Stories of Joy - No. 1 - Caring tenderly for orphans and sadochok (nursery)

In Canada

When Sister Petronella first encountered the post-WWII orphans at St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Mundare, Alberta, her musical heart beat with a joyous idea. She would put together a children’s rhythm band and put back joy into these young suffering lives. A neighbouring school donated the instruments and before long some 20 children – Grades 1 to 6 – were rhythmically playing their triangles, tambourines, sticks, bells, etc. to the enjoyment of the Sisters and their houseful of 100-plus orphans. They caught the attention of visitors who before long helped to organize tours to nearby towns. The strong beat polkas were their favourites and for specialties they offered well-known Ukrainian music with the additional feature of two nimble dancers in full costume stamping and swaying before the huge crowds. Their joy overflowed when the Edmonton TV station invited them for a show on prime time! The sensitive hearts and hard work of the Sisters and their lay staff, and Joe, who drove the van, brought the now historical St. Joseph’s Orphanage Rhythm Band to central stage. The joy of the children never left them, as in adult life they viewed photographs of their happy orphan times.


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Sister Petronella continued to gladden many hearts at many showings of her musical productions. She was gifted with the ability to attract children and young teenagers to follow her lead as she dedicated over 50 years to church and community ministry. Following her huge success with the orphans’ rhythm band, she was assigned to Marydale, a home for emotionally disturbed children in Edmonton. Her ready smile, her kind approach to those hurting, her musical distractions to ease the imminent emotional stresses among the children, had amazing results. Parents and visitors could not believe that she was able to form a boys’ percussion band which entertained arriving guests at the city hotels where they were invited to play and sing Christmas carols and songs.

When the Sisters transferred ownership of this home to new care givers, Sister Petronella became part of the SSMI community in the local parish where for nearly half a century she continued caring for Christ’s littlest ones, a mission always dear to her heart. The UCWLC welcomed her warmly and supported her as she began her ministry in St. Basil’s Parish in Edmonton, where for the next 48 years she organized the Sadochok (nursery) for 3, 4, and, earlier, even 5-year-olds. Totally happy and contented with her young charges, her classes never diminished in size and enthusiasm. Especially enjoyable were her annual concerts at Christmas and Mother’s Day.

It didn’t matter that every year at Christmas they performed the true biblical story of Jesus’ nativity, and every year they kept the audience excitedly guessing which lucky family had their baby in the manger on the stage. Yes, a live baby that wiggled its toes and sometimes cooed or cried in the crib by which sat five-year-olds Joseph and Mary! Around the crib a choir of sadochok angels entertained this unique holy family!

At one Mother’s Day concert the children on stage held wrapped gifts for their mothers and began a song which was to end with the line: “I love you, Mom, and have a gift for you…” but they were far from the end line when they all darted down from the stage, to their mothers, and oblivious of all else, helped them unwrap the personalized gift - a specially sewn apron for Mom with two tiny hands imprinted on it. Sister Petronella stood in the middle of the empty stage, threw up her hands, and smiled.

She also directed a Children of Mary group in the parish, with a touching annual ceremony of crowning the Icon of the Mother of God. It is humorous to note that in the last few years of her ministry here, gentlemen and ladies of the parish would come to Sister Petronella and say: “Sister, you taught me in Sadochok; I want to invite you for the christening of my first grandchild…” The joy of the Lord abounds a-plenty and the universe rocks with laughter and joy. So it did now in Edmonton!


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