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Life comes full circle for the Sisters of St. Ann

Nov 29 2012
Sisters of St. Ann: Helene Corneau, Sharon Doore and McGauvran. 

Sisters of St. Ann: Helene Corneau, Sharon Doore and McGauvran.

Photograph by: Lyle Stafford , Times Colonist

Life is unfolding in a perfect circle for 14 elderly members of the Sisters of St. Ann, who have moved into the homey confines of Mount St. Mary Hospital in Fairfield.

The sisters, most in their 80s, belong to a Roman Catholic order of nuns whose ties to the area date back to the 1850s, when they first arrived in B.C.

Sister Helene Corneau, 87, who taught at a number of Catholic schools during her career, said her transition to Mount St. Mary from St. Ann's Residence in Cad-boro Bay has been an easy one.

"I couldn't desire anything better," she said.

Besides, she said, moving is nothing new for her and many of her peers.

"In religious life, you do move from one place to another, so there's always a sense of readiness if you're named to go somewhere else or you're offered to go somewhere else."

The order's legacy of service in health care and education includes establishing St. Ann's Academy (opened first in New Westminster, then in Victoria in 1871), St. Joseph's Hospital (1876), and the current and original Mount St. Mary facilities.

The Queenswood property that housed St. Ann's Residence was sold to the University of Victoria in 2010 as part of downsizing. The seniors facility, opened in 1981, is now closed, with the property's final transfer taking place Dec. 15. The contents have been put to good use, with medical equipment landing in the Philippines and furniture distributed to the region's needy.

Dropping membership made downsizing necessary, said Sister Sheila Moss from the order's administrative office. The order had about 200 sisters in B.C. when Moss joined in 1955.

There are just 42 now.

In recent years, the Sisters of St. Ann have also donated artwork to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and artifacts to the Royal B.C. Museum - an effort to ensure the items were well cared for and available for the public to enjoy, Moss said.

At Mount St. Mary, the sisters are among 200 residents, ages 39 to 107, but the facility's CEO, Sara John Fowler, made a special effort to establish ties with them in the months leading up to their move, said Sister Ronalda McGauvran.

"For over a year, Sara used to come out and have lunch with us, and that was the nicest connection."

McGauvran said she loves her new surroundings, and pointed out that Mount St. Mary sits on the same spot as the order's former St. Joseph's School of Nursing, where she spent many years.

"I'm right back where I was living, right on this property," said the 85-yearold with a laugh.

The sisters have brought something special to Mount St. Mary, Fowler said.

"Mount St. Mary Hospital is very honoured that the sisters chose to come and live here," she said.

"The sisters are very humble and modest, but they continue their ministry here. Although they live here and their title might be 'resident,' they're still providing a ministry of companionship, pastoral care and support to others.

"People who live in a facility like this are vulnerable, they're part of a vulnerable, elder population.

The sisters provide tremendous service and they really do continue to live their legacy and their mission, and we're just so thankful that we're able to be part of that."

McGauvran said her new home gives her a genuine sense of freedom.

"It's very real, you don't ever have to feel like someone's checking up on you.

Not only is there a freedom, this place is brimming with love and joy and peace," she said.

Residents have a full slate of activities and programs to choose from, along with pursuing their own interests, Corneau said.

"I love crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, I love reading. I take walks outdoors, usually in the afternoon."

McGauvran enthused about a recent outing to Langford Lanes, where she had the high score among the Mount St. Mary contingent.

"That was the first time I went bowling in about 50 years," she said.

To mark the sisters' arrival, the Mount St. Mary Hospital Foundation has created the Sisters of St.

Ann Legacy Fund, said the foundation's Mandy Parker.

"It's to support programs that reflect the values of the sisters, things like spiritual care, health care and education," she said.

Contributions to the fund can be made by calling 240-480-3138 or going to the facility's website at msmfoundation.ca. jwbell@timescolonist.com

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