By Father T. J. Raby
The following address was given by Father T. J. Raby at the 100th anniversary of the opening of Our Mother of Sorrows chapel in Providence Manor. It is reprinted here with permission.
I am very pleased and privileged to be the homilist at this Mass of thanksgiving celebrating the 100th anniversary of the dedication of this beautiful chapel of Our Mother of Sorrows.
I feel I am in some way associated with some very illustrious men, with Bishop Horan of Kingston and Bishop Bourget of Montreal who were present at the first Mass in the first chapel, a large room in the original building. That was Dec. 13, 1861.
And with Bishop Horan, again, at the first Mass in the second chapel, part of the first building erected by the Sisters — that was exactly 10 years later on Dec. 13, 1871. And with Bishop Cleary who approved and assisted with this present beautiful chapel and Archbishop Gauthier who presided at the official dedication on this Nov. 21 date in 1898.
This is indeed a beautiful chapel — really it was more than a chapel, it was a church on Ordnance Street, that became an integral part of the growing complex that we see today. It was the Motherhouse Chapel for many years until Heathfield was built in the 1930s.
This chapel was the centre and source of spiritual life for the growing community, where Sisters gathered to ask God’s help in their work, where novices were received and from which Sisters were sent out to carry on the work of the community in other areas of Canada and the United States. It was where, too, the funeral Mass was offered for those who died. I remember my first visit to this chapel was for the funeral Mass of Sister Mary Cleopas, my father’s sister, who spent almost all of her religious life in the west.
And what was, and is, that work the Sisters prayed about? Bishop Horan, anxious to have a religious community to care for the sick, the aged and poor, prevailed upon Bishop Bourget of Montreal to support his request for help, and four Sisters of a recently formed community came in response to Bishop Horan’s request. This was the beginning of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul in Kingston.
One of the charisms of the Sisters is compassion. It was extended to the poor, the aged, the orphan and prisoners. The first Sisters were poor themselves, and had to beg for money and food to carry on the work of caring for poor and aged who came in increasing numbers.
As the years passed, their charism remained the same, but it reached further and further into the needs of people in changing times, into education, into hospital work, into the mission field, into a call for justice. That charism of compassion goes out to those we hear named today as the disadvantaged and the marginalized.
That charism shows itself in the response to the needs of others, to give dignity, a sense of being worthwhile, of being loved no matter age, condition or status. It was that charism, responding with compassion, that led to the building of hospitals, homes for the aged, St. Vincent de Paul work, Gabriel Home. And all the Sisters who were involved in starting and continuing these works found the source of divine strength was in those chapels they made part of every foundation.
The Sisters and places may have changed, but the charism remained constant-looking. Only the method of response to the changed needs of the times — for the “poverty’s” of our time — for every age brings on poverty’s of its own. The changes were in using the improved methods and techniques and modern facilities to respond.
We still have the financial poverty, but today help is available through government and agencies that were not around 100 years ago. There is ever present the poverty of sickness, but now specialized areas of care and treatment. There are always the elderly, but now more modern conveniences to offer. And in all these areas the Sisters have not only kept pace, but often were forerunners.
Today, however, even though our standard of living may be higher, there are other forms of poverty that need the compassion you Sisters are called to give. There is the growing awareness of the poverty of justice that some of the Sisters today, almost to the scandal of others, cry out and protest against and seek to make governments aware of and respond to.
There is the spiritual poverty that nothing can answer but a faith that gives meaning to life and hope in the face of suffering and death. How often persons receive this from a Sister willing to listen without judging, able to turn troubled minds to God by showing the spirit of Jesus. There is the emotional poverty of the lonely, with no family to care, or worse a family that doesn’t care, eased by just being a presence, giving the time to visit, to be with one.
I see some of the retired Sisters visiting here, being the voice, the assuring presence the touch of compassion the poverty’s of our time call for. Today with a growing danger of the culture of death spreading through euthanasia and the loss of the value of life because of suffering persons fail to see as being meritorious in any way, or what is so often called lack of quality of life, Sisters today are called to be signs of the culture of life by living the charism of compassion and service to the poor, the disadvantaged.
What a wonderful day to dedicate a chapel — the Feast of the Presentation. Tradition tells us that Mary as a small child was presented to the Lord in the Temple. It is a day that recalls when you presented yourself as novices, not to bring Christ physically to the world as Mary did, but to make His love present through your life of compassion for the poor. Christ works through you, as the words of the Gospel imply: “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, is my brother, sister and mother.”
In this chapel and in the work of the Sisters responding to the poverty’s of their time, the words of Zachariah in that first reading apply: “Sing and rejoice O daughter, for lo, I will come and dwell in your midst.”
“I will come and dwell in your midst,” Zechariah prophecies in the first reading. Jesus has done this in this chapel and because you are aware of this and prayed to God for your work, for those whom you serve, as we repeated in the psalm, God has done great things for you. And I am sure He will continue to do so!
One final word Sisters — this is a beautiful chapel conducive to prayer — where one may come and kneel before the Lord in prayer or sit in silent meditation. I hope you do not spoil it by turning it into a lounge that destroys the attitude and atmosphere of worship.
Let this beautiful Gothic chapel-church remind you always of your spiritual roots from which you were called to keep alive the love and compassion of Jesus, who said: “Whatsoever you do to the least, the poor, the disadvantaged, the oppressed, you do to me.” Not “for me,” but “to me.” May God continue to bless your works so that the words of the psalm refrain may be yours too — “The Almighty has done great things for me and holy is His name.”
Sr. Pauline Lally and Mac Gervan receive the Livable City Award from Kingston Mayor Harvey Rosen.
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A two year restoration project spearheaded by the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul has been nominated for a prestigious Kingston award.
The Livable City Design Awards recognizes and promotes excellence in design and helps to heighten the image of the City.
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