The Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate

Vignettes - The Voice of our SSMI Past

In honour of the celebration of the 125th Anniversary of the founding of the Congregation of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, and the 115th of the arrival of the SSMI in Canada, we have decided to feature a small piece of our SSMI history, joining both celebrations.

Sister Athanasia (nee Theodosia) Melnyk, SSMI, was one of the first seven postulants who joined our Foundress, Blessed Josaphata Hordashevska, forming this new Congregation. She later volunteered to be missioned in Canada, to serve our newly emigrated Ukrainian people. Her mortal remains rest in the cemetery of the SSMI at Mount Mary Retreat Centre in Ancaster, ON.

The following are excerpts of her memoirs. Enjoy!
Sister_Athanasia_Melnyk

Childhood and Adolescent Years — Part 2

“A young girl came to live with us and to help take care of me. She always dressed me for school in a clean blouse and skirt, and when I returned from school, I had to take off my school clothes and fold them neatly, and put on my home clothes – just like my mother taught me. This girl was very kind to me and helped me to slowly become consoled after the death of my loving mother.”8

When Dosia was around 13-14 years old she began to be interested in worldly things. With her girl friends, she attended several weddings and danced at the community hall – all these activities were in the daytime. Later, she wanted to go with her sister Anna to socials in the evenings, but her father did not allow it. Her brother and sister went twice a week for choir practice in the evening. Dosia wanted to go too, but her father forbade her, even though the choir director asked for her.

Her father did not like to repeat an order that he had given. If he said ‘yes’, then it was ‘yes’, and when he said ‘no’, it was ‘no’. He had said ‘no’ to Dosia, about going out in the evenings, so that question was raised no more! Dosia often accompanied Anna to Krystynopil, where a young Basilian monk was teaching catechism to older children. When Dosia returned home she would gather the children by the church and teach them what she had learned in Krystynopil. Once, Rev. Canon Seletskyj came upon this improvised catechism lesson; he asked what they were doing, and learning that this was an impromptu catechism class. He highly commended Dosia and the children.

Mr. Melnyk did not have to forbid Dosia to go to socials in the evenings for very long, for soon Dosia and Tekla lost all enthusiasm for worldly entertainment. They decided to live a quiet life in prayer and penance. On Sundays they would go to church quite early, in order to have time to pray the Akathist to Jesus Christ or to the Blessed Mother or to St. Nicholas. After Divine Liturgy and dinner, they would go to Melnyk’s orchard and read the Lives of Saints or other good, interesting books. They borrowed books from Canon Seletskyj’s library. They also decided that they would fast on Fridays.

“I would feign that I had something important to do, when the family was eating. Time passed, and I would not eat anything all day. However, my brother had a quick eye and betrayed me to father. Father decided to prove it for himself. He would bring a piece of apple from a certain tree and asked me to taste it. I would always say. ‘I’ll eat it later.’ This went on for several days, and then my father found the pieces of apple untouched. He forbade me to fast in that fashion. The same thing happened to Tekla; they had to find other ways to do penance.”9

On Sundays, when they would be returning from vespers, a group of women would be waiting for them and would ask the girls to read something for them. They willingly complied. At that time, many adults did not know how to read or write. It was the girls little apostolate.

Dosia liked to make surprises for her family – something that they would not expect from her. One Saturday, everyone went to work in the field for the entire day, and she was to take care of grandpa (her father’s father). Dosia had a bright idea: Grandpa was comfortably reading in the orchard. So she decided to whitewash the dining room. She first removed all the icons from the walls – and there were many of them. She washed and dried them. She gave grandpa his lunch and went back to work.

“I brought a ladder and started to whitewash the ceiling; I was not very apt in this chore and didn’t know whether the whitewash was too thin or too thick. But I saw that there was more on the floor and furniture than on the ceiling. When my people came home they found me completely covered with whitewash, and I was only half finished. It was Saturday night, so they couldn’t leave the house in such a mess for Sunday. My brother, his wife and my sister scolded me for trying to do something that I didn’t know how to do. My only defence was, ‘I wanted to surprise you.’ ‘Well, you certainly did!’ said my sister, and my sister-in-law echoed the same. That was the sad ending of my surprise. I gave my sister and sister-in- law several hours of extra work.”10

The school teacher, Mr. Kozlovskyj, repeatedly advised Dosia’s father to send her to a high school in Sokal. There was a convent of the Polish sisters in Sokal, and the girls that boarded at the convent attended the local high school in the city. During the summer vacation father took Dosia with him and went to Sokal. “We went there by train and then had to cross a river by boat; a man was there that took people across. He asked father, ‘I suppose you are taking your young one to the convent.’ Then the boat man was saying something to my father, but I didn’t hear anything, because I was so afraid of that deep water that we had to cross. When we arrived in Sokal, we walked past the convent, we saw girls playing in the yard, and then we went to see how far it was from the convent to the high school. Father didn’t make any comments, but he didn’t send me to that school.”11

Dosia continued to attend the Zhuzhel School, and studied extra subjects. Tekla and she continued their chosen way of life – prayed more, and read good books from Rev. Canon’s library. The patroness of Zhuzhel, Lady Kovnatska, was a very pious widow. She had a chapel in her palace and during the month of May, she would gather girls from the village, and read to them books on the Mother of God. Tekla and Dosia went to those sessions. They also liked to go with Anna to Krystynopil, and there go to confession. At that time there was a Jesuit12, who was conducting the Basilian Reform, and the young Basilians gave very interesting homilies. Canon Seletskyj often invited them to Zhuzhel. Thus surrounded by good examples at home, and with spiritual direction by fervent priests, the girls’ youth proceeded.

“Once I had an inspiration — Perhaps I should become a Sister, like those Sisters I saw at the pilgrimage in Sokal. I first wanted to share this with my brother Gregory13; I knew he wouldn’t tell anyone … so in secret I told him. ‘That is good, if you have the inclination for it, but you are not going to the Polish nuns? In our Church we have only Basilian nuns, but to go there you must have a higher education or a big dowry. You could obtain a higher education; you are still young, and I am certain that father would give you the money, if it were necessary.’ This gladdened me very much and I anxiously waited for Sunday to relate it to my friend.

“On Sunday, I told Tekla my secret. ‘I am also of that opinion, that it would be good for us, but you have a good father, and he would give you everything. I also have a good father, but I have a second mother, and there are many of us in the family.’ I told her not to worry, we would both be together. Remember that the Blessed Mother called both of us to come to her.

“Once, during sewing class, the teacher said something to me, which I do not now remember, but a classmate said, ‘Dosia is going to be a Sister.’ The teacher responded, ‘You? to a convent? Let the blind and the crippled go, not girls like you.’ And I thought, ‘ … so for Jesus, the blind and the crippled? … Oh no!’ I don’t remember whether I responded to the teacher.”14

...to be continued.

Back to Part 1
On to Part 3
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Notes

8 Sr. Athanasia Theodosia Melnyk, My Childhood, p.7, in Canadian SSMI Provincial Archives. (back to text)

9 Ibid., p. 7. (back to text)

10 Ibid., p. 8. (back to text)

11 Ibid., p. 8. (back to text)

12 The jesuit was Fr. Gaspar Szczepkowski. (back to text)

13 Her older brother Demetrius had already died. (back to text)

14 Op. cit., p. 9. (back to text)