Dear friends and family,
Those we did not have the chance to live with Sister Irene know little about our departed sister. Luckily though, to be able to speak about her, I had at my disposal some writings and confidences which she shared with some who were close to her.
Sister Irene: physically tall, but still taller spiritually;
Sister Irene: physically frail, but filled with a mysterious strength.
Her childlike simplicity with the Lord gave a concrete form to her interior life, which seemed to us very intense and expressed itself in concrete gestures that, I dare say, can be imitated... These gestures made her grow in love and can also make us grow in love.
She wanted to be a Dominican because she lived in Ottawa, at the parish of St-Jean-Baptiste, served by the Dominicans, and she bathed in this Dominican atmosphere. Thus she wrote to ask for her entrance in our community: "I have long had a great desire for Dominican religious life." And she signed: "A soul desirous of living under the aegis of St. Dominic." But in order that her wish may be fulfilled, she imagined the formation of a Dominican council in heaven! Our Lord was the Superior; The Holy Virgin, St. Dominic, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Vincent Ferrier, councillors. Their role was to vote for her, so that she would be accepted into our Congregation!
Sister Irene had a very rich and discreet personality. Endowed with many talents, she immediately used them for the service of others. After a year of temporary vows, however, she wrote a letter to the Blessed Virgin and placed it under her statue, asking that something might change in the life she was leading here at the convent of Beauport. Mother Julienne without knowing anything about her letter, asked her to go and found a mission in Alberta, in the Indian Reserve of Saddle Lake, where the bishop had asked for sisters.
Mother Julienne had good reason:
1. Sister Irene had taught six years before entering;
2. She was the only sister to master English, the official language used in Alberta.
So Sister Irene accepted, knowing well that life in the Indian Reserves and within the community would require patience, gentleness, courage, etc., virtues that at times can lead to real heroism. She entered the Reserve on September 2, 1955 with three other sisters. She lived in Alberta for 51 years, moving from one mission to another when asked to do so by the authorities. In her religious life, obedience to Christ was paramount for her.
For our sister, the Eucharist was a Love that always fascinated her. On her way to school when she was young, she would often stop at the church to talk to Jesus. Later, she would go to Mass every morning. While in the missions, during a visit by Mother Julienne, one of her words had an important impact on her and constantly came back to her mind: "Our Lord is there in the chapel, in the Host, and you would leave him there alone? ". Even afterwards, these words followed her constantly, even as she was teaching in such a way that, without being at two places at a time, she would accompany Jesus in the tabernacle with her heart. "In my missionary life, when I have difficulties, I throw myself at the foot of the tabernacle; that is where I draw my strength," she said.
Sister Irene could not live without daily Mass. The sisters who lived with her knew this. If the priest was absent, one had to get up earlier, drive distances to celebrate the Eucharist and return in time to teach. But over time, our sister had to adapt and even came to preside Sunday Assemblies without priest!
The Virgin Mary was always there to augment her fervour. "For me," she would say, "the Virgin is Mary, only that, yet all of that... and she is very beautiful!” Sister Irene has a great confidence in Mary. She seemed to obtain everything through her Ave Marias. The daily prayer of the rosary occupied a large part of her day; she would not fall asleep without having finished it. On several occasions, at the happy ending of a difficulty, she confessed triumphantly: "I had asked Mary." All the situations had the same results, from a purse containing 50,00 $ which, lost, returned a week later with all its content..., up to the car that stopped on the tracks, but restarted..., probably pushed by Mary!
Sister Irene ate little, slept scantly. She prayed for hours, taught, took care of the accounting of the house. The accounts were kept to perfection, but as for the trials, the crosses, she would not note them; she welcomed them without calculating, carried them, her eyes fixed on her Lord and filled with a mysterious strength.
The last stage of her life took place in the Intercommunity Infirmary of the Augustines of the Mercy of Jesus. When we would visit her, especially during the last years, we could not gaze upon her without seeing Jesus on the cross. A companion said of her: “Sister Irene? Never a complaint, but always the truth! One sister would ask: ‘How are you? "She would answer: "Yes," if it were so; "No," when it was not.
I will finish with these words that Mother Julienne addressed her in 1980: "Your attitude of abandoning yourself has made you into an instrument of choice in the hands of Divine Wisdom. You bore in your life our missions of the West. You bore them with your flesh and blood. Yes, be blessed with everything you reap today. "
Dear Sister Irene, from up above, intercede for us!
Sister Julienne Turmel, o.p.
This 24th day of August 2017