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New icon salutes Sisters of Child Jesus

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STA principal thanks order for their service to God, school
By Agnieszka Krawczynski

Photo: Eleven Sisters of the Child Jesus pose with the newly blessed icon of their foundress, Anne-Marie Martel, and some priests and lay associates April 25. (Agnieszka Krawczynski / The B.C. Catholic)

A new piece of artwork at St. Thomas Aquinas Regional Secondary School honours the legacy of the women who helped build it nearly 60 years ago.

An icon of Anne-Marie Martel, the foundress of the Sisters of the Child Jesus, was blessed at Mass April 25 in the presence of 11 sisters and hundreds of students.

“We thank you for your service not only to God and your order, but also to this school,” principal John Campbell told the sisters.

STA was built in 1959 on land from the Sisters of the Child Jesus. It opened with Sister Marie Irene as principal and nine other sisters as teachers.

“There was never a time in my life where I didn’t know the Sisters of the Child Jesus,” said Father James Comey, who blessed the icon.

He grew up near their old convent in North Vancouver and attended STA in his teens. “The sisters were always an inspiration to me.”

Father Comey credits the sisters for teaching boys in the neighbourhood how to serve at the altar and remembers assisting Archbishop William Mark Duke when he blessed STA 58 years ago.

“The neighbourhood had several large Catholic families and the sisters were the heart of our spiritual formation.”

Sister Gilberte Painchaud has fond memories of teaching at STA in the ’60s and ’80s.

“I came to teach here from Sherbrooke, Quebec, teaching little Grade 3s in French,” she said. The diminutive nun then took up teaching French and math to towering Grade 9 students.

“I didn’t even weigh 100 lbs at the time! It took at least six weeks until they knew who was boss in the classroom,” she laughed. “I got a couple of nicknames. One of them was Mighty Mouse.”
Sister “Mighty Mouse” Painchaud developed strong bonds with her students. “I loved teaching here and I loved my boys.”

Sister Catherine Machelle, delegate of the superior general in Canada, said the congregation was “honoured and thrilled to have Anne-Marie Martel’s icon at St. Thomas Aquinas.”

Anne-Marie Martel died at age 27 in France after a short life of serving the poor and destitute, she likely did not know she had inspired a new order of sisters and lay associates. The Holy See began considering her cause for canonization in 2005.

“What it says to us, as we diminish, is: we look at this school, we look at the fruits of the work, and we know that our legacy lives on,” Sister Machelle said.

Sister Machelle pointed out that the congregation was originally called the Sisters of the Instruction of the Child Jesus and, while it no longer has that name in France, that is still the official title in Canada.

“The ‘instruction’ goes on. For that, we thank you all.”

The Sisters of the Child Jesus are gearing up for a major celebration in honour of their 350th anniversary Aug. 11. It will be held at St. Mary’s Parish in Vancouver.

The icon, to be hung at the old convent chapel near STA, was written by Nanaimo artist and former STA art teacher Andre Prevost.

Prevost’s art is also on display at St. Edmund’s Church, St. Paul’s Church in Vancouver, and the John Paul II Pastoral Centre.

Last Updated on Monday, 08 May 2017 09:46  

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