BY RYLAND COYNE
Smith Falls, Ont./The Record News
The following article originally appeared in the Smith Falls Record News. It is posted here with permission.
For 40 years — 17 in the picturesque Ontario community of Smiths Falls — Sister Marlene Schuster has been tending to the needs of the less fortunate, in relative anonymity. But while the greater population may not have heard her name spoken often, those fortunate enough to be touched by her selfless work over the years speak of her in glowing terms. And they are one in voicing their deep admiration and love for Sister Marlene.
Many of these people congregated for a surprise celebration at the Rideau Regional Centre in mid-November of 1999. It was a chance to join her in marking her 40 years with the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul. It was also a chance to thank her for her “selfless service” not only to Rideau residents and staff, but also to the community and the country.
Sister Marlene was genuinely caught unawares as she was guided into Rideau Regional’s Activity Centre for the big event by chaplain Desmond Sequeira. The large crowd broke into spontaneous applause as she entered the hall. A steady stream of well-wishers then came forward with hugs and words of congratulations.
“Who said a big organization like this can’t keep a secret?” Desmond told the crowd in his introductory remarks during the “official” part of the event.
Acting administrator Dennis Staples said it was a privilege for him to be able to say a few words about Sister Marlene’s contributions to the facility. He described her as “one of those behind-the-scenes people” who quietly goes about her business and who, undoubtedly, makes a huge difference in the lives of so many people.
Prior to her arrival in Smiths Falls, Sister Marlene also served in Saskatchewan and Alberta, he noted.
“I can honestly say, you are truly a great Canadian,” Mr. Staples said.
Rev. Carl Tuyl, executive director of the Ontario Multifaith Council for Spiritual and Religious Care brought congratulations to Sister Marlene on behalf of Ontario Premier Mike Harris. He said her “countless acts of kindness” help make this province a better place to live, work and raise a family.
“Truly, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you for your wonderful service,” he said.
The ceremony included the singing of an original composition entitled “Her Song,” presented by Harold Frizell who was backed by a chorus of the centre’s staff members. There were also a number of presentations of gifts including a bouquet of 40 roses given on behalf of the residents.
Desmond went on to thank all those at the Rideau Regional Centre who contributed to this occasion.
“It is important to note that we can be effective in providing for the spiritual and religious well-being of our residents only with the support of all our staff, and this celebration is a good example of how so many of us can come together to have a truly spiritual experience,” he said.
Staff and residents put into words their feelings toward Sister Marlene.
“Your warm friendliness and your great sensitivity to our needs and concerns have touched us most deeply. Through your ministry, you have made our heavy moments lighter and our lighter moments more joyful. Wednesday and Saturdays are very special at Rideau because on those days we know that you are going to be here,” they wrote.
Sister Joan Whittingham of Kingston, General Superior of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul, has known Sister Marlene for 39 of her 40 years of service. She says her friend is a genuine human being who, simply, is dedicated to helping others.
“She hasn’t changed a bit,” she says. “She has the same face, the same warm smile, the same gentle manner. I’ve always known how wonderful she is.”
For her part, Sister Marlene, who is also pastoral assistant at St. Francis de Sales Church in Smiths Falls, says she was surprised by the turnout.
“It certainly has been overwhelming,” she said. “I had no idea this would be so big. I appreciate so much their effort and support.”
In customary fashion, she was very humble in the face of all the attention, saying she enjoys her work in the parish — which includes regular visits to elderly at hospital, nursing homes or in their homes — as well as at the Rideau Regional Centre.
“They’re wonderful,” she says of the people she meets with every week.