Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception mark 165 years of service and teaching

The Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception, who began their ministry in Canada helping Irish immigrants and orphans, are celebrating their 165th anniversary with grace and gratitude.

“Let us welcome to this sacred circle the spirit of all those who have preceded us. Let us live fully for the sake of the Gospel ever-unfolding into the future,” said Sister Mary Beth McCurdy, the SCIC congregational leader, as the sisters marked four days of a Festival of Thanksgiving Oct. 17-20.

“May these four days of festival release within and among us a renewed sense of God’s providence, surprise and ever-unfolding presence over 165 years,” Sister McCurdy said.

Sister Roma De Robertis

The congregation celebrated with associates, family members, staff and friends at its Ruth Ross Residence in Saint John. Guests came from across New Brunswick as well as Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Toronto, and Portland, Maine.  Six sisters and one associate travelled from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories to participate.

The Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception were founded Oct. 21, 1854, in Saint John by Honoria Conway and three companions at the invitation of Bishop Thomas Louis Connolly, the second bishop of the diocese.

The community became the first English-speaking Roman Catholic religious congregation founded in Canada. Amid many challenges, they responded to urgent needs of Irish immigrants and orphans.

As teachers and spiritual leaders, the Sisters of Charity and their associates are committed to collaborating with others for social and ecological justice. They advocate for those who suffer from poverty, violence and exclusion. They also stand with Indigenous peoples. They seek to live simply and to advocate for climate justice and energy alternatives.

SCIC missions have expanded throughout many parts of Canada. In Alberta, the Sisters of Charity have served in Edmonton, Sherwood Park, Hanna, Radway, Wetaskiwin, Camrose, Fort Saskatchewan, Lloydminster, Viking, Edson and Wainwright.

In the Edmonton Archdiocese, SCIC Sisters have served in various ministries including education, catechetics, parish ministry; social service; spiritual and religious care, parish nursing, prison ministry and Catholic journalism.

For 50 years, their members also lived among and accompanied people in Peru.

The sisters’ way of life and spirituality were inspired by Saints Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac in 17th-century France, as well as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in 19th-century America.  In more recent history, SCIC became active members of the Sisters of Charity Federation of North America.

A panel discussion included Sisters Rosemary MacDonald (Sisters of St. Martha of P.E..I); Mary Beth McCurdy (Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception Saint John); Franklyn Ferguson (Sisters of St. Martha of Antigonish, N.S.), Agnès Léger (Religieuses de Notre-Dame-du-Sacré-Coeur Moncton, N.B.) and Joan O’Keefe (Sisters of Charity of Halifax).Courtesy of Sister Pat Poole, SCIC

One highlight of the celebration was a panel presentation which included representatives of the five federation congregations based in Canada.  In addition to SCIC, these include Sisters of Charity of Halifax; Sisters of St. Martha of Antigonish, N.S.; Sisters of St. Martha of Prince Edward Island and Religieuses de Notre-Dame-du-Sacré-Coeur based in Moncton.

Panellists were asked to address key moments of both grace and challenge in the history of their religious communities. They also highlighted their experience of a June 2019 Federation Assembly of the Whole in Chicago. Before responding to questions, panellists expressed hopes and dreams for future collaboration among the Canadian-based Federation congregations.

Colourful weavings were displayed in the Carmel Chapel at the Ruth Ross Residence to honour the SCIC anniversary. Courtesy of Sister Pat Poole, SCIC

Colourful weavings displayed throughout the residence symbolized the 165th celebration.  With five felt strands, they represented the Canadian Federation congregations, as well as a broader weaving of past, present and future in God’s call to life and mission.

The anniversary celebration was planned by a 10-member committee of sisters and associates. Sister Margaret MacLean wrote an anniversary prayer for the occasion.

Together with staff, committee members and many others contributed to the festival, which included historical exhibits and presentations, as well as prayer, liturgy, poetry, singing, dancing, storytelling and local tours.

The SCIC gratefully received flowers and greetings from many of their partners in mission. Sisters, Associates and guests were treated to entertainment from gifted local singers and musicians at a midday banquet on Oct. 19.

Bishop Robert Harris, the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Saint John, presided at the closing eucharistic liturgy Oct. 20 in Carmel Chapel.  Briefly tracing the sisters’ history, he noted how the founding women heard a call and responded generously.

The bishop said that in Peru and elsewhere, the sisters expressed “the language of love.”  He also noted that they responded faithfully to the call of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s and beyond.

Although their numbers are dwindling, the Sisters of Charity and their associates continue to be a sign of God’s presence in the world, radiating divine love and charity, Bishop Harris said.

“The future belongs to God,” he added.

Bishop Robert Harris, the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Saint John, presided at the closing Mass.Courtesy of Sister Pat Poole SCIC

Sister Anita Naves thanked Bishop Harris, highlighting his many kind and thoughtful gestures among the SCIC throughout more than 12 years as bishop.  On behalf of the community, Sister Naves also wished him well as he soon begins retirement.

At the closing liturgy, Sister McCurdy said sisters, associates and guests “sing, rejoice and give thanks for all that has been, is now and is yet to be.”

For more about SCIC and their associates, please visit www.sistersofcharityic.com

-Sister Roma De Robertis is a former writer with the Western Catholic Reporter newspaper. She joined the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception 35 years ago. She lives in Saint John, N.B.