What follows is an article prepared by Helen Cameron IBVM giving a treasured glimpse into the lives of the senior Sisters living at Presentation Manor in Toronto. We hope that this glimpse gives you a sense of the vibrant lives of Loretto Sisters whose ministry of prayer and presence is the backbone of our Institute.
Several months ago, a sister who lived at Loretto College asked what we “did” at Presentation Manor. Trying to explain, I was lost for an answer, because there are so many ways I could have responded. So, I asked and I listened, and I read the monthly calendar of events and activities, and I will try to give you some sense of what life is like here.
First of all, one of the things that might help is to listen to the wise words of one of the Basilian Fathers, who plays the piano every day with a great deal of artistry, and accompanies the cantors on a Sunday morning. I was practising for a Liturgy recently, and moaning about not being able to sing as I once used to do. His remark was that we can all continue to do ‘something’, to use our gifts a little, even if we can’t do that in quite the same style as we once did. Point taken. So if one can smile and greet, but not much more, that is a great contribution to other people’s spirits. If one can read in public, one can volunteer for the ministry of Reader at Mass. If a new resident comes to the dining room and looks baffled by the crowd and the noise, a welcoming wave to an empty place at the table goes a long way to making someone feel at home. Smiles in the hall, both from residents and staff, time spent in the front reception area, playing Scrabble, sharing the newspaper or a cup of coffee, or enjoying a conversation: these are all times well-spent. At least one of us has been ‘adopted’ by one of our young weekend receptionists who phones the sister when she comes to work, so that they can find time for a visit and a chat (She’s missing her granny!).
There is a variety of talents among us. Marion Pacey not only supports a number of the card and Bingo games, but has knitted over 1,000 “mask holders” that have helped us keep ourselves and our visitors safe since the first COVID outbreak. Cabrini Fahlman has made major contributions to the hard work required to make our gardens beautiful, and also can be counted to visit the residents in assisted living, to help with sewing, and generously to devote her time when she sees someone in need.
Christine Leyser, one of the “founding mothers” of our presence here, is still very involved. She initiated the now well-used Library, the Tuck shop which responded to a need during COVID, and the outdoor bird feeders, as well as working with Maria Lanthier, Rosemary Albon and others in implementing a quite-thorough recycling program. Christine is always on the move, and is probably engaged in many more activities than we actually know.
Yvonne Steffler, who came later, reads at Morning Mass, and brings a wonderful smile with her when she checks incoming mail, delivers packages, and makes lovely items for sale at the Tuck Shop. Yvonne still maintains close contact with friends in Keswick and Niagara Falls.
Ursula Witkowska helps provide music for Sunday Liturgy, serves both with the Liturgy Committee and with the “on call” team for medical emergencies among us, and is part of the inter-community “Together for Mission” committee, as well as enjoying a game of Euchre. Some others of us, still with an incurable longing for knowledge and wisdom, read theology and history, attend online classes, participate in workshops and conferences which take place here at Presentation Manor or online, and try to keep ourselves aware of the larger world. Some of us follow hockey and baseball with passionate intensity, especially watching the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey – will they or won’t they? And there is always plenty of ice cream, once you know the ‘schedule’.
Others of us intentionally work at being good conversationalists at the table, sharing news, laughter and memories. Juliana Dusel, who helps with lectoring at Mass, also brings a huge sense of the history of IBVM to her table conversations because of her ongoing work in archives, while others of us share stories and insights from our travels and ministries. Our laughter in the dining room is contagious. Helen keeps in touch with Mary Ward sisters and friends in other countries, maintains contact with a number of former co-workers, especially from Guelph, connects with former pupils (some back to the early ’60s), and makes a little music when she can. As a hobby she follows Anglo-Saxon history and language online. Bridget Nazareth chairs the committee for Pastoral Care and is a generous driver.
Four Sisters make up the “Loretto Team”: (L to R) Celima Lindsay, Bridget Nazareth, Ursula Witkowska and Pat Grant (who also serves on the Presentation Manor Board); they plan prayer and provide events for the Sisters who live ‘independently’ of nursing care and supervision. Lynn Cira, of course, is responsible for the Sisters in Assisted living, as well as all business that has to be conducted with Presentation Manor management.
The best walker of us all is Maria Lanthier, who has explored every nook and cranny of the neighbourhood on foot, and discovered secret pathways we hardly guessed existed. Edna Martin is enjoying a slightly new view after a move into a different room, but is happy with the beauty of the spring flowering trees. Different sisters have daily patterns that can be observed: Anne Murray heading to the Bistro for a coffee refill, while Marianna Gignac has 3.00 clock tea in the community room with whoever shows up. Sheila Zettel recently celebrated her 90th birthday, and was given a beautiful orchid to honour the occasion; Judy Kidd has enjoyed its beauty, too, but the question is, will the cat with the mysterious indigenous name leave the plant in its pot on the shelf? It’s early days yet – watch this space! Meanwhile, Mary Van Hee still finds ways to help the poor and maintains her contact with Combermere, while Norma Kirvan helps and companions many of the residents (including IBVMs) in Assisted Living.
The sisters who reside in Assisted Living are very much a part of the community, whether by their prayers, their presence, or the joy they bring to the rest of us. Mary Laverty had a most entertaining visit with the new Archbishop: the laughter could be heard right down the hall! Rose Caneuill continues to be comforted by the animals she holds so caringly, while Mary Ellen Scanlon still enjoys contact with her beloved family. Mary Julia, we trust, is praying for the rest of us, just as she always did in days when she was more active. Many of us still remember her delicious meals at Brunswick Avenue. Maria Heinrich is perhaps the most peaceful of us all, and her face constantly conveys a sense of serenity, even when communication is difficult.
April was an exciting month, first with Holy Week and Easter, then a visit from our new, friendly and relaxed Archbishop Francis Leo (What fun we all had on that occasion!) and finally culminating in the 100th birthday of Donata Dean, who had two full days of celebration with family, then with IBVMs and Christian Brothers. The month closed with a number of sisters attending the 175th celebrations at St. Paul’s Basilica. Now in the early part of May we are working to establish a brand-new Residents’ Council for Presentation Manor, with nominations and balloting underway.
We have lost three Sisters fairly recently, Sheila Smith, Mary Martin Raczynski and Josepha Brown, and they are greatly missed, although some of us still add pieces to the jigsaw puzzle in memory of Sheila’s efforts, but we have gained two valuable members, Jeanne Cover and Angela McAuliffe, who arrived shortly after Easter. We hope they are feeling welcome and at home here. Adjustment to such a large community takes time.
Life changes, often quickly, here at Presentation Manor, but there is a permanence to it as well, supported by the faith and friendship of the other residents, who give us the confidence we need to navigate an experience that is new to all of us. We can say, in the words of the Rankin Family song, “We’ve never been here before”, and know that there are learning curves still ahead of us that we cannot even imagine. And Jesus, the Risen Lord, is present in it all, and is our Companion on the journey.