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!

Childhood and Adolescent Years

In Zhuzhel, in the region of Sokal, in Western Ukraine, lived the pious Catholic, middle class family of Ignatius and Anastasia Melnyk. God blessed them with two sons, Demetrius and Gregory, and two daughters, Catherine and Anna. Five years after the birth of Anna, a third daughter was born, on September 10, 1875. This baby girl was weak and delicate, so with the permission of the parish priest she was baptised immediately after birth. A few days later, the baby was taken to the parish church where she was confirmed by the parish priest, Reverend Canon Kyrylo Seletskyj. The child was given the name Theodosia. Her parents, siblings and friends called her Dosia - the diminutive of Theodosia.

Little Dosia grew up in a loving family. She was blessed with a quick and very inquisitive mind; she was continually asking questions. Dosia was especially attracted to her brother Gregory. He was a tailor and plied his trade at home. Dosia would sit on a small stool near his work table and pelt him with questions. He not only answered her questions but also taught her the rudiments of catechism. When Dosia began school she always had the highest grades in religion.

Her parents went on pilgrimages to Mylytyn, to Sokal and to Krystynopil and always took Dosia with them. She especially liked to go to Mylytyn, because they had to go by wagon for several days. Dosia never tired of the journey. “Once, my mother took me to a Latin sung Mass. At one point in the Mass the organ played so loudly that it frightened me. All the people knelt and bowed their heads to the floor, as did my mother, so from fear, I laid down on the floor beside her. The organ roared on, and I was certain that this was the end of the world, about which my brother told me. When we left at the end of the service, I asked mother about that terrible noise. Mother explained to me that it was to signify the most important part of the Mass.”1

“One day, we went to Krystynopil (Chervonohrad) on a pilgrimage. At that time our present Metropolitan Sheptytskyj and another young Basilian were pronouncing their final vows. There was a railing in that church separating the sanctuary from the nave of the church. The vow ceremony was being celebrated in the sanctuary, so several people crossed the railing and went into the sanctuary, and my brother also made his way into the sanctuary. Then a monk came and told the people that this place was reserved for the Sheptytskyj family. So the people left the sanctuary, and my brother was taking me out, too, but the monk said, ‘The little girl may stay.’ So I witnessed the entire ceremony a few feet away.”2

Mother always took Dosia near the front of the church, so that she would be able to see everything during Divine Liturgy. Later at home, Dosia would put on her back her mother’s long apron, which dragged behind her, and marched around, singing and imitating the gestures of the priest. When Dosia was five years old, she begged her parents to send her to school, but children her age were not accepted. She had to wait until she was six years old.

“When I was six years old, my parents took me to school – my joy knew no bounds! My dog accompanied me to school, and would come to walk with me when I was returning home. I was very afraid of geese, so my beloved father would always be on the look out for geese when I was going or returning from school. In school I met my soul mate, Tekla Dudrak, a year older than I.

“One day I had a beautiful, strange dream. I was walking with Tekla to school and I saw in our neighbour’s garden a pillar with a throne on top of it. On the throne sat a beautiful lady, and a child knelt at her feet, its face lifted to her. We could not see the child’s face. The beautiful lady was combing the child’s hair. The sun was brilliantly shining on them, and they both seemed to be enveloped in light. The child’s hair shone like gold. I, in ecstasy, called to Tekla, ‘Do you see the Blessed Mother with Jesus?’ We both stared motionless.

“The Lady smiled and spoke to us. ‘Children, come to me.’ In my dream I heard the school bell, and I said, ‘Mother of God, we cannot come to you now, because we have to go to school.’ She smiled and said, ‘Go to school now, but you will come to me later!’ At this point, I awoke. My mother was standing by my bed. She had heard my words to the Blessed Mother. I immediately related the dream to my mother. She said nothing, only caressed my head.”3 Perhaps she wondered what would become of this child.

“My friend’s mother died, and later, her father re-married. Tekla was very sad. The only relief she had was when we were together and talked about our grief. For, soon after that, I learned that my mother was not feeling well. A sister of Reverend Canon Seletskyj was a good friend of my mother and they would often visit each other. Now, mother couldn’t go to visit her so she came to our place. I was often sent to Lady Kavatska, our Patroness, for medication for my mother. But no one told me anything; my father hired a girl to help with the house work.”4

Her mother was slowly dying; her legs were very swollen, but no complaints were heard from her. One day she spoke to her husband, not realizing that Dosia was nearby and attentively listening. “ ‘I am not sorry to leave the older children, they are old enough to take care of themselves, but I am very sorry to leave Dosia. She is still so small.’ Then I knew that mother was preparing to die. During Lent, mother stayed in bed most of the time. I used to kneel beside her bed and say, ‘When your legs will not swell anymore, you will get better.’ Mother only smiled.”5

Reverend Canon Seletskyj often came to visit the patient, to bring her spiritual support. The doctors could no longer help her, neither the medications. She was dying from tuberculosis. Easter Sunday came. “Father took a tiny piece of the blessed egg and gave it to mother. She made the sign of the cross, and had difficulty swallowing the tiny piece of the blessed egg. Then we all partook of the blessed Easter food and went to church for Divine Liturgy. Father stayed home with mother. He told me to stay and play after the Liturgy; my brother also stayed. I had no heart for games, and just watched the others play. Then I saw my sister, Anne, run up to my brother and whispered something to him and then they both started to run home. I felt that something was wrong, so I ran faster than they, and arrived home sooner. I found mother dead. She had a peaceful smile and appeared to be sleeping.

“I cried out loud. My father carried me to a neighbour’s house, and told me to stay there until he came for me. When he finally took me home, mother was lying on the catafalque. She died on Easter Sunday, at about 2 o’clock. On the third day of Easter, she was buried. Practically the whole village came for the funeral, but I hardly saw anyone, because I cried continually. When I cried, everybody cried. It was the saddest moment of my life. Nothing could console me.”6

Dosia’s father took such good care of his little girl that he was soon able to be a father and a mother for her. At that time, Canon Seletskyj was preparing the children for first Confession and Communion. Dosia was not yet seven years old, the youngest of the group. The older children told her that she would not receive Holy Communion, for she was too young. Dosia said nothing to them, but knew from good sources that she would receive. After her Confession, Rev. Canon Seletskyj told her that she would receive Holy Communion, for she knew her catechism perfectly.7

On to Part 2
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1 Sr. Athanasia Theodosia Melnyk, My Childhood, p.2. in Canadian SSMI Provincial Archives.(back to text)

2 Ibid., p. 5. (back to text)

3 Ibid., p. 4. Tekla Dudrak also was among the original seven postulants.(back to text)

4 Ibid., p. 5. (back to text)

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

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

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