Sixth in a series of articles celebrating the 10th anniversary of the arrival of the Sisters in Pembroke

By Sr. Mary McGuire

1940  ~  Renfrew, Ontario

In 1937, Most Reverend Charles Leo Nelligan, became Bishop of Pembroke. Soon after his arrival, having looked into the needs of people of all levels of society, he initiated programs of social action. He noted the diocese was without a facility for children in need of care outside the homes.

He requested that the Sisters of St. Joseph assume direction of an orphanage that already had a building. The Sisters responded with a whole-hearted ‘yes’. Thus began ‘Villa St. Joseph/Orphanage’ (1940).

Very quickly, children of various ages and from diverse backgrounds were admitted to the Villa. If a family was unable to provide a proper home for their child, there was acceptance and tender care at the Villa. Sister Theresa Lepack’s father worked at the orphanage. The children would run toward him every morning as he came to work. Some time later the Sisters discovered he would stuff his pockets with candy for them.

In June, 1947 the Villa was closed because of a lack of adequate facilities, changes in policy of the Diocesan Administration and the fact the local government supported a Children’s Aid Society.

The Sisters were sad to see this service ending as they had grown to love and cherish the children, realizing their great need for love and care.

1946  ~  Radville, Saskatchewan

Our Congregation’s move into health care coincided with a move beyond the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. In 1946 the Sisters undertook their first hospital mission for the town of Radville in southern Saskatchewan. Five Sisters arrived in late July 1946 to establish this mission. The residents of Radville gave us a warm welcome. We began nursing the sick immediately in a rudimentary facility. The small Catholic rectory became a temporary hospital while the new one was under construction. The Sisters were undaunted by the many hardships and difficulties in the beginning such as a lack of water, inconsistent electrical power and very limited space as they waited in hope for the new building. For two years they attended to more than 600 patients in their rectory-hospital.

Recourse to the coal oil lamp was a frequent occurrence. It was a relief when the town obtained power in 1947. Duties were performed in close quarters. The reminder that in the near future they would have a new modern hospital added to the Sisters’ determination to carry on the works of mercy for Christ’s sake. “What you do unto others you do unto me.” 

In November 1971 a testimonial tea was hosted by the parishioners to honour the Sisters and offer their thanks for the special services to their church. In a letter, one man stated ‘Their hospital is a heaven on earth filled with angels.’  On what higher note could this story of the growth of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Radville, Saskatchewan be brought to completion!

In 1954 the Radville Housing Company, realized a pressing need in their community for adequate housing and nursing care for senior citizens, so they undertook the development of “Marian Home”, a ‘wing or ‘addition’ to the hospital, but operated as a separate unit.

The  ‘Marian Home’ provided for 52 guests and was usually filled to capacity. The Sisters integrated into the community and the relationships they formed enriched one another and the whole healing process.

1947 ~  Barrhead, Alberta

Within a year of their first health care-related adventure, the Congregation agreed to purchase, administrate and staff St. Joseph’s Hospital in Barrhead, Alberta, a prairie town 180 kilometers north west of Edmonton. In January 1947, a group of six sisters took over the management of this 30-bed facility that had previously been operated by the Sisters of Charity and the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph. Among the hardships faced was the difficulty in getting the help needed. At that time lay nurses were not readily available, and the Sisters worked long hours every day to serve the sick. Most of the women forming the lay staff in this multi-ethnic town were recent immigrants with language difficulties. The necessary teaching of English was an added burden as the Sisters endeavoured to fulfill their commitment to this growing population. 

With the discovery of oil north of Barrhead, a 20-bed addition was added to the hospital in 1961. In 1973 the Sisters relinquished ownership of this facility and the name was changed to Barrhead General Hospital, at their request.

It was this pioneering spirit of the first Sisters that helped create the superb modern complex that exists today. For years the Sisters lived on the top floor of the old ‘first’ hospital in crowded quarters. Today there is a beautiful residence attached to the building, with a Chapel between the hospital and the residence. In short, the Sisters kept hope alive in the midst of many hardships. The difficulties they faced together served to unite them in close bonds of friendship with each other and the community. Humour and wit were present and enjoyed in the life at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Barrhead, through the years of early foundation. Many interesting stories have been told of happenings in these days, especially in experiences of travel by wagon, tractor, boat, auto and basket over the Athabaska River to attend Sunday Mass in a mission chapel.

1960  ~  Barry’s Bay, Ontario

St. Francis Memorial Hospital opened December 1, 1960 in Barry’s Bay, Ontario. Seven of our Sisters were sent to open and operate this hospital. It was an active treatment hospital with obstetrics, surgery, emergency room and all the other departments.

(photo of the seven Sisters)  L-R ;  Sister St. John Needham, housekeeper; Sister Martha Prince, Obstetrical Supervisor (average of 200 babies per year); Sister Anita Levair, Dietary Supervisor; Sister Edna Prince, Director of Nursing; Sister Imelda Coyne, Laboratory and X-Ray Supervisor, Sister Mary Emma Varney, first administrator 1960-1964; Sister Rosenda Brady, accountant and office manager 1960-1964, appointed administrator 1964-1975.

Sister St. Thomas, Superior-General, and Sr. Clare, her assistant, attended the official opening of the hospital which would serve an area of approximately 11,000 people, since the closest hospital was Pembroke, 60 miles away. Barry’s Bay residents were very proud of this milestone. The hospital is situated on the shores of beautiful Kamaniskeg Lake and is owned by the St. Francis Memorial Hospital Association.

On November 30, 1960, the hospital admitted its first patient, Mrs. Andrew Chapeskie who gave birth to a baby girl – Andrea Chapeskie. Dr. Andrew Chapeskie, the father, was a very proud man that day for the hospital was to officially admit patients on December 1, 1960 but Andrea was in a hurry to get into this world. Her first nights were spent between the beds of Sister Hedwig and Sister Martha who took care of her from birth. 

In 1963, Sister Emma and Sister Rosenda graduated from the University of Saskatchewan correspondence program in Hospital Administration and spent two summers at the University of Saskatoon. Sr. Rosenda became a member in the American College of Hospital Administrators at the Convocation Ceremony in Chicago on August 17, 1969.  Sister Rosenda did not attend the ceremony, but her community rejoiced with her at this recognition of her exceptional administrative abilities.

After intense efforts to bring the hospital to an ideal standard of excellence, the hospital felt ready in 1966 for its first accreditation survey and following the survey of Dr. Galloway, it was awarded full accreditation status by the Canadian Hospital Association. What an achievement after only six years in operation! I worked as a nurse for one year (no, I didn’t get fired) at the hospital. I experienced a very welcoming, caring and compassionate atmosphere. Team co-operation was evident in order to give quality care to all patients. There was a spirit of unity working together and a joy in being together. 

St. Francis Memorial Hospital, Barry’s Bay, Ontario, undated.

1965  ~  Regina, Saskatchewan

In 1965, our Community accepted the invitation by the archbishop of Regina, M.C. O’Neill and the Knights of Columbus to assume the responsibility of operating a home in Regina for retired priests and senior citizens.

Santa Maria was blessed with prayerful guests and a prayerful chaplain. There were two masses daily and the rosary was recited each evening followed by the ‘trimmings’ as one dear old lady said, ‘Father is a wonderful man to pray but God alone knows what he is saying.”

Named ‘Santa Maria’ by our own Sister Mary McGaghran after Columbus’ leading vessel, this happy home proved to be a place of continuing discovery of the goodness and the mercy of God.

1968  ~  Campbell’s Bay, Quebec

In 1968 the Sisters opened a home for Senior Citizens in Campbell’s Bay, Quebec, called ‘St. Joseph’s Manor’. In the autumn of 1967 Monsignor Michael Barry telephoned Sister Mary McGaghran, Superior General, with a request that our Community undertake administration and partial staffing of St. Joseph’s Manor to be built at Campbell’s Bay.   A ready assent was given by the community administration since the work of caring for the aged was an apostolate long cherished by the Sisters of St. Joseph. The rooms allocated for the Sisters use were unfurnished except for beds. With these beds and three lawn chairs on loan from the Pembroke Motherhouse, the Sisters had the feeling of pioneers as they looked around their almost empty apartment. However, they felt the great power of Christ at work as step by step they progressed in their new, exciting and challenging venture.

The official opening of the Manor in October 1968 was an occasion of thanksgiving, congratulations and wonderful joy.

1977  ~  Barry’s Bay

In 1977 Valley Manor, Long Term Care Facility in Barry’s Bay was opened and our own sisters, Sister Rosenda Brady became the Administrator and Sister Martha Prince was the Pastoral Care Worker. They brought with them that healing spirit of compassion, joy and love that they lived at St. Francis Memorial Hospital.

About 40 Sisters came to bid farewell to this mission which closed in October 1999.


The following story is from Sister Rosenda who is a resourceful and talented story-teller.:

One day, Sister Martha asked Sister Rosenda to speak to a certain patient who was suffering from alcohol abuse and kept being re-admitted to the hospital for the same problem. Sister Rosenda thought about it and decided that talking would not help the matter so she decided to give a demonstration to the patient. In the laboratory in those days, a person received an ounce of brandy for donating blood.  Sister Imelda Coyne had ‘a walking blood bank’ in operation in her Laboratory. Sister Rosenda went to the lab and asked for an ounce of brandy and she also had a glass of water when she went and picked up a worm from the Rose Garden at the front of the hospital. Off she went to visit the patient in question and gave the following demonstration. She told the man, ‘now, watch very carefully as I do this demonstration’….she put the worm in the glass of water, and the worm wiggled around – no harm done! Then she put the worm in the brandy (alcohol) and the worm curled up and died immediately! She said to the patient, ‘what have you learned from this demonstration?’.

 He responded immediately, ‘Well, Sister, I see that if I drink alcohol, I will never have worms! The feel good ending to this story is that this man came back from the hospital about a month later, sober, and thanked the Sisters for caring about him.