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Marymound sisters pass torch

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Whether it is stickhandling her way through a floor hockey game, listening to a joke or sharing a quiet moment, Pam Vialoux strongly believes that providing spiritual care for children and youth often means just being there beside them.

"I just use any opportunity as a vehicle for creating trust and relationships," explains the spiritual care co-ordinator for Marymound. "If I see a spiritual moment, I try to identify it."

Employed at the Scotia Street facility for the past 18 months, the theology graduate of Canadian Mennonite University is carrying on a long tradition finding spiritual moments while caring for disadvantaged children and youth.

For the last century, members of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd have lived alongside the children and youth they serve at the Marymound complex in West Kildonan. In 1911, five Catholic sisters came to Winnipeg at the invitation of a juvenile court judge, who asked them to work with women and girls in trouble with the law.

Four sisters still reside in the same spacious old mansion overlooking the Red River that their order has occupied since the early days of Marymound, but they are essentially retired from active duty at the social service agency for at-risk children and youth.

"We're kind of like honoured guests at the moment," explains Florence McCadden, who has been connected with Marymound intermittently since 1975. "We're not responsible for direct service. At this point we provide a presence."

"As we get older, besides being a presence, we also pray for the staff and the kids," adds Lorraine Perrault, who has lived at Marymound for nearly four decades.

"I feel it is also my mission to pray."

One sister still spends much of her day accompanying groups to volunteer assignments, as well as making regular rounds to students at the adjacent school and clients living in group homes on-site.

"I just engage in the activities that are going on at the time," says the soft-spoken Barbara Wells, a retired public health nurse who moved to Marymound in 2007.

"If anyone wants to talk or go for a walk, or go for ice cream or a Slurpee, I go with them."

That sort of presence reflects the values of the Good Shepherd congregation, founded 200 years ago by St. Mary Euphrasia, a French woman who believed strongly in the value of each individual. The order of more than 4,000 sisters now works with disadvantaged people in 70 countries.

The four remaining Good Shepherd sisters in Winnipeg realize their time in Winnipeg may soon draw to a close if health concerns force them to relocate to their congregation's personal care home in Toronto. They would miss their longtime home, but mostly, they think about the thousands of children who have come through Marymound.

"Each one is so special and they all come with their own issues," says McCadden.

"We don't want to leave. We would miss the kids and the staff," says Perrault.

Last month, the four sisters were honoured at a special anniversary dinner at the Fort Garry Hotel, a place that supported Marymound in its early days by providing the organization with food.

Whether they continue to live on-site or not, the influence of the sisters and their mandate to finding the good in each person remains an integral part of Marymond's philosophy, says Vialoux.

"My role is to help uphold the values of the sisters and to be a spiritual presence as much as I can, and try to be an example of healthy relationships," she says.

For 14-year-old Braidon, Vialoux's office beside the large chapel is a comfortable place to chat or a quiet place to think.

"I usually come up and hang out there and we sing songs and tell jokes," says the Grade 8 student at Marymound School of his time with Vialoux.

And when he cracks a joke, Vialoux may share a groaner in return, and consider it all in a day's work of demonstrating care for someone in need.

"The vehicle for spirituality has to be meaningful for the person asking for spiritual (help)," she explains.

"Sometimes they don't even know it's spiritual."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 21, 2011 J13

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