Provincial Councilor Judith Desmarais, SP, who lived in Montreal when she was a general councilor, was the guide for the journey taken by Provincial Councilor Maureen Newman and Sisters Suzette Bautista, Gabrielle Nguyen, Felma Cerezo, Susanne Hartung, Dianne Crawford, Ana Dolores Orellana Gamero, and Lang Tran. (See story in the summer 2010 issue of Caritas.) Here are their thoughts on the experience and some images from their pilgrimage.
My dream of visiting our motherhouse came true. I was touched when I went to Mass at the motherhouse for the first time and saw many of the elderly sisters. Also, when I visited Mother Gamelin’s tomb to thank her for healing my right eye, I shed tears of joy. I witnessed our charism by seeing our elderly sisters care for one another during my visit to Montreal. I had an opportunity to deeply learn about our spiritual and historical roots. Visiting our motherhouse and making the Footsteps of our Foundresses are special events of my religious life.
Lang Tran, SP
It has been a very profound and deep experience for me to go back to our community’s roots and to meet our Canadian sisters. I saw in each face a reflection of our pioneers who worked tirelessly for the poor during those most trying times in their history, and the daring they had to journey into foreign lands. Hearing again the life stories of Blessed Emilie, Mother Joseph and Mother Bernarda revitalized my spirit and inspired me to continue living out the charism passed on to us. I am doubly motivated to learn more about our community, about the sisters who have gone ahead of us. May this experience of “looking back” be a springboard for me to look forward into the future with enthusiasm and zeal for ministry.
Suzette Bautista, SP
I am so glad that I went to this pilgrimage. I felt like I am coming back to the roots. I get to know more about the history of our Providence community. The Footsteps of Mother Gamelin was an inspiration for me. I got to visit the place where Mother Gamelin was.
The most important thing was I got to see and visit our Canadian sisters; they are so hospitable and warm (with a) welcome heart. One thing that touches me was the lives of these sisters; their life was totally dedicated to God, and they live selfless lives. I have been pondering in my heart what makes them able to do all these kinds of ministry without tiring; it must be the love of God. They are indeed rooted in God completely, and through this love they are still able to carry out their ministry even though a few sisters 90 years old are still ministering. What a magnificent life! I am praying to God that I will be like a daughter of Mother Gamelin, following her footsteps.
Gabrielle Nguyen, SP
“In the Footsteps of Emilie” is my lifeline as an SP. What a privilege to be able to touch Blessed Emilie’s tomb once again! I will never forget the electrical feelings I get every time I visited her tomb. Participating in the pilgrimage was a renewal of my life commitment (in my small ways) to carry out the mission that Blessed Emilie had started along with Mother Joseph and Mother Bernard. Their life struggles and their pioneering spirits are my aspirations that strengthen my beliefs and trust in Providence. Thanks to the Leadership Team for this opportunity.
Felma Cerezo, SP
How can we define a pilgrim – not just with a single definition. When we went to Montreal, we knew we were pilgrims. We looked not so much on the things along the way, but lifted our eyes to the heavens. That is their country. We are always pilgrims; we are learning as we see different things.
Ana Dolores Orellana Gamero, SP
In my ministry with Providence Health and Services, I have told the story of Emilie Gamelin more than I can count. Being in Montreal, I experienced her life in a new way; the pages of her book came alive. The depth and breadth of her influence within the society of Montreal in the first 53 years of the 19th century gave me a greater sense of why Sister Therese Frigon has worked so hard to have her recognized for her profound and extraordinary commitment to social justice. At times during our visit, I realized the legacy that she left to us as Sisters of Providence to continue the work with the poor. At other times, Emilie’s heart was so big and her selflessness so great; how do we ever measure up?
I was certainly impacted with the visits to the sisters in the various residences around the motherhouse. The genuine hospitality gave me a sense of our international community’s culture of respect and love, whether we could speak the same language or not. It made me proud to be with the others in our group who were from Vietnam, the Philippines and El Salvador. Here we were in French Canada as one community.
I also appreciate so much the professionalism of those who work in the archives and the museum and their sense of our history and how they have come to love and appreciate who we are.
And finally, perhaps one of the greatest highlights was just being with our group of nine and the community we formed over those few days.
Susanne Hartung, SP
The experience of the pilgrimage in the footsteps of Mother Emilie Gamelin was so moving it is hard to put into words. To walk where she walked, to be on the very street where she gathered the elderly into the yellow house. To be in the place where she buried her children and her husband, the place she begged for God’s help to follow her call. That call took her to the prisons filled with political prisoners, the streets filled with orphans, and the homeless elderly. I could hardly believe it when we walked into the rectory of where Mother Joseph Pariseau went to church, and there on the table was the baptismal registry of the time of her birth. The registry was open to the page where, in beautiful handwriting, was the recording of Mother Joseph’s baptism, the names of her parents and godparents, and those who witnessed the baptism. Then to go to Mother Bernarda Morin’s parish church, seeing the same paintings she saw as a child. How can one put into words the feelings and reflections one has of being in the surroundings of these three women where our charism took root and where we are to carry the charism out in our own realities.
Maureen Newman, SP
What a wonderful experience, a wish come true! As a novice, I asked to go see where Mother Gamelin lived, and at that time (1972), it wasn’t possible.
There are several things that made a big impression on me: the long hallways of the motherhouse, the original wooden coffin in which Mother Gamelin was buried, the beauty of the Chapel at Maison de la Providence (on Fullum Street), the magnificence of Notre Dame Basilica, etc. But what surprised and delighted me the most was our sisters. No matter where we went we were welcomed with joy, love and warmth. I felt truly at home.
Dianne Crawford, SP