“CALLED TO SERVE”: THE STORY OF A MONUMENT
On October 1, 2015, a monument honoring the legacy of Catholic Sisters in Saskatchewan was unveiled and blessed in Regina at Wascana Park. While the story of the 5,500 Sisters who have served in this province is awe-inspiring, the tale of how the monument came to be is itself amazing.
It is a story of nine people, members of the “Sisters Legacy Recognition Committee”, who worked together for over three years to bring an idea to fruition. It’s a narrative worth recalling for it tells of a seemingly impossible dream that was fashioned into reality through the commitment and creativity of a few people united in a common goal.
The story had its beginning in March 2012 when Sandra Kary, Executive Director of the Catholic Health Association of Saskatchewan (CHAS) contacted Gordon Self, Vice-President of Covenant Health in Alberta, to learn how their organization had planned and undertaken a project to honor the legacy of Catholic Sisters in that province. In a further conversation with CHAS members, Sandy Normand and Bert Yakichuk, it was decided: “We can do that.” The seed was planted.
The initiative was presented at the March 2012 meeting of the Saskatchewan Catholic Connections Committee (SCCC) where it was approved and later affirmed by Archbishop Daniel Bohan and the other bishops of the province. A preliminary project meeting was held on June 15, 2012 at the Catholic Health Ministry of Saskatchewan office (CHMS, later re-named Emmanuel Care) in Saskatoon. At the table were Leona Burkhart of Regina, EC board member; Scott Irwin, CEO of EC; Therese Jelinski, CHAS board member; Tim Jelinski, member at large; Sister Teresita Kambeitz, OSU, historian; Sandra Kary, Executive Director of CHAS; Ken Loehndorf, Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association (SCSBA); and Paula Scott, SCSBA board member. Propelled by enthusiasm, this newly-formed subcommittee undertook the project with great resolve. They had no experience of monument creation, no envisioned structure, no plan of action, no time line, and no money. As a starting point, it was decided that the monument should be located near the provincial legislature in Regina. A tentative date for the dedication festivity was set for spring of 2014. Was there interest at the government level? Informal conversations with individuals in government provided assurance of solid support for the concept on the part of the government and its ministries.
Further meetings revealed the complexity of the project. With what authority would this sub-committee write to government? On what letterhead? What historical information shall they include? How much will it cost? Where will they obtain funds? How do they issue tax deductible receipts? What groups should they invite as sponsors? What type of structure do they want? What title shall they give the monument? How do they recruit a sculptor? What sort of contract will they require? Who will own the monument? What process is needed to gain insurance? Who will maintain it in the future? When will there be a media release? Shall they have an accompanying video produced on the history of service given by Catholic Sisters?
A year later, after seven meetings, the committee with the help of new member, Bruce Acton, the CEO of St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation, had done enough background work in order to proceed with fund-raising. A budget of $200,000 was determined; potential donors were named; a donor package of informative materials was to be developed; and eight prospective sculptors were to be contacted.
The committee worked diligently and with great cooperation and engagement from the Wascana Centre Authority (WCA) in Regina, ensured that the parameters of this project fit WCA’s mandate for the use of the land. Meanwhile, three of the eight sculptors expressed interest in the project. The committee decided to provide guidelines for the monument: 1) it should reflect the Sisters’ contribution to both education and health care; 2) it should depict a sense of community; 3) it should show Sisters in action, as it is their service that is being honored. The sculptor’s budget was set at a maximum of $150,000.
On November 13, 2013, Jack Jensen of Prince Albert was selected as the sculptor for the monument. In response to the committee’s guidelines, he had designed a maquette depicting a teaching Sister with school bell in one hand and an attendance register and book under the other, alongside a nurse Sister holding a folded blanket under one arm while reaching out in care to an imaginary patient with the other. Realizing that this undertaking held more challenges than they had initially foreseen, the committee postponed the proposed unveiling date to spring, 2015.
The next several meetings dealt with numerous difficulties and delays, the main one being the long awaited approval from WCA. Their reply was to be received by early fall of 2014. Meanwhile, Jack Jensen had begun his sculpture, the donor package now contained seven items and the fundraising contacts had begun to be made.
Finally, at the committee’s twentieth meeting on June 20, 2014, a breakthrough was announced. David and Karen Holst of Saskatoon had made a very significant donation and became the lead donors. The committee now had funds! As a result of this very significant development, the committee planned to wrap up all fundraising efforts by December 31, 2014. Further decisions were made. A digital media company, Studio 10 Productions from Regina, was hired and a subcommittee was struck to work with them. Another subcommittee was struck to work with the sculptor, Jack Jensen.
At the next meeting there was more exciting news. The WCA had identified potential sites for the committee to consider near the Legislature grounds adjacent to Lakeshore Drive and Wascana Lake, between Hill Avenue and the Trafalgar fountain. More good news: Miners Construction had agreed to create the stamped drawings, to provide the materials and to build the concrete plinth that would be the base for the statues – all free of charge! The committee was now ready to explore dates with the Premier and the bishops for the unveiling celebration to take place in a year’s time.
Other developments unfolded rapidly. Studio 10 producers were to begin interviewing Sisters for the DVD; the names of the 61 religious orders that have served in the province were being researched; at Archbishop Bohan’s request, the unveiling would be scheduled during the time that the papal nuncio, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, would be visiting the province; the project was to be announced at the forthcoming Catholic education/health care convention banquet on October 25, 2014.
At the meetings of December 19, 2014 and months following, the schedule of the day’s events were arranged. The Unveiling and Blessing Ceremony would take place at 1:30 p.m.; the Mass at Holy Rosary Cathedral at 3:00 p.m.; Cocktails, followed by the banquet at the Doubletree Inn would begin at 5:00 p.m.; the DVD would be premiered at the banquet. Meanwhile, as the WCA awaited approval from the landowner (provincial government) to have the monument located where designated, other decisions were being made by the committee regarding the color of the concrete plinth; the creation of bronze plaques featuring names of the Sisters, donors and SCCC members; and the contracting of Creative Fire Saskatoon, an advertising agency that would handle communications and support the committee by working with suppliers, venues, media and other stakeholders in order to see this event through to completion.
Understanding the breadth of the work that still lay ahead, Sandra Kary, with the blessing of the CHAS Board of Directors, offered to serve as the Project Lead in order to liaise effectively with the artist and suppliers as well as coordinate all the myriad of details involved in the project. She would serve an average of two days per week for the next eight months.
Since many of the Sisters being honored were retired teachers, the committee decided to delight their hearts by involving children at the unveiling ceremony. Deacon Bob Williston was commissioned to compose a song for the occasion. Entitled “You’re Everybody’s Sisters”, it would be performed at the ceremony by elementary school students from Regina. With the event date moving many times, the calendars of the various dignitaries finally aligned and the date of the festivity was set for October 1, 2015.
Excitement mounted as numerous plans unfolded rapidly on many levels! The statues were being cast in bronze by Jim Jensen at his foundry at Mount Nebo near Spiritwood. Miners Construction installed the plinth in March, 2015. The media release went to mainstream and Catholic news media on March 19th. Guest lists were drawn up and invitations were designed. A VIP component for the Sisters took shape, including the provision of a fine lunch at the Doubletree Inn for them upon arrival. Hayley Wickenheiser, Olympian hockey star, agreed to be interviewed for the DVD; renowned organist, Valerie Hall, accepted the invitation to play the pipe organ at Mass; elegant bookmarks would be given as “Thank You” gifts to the Sisters.
On June 15, 2015, the liturgical subcommittee met with Fr. Ron Andre to plan the Eucharistic Celebration. Printed invitations were sent to 319 Sisters in Canada with an RSVP date set for July 8, 2015. A second set of invitations would be sent to 166 other guests with an RSVP date set for August 31, 2015. It appeared that every one of the 350 seats at the celebration banquet would be filled! Remco Memorials, one of several donors who offered their services in-kind, transported the statues from the foundry at Mount Nebo to Regina for installation by Miners Construction on September 21, 2015, with Sandra Kary and Greg Miller from Creative Fire in attendance. The monument was bubble-wrapped and covered with a tarp.
Four coaches from Moose Mountain Bus Lines were booked to transport the Sisters to the various venues in the city. The committee viewed the second rough cut of the DVD and suggested revisions. A signed bill of sale was obtained from the Archdiocese of Regina, making the Archdiocese the legal owners of the monument. As the end of the project neared, a final budget of more than $380,000 was achieved, which included a minimum $30,000 fund to be set aside as an endowment fund for ongoing maintenance. Arrangements had to be made with regard to speakers, chairs at the unveiling ceremony, banquet table seating, name tags, AV equipment, lunch and banquet menus, entertainment, and countless other details. One item was mentioned again and again: prayers for good weather.
Thursday, October 1, 2015 dawned mild, calm and slightly cloudy in Regina. Perfect. The stellar events of the long-awaited day unfolded smoothly and happily. Spirits were vibrant everywhere. The highlight? Perhaps it was the crowd’s delighted gasp and burst of applause upon the unveiling of the monument. It was a priceless moment – worth the three years of meticulous, multi-leveled planning and determined, dedicated work of a very determined and dedicated committee.
The monument honoring the legacy of the many Catholic Sisters who pioneered education, health care and social services in Saskatchewan features two larger-than-life-sized bronze statues of a Sister-nurse and a Sister-teacher against the background of a Gothic-shaped window featuring a circle (symbolizing community) with rays flowing from it. At the base is located a plaque listing in historical order the names of the 61 religious orders of Sisters that have served and are serving in the province. It reads:
Called to Serve: This monument recognizes the significant contributions of more than 5,500 Catholic Sisters to education, health care and social services in Saskatchewan since 1860. The Sisters founded many of the first hospitals, schools, orphanages and homes for the elderly – providing care and support with faith, courage, compassion, and a strong sense of being Called to Serve.
Two additional plaques list the names of the donors, the organizations represented on the Saskatchewan Catholic Connections Committee and the name of the sculptor, Jack Jensen of Prince Albert.
The inspiration that prompted a phone call in 2012 was now solidified in a bronze monument standing as an enduring tribute to the Catholic Sisters who carried on the teaching and healing mission of Jesus in Saskatchewan. These dedicated pioneer women, in conditions of poverty and hardship, served with great love and helped to found and shape the gentle province we have today.
by Sister Teresita Kambeitz, OSU