SASKATOON — Fifty years after the doors of Our Lady of Sion Academy closed in 1967, more than 300 former students and teachers gathered at Holy Family Cathedral in Saskatoon on the Labour Day weekend to honour the Sisters of Sion for their contribution to Catholic education in Saskatoon.
The Sisters of Sion arrived in Saskatoon in 1917 and took up residence in a large white house that stood approximately where Avord Towers stands today on Spadina Crescent. They named the house Rosary Hall, and it was the first of three residences to bear that name.
By 1919, the sisters acceded to a request to open a boarding school for girls, and after obtaining title to the Drinkle property on Avenue A North, they opened the academy in 1919 with 30 students. In 1967, two years after funding by the province was granted to Catholic high schools, the academy doors closed.
Planning and fundraising started some five years ago, with friends of Sion determined to mark the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the sisters. By 2014, the group knew the celebration would be a reality, but organizers worried that attendance might not be significant, given the advancing age of the sisters, as well as the age of the alumnae. These worries proved to be unfounded.
By 6:30 p.m. Sept. 1, the first arrivals started streaming through the doors of the Cathedral of the Holy Family for a meet and greet event. There were cries of recognition among old classmates, hugs to establish re-connection, and peals of laughter, as attendees checked out the school photos printed on each others’ name tags.
The spirit of Sion permeated the room. An 24-metre Wall of Memories had been created with life stories, obituaries, photos and memorabilia from the convent’s history, and attendees spent many hours all weekend poring over its contents.
Sept. 2 was reserved for reminiscing in smaller groups, and many attendees brought yearbooks, photos and clothing to share. After more conversation over coffee and tea, the afternoon ended with a reflection facilitated by Sister Elizabeth Losinski, NDS.
Alumnae and teachers streamed into Bishop LeGatt Hall for a gala banquet that evening. Each of the Sisters of Sion were introduced, and greeted with applause and expressions of goodwill.
Tributes were offered by Inge Andreen, who attended Sion as an elementary student in the 1940s, and Margot Brunelle Urff, a boarder in the final years of the school.
“What an honour — to have the opportunity to thank and acknowledge the Sisters of Sion for caring for my sister Peggy and myself. My father had died at age 34 and my mother was in the local sanitarium. We were basically orphans with nowhere to live. My mother was terrified and her only hope was for us to be boarders at the convent, even though we were not Catholics,” said Andreen. “As she was sitting in the parlour on her day pass from the San, she watched the Mother Superior sweeping down the hall, with many children attached to her habit, everyone laughing. Her worries disappeared.”
Margot Brunelle Urff described life in the dorm from 1962 to 1965. There were many chuckles from the gathered alumnae as she talked about lining up to use the only telephone, the compulsory study halls, and the communal mealtimes.
“The nuns tried hard to create a caring atmosphere and to be our ‘pseudo-parents’ from September to June.”
Sister Jocelyn Monette, NDS, and Sister Margaret Zdunich, NDS, gave a short presentation about “Sion in the World Today.” The evening ended with a singing of the school song, “Rise for our Alma Mater.”
Holy Family Parish embraced the reunion group at their 11:30 mass on Sept. 3, with a special blessing. In his homily, Rev. David Tumback addressed the kindness of the sisters, describing how he was the recipient of many breakfasts at the Acadia Drive Convent as a seminarian, and how “the sisters blew their monthly grocery budget to feed the hungry young men who came to offer mass.”
Sister Kay McDonald, NDS, and Sister Donna Purdy, NDS, joined the celebration on Sept. 3. Purdy offered a wish to all “for a full life,” and McDonald addressed the room for a few minutes as well.
Sister Pauline Greenizan, NDS, gave thanks to the gathering from the Congregation of Sion. “The sisters are very proud of all the alumnae, because they have gone beyond their ordinary tasks to take on leadership roles, using their talents and gifts to change the world,” said Greenizan. “Many have raised families and are now finding joy in their children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren. “
Organizers have received many messages of thanks from those in attendance.
“I especially appreciated the tea and banquet presentations,” said Sharon Cooper Murza of the class of 1966. “Until then, I was more absorbed with meeting classmates I hadn’t seen in many years. The presentations gave me a sense of solidarity with all the sisters and alumnae present. It brought us together as a united sisterhood and not just the few ladies from our class year.”
“You have my heartfelt gratitude and sincere appreciation,” Sharon Walter Churchill, class of 1957, told the committee; “so much work for so many to enjoy.”
“My sister has been ill for over 10 years, chiefly with memory issues. I’ve watched her slowly slip away, and it’s almost all I can think about,” said Elaine Leier Zakreski, class of 1960. “All weekend people kept telling me how sorry they were that she had to go through this trial. They told me about all the great memories they have of her, stories about how well-loved she was, how pretty and vibrant she was — they hugged me and consoled me and brought my sister back to me. I didn’t expect that from this reunion.”
Pauline Bublish Perpick, class of 1953, told organizers that the reunion “will always be a warm and special memory.”
Terry Chrusch Miley, class of 1966, noted that the reunion brought together sisters, teachers and students from all years, and from across Canada and the United States.
“Even though many of us hadn’t seen each other for over 40 years, it was remarkable that we could still recognize our fellow classmates. Sharing stories of how our lives have progressed over the years brought both smiles and tears and much laughter. Renewing old friendships and memories made for a truly spectacular weekend, one that will forever be remembered,” she said.