By Fr. Paul Hansen, C.Ss.R.
For those of us who attended St Mary’s College in Brockville, you will remember well the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul. It was Sr. Mary Alberta Gallagher, the Pharmacist at the local hospital who looked after us better than most. Well she later retired with her sister Muriel, also a member, at the Motherhouse in Kingston. They could be seen sitting together eating lunch near the window. When in Kingston, I would often go and say hello. It was fun for me to do so. Both have since journeyed to the fullness of Life.
Well on Friday, September 18th, the Sisters of Providence held their last Vigil in front of City Hall that had been taking place in silence for the past twenty years. Every Friday at noon, rain or shine, for 20 years the sisters would stand for an hour in vigil protesting the Common Sense Revolution of Premier Mike Harris. 1995 was the year that Ontario elected a government committed to cutting taxes and social assistance while terminating programs that provided affordable housing for people unable to pay the private housing rents. The Sisters were joined by others so committed to saying that Poverty is Political and there must be room in our society for those on the margins – truly biblical indeed.
Thursday, September 17th from 5PM until 8PM a celebration was held to commemorate the event. The mayor was there along with the Town Crier. A proclamation was read showing appreciation for the Sisters’ vigil. Inside City Hall speakers congratulated the efforts of the vigil and promised to continue the cry of the poor in other ways.
I was honoured to among such wonderful dedicated folks. The Anglican Bishop of Ontario, The Right Reverend Michael Oulton (centre of bottom picture) gave a wonderful testament to the life and presence of the sisters. Joe Gunn (pictured at below) of Citizens for Public Justice was a key noter. Aboriginal music and songs from the sisters’ choir filled the evening along with coffee and eats.
Each Friday to begin the Silent Vigil a tiny commitment and reflection was read and prayed – “We long for a world that respects all of humanity and all the earth. And so we stand in silent non-violent solidarity with those affected by government and corporations that put profits before humankind and indeed before all creation.”
The Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul while institutionally dying in our culture have left a truly prophetic voice.
Being with the Sisters and others on that Thursday night and at the final Vigil on Friday noon, I experienced a profound liturgy. It reminded me of the words of St. Francis of Assisi and our Pope Francis – “Speak the gospel at all times, use words only when necessary.”