KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Sister Irene Anna Poelzer passed away Jan. 12 in Kamloops, B.C., after almost 92 years of earthly life. Poelzer was born in 1926 in an unincorporated settlement along the Hudson Bay Trail near Humboldt, Sask., to a rural teacher and a pioneer farmer.
This is how she wanted to be remembered: “She was generous and kind, and she didn’t get bogged down with money. She loved the earth, animals, people, and Jesus her Brother. She was glad to go home to the Father’s house. Amen!”
After completing high school through the Provincial Correspondence School, and in keeping with the decision of her parents that each of their children attend university, Poelzer enrolled in St. Thomas More College at the University of Saskatchewan, where she earned a BA in 1950.
She then embraced consecrated life, first as a member of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and later with the Sisters for Christian Community.
She subsequently she earned a BEd (1964) and an MEd (1968) from the University of Saskatchewan, a master’s degree in English (1969) from Seattle University, and a PhD in Educational Foundations (1972) from the University of Oregon.
She taught at the Loretto Abbey Girls’ School in Toronto, and was principal of Sedley High School prior to joining the education faculty of the University of Saskatchewan as an assistant professor in 1970. Other than one year at Dalhousie University in Halifax (1975-1976), Poelzer remained at the U of S for the rest of her career.
She authored or co-authored three books: Saskatchewan Women Teachers, 1905-1920: Their Contributions (1990); Métis Women’s Perception of Social Reality in Seven Northern Saskatchewan Communities (1983), and In Our Own Words: Northern Saskatchewan Métis Women Speak Out (1986). She also published a volume of poetry, Women of Exodus II, as well as articles and book chapters, and was a regular conference speaker.
Poelzer was a founding member of the Women’s Studies Research Unit, and developed a course on women and education that ushered in feminist scholarship at the university. She engaged in significant research on women in society, feminist Christianity, Métis and First Nations women in northern Saskatchewan, and the retention of First Nations culture.
Colleagues and students alike described her as a mentor, a powerful teacher, and an inspiration. She was “brilliant and tenacious,” and possessed a formidable sense of humour. She affected the lives of many, and was lauded for her life-long work in support of the mass of hurting humanity and the protection of beleaguered Mother Nature — whether on campus, in the community, or at her retirement acreage retreat in Salmon Arm.
She remained involved in the St. Thomas More College/Newman Alumni/ae Association throughout her life.