mom always told us as kids, to pray before we went to bed. She said we must not only pray the Our Father, if we are by ourselves or if we are with others, but also say the Our Father before going to sleep. Now, would Sister please come and lead us in this prayer?”

He invited all to join hands, connecting with the casket before us, encircling the drums in the centre of the people, as we all prayed Our Father. Now that you have read these stories, take a minute of quiet time and pray the Our Father. Funerals among First Nations Peoples are a great “teaching” time and experience of inculturation.

Drum songs in Piapot

At Piapot, elders spoke of the history their ancestors had left them. There were drums to begin the celebration of mass — joining faith and culture — as was the life experience of Connie Iron, another recently deceased. Following the liturgy were more drum songs and speakers who have been given tobacco. And then it was time to “listen.”

Ursuline Sister Bernadette Feist, pastoral administrator at Valley Native Ministry in the Archdiocese of Regina, writes that she has one wish this year: “One more person to work among, and share the gifts of, First Nations culture by listening and praying with our native peoples.”