The Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate

Saint Brother André helps us to establish our Saskatoon Mission

Brother André Bessette, CSC, of Montreal, was canonized on October 17, 2010. He is well-known in Canada for initiating and following through on the building of St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal, a testament to his great devotion to the Foster Father of our Lord, for his intercession to this great Saint for the healing of countless people, for his great humility and sanctity.

Our early Canadian SSMI also had recourse to his intercession, through which we received the necessary funds to begin our women's hostel mission in Saskatoon, in 1927. Below is the account of his help, as written by Sr. Claudia Popowich.

(excerpt from “To Serve is to Love”, by Sr. Claudia Popowich, SSMI)

Josepha Apollonia

“...In the meantime, at Saskatoon, Sister Josepha Bilan [left photo] and Sister Apollonia Anne Dzubinsky [right] had opened a hostel for girls who came from rural areas to enrol in the local high schools, the teachers’ college or the university. The city, lying midway between Winnipeg and Edmonton, was not only the geographical and commercial centre of the northern part of the province, but was also its educational capital, being the seat of the provincial Teachers’ College and the University of Saskatchewan. Hence the new residence on Avenue E was unquestionably a windfall for Ukrainian Catholic girls seeking a higher education, since up to now, owing to their difficulty in renting accommodation at prices they could afford, many students ended up light housekeeping in musty garrets where they shivered through January and sweltered through June.1 Morever, those enrolled in the city’s high schools usually found themselves entirely on their own for the first time in their lives; homesickness and loneliness were their frequent and dangerous companions.

Bishop_Budka Sister_Athanasia

“It appears that it was Bishop [Nicetus] Budka [left] who had first become concerned with their plight, having gained an insight into the situation through his periodic visits to Saskatoon. In the late autumn of 1927, just prior to his departure for Rome, he triggered a discussion on the subject during a meeting with Sister Athanasia [Melnyk, right], at which time he urged her to provide a home for these girls where their educational and social pursuits would be supplemented by a homelike and peaceful atmosphere and where their Christian values would be supported by personal prayer and by the example and guidance of the sisters. Such a project was indeed worthy of consideration, but, truth to tell, it gave Sister Athanasia cold comfort. She experienced an initial reluctance to commit the institute to the proposal, not because of a difference of opinion concerning the merits of a hostel, but rather because of an empty purse. As she wryly observed: ‘Having requested that we establish a students’ residence in Saskatoon, His Excellency forgot to ask, “Do you have the funds necessary to purchase a house?” ’ 2 Nevertheless, untimely as the plan may have seemed from the economic standpoint, and ill-inclined as Sister Athanasia may have been to rush precipitously into another costly venture, she embraced the idea as though it had been her own when she saw that, despite her personal misgivings, it was the express wish of the ordinary that she try to implement the plan.


“Before long she was waist-deep in the discouraging task of trying to purchase a suitable building in a convenient location as cheaply as possible. Her spirits seem to have reached a doleful low ebb, for she wrote: ‘We are now depending solely upon Divine Providence for help because human assistance is nowhere to be found.’ 3 Her dispiriting search was abruptly interrupted by an unexpected summons to attend to an urgent matter in Montreal. And all the while she journeyed eastward the Saskatoon project lay both heavy and hopeful in her heart. She decided to share her troubles with Brother André, [Bessette, CSC, left] that great devotee of St. Joseph.4This saintly man listened sympathetically as I explained my difficulties,’ she related later, ‘and then promised to join me in asking St. Joseph to intercede in this matter. Fortunately, St. Joseph heard our prayer, for shortly after my return to Saskatoon Mr. W. O’Regan, a lawyer and trusted friend, who had recently arrived from Yorkton,helped us to purchase a large house for the sum of $8,800.’ 5 And so, almost overnight, Sister Athanasia’s lament about no ‘human assistance’ had been invalidated. And there were other friends: Mr. J. Doherty of Winnipeg, who lent the sisters the $5,000 which permitted them to meet a portion of the building’s cost; the Sisters of our Lady of Sion, who shared their bread with Sister Josepha and Sister Apollonia until they were able to provide for themselves; the local pastor, Rev. M. Olenchuk, whose unstinting assistance was a boon during the first few burdensome months.6

“In the end, the hostel proved to be a vital foundation. On the one hand, it afforded the religious an opportunity to work with young women from scattered parts of the province, as well as with the children and adults of the city and country parishes; on the other, it became a convenient house of studies for a substantial number of sisters who took advanage of the pedagogical training and university courses offered at Saskatoon. For her part, Sister Athanasia liked to remind the sisters that they had no one to blame for all these blessings but St. Joseph.7


1 The hostel was officially opened on May 16, 1928. Later, the hostel was also made available to working girls. (back to text)

2 ‘Provincial Chronicle SSMI,’ I, 130. (back to text)

3 Ibid (back to text)

4 Brother André [Bessette, CSC] was a humble lay brother of the Congregation of the Holy Cross; he died in the Hospital of Notre Dame de l’Espérance at Saint Laurent in the ragged norhtern outskirts of Montreal on the night of Jan. 5, 1937, at the age of ninety-one. In every state of the United States and in every province of Canada there are thousands of people who firmly believe that they have been cured of grave illnesses through the holy work of this humble Canadian, Brother André, and the intercession of St. Joseph. And through their faith in that simple man and his devotion to St. Joseph, there has been built one of America’s — and the world’s — greatest shrines, the Oratory of St. Joseph on Mount Royal, in Montreal. See Aldin Hatch, The Miracle of the Mountain (New york: Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1959. (back to text)

5 ‘Provincial Chronicle SSMI,’ I, 131. (back to text)

6 Ibid,. p. 143. (back to text)

7 Ibid,. p. 131. (back to text)