Stories of Joy - No. 17 - Provincial Home returned to SSMI in Ukraine — thank you to mayor

In Ukraine — Canada — Rome

The older Sisters pointed out to the younger generations the buildings which had originally been their homes and which they were forced to abandon after the Pseudosobor in Lviw in 1946. To minister in the underground Church in Ukraine meant to be incognito. The spacious home in Ternopil which housed a large active community was now the seat of a regional judiciary. In Zalishchyky, there had been a large and well established nursery school with supporting playgrounds, garden, chickens, and the like. The sign now read Regional Dental Clinic but the environs were pathetically neglected. Instantaneously, our passersby would shed a tear and feel the pain in their hearts, as they remembered the hundreds of happy children for whom they had cared here over many past years. Their present small crowded home a few blocks into the city looked normal and safe in the circumstances, and only God knew its power for mission. “Thank you, Jesus, for our present service to our people; humble as yours was, from a family home in Nazareth.” A smile gladdened the day, and they continued to the next home where there were several beautiful children. Strange — they were hard days and many challenging plans and changes of plans, but the Sisters, young and less so, never stopped. The Holy Family had also sought cover in exile, and would only reappear when the Father summoned them back.

There was also one home very near the Carpathian Mountains, a beautiful, long structure with large windows to take in the fresh air and glorious mountain scenery, a retirement home for the older and the ailing SSMI. It was built just a few years prior to the start of WW II when the Congregation was soon to mark its Golden Jubilee, and with it came a need to care for its pioneer Servants missionaries. They hardly had the time to settle into their rest home when they had to leave. Obviously someone else had an eye on their home of prayer and rest!

Many younger Sisters were conveniently residing in their parental homes. The strong faith of the population remained unbroken, and when the nation regained its freedom officially in the early 1990’s, the Sisters very quickly regrouped in communities and needed to reclaim their houses. That story is voluminous and varied ... Let us read the chapter on receiving back the Provincial Home of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate in Lviw.

In 1942, on the Golden Jubilee of their foundation, Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky had gifted the Congregation with a property, architecturally beautiful in the residence and spaciously practical in the gardens surrounding it. Within a decade it was gone the way of all the others, a prize catch! Though now in a free country, its present status as The Museum of the Afghanistan War was hard to contest. It would need strategy; it would need the efforts of the SSMI Superior General from Rome. They would respectfully visit the Museum and then request its relocation. That should be obvious. Imagine their surprise to see the entire collection exhibited in one room plus the adjoining short hallway — the rest of the big house was empty. The man in charge was still wearing the military garb of Soviet times. The Sisters would see the mayor of the city tomorrow for the business of the day.

When next morning the Superior General was introduced to the mayor as “a Canadian from Toronto” he was delighted. “I was there recently. I was invited by the Ukrainian bishop in Toronto, and after a lovely visit with him, his chancellor, and several of his friends, whom all I was very pleased to meet, we were all very graciously hosted to a delicious dinner at the Sisters’ home, not too far from his residence. I love Canada.” The Sisters felt his friendliness, but he had to inform them that there were not only several councillors opposed to any vacating of the premises in question, but especially the militarily clad director and his crew of a dozen or so, mostly women who looked after the tourists. And were there many? They told us that in the last two weeks, there was one visit from a city school. But the wages were good.

So there were meetings and more meetings. “Why would you need this big house when you have no young Sisters after all these years of a Church that had ceased to exist?” Two days hence, there were more than a dozen young SSMI’s in very close proximity to the meeting room at city hall, greeting the councillors as they came out and politely asking for their house. The next meeting was scheduled for the following week. On the day of the meeting, at 3 o’clock after midnight, the Superior General received a telephone call: “I am the lady councillor who poured your coffee at our last meeting ... You know where I stand on the matter at hand ... My advice to you — Do not come to this morning’s meeting. Good night.” Apparently that morning’s gathering was loud and raucous, and had a number of additional participants.

Soon after, the mayor telephoned and said he won for us one room in the house. “Quickly occupy it and please don’t vacate it until ...“ The Sisters got the message. Luckily it was one of the guest rooms with a washroom nearby; for two weeks, the three Sisters who moved in daily scrubbed and rescrubbed their newly acquired area, while their co-Sisters in the city brought food. Their tenacity and perseverance won them fame and gratitude, for before long the mayor was finally able to begin the official process of returning the Provincial House to a very joyful community of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate in Ukraine. In the same spirit of joy and gratitude, the Sisters relinquished their new retirement home in the Carpathian Mountains for the continued use of a group of young students, mentally slightly impaired but capable of learning a trade. The home had been used for that purpose for many years during the time of the underground church and the boys who lived there loved it.

In the prevailing hard economic times in the country, the Superior General wished to show her gratitude to those who were helping the Community rise up, with a modest financial gift. All were in need, not excluding the mayor of Lviw, but when she extended her gift to him, the fine gentleman gently said: “Thank you for your kindness, Sister, and if I may, I would like to ask you for another gift instead — I would love to have a Bible.” She had brought with herself several copies from the Basilian Press, and in the archives of the SSMI Generalate in Rome, there is a treasured photo of the two of them, radiant with joy, in the moment of giving and receiving the Holy Gift.

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