By MC Havey
Two historic precedents were set last week at the Seelos award ceremony during the triennial conference of the Redemptorist Historical Studies of North America in Oconomowoc.
In receiving the Seelos history award, I became the first woman and full-time professional archivist to be chosen “in recognition of outstanding contribution of historical research and writing.” Two glass ceilings broken in one hit.
I shared this honour with Fr. Gilbert Enderle of the Denver Province, whose award I presented before the unexpected and surprise ceremony for me.
In a telephone call broadcast at the awards ceremony, Fr. James Mason, the Seelos award recipient in 2016, spoke of my doggedness in organizing and preserving the Edmonton-Toronto history in the archives for almost 19 years. He also accurately acknowledged my appreciation of the Redemptorist human and humourous stories, which is a product of an Irish storytelling heritage and 10 years as a news reporter. He paid tribute to my welcoming manner, transforming the archives office at times into a public square, where confreres visited to exchange news, views and stories. Many of those oral memories were inserted in the 320 biographies of the deceased confreres and in The Redemptorists in English-speaking Canada, published in 2018.
At the conference, I also introduced Bishop Jon Hansen (who discussed a “Redemptorist Pastoral Response to Indigenous Peoples of Canada”) and presented a paper about Fr. Joseph Owens and his wartime assignment in providing pastoral care to the Sudeten refugees near Dawson Creek, BC between 1940 and 1944. The German-speaking refugees, mainly Roman Catholics, fled their homes in bitter opposition to the German annexation of Sudetenland, part of Czechoslovakia, under the 1938 Munich Agreement. Carrying anti-religious bias across the Atlantic Ocean, they accused the Sudeten clergy of being pro-Nazi.
Drawn from archival correspondence and reports, the paper described Fr. Owens’ tactful approach to provide religious instruction to the children and diminish the anti-religious view of the 150 Sudeten families. By 1944 when Fr. Owens returned to pursue graduate studies in Toronto and later a distinguished academic career, his two goals were achieved. A younger generation was “solidly-grounded in the faith and was weaned away from the anti-clerical prejudices of the parents.”Fr. Owens died on October 30, 2005 in Toronto. At a wake service in St. Patrick’s church, a woman, one of his catechetical students, spoke of the friendships that Fr. Owens had kept with some of the Sudeten families for the rest of his life.