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The Spirit of Sion lives on – Our Lady of Sion reunion: a joyful gathering held in Saskatoon

Reunion organizing committee dressed in the school uniform: (Back Row, left to right): Dorothy Loran Fortier, Elaine Leier Zakreski, Jeanne Stroeder Manegre, Sharon Cooper Murza; (Front Row, left to right): Donna Wraith Darbellay, Eleanor Pulles Kennedy, Terry Chrusch Miley. Photos by Nina Henry.  

Below: Sisters of Sion stand before a Wall of Memories created for the event.

The Spirit of Sion lives on

By Eleanor Pulles Kennedy, Class of 1964

Fifty years after the doors of Our Lady of Sion Academy closed in 1967, more than 300 former students and teachers gathered at Holy Family Cathedral in Saskatoon on the Labour Day Weekend, Sept. 1-3, 2017, to honour the Sisters of Sion for their huge contribution to Catholic Education in Saskatoon.

The Sisters arrived in Saskatoon in 1917 and took up residence in a large white house that stood approximately where Avord Towers stands today. They named the house Rosary Hall, and it was the first of three residences to bear that name.  

By 1919, the Sisters acceded to a request to open a boarding school for girls, and after obtaining title to the beautiful Drinkle property on Avenue A North, they opened the Academy on September 9 with 30 students. In 1967, two years after funding by the province to Catholic High School Education, the doors closed.

The Friends of Sion could not let the 100th Anniversary of the arrival of the Sisters go by unmarked, so five years ago the planning and fund raising began. By 2014, the group knew the celebration would become a reality, but worried that with the advancing age of the beloved Sisters of Sion, as well as the age of the Alumnae, that the attendance might not be significant. These worries proved to be unfounded.

By 6:30 Friday night, September 1, the first arrivals started streaming through the doors for the planned Meet and Greet. There were many cries of recognition to old classmates, hugs to establish re-connection, and peels of laughter, as attendees checked out the school photos printed on each others’ name tags. The Spirit of Sion permeated the room.

An 80-foot Wall of Memories had been created with life stories, obituaries, photos and memorabilia from the Convent’s history, and attendees spent many hours all weekend pouring over its contents.

Saturday afternoon was reserved for reminiscing in smaller groups, and many attendees brought yearbooks, photos and clothing to share. After more conversation over coffee and tea, the afternoon ended with a reflection facilitated by Sister Elizabeth Losinski, and concluded with a rousing school cheer.

With just a brief interval for freshening up, the Alumnae and Teachers streamed back into Bishop Legatt Hall for a Gala Banquet. Each of the Sisters of Sion were introduced, and were thrilled with the applause and goodwill extended by the entire gathering. Tributes were offered by Inge Andreen, who attended Sion as an elementary student in the forties, and Margot Brunelle Urff, a boarder in the final years.

Inge’s remarks were very poignant: “What an honour – to have the opportunity to thank and acknowledge the Sisters of Sion for caring for my sister Peggy, and myself. My father had died at age 34 and my mother was in the local TB Sanitarium. We were basically orphans with nowhere to live. My mother was terrified and her only hope was for us to be boarders at the Convent, even though we were not Catholics. ...... As she was sitting in the parlour on her day pass from the San, she watched the Mother Superior sweeping down the hall, with many children attached to her habit, everyone laughing. Her worries disappeared.”

Margot Brunelle Urff described life in the dorm from 1962 to 1965. There were many chuckles from the gathered alumnae as she talked about lining up to use the only telephone, the compulsory study halls, and the communal mealtimes. “The nuns really tried hard to create a homey, caring atmosphere and to be our ‘pseudo-parents’ from September to June.”

Sister Jocelyn Monette and Sister Margaret Zdunich gave a short presentation about “Sion in the World Today.”

The evening ended with a tearful singing of “Rise for our Alma Mater”, the school song so often sung in days gone by.

Holy Family Parish embraced the whole Reunion Group at their 11:30 Mass, with a special blessing, and Father David Tumback addressed his homily to the kindness of the Sisters. He had been the recipient of many breakfasts at the Acadia Drive Convent as a Seminarian, “...when the Sisters blew their monthly grocery budget to feed the hungry young men who came to offer Mass.”

Two much-loved teachers of the Academy, Sister Kay McDonald, and Sister Donna Purdy, joined the celebration on Sunday morning. Sister Donna offered a wish to all ...”for a full life”, and Sister Kay addressed the room for a few minutes as well.

Sister Pauline Greenizan gave thanks to the gathering from the Congregation of Sion. She said, “The Sisters are very proud of all the Alumnae, because they have gone beyond their ordinary tasks to take on leadership roles, using their talents and gifts to change the world. Many have raised families and are now finding joy in their children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren."

The Organizing Committee has been flooded with notes of thanks from those attending:

From Sharon Cooper Murza, Class of 1966 - I especially appreciated the Tea and Banquet presentations. Until then, I was more absorbed with meeting classmates I hadn't seen in so many years. The presentations gave me a sense of solidarity with all the Sisters and Sionians present. It brought us together as a united sisterhood and not just the few ladies from our 'class year'.

From Nina Henry (our photographer) - Just wanted to say “Thanks” for letting me be part of your wonderful event. I don’t know who did what to make the 100th Anniversary such a huge success, but a standing ovation to all off you. Right down to the smallest detail it was a class act and everyone seemed to have a great time.

From Sharon Walter Churchill, Class of 1957 – You have my heartfelt gratitude and sincere appreciation; so much work for so many to enjoy.

From Elaine Leier Zakreski, Class of 1960 – My sister has been ill for over 10 years, chiefly with memory issues. I’ve watched her slowly slip away, and it’s almost all I can think about. All weekend people kept telling me how sorry they were that she had to go through this trial. They told me about all the great memories they have of her, stories about how well-loved she was, how pretty and vibrant she was – they hugged me and consoled me and brought my sister back to me!! I didn’t expect that from this Reunion.

From Pauline Bublish Perpick, Class of 1953 – Terrific job! It will always be a warm and special memory. From Terry Chrusch Miley, Class of 1966 – The Gala Reunion brought together Sisters, teachers and students from all years and from across Canada and the US. Even though many of us hadn't seen each other for over 40 years, it was remarkable that we could still recognize our fellow classmates. Sharing stories of how our lives have progressed over the years brought both smiles and tears and much laughter. Renewing old friendships and memories made for a truly spectacular weekend. One that will forever be remembered.

Elaine Zakreski, chair of the Friends of Sion (left), recently presented a cheque for $8,000 to the Sisters of Sion Congregation, accepted by Sr. Kay McDonald, NDS, (second from left, seated). The funds were raised as part of a recent reunion for former students and staff of Our Lady of Sion Academy (see article at top of page). Other members of the Friends of Sion Gala Reunion Committee were also on hand at Trinity Manor in Saskatoon for the presentation: Dorothy Fortier, Terry Miley, Eleanor Kennedy, Donna Darbellay, and Sharon Murza (standing, l-r), while Sr. Donna Purdy (seated) looks on. Photo by Rick Murza

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