Edmonton : Ursulines of Jesus see God in every face
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Republished with the permission of the Western Catholic Reporter, issue of Nov. 9, 2015, www.wcr.ab.ca.
SISTERS DRAWN TO THE PRESENCE OF GOD IN EVERYDAY LIFE
When Pilar Valdez came to Canada from Chile, she was searching for happiness.
Coming from Latin America, this certainly meant she was looking for a husband to start a family, as her parents expected and desired.
But Valdez was really searching for God. It was the Ursulines of Jesus with whom she ultimately found her true life’s calling and who showed her where to find God - in every human face.
It is the mystery of the Incarnation - God becoming man - that inspires the words, ministries, and lives of every sister in the congregation.
"That sense of pitching his tent among us is very strong," said Sister Hazel Dalton. "So you can think of God being present in the rowboat or in the car or at all times when we’re with people. That’s the motivation. That’s the reason for going out, to be that presence of God, the word of God with skin, with flesh, accepting people as they are."
For Sister Helen Pinto, the spirituality of the congregation came naturally to her when she entered in 2010.
"God becoming flesh in Jesus who lives in us and among us, I thought, that’s human," said Pinto. "Because I am a people person, among people is where I am."
Connecting with people in a real and tangible way, as Jesus did when he came into the world, is the special gift of the Ursulines of Jesus.
Sister Christine Coster, whose family lived next door to the sisters while growing up in London, England, was drawn by their humanity.
"They were always there for us and we were there for them," said Coster, who went on to board with the sisters as a student in Liverpool.
Ursuline Sisters in Edmonton include Mary Clare Stack (left) , Marjorie Dylke, Pilar Valdez, Helen Pinto, Christine Coster, Hazel Dalton, Connie Piska (seated, left) Elsie Herle, (seated right).
"I could see they were very human and they had ups and downs. But somehow there was still spiritual strength there, that going out to people, reaching out to people. That really was why I thought, ’Yeah, I think this is where God’s calling me."
Founder Louis-Marie Baudouin, guided by the Holy Spirit, received much of the dream and vision for the congregation while in exile in Spain during the French Revolution, and later in hiding in western France.
Foundress Charlotte Gabrielle Ranfray was among the people who would meet Baudouin while he was in hiding, providing Mass and the sacraments from a cave to the people who had been deprived of them.
He encouraged Ranfray to go out to the poor, the helpless, the children in need of education and the sick, inspired by the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
"He and Charlotte were caught up in the mystery of the incarnation, that God loves us so much that God had to connect with us in a very real and tangible way through sending Jesus to dwell among us," said Dalton.
Originally called the Daughters of the Incarnate Word, the sisters were only allowed to teach under the name Ursulines of Jesus, which they are known by to this day, despite no connection to St. Ursula.
Baudouin, who also founded the Congregation of the Sons of Mary Immaculate, not only focused on the education of children, but also on the education of adults, especially women.
The sisters first arrived in Canada in 1911, invited to Edmonton to teach by Bishop Émile-Joseph Legal, at the suggestion of the Sons of Mary Immaculate. The congregation also did nursing.
Today, the congregation’s work has broadened to any place that they can be a presence with people, said Dalton. Their ministries include social work, chaplaincy at the University of Alberta Hospital, parish pastoral assistance, volunteering at the food bank, involvement in the interfaith homelessness initiative, advocacy for temporary foreign workers, domestic violence activism, care for elderly and sick sisters and welcoming refugees from Syria and Colombia.
Sister Mary Clare Stack, who entered the congregation in Edmonton 50 years ago, said the sisters, guided by their patron saint Mary, meditate on the word of God every day.
"It was only after I entered that I began to see more and more how the openness of Mary to welcoming the word and making the word present in the world, was really present in the life of our sisters," said Stack.
The congregation has about 450 members around the world, including Western Canada, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, France, Spain, United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy and Cameroon.
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER