Throughout 2021 we are sharing the amazing story of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada/Pembroke site as we celebrate 100 years of service and witness to the Diocese of Pembroke and beyond. As we tell our story, we would like to express our gratitude, love and prayers to so many of you who have been with us on this journey. Our congregation is witness to the love and support you have bestowed on our community and we will be forever grateful for these gifts. We would like to say a heartfelt thank you and invite you to read our story in the months ahead as a way of celebrating this important milestone with us. This is the seventh instalment in a 12-part series.

Submitted by Associates Mary Josey and Grace McGuire

As the Sisters of St Joseph Pembroke celebrate their 100th anniversary there is another group of women, men and families who share a special part of their history. They are known as the Associates of the Sisters of St. Joseph. The Associate Movement originated with the founder of the congregation, Father Jean Pierre Medaille. In the 1650s after he started the order, it was his vision with the first six sisters to include in their congregation not only vowed members, but also other women who continued to live in the community with their families.

In Pembroke, Sisters Pauline Coulterman and Betty Berrigan were among the sisters who welcomed some women to their first gathering on May1st, 1983. At the same time Sisters Nicole Aubé and Nora Kelly started the first initiative with the sisters in Chincha province in Peru. The Co-Hermanas, Peruvian Associates, continue to flourish today and celebrated the 25th anniversary of their foundation on March 25th, 2009.  As these sisters and women gathered to share with one another they learned about the spirituality of the Sisters of St. Joseph and their Charism, that gift of the Spirit guiding the life of a community that determines which particular mission they are called to embody. As the movement grew these small faith communities committed to a vision of participation in bringing about the transformation of self, society and planet through inclusive and active love. The group members develop bonds through their monthly faith sharing meetings where their uniqueness is honoured and respected and confidentiality is assured.

Sister Rosenda Brady undertook this initiative in Barry’s Bay and Sister Anne O’Shaughnessy continued the initiative in Pembroke.  In 1991, Sr. Betty Berrigan, general superior, invited Sr. Marjorie FitzPatrick to consider the ministry of “Renewal of the of the Associate Movement” for the Pembroke Congregation. Sr. Marjorie worked with the other sisters in the five congregations of the federation and in 1991 the first vision statement was born and later revised. In 1997 Anita McGean became a co-coordinator of the Associates and she remained in that position until 2006. Over the past several years other Pembroke associates have taken on this leadership role.

Richard and Susan Schmaltz are shown with several children at the completed early child centre where the furniture and learning materials were funded by Oneness. All the furniture was built by service teams from the Ottawa Valley, including volunteers from the Cobden area.

The Pembroke Associates started with one group and now there are five groups in the following areas: Deep River, Pembroke, Arnprior, Ottawa and Fort Coulonge. What do these groups do today?  Associates meet once a month in small groups to share our faith journey of living the mission of loving our ‘dear neighbour.’  We share how we try to bring about unity and reconciliation in all our relationships wherever we are and in whatever we do. In the small groups we are given the opportunity to learn how living the spirituality of the Sisters of St. Joseph can change our lives. Listening deeply and receiving each other’s ‘sharing of hearts’ provides a platform of support to grow in awareness in how we can participate in the great love of God. The monthly meetings are where we are nurtured to grow in our mission. There are two practices that we use in our monthly faith sharing meetings, one of these is ‘state of the heart’ and the other is ‘order of the house.’

This form of communal contemplation brings the group to a phrase and symbol that captures how the Spirit has moved within the group. Both are tools that help us listen to the movement of the Spirit and to discern, in an ongoing manner, if we are being faithful to the mission and how we might minister to the ‘dear neighbour.’ These practices become a form of prayer by which we are inspired to take on various forms of service in our neighbourhoods, communities and world. Some of these ministries include, being available to our families, work within our church communities, commitment to ecological and environmental concerns, studying documents such as The Eucharistic Letter, Medaille’s Maxims, Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudate Si, etc. 

Two associate pioneers, Richard and Susan Schmaltz began working with the poor in Guatemala in 2000. Their ministry was to provide justice and dignity to the Indigenous people through promoting the importance of education and enabling those who are marginalized to receive the tools they need to rise out of the poverty that had been suppressing them. Their work was accomplished through the auspices of Oneness Through Service, an NGO, and the encouragement and support of the Sisters of St. Joseph and many volunteers and donations. Susan created an education program called Planting Seeds, which focuses on pre-school and the early elementary years. This education plan, based on decision making, developing creativity and critical thinking skills gave the children and their parents an alternative approach to the rote learning system in Guatemala.

The Schmaltz’s experience influenced and inspired many individuals and groups including Associates and several people from the Ottawa Valley and various areas of Canada and other parts of the world. In 2018 they passed the torch on to two young people, one from Ottawa and one from Chicago, both of whom have volunteered with them over the years. The work begun by Susan and Richard has carried on and expanded to include programs for families of the children. It is called Planting Seeds International today.

As the motherhouse closed this year the Associates felt the loss. We have great memories of our many visits, all the masses we attended with the sisters and more. Twice a year the associates held workshops and retreats at the motherhouse. These were attended by sisters and associates.

Some highlights over the years include: Gathering for formation at Nocturn ll, the sisters’ summer retreat at Combermere, and at Stillpoint House of Prayer in Springtown, Field of Compassion workshop and Unfurling New Wings retreat given by two Pembroke associates. In September 2007, three associates went on pilgrimage to France with the sisters from the Federation. In 2008 the associates organized a conference held at the Marguerite Center with Edwina Gately, founder of the Voluntary Missionary Movement as keynote speaker and facilitator. Rosemary O’Toole, csj, from The Upper Room Home of Prayer in Ottawa presented two workshops, one on State of the Heart and the other on Eucharistic Letter. We held a Burning Bush ceremony in 2014 where we dedicated a burning bush to the sisters. We held two workshops, Charism Day l, with a panel of sisters sharing their life and ministries and Charism Day ll with Sr. Nancy Wales from London. The associates of the G.S.I.C. order added a special flavour to this workshop by sharing the day with us. We published a newsletter, Making Connections, three times a year. 

Two special annual events were an end of year June potluck and Christmas gathering, planned by associates to honour and thank the sisters and generally celebrate. Other times to celebrate were our commitment ceremonies where associates made a formal committed to live the Charism in the spirit and spirituality of the sisters. A special event was Mother St. Jeanne Fontbonne feast day. She was a sister of St. Joseph of Lyon, France who refound the Congregation of the sisters in 1808 following the French Revolution. Sr. Jane Fisher and her staff provided us with the best meals and decorated the cafeteria to suit the occasion. In November each year we celebrated with a prayer service singing and special readings followed by a lovely meal. We will never forget these times.

The Associates were given an office at the convent. In it we kept our photo albums, our retreat   resources, decorations, books and memorabilia.  It was a safe space with a rocking chair and a bright window where associates could meet to discuss upcoming events. When we packed up our office materials we reminisced about our time there.

Sometimes the Associates would sit with sisters who were in palliative care in the healthcare at the motherhouse and in the hospital. Sometimes we accompanied sisters doing their mission. Marian Muldoon had a special ministry helping the parents in the neighbourhood. For many years at Christmas  time she would fill bags with fruit and homemade mittens and would knock on doors in the nearby housing project. Associates would go to help. She would invite the families to a Christmas pageant in one of the units. She had props of the Christmas story and the children would take on the roles. This was followed by hotdogs, beverages, other treats and a sing-a-long. Sr.Theresa Lepack collected new knitted mittens, sweaters, hats and snowsuits for new immigrants who arrived in Canada. We would help her distribute them. All wonderful memories of being with the sisters.

To sum up, Associates of the Sisters of St. Joseph aim to develop an ‘increased depth of consciousness regarding the interconnectedness of all creation and a fuller responsiveness to the stirring of the Spirit; a growing sense of what it is to live the charism in our world and into the future.’

With notes from the Associates’ handbook, Threads and Spaces, and State of the Heart and Order of the House: A Way of Non-Violence by Christy Cozil ,Theresa Cavel, Janet Lander and Dottie Moss