The History of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate in Edmonton’s Educational System
Life in Ukraine in the late 1800s was one of spiritual, moral, and material poverty; a time of suffering and hopelessness.
But hopelessness did not prevail. God heard the cry of His people, and answered their prayers. The Lord touched the hearts of three individuals: Fr. Jeremiah Lomnitsky, OSBM, with a vision to help his people; Michaelina Hordashevska, her heart aflame with love for God and for her people, ready to respond to Fr. Jeremiah’s invitation to realize his vision; and Fr. Kyrylo Seletsky, a parish priest, with the generosity to provide the material needs.
And so in August 1892, the Congregation of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate of the Eastern Rite was founded in Fr. Kyrylo Seletsky’s Zhuzhel parish. Sister Josaphata Hordashevska and seven young women made their commitment of loving service to God and their people.
God’s blessings were upon this young community. Within ten years, there were 128 SSMI members in 26 missions throughout Western Ukraine. The people’s hearts were uplifted as they witnessed the dedication of the Sisters and watched the Community flourish. They were called “Children of God’ and “Angels of Mercy”.
The harsh economic reality of the old world forced Ukrainians to look for a better life in the New World. They emigrated to Canada, the United States, and Brazil. Although the new land brought hope, it also brought much suffering, isolation, and spiritual emptiness.
Aware that the Ukrainian immigrants were of the Eastern Church, the Roman Catholic bishops asked Metropolitan Sheptytsky in Ukraine to send priests and religious to minister to the immigrants.
At the request of Metropolitan Andrew, three Basilian priests and a lay brother and four Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate came to Canada in 1902.
Arrival in Edmonton SSMI
The first Sisters Servants in Canada were Ambrose Lenkewich, Taida Wrublewsky, Isidora Shypowsky, and Emilia Klapoushka. They arrived in Edmonton on November 1, 1902, and were generously received by the Roman Catholic clergy, religious, and a joyous group of Ukrainian immigrants.
Provisions were made for the Sisters to live in quarters above the sacristy of St. Joachim’s Church, where they began to minister to the Ukrainian people. In May 1903, Sister Taida died, after several months of illness. In July, the three Sisters moved to Mundare, Alberta (Beaver Lake), living in the beginning in a log cabin, without windows or doors. They shared the lot of their fellow immigrants, plastering their home and doing farm chores.
Vocations to the Sisters Servants made it possible for them to open schools in Mundare and Edmonton, and travel near and far to catechize and minister to the sick. Bishop Emile Legal, omi, donated four lots and a home for the sisters at 9638 – 108 Avenue in 1905.
In 1905, several Sisters Servants founded their first permanent urban mission in Edmonton. Their convent was located near the newly-built St. Josaphat Church. Soon after their arrival, a nursery school was opened at the convent. By 1908, the enrolment had grown to 100 children. In 1910, a new convent and school were built, thanks to the generosity of the Catholic Church Extension Society. The school was re-organized into an elementary school with about fifty children in attendance, which later became St. Josaphat Separate School. The first teacher was Sister Josaphata Tymochko.
In 1917, St. Josaphat School became part of the Edmonton Separate School system. A Sister Servant, Sister Mary Natalia Melnyk, taught primary grades at the school.
To accommodate the increasing enrolment, four classrooms were built onto St. Josaphat Convent in 1921. This classroom wing became a part of Sacred Heart elementary school nearby. The Edmonton Catholic School Board rented it until 1961, when the new Sacred Heart School was constructed.
The Sisters Servants’ educational apostolate in Edmonton, as elsewhere in Canada, was shaped by their commitment to serve their Ukrainian brothers and sisters. Thus, they opted to teach in those schools where there were a larger number of Ukrainian students in attendance.
In 1927, a Sister Servant joined the staff of St. Francis of Assisi School to teach the Ukrainian children there. Sisters Servants also taught at St. Clare School. Sister Gerarda (Pauline) Sereda was the last Sister Servant to teach in the Edmonton Catholic Schools.
At all of these schools, Sisters gave instruction in the Ukrainian language, history, literature, and religion, according to the Eastern Rite. They taught Ukrainian religious and folk songs and presented many programs, which featured Ukrainian drama, choral speaking, hymns and folk songs, drills, and choreography.
Beginning in 1967, the Sisters Servants conducted a Ukrainian nursery school at St. Basil’s Ukrainian Catholic Parish. Thus, they continue to serve in the Catholic Educational apostolate and pass on the riches of the Ukrainian cultural and religious heritage to new generations of Ukrainian-Canadians.
The Sisters Servants have shared their cultural and religious identity with the Latin rite and non-Catholic Edmontonians: clergy, religious, and laity alike. The encouraged countless parents to enrol their children in the Catholic school system. Throughout the decades, they have bridged the gap of ignorance and suspicion between the faithful of the two rites and have helped to promote a spirit of respect, fraternal co-operation, and mutual enrichment.
Sisters continue to serve their people and all Edmontonians through the preparation and publication of cultural and religious teaching aids and materials, the presentation of seminars and workshops on the rite, and spiritual renewal of staff and students.
The Sisters founded St. Josaphat Elementary School in 1905, which became part of the Catholic School system in 1917. In 1921, this school became part of Sacred Heart School. The Sisters taught in Sacred Heart School until 1971.
In 1927, the Sisters also taught in both St. Francis School and St. Clare School and continued to do so until 1960. In the 1970s, they taught in St. Agnes School and for 24 years at St. Joseph High School.
Also during the late 1960s to early 1970s, Sister Margaret Zadorozney was a Byzantine Rite consultant for the Catholic system. In more recent years, with the founding of an Eparchial Catechetical Centre, Sisters from the Centre were available to staff and students to inform them about the Eastern Rite and organize liturgical celebrations.
Sr. Josaphata Tymochko
The first SSMI teacher in Edmonton was Sister Josaphata Tymochko.
Some of the other teachers in the early period up to the 1930s were Sister Theresa Melnyk and Sister Elizabeth Kassian.
Sister Marcella Wynnyk
1933 – 43, 1959 – 71: Sacred Heart School
Sister Bernadette Warick
1933 – 47: Sacred Heart School
Sister Modesta Lukey
1944 – 55: Sacred Heart School
Sister Monica Mantyka
1944 – 50: St. Clare School
Sister Frances Byblow
1945 – 46: Sacred Heart School
1950 – 56: St. Clare School
Sister Jerome Chimy
1950 – 51: Sacred Heart School
1950 – 52: St. Clare School
Sister Louise Matwiy
1951 – 56: Sacred Heart School
Sister Valerie Krochenski
1952 – 59: Sacred Heart School
Sister Margaret Zadorozney
1955 – 58: St. Clare School
1967 – 68: Sacred Heart School
Sister Junia Kunanec
1956 – 59: Sacred Heart School
Sister Gerarda Sereda
1957 – 58: St. Clare School
1968 – 80: St. Joseph High School
1980 – 87: Austin O’Brien High School
1987 – 92: Archbishop O’Leary High School
Sister Patricia Harrison
1959 – 66: Sacred Heart School
Sister Judith Pacholko
1968 – 71: St. Joseph High School, Mount Carmel
St. Basil School
Sister Rose Luby
1970 – 77: St. Michael School
Sister Aloysius Safranovich
1972 – 75: Sacred Heart School
1975 – 77: St. Agnes School