SASKATOON — An Honour the Legacy celebration recognizing the contributions of those in consecrated life was held Jan. 29 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon.
Organized by the Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools (GSCS) Together in Faith and Action Committee, the appreciation event was held as the Year of Consecrated Life drew to a close. Declared by Pope Francis, the year officially ended a few days later, on the Feast of the Presentation, Feb. 2, which is also the World Day of Consecrated Life.
“We are celebrating the key role that sisters, priests and bishops have played in Catholic education since the district began,” said Rev. Kevin McGee, vicar-general for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon and pastoral associate for GSCS. He added that the event echoed Pope Francis’ call to express to those in consecrated life “the affection and the warmth that the entire Christian people feel toward them.”
In his homily at the eucharistic celebration that opened the event, Bishop Bryan Bayda of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon personally expressed his appreciation to his Grade 1 teacher, Sister Agnes McGrath of the Sisters of the Child Jesus.
Now living in British Columbia, the retired teacher was in attendance, and Bayda called her up to the pulpit. Together they looked at a photo of the bishop’s first grade class at Bishop Murray School in Saskatoon, and Bayda reminded her which student he was in the 1967 picture: “I’m standing right next to you!”
He thanked her and all teachers for sharing their lives, their skills and especially their presence. “Thank you for witnessing to our children, to other teachers, and your principals, to parents, and to the world,” he said, before giving McGrath an apple.
During the banquet and program that followed mass, the names of religious women and priests who have served in Catholic schools in GSCS communities were on display and projected onto an overhead screen. The list of sisters and priests who have served in the Catholic school district was researched and compiled by Sister Teresita Kambeitz, OSU, and a directory of the names was presented to board vice-chair Wayne Stus during the program.
Also on display was a mosaic of a pitcher, a wash basin and a towel, formed from hundreds of tiny photographs of sisters and priests who have served in the area.
Another display featured a large quilt map of Saskatchewan created by Sylvia Obrigewitsch, NDS, during the province’s centennial year, showing where 61 different orders of religious women served across the province since 1860. “We know that their lives were all about Jesus, their loving Lord,” said Kambeitz. “And their loving service was to continue his mission of teaching and healing here in Saskatchewan.”
All those in attendance were presented with a commemorative piece of art — a limited edition print by teacher and artist Monique Martin, who delivered a video message explaining the images she used in the artwork. Rev. Ron Griffin, CSB, of St. Thomas More College came forward to assist in cutting up the block that produced the print, ensuring its uniqueness
Catholic schools began in Saskatoon in 1911, when three Sisters of the Presentation of Mary were asked by Rev. Vachon, OMI, and Bishop Paschal to staff Saskatoon’s first Catholic separate school, which opened in the basement of St. Paul’s Cathedral, said GSCS director of education Greg Chatlain.
“The Sisters of Our Lady of Sion arrived in 1917, establishing Sion Academy in 1919. Meanwhile in the Humboldt area, which is now part of GSCS, the Ursuline Sisters were invited by the Benedictines to staff schools,” he added.
In total, some 17 religious communities of sisters have served in the GSCS system, along with diocesan and eparchial priests, as well as priests from the Basilian, Benedictine, Dominican, Redemptorist and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate religious orders, he said.
“There have been amazing shepherds, amazing leaders, and one of those was Bishop James Mahoney,” Chatlain said, playing an audio clip of the late bishop speaking about Catholic education, when trying to secure full funding for Catholic high schools. “We do not simply want to teach our children how to live in this world. We want to teach them how to live in this world as Christ lived. We want to form in them the mind that was in Jesus Christ,” Mahoney said.
History and milestones were explored in a dialogue between McGee and Kambeitz. The crowd learned that over 400 sisters have taught in Saskatoon and area Catholic schools, as have 29 priests. As well, 33 priests and one deacon have served as school chaplains. The Sisters of Sion had the highest number of teaching sisters, at about 125, as well as the longest record of service, from 1991 to 1992, reported Kambeitz. In total, 51 sisters have served as principals in Catholic schools.
Closing remarks and thanks were presented by Sister Julianna Heisler, NDS, retired teacher, principal and parish life director, and Rev. Mick Fleming, CSsR, priest moderator of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish and a member of the Redemptorist community at St. Mary’s in Saskatoon.