Today we mark the World Day for Consecrated Life—and well we should. Throughout history and in many countries around the world, religious communities have been the channel of the Church’s message of love and faith.
In Canada, we suffer from a general amnesia about this. But the fact is, male and female religious communities have been instrumental in the very creation of this country. From east to west, our hospitals, schools, retreat centres and social service organizations—not to mention parishes themselves—are forever marked by the heroic efforts of their founders to live out their Gospel mission.
Notable among them was Catherine Donnelly. This spring we will be publishing The Courage to Dare: The Spirituality of Catherine Donnelly, Founder of the Sisters of Service. In this thoughtful exploration of her life and faith development, author Kathryn Perry traces a path laid out by one of Canada’s foremost religious pioneers.
Catherine Donnelly was a woman with an adventurous spirit and a deep faith. She grew up in southern Ontario, but spent a good part of her life helping immigrants in Western Canada meet their spiritual and educational needs. In the process, the team she drew around her became the Sisters of Service.
Their story has parallels among many other religious communities, often female. Under the harsh conditions of life and weather in frontier Canada, they persevered in their missions. They lived side-by-side in the same villages and homesteads as the people they encountered, getting to know them intimately, and in the process coming to love them deeply.
We owe a deep debt of gratitude to these men and women who gave their lives to God and His people. At the very least, we can begin by honouring their memories.