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!

Consecrated Life — part 6

In 1905, Sister Athanasia heard that our Sisters and the Basilian Fathers were going to Canada again. She was not accepted in 1902, for when she volunteered, she was told that the list was already filled, so perhaps she should try this time. Sister Athanasia wrote to Father Lomnytskyj and asked if she should ask to go Canada. In his reply, he said: “If you were told to go to Canada, then be ready with body and soul. If you will be ready in this way, then if you go or not, you will have the same merit, but do not ask to go, for you are of delicate health and the climate in Canada is much harsher than here.”26

“One day, I went to our Sisters in Lviv and found Fr. Filas there, who had returned from Canada to Halychyna, after being elected Protoarchimandrite of the OSBM. He asked me how I was doing. I told him that I was doing well, actually exceedingly well with the Klodnitska family, but I hoped that I would not get estranged from community living. If he thought it necessary, he should change me. Apparently the Protoarchimandrite told lady Klodnitska that I said that it would be better for me to move, so I wouldn’t get estranged from the community life. For when I received the card that I was to go with my trunk to Krystynopil, I went to the elder lady Klodnitska to bid her farewell, and she began to cry. Lady Klodnitska walked in on that scene, and with great ire, said: ‘Don’t cry, mother, Sister herself wanted to be taken from us. We were so good to her and she asked to be moved from us.’ This showed me how people change. I did live with them for 15 months. Did she want me to stay forever with them, and give up my consecrated life in community?”27

After the retreat preached by Protoarchimandrite Filas, Sister Athanasia was sent to Vetlyn, where the Sisters had a nursery and cared for the sick. The rich and poor alike had great faith in the Sisters’ ability to cure. The rich used to send their coach and driver to fetch a Sister to their sick. Sister Athanasia stayed a week with a dying priest until his death. The family was grateful for the spiritual support, not only to the dying priest, but to the entire family.

Then, one day, a letter was sent by the Protoarchimandrite Filas to all the SSMI homes, asking for volunteers for the Canadian mission. No volunteers presented themselves in the home where Sister Athanasia lived. So she wrote a letter to Fr. Filas in which she said: “I have often thought about Canada, but I would like to know a little about it, then I would decide.”28 There was no answer to her letter, so she thought no more about it. God’s will for her was not Canada.

Several days later, Sister Elder Basilia Myshok arrived and summoned Athanasia: “It is very nice of you Sister — corresponding behind my back with Fr. Filas, and getting ready to go to Canada, and I know nothing about it. Fr. Filas is telling everybody that you are going to Canada.” Sister tried to explain how it all happened — how she only wanted a little information about Canada. But if Sister Elder did not want her to go to Canada, then she would immediately write to the Protoarchimandrite, and tell him that she would not be going. Sister Elder calmed down somewhat, and told Athanasia not to write, because she would soon be in Lviv, and would speak to Fr. Filas and tell him herself that Athanasia will not be going to Canada. Apparently, she was not aware of his strong, stubborn character!

A few days after the above episode a telegram arrived, addressed to Sister Athanasia: “Get ready, and immediately come to Lviv. Fr Filas, OSBM.” Sister thought that Sister Elder was probably already in Lviv, and had spoken to Fr. Filas, and agreed to her going to Canada. The train travelled speedily along, and Sister Athanasia wanted it to go even faster for she wanted to know her fate.

“The Sisters from Lviv came to visit me often, especially in the summer time; here they would pick berries and fruit in the orchard. The Klodnitskas were happy that they could help the Sisters. I also visited the Sister in Lviv; it was a short ride. Usually around 3.00 P.M. I returned home.

As soon as Sister Athanasia arrived in Lviv, the Sister at the door told her that ‘Sister Alexia Chykalo is already there, and will be your companion to Canada. Fr. Filas telephoned that as soon as you arrive, you both should come to see him.’ Sister Elder Basilia had not arrived yet. Now what? When the sisters arrived at the Basilian Generalate, Sister Athanasia immediately asked whether Protoarchimandrite received her note. Yes, he did read it, and threw it in the basket. He talked non-stop, and gave them each a ‘Teach yourself English,’ so they would know a few words when they arrived in Canada. Sister Athanasia just had to get her story in, so she practically shouted: “Sister Elder does not want me to go to Canada.” It seemed that Father was not even aware that the SSMI had a Sister Elder... He paused for only a second, and told Athanasia that as soon as Sister Elder returns, to come here with her.

“Sister Elder Basilia returned that evening. I told her about our meeting with the Archimandrite, and that he wanted to see her and me as soon as she returned. Sister Basilia still thought that she would tell him that she didn’t want me to go to Canada. So the next day we went for our appointment. I was surprised that I was so calm and resigned. Whatever happens will be God’s will for me.

“Archimandrite Filas met us at the door; he seemed very gentle and calm. He didn’t give Sister Basilia time to have her say, but immediately started: ‘Sister Basilia, do not forbid Sister Athanasia to go to Canada. There will be a war here soon, and God will protect her from it. You yourself probably will have to go there, too.’ He spoke with the spirit of a prophet … Sister Basilia agreed to allow me to go. He said that we were to hurry with our preparations, for the time was short. He gave Sister Elder 100 zlo. to buy things necessary for the trip; he also told her to sew scapulars for us so that we would look proper among strangers. Sisters Servants didn’t wear scapulars until 1907, with the coming of the new Constitutions.”29 be continued.

Back to Part 1
Back to Part 2
Back to Part 3
Back to Part 4
Back to Part 5
On to Part 7

26 Father Jeremiah Lomnytskyj, OSBM, letter to Sister Athanasia Melnyk, Ulashtivtsi, 21.1.1905 in SPA. (back to text)

27Sister Athanasia Melnyk, SSMI, Memoire II, p. 2, menuscript in SPA. (back to text)

28 Ibid. (back to text)

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