Sister Junia Anne Kunanec, SSMI
1930 — 2016
Sr. Junia died on March 2, 2016, in Holy Family Home, Winnipeg, MB in her 86th year and 67th in religious life.
Sr. Junia (Anne) was born on May 28, 1930 in Wolverine, SK, near Saskatoon, to Dmytro and Maria Kunanec (no relative), who had immigrated to Canada from Yavoriv, Ukraine (near the Polish border) in the late 1920s with their sons Emil and Robert. Their eldest son Volodymyr remained in Ukraine due to immigrations laws; a freedom-fighter for Ukraine, he was killed on April 02, 1948 in defense of his beloved homeland. Her sister Mary and brother Michael were born later.
Having endured the years of depression on the prairies, the Kunanec family moved to a farm they rented near Bronte, ON in 1942 in search of a better life. A year later they moved to Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto.
Anne’s elementary education began at Mile End School in Wolverine, SK and continued in an Ontario one-room country school. In Scarborough, she took her grade eight at St. Joseph’s-on-the-Lake and then attended Notre Dame High School, grades 9 - 13, graduating in the “Classical Course” with First Class Honours in 1948. She also took music lessons, studying music theory and achieving grade eight standing in piano.
To earn money for her schooling, Anne and her sister Mary, accompanied by their older brothers, went to work on the tobacco farms in southern Ontario in August. It was hard work, but also a time to enjoy each other’s company in the evenings.
Sr. Junia’s parents treasured their faith, which had enabled them to overcome many hardships and sufferings in Ukraine and on Canadian soil. When possible they went to Holy Eucharist Ukrainian Catholic Church on distant King Street for Sunday Liturgy. At other times, they went to a nearby Roman Catholic parish, St. Theresa’s Church and Shrine of the Little Flower. Sr. Junia recalled that her mother taught her and her siblings how to pray, recounted Bible stories and sang hymns with them. In particular, she shared her deep devotion to the Mother of God, singing with them the Moleben during May. In the words of Sr. Junia: Through my Mother, God first gave me life and through her He kept calling me to a deeper life of faith in Him. My mother was God’s greatest gift to me.
Anne first met Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate in their country church in Saskatchewan, where they came to teach catechism during the summer months. Anne liked the Sisters because they told “stories about Jesus,” participated in the recess games and seemed to be always happy. The desire to be like them and do what the Sisters did came to her at the age of seven or eight. Later on at Holy Eucharist Church in Toronto, she met the Sisters again, who supported her desire to respond to Christ’s call.
Having experienced the call of Christ and having made the irrevocable decision to follow Him, Anne entered Mount Mary Novitiate in Ancaster, ON, September 18, 1949. Now Sister Junia, she made First Profession of Vows as a Sister Servant on March 20, 1952 and Final Profession on August 15, 1957.
Sr. Junia did not hide the Light of Christ she received in baptism and renewed in religious profession, but allowed it to enlighten all she served in her mission work, teaching primary, elementary and high school grades in Catholic Schools, for thirty-five years. In addition, she taught Sunday Catechism and Ukrainian School in parishes after she had dismissed her students. A typical Sister Servant, Sr. Junia taught catechism in the summer months in parishes at Kirkland Lake and Timmins in Ontario, and Norquay and Wynyard in Saskatchewan. She also taught at the St. John summer camp near Ottawa.
She was assigned to the Novitiate for a year, where she had received her formation as a Sister Servant, to assist other young women beginning the Sister Servant journey, to share the Light of Christ with them.
Her teaching apostolate began after she had graduated from Toronto Teachers’ College in 1953. Besides her musical talent, the Lord gifted her with artistic sensibility and creativity. Her studies in this field began in Toronto where she received an Ontario Arts and Crafts Certificate in 1953.
For fifteen years Sr. Junia taught primary and elementary grades in Catholic schools in Toronto: St. Rita’s, Edmonton: Sacred Heart, Yorkton: St. Mary’s, Ituna: St. Anne’s, Calgary: St. Angela’s and Winnipeg: Immaculate Heart of Mary. She also served as Principal in St. Mary’s School in Yorkton and IHM School in Winnipeg. Reflecting on these years, Sr. Junia was grateful to the Lord, who blessed her with good rapport with the staff and students and acceptance and love.
Sr. Junia attended the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, 1966-1968, obtaining B.A. and B. Ed degrees. She welcomed all opportunities offered her to continue her studies in Art so she could enable her students to develop their talents. She especially enjoyed her sculpture classes, and several of her works are in the Canadian SSMI Provincial Archives. She fulfilled her great desire to update her understanding and enliven her faith life by attending courses at Newman Theological College, Edmonton, and Saskatchewan Teachers Faith series: workshops on Scripture, Ecclesiology, Jesus, Morality, Prayer, Social Issues.
She was grateful for her years at Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA, where she obtained her M.A. degree in Spirituality in 1980. Ever a seeker of truth and wary of seeing things “black or white,” she chose for her thesis: Spirituality and Charism of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate: Eastern or Western?
For twenty years Sr. Junia taught at Sacred Heart High School in Yorkton. She taught Art, Christian Ethics, English, Social Studies, Ukrainian. She was Religious Education Co-ordinator for five years and on the Christian Ethics Curriculum Team for three years, revising and updating the grades 9-12 Christian Ethics program. Sr. Junia regarded these as her most satisfying experiences in teaching. “I discovered that in the process of teaching my students, I am also taught by them, as we establish a friendly relationship of give and take.”
Letters/e-mails from former students testify to Sr. Junia’s lasting impact on her students:
Sent in the early 2000s: Your good example as a strong, resilient woman and great belief in God and His many blessings has been a terrific inspiration to me as life unfolds.
E-mailed June 2014: I was student at Sacred Heart almost 20 years ago. I hope Sr. Junia is well and has opportunity to hear my appreciation… and my thanks for her immeasurable caring and kindness she so openly offered.
Sr. Junia loved her religious congregation and served it wholeheartedly in all ministries entrusted to her and in top leadership positions. She served as local Superior at Sacred Heart in Yorkton for nine years. She served as Provincial Councillor, Vice-Provincial and nine years as Provincial Superior, 1999-2009. The Sisters are grateful to her for her dedication and concern for the Canadian SSMI Province. “Through storm and sleet, knee surgery and tremors, through trips and speeches, through meetings and negotiations, you kept on going.”
Sr. Junia felt privileged to be present at the beatification of the first Sister Servant and co-foundress, Sister Josaphata, in Lviv, Ukraine in June, 2001. This also was an excellent opportunity for her to connect with her roots in Ukraine and visit the place of her brother Volodymyr’s memorial and place of his heroic death.
During her term of office, Sr. Junia blessed all efforts of the Canadian SSMI Orphanage and Catechetical Assistance Mission in Ukraine. She truly lived the words of St. Paul that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
As Provincial Superior, Sr. Junia was responsible for the celebration of the Centenary of the Canadian Sisters Servants in 2002. The highlight was her initiative to create the SSMI Heritage Display (click to see gallery) in the Provincial Home’s archival building. By paintings, photo charts and citations, the 100 years of the Sisters in Canada were fully and creatively presented.
Sr. Junia was devoted to her family. She rejoiced to celebrate with them and supported them by counsel and prayer in times of need. She knew them inside out and could laugh with them and cry with them. She looked forward to visiting them and always felt she was totally spoiled by them. To all family members, she says a heartfelt Thank you!
Sr. Junia was blessed with many joys and sunny days, but she also experienced sadness, helplessness and dark times. The ill health of her sister, Sr. Mary Basil, and her suffering, filled her with understanding and compassion for others, students, friends, other Sisters, who had to endure years of pain. The death of her parents, her brothers Volodymyr, Emil and Robert, and her niece Gail she accepted, full of faith in a loving God. “For people of faith, life has a purpose. There is hope, goodness and love, from above.” (From her eulogy for her brother Robert.)
And Sr. Junia was not spared suffering. Her illness, making her progressively weaker and more and more dependent on others’ care, was the final chapter in her fruitful, many-faceted life of serving others. She lived out St. Paul’s words: When I am weak, then I am strong! It was only then that Sr. Junia had to abandon herself totally to the arms of a loving Heavenly Father.
Diminishing health made it necessary for Sr. Junia to join the Bethany Home SSMI in Winnipeg in July, 2011. Two years later it was necessary for her to accept the loving care and concern at Holy Family Home.
Sr. Junia was predeased by her parents, Dmytro and Maria, brother Volodymyr and sister-in-law Olga, brothers Emil and Robert, and niece Gail.
She is survived by her sister Sr. Mary Basil SSMI, HFH, Winnipeg; brother Michael and sister-in-law Joan, Scarborough, ON; sister-in-law Sylvia (Emil), Toronto; beloved nieces and nephews with their families and relatives in Ukraine.
The Panachyda service for the late Sr. Junia was celebrated by Metropolitan Lawrence Huculak, OSBM, in the Bethany Home chapel on Thursday at 4:00 pm on March 10, 2016. Metropolitan Lawrence spoke briefly, expressing his condolences. Sr. Theresa Matwe led the singing. Provincial Superior Sr. Patricia Lacey shared some excerpts from Sr. Junia’s autobiography, which revealed some aspects of her inner life journey. The Sisters, who were unable to participate in the funeral services in church were grateful for this time to say their final farewell.
The Parastas for Sr. Junia was celebrated at 7:00 pm in St. Joseph’s Church by Redemptorist Fathers Provincial Superior Larry Kondra, Pastor Dmytro Dnistrian, John Sianchuk and Fr. Frank Szadiak, and Fr. Thomas Kobak, OSBM, Fr. Yaroslav Buduykevych and Protodeacon Fr. Stefan Tyrawski. Fr. Dmytro shared his experience of working with Sr. Junia in St. Mary’s parish in Yorkton. Lesia Sianchuk led the singing.
Present for the Parastas and the Requiem Divine Liturgy were Provincial Superior Sr. Patricia Lacey, Sisters Servants from Winnipeg, Yorkton and Saskatoon, and Sr. Junia’s nieces from Toronto: Sandy (brother Emil’s daughter), with her husband Mykola, and brother Michael’s daughters, Susan and Cindy. Sr. Junia’s former students, SSMI Associates, parishioners and friends of the Sisters Servants came to honour her life of dedication as a Sister Servant.
Coffee and sweets were provided and served by SSMI Associates and Holy Family Home Auxiliary members in the parish hall after the Parastas. During this time, Sr. Junia’s nieces Sandy, Susan and Cindy spoke on behalf of the family, sharing memories of their beloved aunt. Provincial Superior Sr. Patricia spoke on behalf of the Sisters, thanking Sr. Junia for the witness of her life and service. A former student, Margaret Saray, fondly recalled her student days, when Sr. Junia was her Principal at IHM School. Each shared the richness of the relationship that Sr. Junia provided the family, the Sisters Servants and IHM School.
On Friday, March 11, at 10:30 am, the Funeral Divine Liturgy for Sr. Junia was celebrated at St. Joseph’s Church by Metropolitan Lawrence Huculak and Redemptorist Fathers Larry, Dmytro, Frank, John and Fr. Thomas Kobak OSBM, Fr. Mark Gnutel, Fr. Vladimir Bashutsky and Fr. Michael Krochak. Also in attendance were Fr. Isidore Dziadyk, OSBM, and Fr. Eugene Maximuk from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In his homily, Metropolitan Lawrence shared three lessons of life that Sr. Junia taught all who encountered her.
The interment was at Holy Family Cemetery, Sisters Servants’ plot. The pallbearers were former students Brad Ryslewsky (IHMS) and Fr. Eugene Maximuk (Sacred Heart H. S, Yorkton), from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, family member Mykola Swarnyk, Jean Piche (HFH CEO) and Rod Picklyk (IHM School Principal).
The memorial luncheon was held at the HFH Link Dining Room. Seventy family and friends of Sr. Junia were present to honor Sr. Junia and continue to share their memories of her.
Local Superior at Bethany Home, Sr. Darleane Pelechaty, welcomed all and thanked them for coming to join the Sisters in celebrating the life of Sr. Junia. She recounted the final moments of Sr. Junia’s life. Her nieces Sandy, Susan and Cindy shared different stories of the warmth they had experienced from aunty Sr. Junia. They were especially appreciative of the care that was provided for Sr. Junia in her final years at Bethany Home and Holy Family Home. Provincial Superior Sr. Patricia Lacey, who had shared many years with Sr. Junia in the teaching apostolate, gave the eulogy, highlighting Sr. Junia’s compassionate and open-hearted spirit, wherever she was called to serve. Sr. Darleane concluded by expressing deep gratitude to all who had in any way contributed to this Final Farewell and Celebration of the Life of Sister Servant of Mary Immaculate Junia.