Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Two Nuns and Ordination

In "My Family Tree" blog I mentioned that Grandpere Lacasse had died - of cancer - at an early age and left Grandmere to raise four children - two boys with twin daughters in between them in age. She had moved from Hull to Montreal where she was engaged as the housekeeper at a Roman Catholic boys' orphanage. Uncle Lionel and Dad were raised there while the twins were placed with the Grey Nuns.

When the girls became adults they professed their vows. Ma Tante Cecile remained in Montreal for the rest of her life while Ma Tante Mouisa ('Marie-Anne' in the order) was sent to the Mackenzie River Valley where she was a housekeeper for various priests until she retired.

The rules of the Order had decreed that vacations must be taken back at the Mother House in Montreal. However, in the 1950s, that rule was relaxed and the nuns were allowed to vacation wherever they wished. Our aunt wanted to see her kid brother and meet his family so she came out to B.C. to visit Dad - and in the company of Sister Marguerite Comeau who - as a native of Boston, Massachusetts - was fluent in English.

Ma Tante had kept in touch and knew that I was studying Theology and was to be ordained and she wanted to be present. She and Sister Marguerite arrived in New Westminster on a train from Edmonton and remained with us for more than a week.

I will interject here with another anecdote from Union College which I neglected to include in my previous blog.

Dr Furcha taught a 'Creative Theology' class and, for it, I completed two projects. The first one was to write a ballad about the life of Blessed Marguerite d'Youville, the founder of the Grey Nuns. The second project was to use a Psalm as the base for an artistic creation. I chose the 'Creation' Psalm 98. I received top marks for both projects.

Back to my thread.

I understood that nuns are expected to attend Mass at least once a day. By this time the family home had moved into New Westminster. However, I chose the newer of the two parishes in Maillardville - Our Lady of Fatima - to assist them in fulfilling their pledge. I would say that I was/am the only United Church clergyman to go to Mass every day during Ordination week - including the very morning of his/her ordination!

                  The Hope to Princeton Highway - the southern route through the Coast Mountains

Half way through the mountains along the Hope to Princeton route is Manning Provincial Park.

In the United Church of Canada, Ordination Services are held generally when the church meets for its Annual General Conference. In 1971, B.C. Conference was meeting at the Christian Education Camp at Narramata northeast of Penticton in the Southern Okanagan. We had been given the choice of how - and under what conditions - the ordination would be conducted. We were hoping for an open air service in the orchard between the college buildings and Okanagan Lake. However, we had not counted upon the weather - showers and thunderstorms. The service was held indoors in the gymnasium that was crowded to the rafters. Mom and the nuns were sitting in the first row (above the penalty box) while my Sunday School teacher from my youth - Hulda Neufeld - was sitting immediately behind Mom.

Sister Marguerite Comeau, Mom, Me and Sister Marie-Anne Lacasse at Naramatta

There were eleven of us in that class - an unusually large number for B.C. We were nine men and two women and from many different backgrounds. One of our classmates was an Englishman who had been a young 'rowdy' but had had a conversion experience. Therefore, he tended to be more evangelical than the rest of us. We were called forward alphabetically by our last names. When it was George's turn he knelt and those whom he had chosen to officiate for him were about to place their hands upon his head. Just then there was a mighty crash of thunder and George bellowed. "Thank you, JESUS!!!" We laughed.

This was the first time that I had worn a clergy shirt and the 'tab' did not quite fit into the slot. A nuisance all day! After the service and the reception we drove north up to Vernon - where we had dinner in a Mr. Mike's Steakhouse - and then on to Babs and Hubert's home in Kamloops. Babs had made arrangement for the nuns to stay in a local convent so, after a visit with the Gibsons, I took them there.

The next morning was another drive - up to Eagle Creek to visit Alda and Leo and their kids who were all agog by the unusual visitors. As Babs had done in Kamloops, Alda had arranged for the nuns to stay with a small group of Sisters who were stationed in 100 Mile House.

Back in New Westminster the nuns visited for a few more days and I took them to Mass each morning. Sister Marguerite was quite a character. The church that I took them to was in Maillardville but I chose the newer parish - Our Lady of Fatima - which had a high school. By this time nuns were permitted to wear 'street clothing' so the teaching nuns were not distinguishable from the lay teachers. Sister Comeau poked me, held out her hand as if for a handshake and said, "I bet you $10.00 that the woman sitting three rows in front of us and four in from the aisle is a nun!" I didn't take her up on the bet.

Soon it was time to take them to the train for their return trip to Alberta. While I saw ma tante Maryanne more than once while living in Ottawa from 1973 until 1976, I never saw Sister Comeau again.


  1. Again - thanks to the generosity of Michael W. of Vancouver, I am able to add to photos.