Sister Celeste Miroslava Diachynska, SSMI
1918 — 2012
Sr. Celeste died on May 18, 2012, at the Lamont Hospital in Alberta in her 94th year and in her 72nd year in religious life.
Sr. Celeste was born on December 7, 1918, to Nicholas Diachynsky and Eudoxia (Kristalovich). She was the second youngest of six, having three sisters and two brothers. In 1911 her parents had immigrated to Sandy Lake, MB (near Dauphin) from Trebochivchiw, Husiatyn, in Western Ukraine. Her father went to Canada in 1905 and earned enough money, working on railroad construction, to return to his family in Ukraine a year later. In 1907 he returned to Canada to earn more money in preparation for the arrival of his wife and daughters, Mary and Ann in 1911.
Miroslava (Sr. Celeste) was raised in a family strongly rooted in the Catholic faith and Ukrainian heritage. Her parents were founding members of Holy Ghost Church in Sandy Lake. Her older sister, Tatiana (deceased in 2005), who had lived in Toronto from 1941, was esteemed for her active participation in the organizations of the Toronto Eparchy, the parishes to which she belonged and the Ukrainian community. She was truly gifted with a vocation to be a lay apostle!
In her early years Miroslava experienced various illnesses, which interfered with her schooling. In 1937, at the age of 19, she was asked to go to Vancouver to care for a family in need. As she writes in her autobiography: “This trip to Vancouver by car, my first long-distance journey — travelling through the Rockies — was a treat for a lifetime. At this time, little did I know how the Lord was leading me, through people and circumstances, to a life in His service.”
Given her love of the Church, it is not surprising that Miroslava joined St. Mary’s parish in Vancouver. Through the spiritual guidance and encouragement of Father Basil Kamenecky, OSBM, she accepted Christ’s call to become a Sister Servant of Mary Immaculate. She entered the Sisters Servants’ Novitiate in Mundare, AB, in 1940. Sister Celeste professed her first vows in 1943, and perpetual vows in 1949.
She studied at Sacred Heart Academy in Yorkton, SK, and at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA.
The Lord blessed Sister Celeste with many talents and abilities and a generous, loving, self-sacrificing heart. For many of her years, she was entrusted with the responsibility of administration. Following the example of Christ and His Mother, she served generously and creatively. She understood “administration” as “rolling up your sleeves and getting the job done to the best of her ability.” There was no task she was afraid to tackle. She rose to the occasion when a challenge faced her.
Sister Celeste’s first mission was that of administration of the Ukrainian University Students Hostel for Women in Winnipeg. Later she was the administrator at three Sister Servant young women’s boarding schools: Sacred Heart Academy, Yorkton, SK; St. Mary’s Villa Academy, Sloatsburg, NY; Mount Mary Academy, Ancaster, ON.
One of her beloved missions was that of prefect of the boarders, at Sacred Heart Academy in Yorkton, SK, and Mount Mary Academy in Ancaster (Hamilton), ON. Hers was a concern and solicitude for each of the young women which the parents had entrusted to her guidance. She always had their future life journey in mind and tried her best to equip them for the challenges and responsibilities they would have to shoulder. The message of one of the former boarders to Sr. Celeste, on the occasion of her 70th Jubilee in religious life, shows this emphatically: “I learned more from the kindness and discipline you bestowed than you may ever know. I am so glad that during my life’s journey, I was in your care.”
Sister Celeste was also active in the Sister Servant health care ministry, serving as administrator of St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged in Sloatsburg, NY, and as supervisor of the Dietary Department at Mary Immaculate Hospital, Mundare, AB.
While in Sloatsburg she initiated the first Marian Pilgrimage on the Feast of Dormition in 1954, a Marian apostolate that continues to the present. She also promoted the annual Marian Pilgrimages at Mount Mary, Ancaster, and assisted with this ministry wholeheartedly and joyfully, as long as her health permitted.
She remained at Mount Mary in Ancaster after the Academy closed, and served as the first administrator of Mount Mary Retreat Centre. Sr. Celeste was deeply convinced of the need for continual spiritual deepening, and so, encouraged as many laity as possible to make the weekend retreats.
In the 1980s Sister Celeste assisted Sister Marie Bielski in the Toronto Eparchial Youth ministry. In spite of her many commitments and responsibilities, she found time and energy to help the Toronto Eparchial Youth for Christ organize several weekend rallies at Mount Mary in Ancaster. It was not unusual to see her on the phone for hours, helping and advising in all phases of the planning and organization, encouraging youth to participate and offer their talents, seeking funding and donations, taking care of all the details, so that the youth would be free to participate freely in the Rally program and mingle with the youth that attended. She was not only their “right hand” at this time but a caring and concerned friend, to which the many letters and cards from the youth in her file testify.
In the words of a Youth for Christ member: “We are blessed with your wise words at our meetings; when you share a passage from Scripture you radiate the love of Christ. I can really feel the love you have for our Youth and our Church. You’re very young at heart, on your Golden Jubilee as a Sister Servant. Through your endless support and resourcefulness we look to you as an example to deepen our spiritual lives. You do all from the heart! We can still taste your tantalizing cookies!”
In Sr. Celeste’s words: “My years of service were rewarding in many ways. There were many opportunities to grow in appreciation of our Church and people in the United States and throughout Canada. My greatest pleasure now is to meet the many young women and youth I worked with for so many years and who now are happy and successful professionals, homemakers, and leaders in parishes and their communities.”
Sr. Celeste was a dedicated and loyal member of the Sisters Servants, ready and happy to serve where the need was the greatest. She served as Provincial Treasurer in the Canadian Province of the Sisters Servants for two terms. She was appointed the first Superior at the Sisters Servants’ new Provincial Home in Toronto in 1949. In addition to being the administrator she was appointed local Superior in Sloatsburg, NY, St. Joseph’s Children’s Home and in the Novitiate in Mundare.
Sister Celeste mastered the art of “home-making” to a high degree. All concerned her — the plumbing, the shining terrazzo floors, the eaves troughs, the flower beds, the dried out grass, oil changes and car maintenance, pine needles at the gateway, preparing tasty desserts with the fruit she and the Sisters picked – the list is endless. Often she reminisced about her King II, a German Shepherd she trained for security duty at Mount Mary, Ancaster. For Sister Celeste, nothing was considered too small or unimportant, and since all was done for the glory of God and love of neighbor, everything was to be done to the best of one’s ability.
Sister Celeste gave of herself to the point of donating blood yearly until her age forbade it. No doubt she was instrumental in saving lives and bringing hope and joy to those who saw loved ones close to death.
Sister Celeste knew how to enjoy life and bring joy to others! In 1965 she made a pilgrimage to St. Peter’s and other holy places in Rome, and to Paris and Lourdes in France and Fatima in Portugal. Her audience with Pope Paul VI was a treasured memory. In her Golden Jubilee Year, 1990, she made a pilgrimage to Medjugorje – a time of great blessings for her. She was grateful for these pilgrimage opportunities and for her yearly retreats and spiritual input at conferences. She was convinced that the apostolate, and hers was action-packed, had to be based on a life of prayer and union with Christ.
She was predeceased by her parents, sisters Mary (Andrew Puhach), Anne (Harry Zuk) and Tatianna (Kay), and brothers Joseph (Marie) and Harry (Marion), and is survived by beloved nieces and nephews with their families, and cousin Levinia Gerelus in Toronto. She was also especially fond of her cousins in Winnipeg, Father John Kristalovich and Anne Hardy (both deceased).
Representing Bishop David Motiuk, Very Rev. Father Michael Kowalchyk, pastor of St. Josaphat Cathedral in Edmonton, officiated at the celebration of the Funeral Divine Liturgy in St. Joseph’s Home Chapel on Tuesday, May 22, 2012, at 10:00 am. Prior to the Liturgy, Sr. Ambrose Stachiw led the Rosary. Fr. Ignatius Holowaychuk, OSBM, pastor of Ss Peter and Paul Church in Mundare, and Fr. Daniel Wach, OSBM, assisted at the requiem Liturgy. Provincial Superior, Sister Patricia Lacey of Toronto, Sisters Servants from Edmonton and Mundare, family members and parishioners were present to honour the memory of Sister Celeste.
Provincial Superior Sr. Patricia read the Epistle. Sr. Emanuella Kharyshyn, of Edmonton, led the singing.
In his homily, Fr. Kowalchyk thanked Sister Celeste for responding so generously to the call of Christ. He dwelt on the peace of Christ that Sr. Celeste now fully enjoys.
Interment took place at the Sisters Servants’ plot at Ss Peter and Paul Cemetery in Mundare. The pallbearers were Sr. Celeste’s nephew Les Diachynsky, his son David, Terry Diachynsky and friends of the SSMI, Stan Skubleny, Joe Prystash and Milton Holowach.
After the burial, the memorial meal was served at St. Joseph’s Home. On behalf of the family, Les Diachynsky shared the family’s gratitude for Sister Celeste’s prayerful support, spiritual guidance and Christian witness.
In the eulogy, Provincial Superior Sr. Patricia paid tribute to Sr. Celeste for her generous, faithful and untiring service in the Sister Servant apostolate in Canada and USA. She especially enjoyed working with young women and men, whether as Academy prefect or with the Toronto Eparchial Youth for Christ. She was a dedicated member of the SSMI, serving as Provincial Treasurer, local Superior and administrator. Hers was a youthful, joyful spirit, sharing the love of Christ with others.
Sister Martha Zulyniak, superior at St. Joseph’s Home, thanked all those who came to celebrate the life of Sister Celeste. She thanked Fr. Kowalchyk for celebrating the Liturgy and sharing the word of God in his homily. She thanked the Basilian Fathers, Provincial Superior Sister Patricia, family members and parishioners.
She thanked the greeter, Emily Zuk, the kitchen staff, Iryna Prystash, Rose Andruchow and Gloria Sadownyk. She thanked Pauline Skubleny, who provided the cornmeal for the dinner. She thanked all the home and visiting Sisters and family members who visited and spent time with Sr. Celeste, especially in her last days. Special thanks wer given to Sr. Ambrose, who drove to the Lamont Hospital sometimes twice a day taking Sisters to visit Sr. Celeste, and to Sr. Yvonne Stadnyk, who spent many days at the bedside of Sister Celeste, ministering to her needs. She thanked Park Memorial for their professional services: Janet Litun, Dale Menzak, Ed Koroluk. Sr. Martha thanked Sr. Celeste’s family for joining the Sisters in this final farewell to beloved Sr. Celeste.