Sr. Epiphany Ollia Paschak, SSMI
1927 — 2015
Sr. Epiphany, a member of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, died peacefully on Thursday of Bright Week, April 9, 2015 at Seven Oaks Hospital, Winnipeg, MB, surrounded by her community of Sisters. She was in her 88th year and 63rd in religious life.
Ollie was born on July 17, 1927, in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Winnipeg, MB, the sixth child and only daughter born to Michael and Anastasia (Nellie) nee Shalamay. They had immigrated to Winnipeg in 1914 from the villages of Bokiv and Vilkhivtsi in Western Ukraine and were wed at St. Nicholas Church the same year.
The Paschak family was devotedly Ukrainian Catholic; they were dedicated members of St. Nicholas parish. They shared their deep faith with their children and gave them opportunities to grow in their faith. They were blessed with three vocations to the religious life: Steven (Fr. Epiphany, OSBM) and Peter (Fr. Patrick, OSBM) and Ollie.
Ollie attended St. Nicholas School, where she came to know and love the Sisters Servants. They taught her and her brothers, prepared them for First Holy Communion, guided them in the Marian Sodality. They performed in the yearly concerts staged by the Sisters at Christmas and other Feasts and sang in the children’s choir.
Ollie loved her brothers, but was especially drawn to Steven, ten years older than she. She shared her parents’ joy when he entered the Order of St. Basil the Great with his younger brother Peter in 1937. Almost ten years before she answered the call of Christ to follow Him in a special way as a religious, she rejoiced at his ordination in 1943. Her entire family supported her in her vocation with their witness, prayer, and encouraging and supportive words.
However, her beloved brother Fr. Epiphany died at the age of 50 in 1967. She no longer had a trusted confidant, but instead an intercessor in Heaven.
In her late teens Ollie was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis and spent a year in St. Boniface Sanatorium, where she fully recuperated. No doubt the entire family prayed for her recovery, and their prayers were answered. It may very well be that this healing, which made it possible for her to become a Sisters Servant, rooted her deeply in trust in a loving Father. And this bedrock of trust would continue to sustain her in years of trial and suffering until her final days of searing pain and death.
Before she entered the Novitiate, Ollie was employed as a typist with the civil service, the Unemployment Insurance Commission. In 1952 the Civil Service awarded her with a Certificate of Proficiency in Typewriting. Besides working, with loving devotion, Ollie cared for her ailing Mother.
In 1952, Ollie made her decision and never looked back. Following the example of her brothers on November 19, she entered Mount Mary Novitiate of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate in Ancaster, ON. She made first profession of vows on May 21, 1955, and final profession, August 15, 1959. She was a faithful and grateful community member, for over 35 years supporting the Sisters in the active apostolate with her prayers, sufferings and encouraging letters and words. She took a keen interest in the changes in religious life following the Vatican Council and welcomed them.
After profession of her First Vows in 1955, Sr. Epiphany was missioned to the Provincial Home in Toronto, where she studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music, mastering piano and theory, obtaining her Grade ten in piano in 1957. During this time she taught at the Sisters Servants’ School of Music. In the following year she taught piano and theory at Mount Mary Academy, Ancaster.
She was then transferred to Winnipeg to continue her music studies. In 1961 she received her ARCT from the Manitoba Conservatory. She taught many young students piano, theory and harmony in the SSMI School of Music at 131 Aberdeen and at Immaculate Mary Academy from 1960 to 1965. She enjoyed success and admiration from her choir members at the Academy, who delighted in her soulful direction.
From 1963 to 1965, she taught music and directed the elementary and high school choirs at the newly opened Immaculate Heart of Mary School, which had replaced St. Nicholas School.
She returned to the Academy at Ancaster to teach music for a year and the following year at the SSMI Toronto School of Music. Her spirit was willing, but her body again afflicted.
She regained some strength and from 1969 to 1971 taught music at Bethany Home in Winnipeg. Her failing health was a reality she had to accept and with it a change of pace and a different apostolate, one of presence, prayer, compassion.
Sr. Epiphany was a very musical, creative and free spirit. Her gifts poured into her teaching career. Handel’s Messiah was a favourite of hers and of her choir members, as well. There are many in Winnipeg who took piano lessons from Sister Epiphany at 131 Aberdeen Avenue over the years.
A typical Sister Servant, Sr. Epiphany embraced the Sister Servant mission of summer catechism at the parish in Ottawa in 1955 and the following missions in Manitoba until 1965: Mountain Road, Fisher Branch, Gonor and St. Martin.
From 1969 Sr. Epiphany was missioned at 131 Aberdeen - Bethany Home – in Winnipeg. For over thirty years she delighted in using her musical talent at the piano keyboard to lift the spirits of many.
She especially enjoyed playing for the residents and their visitors at Holy Family Home. Bringing joy to others by the beauty of sound was for her a vocation within a vocation. It also kept her spirits youthful and jubilant.
Residing near Holy Family Home gave Sr. Epiphany an opportunity to launch a new apostolate: to be present to the abandoned, the sad and grieving, the lonely. She took time visiting residents at Holy Family Home as well as befriending their family members and their beloved pets. A sparkling smile, a kind word, a listening ear – these were her gifts for those she met on the last miles of her life journey. So, a devoted pastoral care giver she became, and was to the end.
Sr. Epiphany suffered the loss of two more siblings: her brother Donald (Damian) in 1981 and Fr. Patrick in 2003. Another opportunity to experience the Beatitude: Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
There was an added work of mercy, which began in 1999: assisting an elderly priest Fr. George Svoboda. A new mission had found her, and her strength for service was renewed.
Sr. Epiphany had a great love for animals and repeatedly met lifetime friends through the furry friends. Pictures of each of these furry friends could be found hanging throughout her room. Those who visited her were treated to a story, which she delighted to share as each picture was viewed. Her family doctor even went back home one day, when he realized he forgot to bring his dog, Bonnie, as Sister Epiphany had an appointment that day. It was just such a lovable dog that brought her to Fr. Svoboda, whom she looked after for many years until his passing.
In mid-January, Sr. Epiphany suffered a fall, during which she critically injured her foot. To the time of her death she remained at Seven Oaks Hospital. As time passed it appeared that she was approaching the final stage of her life journey.
In 1999 she wrote: “So many of my Sisters Servants have passed on to the Lord, some sooner than I thought they would, which made me more aware that one day, I, too, will follow in their footsteps ... In closing, I beg pardon of all those I may have hurt and I thank the Sisters that supported me in many ways, many times. Gratefully in Christ, Sr. Epiphany Paschak SSMI.”
Sr. Epiphany was predeceased by her parents, Anastasia (Shalamay) and Matthew Paschak, her brothers, Michael at infancy, Steven (Father Epiphany Paschak, OSBM), Donald and Peter (Father Patrick Paschak, OSBM). She is survived by her brother Walter; nephews, Patrick (Donna), Greg (Teresa), Stephen, Mark; nieces, Kathy and Lorraine; great niece Victoria; great nephews Alan, Matthew, Steven (Yunfang) and great-great nephew William.