From the Archives: September 2013
By Kiply Lukan Yaworski
[Originally published in The Prairie Messenger]– Hundreds rose to give a standing ovation “of appreciation, of love and of gratitude” to the Ursulines of Bruno at a centennial celebration Sept. 1, 2013 at St. Augustine parish in Humboldt, SK.
The afternoon tea and program marked the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Ursulines in St. Peter’s Colony in September 1913. It was the start of a century of service by the Ursulines of Bruno in parishes and schools, as well as in a range of other educational settings and pastoral undertakings in Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Brazil.
“I hope the sisters realize the gratitude that we all have in our hearts for their presence in our lives, in our communities, and with our children,” said MC Helen Jule, a former student at St. Ursula’s Academy, the school for girls operated by the Ursulines of Bruno from 1922 to 1982.
During the afternoon program, Sr. Marian Noll, OSU, welcomed some 300 colleagues, former students, parishioners, friends and family who filled the parish hall at St. Augustine church in Humboldt for the celebration.
Author Sr. Maureen Maier, OSU, read excerpts from her book about the Ursulines of Bruno – Women of Service for the Glory of God– revealing both hardships and humour in the adventures and challenges surrounding the arrival of the first sisters from Germany and their early years in Canada.
A skit led by Benedictine monks from St. Peter’s Abbey brought to life the story of how Abbot Bruno Doerfler invited the sisters to St. Peter’s Colony in Saskatchewan, to educate the children and assist in the communities that were springing up across the fledgling colony. Just a few years before, Doerfler had also invited the Franciscan Sisters of St. Elizabeth from Klagenfurt in Austria to care for the sick in the colony.
Sr. Miriam Spenrath, OSU, described the history of the Ursuline order of religious women, established in 1535 by St. Angela Merici, their dedication to education, as well as the origins and development of the Ursulines of Bruno, and the range of service the sisters have provided over the past century.
“Our Canadian Founder, Mother Clara Erpenbeck, was the example of resolute spirit and generosity in service, and she did it totally in fidelity to the Ursuline motto, Soli Deo Gloria, for the glory of God. She is a great inspiration and this motto continues to be our aspiration,” said Spenrath.
Spenrath described how nine sisters from several independent Ursuline houses in Germany arrived in Canada in 1912, first serving in a parish school in Winnipeg and a separate school in Windthorst, SK. – undertakings marked by uncertainty, frustration and mistrust. The invitation from the Abbot of St. Peter’s Colony at Muenster proved to be a better fit for members of the order.
“The first establishment in St. Peter’s Colony began in Muenster, with the arrival of two sisters at 1:45 p.m. on Sept. 2, 1913, with school beginning Sept. 3. Lots of challenges right off: German sisters, quite fresh culture and language; no home – but warmly welcomed into the small quarters of the Elizabethan sisters; no school – however the sacristies of the church provided two classrooms.”
Soon afterwards, other Ursulines from Germany arrived, with schools established in Leofeld, Bruno, and Dead Moose Lake (Marysburg), which was also the site of the order’s first motherhouse. With donations and help from many in the area, a new convent was built at Bruno. St. Ursula’s Academy also opened there in 1922. It was home to about 2,500 young women over the next 60 years, including international students.
“Here all aspects of Christian education, family life, liturgical music, all the arts, flourished. By 1927 an enviable library collection was in place. High standards of achievement were expected. Retirement barely existed for the sisters and Superintendent Peter Kolinick once wrote in a staff report, ‘in years of experience the sisters are unmatched,’” said Spenrath.
“By 1933 a total of 27 German sisters had come from European culture, advancement and sophistication to this area: a still pioneering frontier, poor and Dirty 30’s territory,” Spenrath noted. With numerous Canadian women responding to their Ursuline vocations, within 15 years there were 74 members in the Bruno-based order.
In addition to the Academy, the Ursuline sisters continued to operate or to teach at schools in the area for many years, including at Lake Lenore, Watson, Annaheim and Humboldt, as well as Carmel, Englefeld and St. Benedict.
“Challenges, distress and delight marked those first and successive years of the Ursulines of Bruno in Canada,” said Spenrath. “Not everything was glory…. Some students took the joy out of teaching and some teachers could not put joy into learning.”
Ursulines of Bruno expanded their frontiers beyond Saskatchewan in 1959, with three sisters staffing Immaculate Conception Catholic school in Delta, B.C. For several years, members of the order also taught at Our Lady of Good Counsel parish school in Surry, B.C.
The Ursulines of Bruno also produced and coordinated a correspondence course in religion between 1938 and 1968, offered to some 1,000 children over the years.
As well, there was always “ahearty, gifted and well qualified team of sisters known as the music teachers,” added Spenrath. “These women had studios in most of our centres and brought cultural values that continue to resound today. The competition at the annual music festival made history. Along with individual voice and instrumental lessons some of these musicians provided the teaching, accompaniment and direction of choirs in schools, adult choirs and the excellence of good liturgical music for parishes.”
Other educational undertakings for the Ursulines of Bruno included teaching college-level liturgical and biblical courses, presenting the St. Peter’s adult religious studies program, operating bible camps and youth programs, leading retreats and conferences, and the development of a weekly children’s liturgy of the word resource by Sr. Celine Graf, OSU.
Education in other settings has also included a centre for infant development in Regina, Family Enrichment Services established by the Ursulines in the former St. Peter’s Abbacy, and family services work in several communities. As well, the order has been involved sending aid to Central America for health and education, particularly in El Salvador and Nicaragua.
Individual sisters have participated in a range of initiatives, such as a summer program for street children in Manhattan; a L’Arche home; diocesan and parish ministry; journalism; advocacy for women; teaching under the trees in West Africa; and Sr. Marian Noll’s current work with Farmland Legacies, an agricultural land trust based in Wynyard.
“From 1968 to the present, five of our sisters have also committed themselves to multiple facets of missionary activity in Brazil. This zealous endeavour has included the training of catechists and community animators as well as teaching and directing many young women to become leaders,” Spenrath added.
Sr. Claire Novecosky, OSU, who has served in the Brazil mission for 40 years, was visiting Saskatchewan during the order’s centennial celebration. (She continued to serve in Brazil with Sr. Louise Hinz, OSU, until the fall of 2014.)
“The most recent education we Ursulines of Bruno have assumed for ourselves is that of seeing through an ecological lens, reverencing and cherishing creation, focusing our final pages on appreciating, sharing and guarding the gifts of our earth. Our aim is to come into final and right relationship with our God, ourselves, others, and with the universe.”
The Ursuline sisters of Bruno have journeyed together over the past century in friendship and joy, and at times through confrontation, challenge and struggle, she said. “Our faith, our accountability to our common calling as religious and dedication to education sustained us.”
The legacy of the Ursulines of Bruno is best seen in the women and men whose lives have been touched and who have journeyed beyond what was ever dreamed, she said. “Perhaps this is the essence of education – that the educator be a learner and that the learner is compelled to set a new personal best.”
Spenrath concluded by thanking colleagues among the Sisters of St. Elizabeth and the Ursulines of Prelate, as well as fellow educators and administrators. She also thanked the many former members of the Ursuline order who are “followers of St. Angela,” and acknowledged the support and friendship of the Benedictines of St. Peter’s Abbey over the past 100 years.
“Finally we thank the radical, generous and pioneering spirit of all the religious women educators who have gone before us, those who did so much with so little,” Spenrath said.
Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB, stressed the continuing legacy of the Ursuline sisters. “Times have changed and the sisters face new challenges, but their presence in St Peter’s Colony has left a deep impression, their influence lives on,” he said, before asking the crowd to stand and applaud the Ursulines of Bruno as a sign of appreciation and love.
“Your presence here is a tremendous support for what we have been and what we could still be,” Maier told the gathering in closing words of thanks. “This gives us courage to move forward.”