Sisters of Notre Dame celebrate 75 years
Submitted by the Unity SSND’s
Source: Newsletter of the DIOCESE OF SASKATOON, Spring/Summer 2002 Page 3.
This year the School Sisters of Notre Dame are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the SSND Canadian Province with its headquarters at Waterdown, Ontario, and the community’s first missionary endeavor. Back in 1927, the School Sisters launched their first mission in far-off Western Canada, Leipzig, Saskatchewan.
At the urgent request of the German Oblate Fathers in the West, Mother Baptist, the first Provincial leader and her assistant, Sister Othwina, toured the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan in the spring of 1926. Their aim was to establish the first convent and boarding school on behalf of German settlers. Rev. Kohler, the Oblate Superior of St. Joseph’s Colony, convinced the sisters that Leipzig, Saskatchewan, would be the ideal site since it was here that the first mass was celebrated in a field in the newly-formed colony. Bishop Prud’homme of Prince Albert was very enthusiastic about the project as were also the Leipzig School Board members.
So it was that on August 26, 1926, the first four sisters arrived to open the new mission. On the first day of school, September 20, classes for 60 children began in the two-room village school.
According to a historical report, prepared by the Unity SSND’s for their 75th anniversary celebration, conditions were rustic:
“They had little of new equipment; about all they had was the blessing of the bishop. Their first home and boarding school was a large house lent to them by Mr. Anthony Kaufmann*, with a bunk house nearby. This latter building (100 ft. long) was divided into three sections as sleeping quarters, one for the boys, the centre part for the sister in charge, and one for the girls. There was no electricity and a restricted water supply.”
On May 31, 1927, the area farmers ploughed up the prairie sod for the convent building. The roof was completed by October 9 and on December 28, the sisters moved in.
“Holy Mass was celebrated with grateful hearts in the convent chapel the following day. Students returning in the new year were welcomed, yet conditions continued to be difficult. Gasoline lanterns supplied light and well water was only found in March.”
A number of unsuccessful attempts had been made in drilling for water. Then Sister Petra Beyer promised to have a grotto erected in honour of Our Lady of Lourdes if the water project proved successful. This prayer was heard as, surprisingly, at a depth of over 400 feet, there was a constant flow of water and it continues to this day! The grotto was built in 1938. The sisters say it is still a blessed place where visitors continue to come and pray.
In September of 1928, people from all over the district and several dignitaries visited Leipzig for the blessing of the four-storey, 40-room red brick convent. Visitors marveled at the splendid edifice, finished throughout in first class workmanship. Bishop Prud’homme came from Prince Albert to offer the Solemn High Mass and to bless the new convent.
At that time, Bishop Murray was the first bishop of the newly-formed Diocese of Saskatoon. To comply with Bishop Murray’s request to offer accommodation to students from rural areas because of distances and severe weather, two floors were equipped for sleeping quarters, one for girls, the other for boys of elementary school age.
Later, only high school girls were boarders although day students, both boys and girls, also attended. As early as 1928 there were already pupils from as far away as Winnipeg attending the convent boarding school. The sisters endeavoured to give their students an all-round education, to the fullness of their potential.
The ministry of the sisters at Leipzig, besides teaching, included summer school catechetics, music lessons and parish sacristy duties.
Later, when more SSND houses were opened in the West, Leipzig Convent became the centre; each summer the sisters gathered there for retreat. It provided the SSND roots in Saskatchewan and was considered the nucleus when several other mission houses were opened in the area: Revenue already in 1927, Handel (1944), Salt Lake - St. John’s (1951), Wilkie (1957) and Kerrobert (1981).
“At present the only SSND house remaining in the colony is at Unity, which was opened in 1978. The sisters were welcomed as teachers and pastoral assistants. The sisters there now do volunteer tutoring at school, parish ministry, Bible Study and outreach to the sick, elderly and lonely,” the sisters wrote.
The convent at Leipzig closed in 1969 after improved roads and bus transportation meant the boarding school in this area was no longer needed. High school area students were bussed to a larger centre.
In 1965 the SSND’s began their first mission outside of Saint Joseph’s Colony in the city of Saskatoon, where the sisters first taught in a Catholic elementary school. Later, their ministries changed and at present the sisters there are engaged in: prison ministry, visiting the sick, elderly, shut-ins; one serves in the Diocesan Marriage Tribunal. At Luseland, as well as Tramping Lake, one sister is parish administrator.
The ministry of the School Sisters of Notre Dame in the Archdiocese of Regina began in 1981 in response to a request for religious education consultants and coordinator of the five deaneries. In the ensuing years other ministries emerged which included programs for adult faith renewal, witness/presence to the Native and Spanish communities. Our present ministry in the archdiocese is in Regina only, where the sisters do volunteer outreach, counseling and spiritual direction.
Other towns in Saskatchewan from which the SSND’s served as parish administrators are: Beechy, Viscount, Oxbow, Bengough and Wolseley.
This year marked 75 years since Leipzig Convent opened its doors. On June 2, beginning at 2 p.m., the School Sisters of Notre Dame are taking this wonderful opportunity to celebrate the lives of the sisters in the Canadian province, and in particular, all the SSND’s who pioneered and ministered in this area.
Included in this celebration are the many students who passed through the halls of Leipzig Convent. From 1926 until present, the School Sisters of Notre Dame have contributed in both academic and religious fields. Through their nurturing and planting, a good number of women and men entered religious life and the priesthood, as well as various professions.
The sisters’ labours and sacrifices have reflected their motto: “VIRTUS et SCIENTIA” (VIRTUE and KNOWLEDGE). In remembering their past, they can pray in Mary’s Spirit, “Our souls proclaim the greatness of the Lord!”
The SSND say they owe a debt of gratitude to Ron and Mary Kolenosky for beginning the restoration of the convent, which now has the status of a heritage place in the Province of Saskatchewan. Although part of the building serves as a home for the Kolenosky’s, the imposing structure stands as a symbol of the vision and hopes of the early pioneers.
*Father Lester Kaufman, son of Anthony (Tony), was in attendance at the June 2 anniversary celebration.
Leipzig Convent 75 Anniversary Celebration
on Sunday June 2, 2002Front of the Convent, from the South
Leipzig Catholic Church, from the East
Ron Kolenosky Welcoming the Crowd
Lineup for the Beef on a Bun Supper, Convent in Background.
Ron and Mary Kolenosky
Would Welcome Donations for the renovations of the Leipzig Convent. Please write to the address or phone for further information.
Box 448, Wilkie SK S0K 4W0
Added: Tuesday, June 4, 2002