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 7

Sister Elder told the two departing Sisters to visit the novitiate for one day, for there was little time left. As they were returning from Krystynopil, they passed through Zhuzhel, but Sister Athanasia did not stop to visit her family, because the SSMI were no longer in Zhuzhel. The St. Joseph Sisters, a new community founded by Rev. Canon Seletskyj, lived in the once SSMI home.

Sister Athanasia was hoping to see Canon Seletskyj in the Zhuzhel station, but he was not there; but he got on the train in Belz and came straight to the Sisters. ‘I hear my child that you are going to Canada.’ Sister Athanasia explained how this came about and told him that it was in God’s plan to have one of the first Zhuzhel Sisters and his parishioner in Canada. He said he was sorry to see her go, ‘… but if that was the will of God, then you must go, my child.’

Sister Athanasia wanted to bid farewell to lady Kovnatska, the former patroness of Zhuzhel. She was a great friend of Athanasia’s mother, and when her mother became seriously ill, Kovnatska sent her medicine, and even her own doctor. Also, when Sister Athanasia was sick with typhus, lady Kovnatska sent her doctor to her, and supplied medication. At present, she was supporting Athanasia’s nephew, who was studying for the priesthood. The lady was now living in Lviv. Canon Seletskyj gave Athanasia her address, and she went to bid her farewell, and to thank her for all her kindness to her family and personally to her.

“The elderly lady received my Sister companion and me very graciously. After a short chat about my going to Canada, I told her that she knew my parents very well, and that they are both no longer with the living. So I asked her to bless me on this far away voyage, in their stead. The venerable old lady in her humility said: ‘My child, you are a consecrated person, you ought to bless me.” I knelt in front of her and said: ‘Please do not refuse my plea.’ Then the gracious lady stood up and put her trembling hands, white as snow, on my head and prayed: ‘May your journey be safe, my child, and may God bless you; you will arrive safely and will not be sick, for people like you don’t suffer from sea sickness. And remember as soon as you touch on American soil say: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” ’ I thanked the saintly lady for all the good that she rendered for my family and kissed her venerable hands, she kissed my head, and so with tears we said our farewells.

“Our date of departure was scheduled for May 28, 1905. Sister Elder bought for us everything that we needed. The ship fare was paid by Archimandrite Filas. A day or two before our departure, Rev. Canon Seletskyj came to visit the Sisters; he had dinner with all the Sisters in the major seminary in Lviv, where our Sisters cared for the domestic services in the large Church institution. After dinner, I asked Canon Seletskyj for his blessing – he had baptised me, taught me catechism and later became the co-founder of our Congregation. Father stood up and I knelt down, and with his hands on my head, he said these scriptural words: ‘Like Isaac blessed Jacob, so I bless you.’ His other words were spoken through tears – I can’t remember what he said. So after a few more remarks, we said our farewells for ever.”30

That same day, Sister Athanasia’s brother Gregory came to bid her ‘bon voyage.’ He asked her if she remembered when, once, he was reading to her a story, where people were going to far away lands, and coined the saying ‘that even a crow will not be able to bring their bones back here,’ and she, after a thought, said pensively: ‘I too someday will go away so far, that even the crow will not be able to bring my bones back here.’ Gregory said that today her words were realized. The big brother and his little sister bid their good-byes.

There was still one wish that Sister Athanasia desired before leaving – to bid good-bye to the former superior and cofounder of her Congregation, Rev. Father Jeremiah Lomnytskyj, OSBM. And the next day was Sunday, the last day before leaving. Sister left her great desire in God’s hands. Sisters Athanasia and Alexia went to the Basilian church for Divine Liturgy, because they wanted to get their newly sewed scapulars blessed. And here, coming out of the sacristy, to sing the Divine Liturgy, was Father Lomnytskyj! Sister Athanasia thanked God for His kindness to her.

After Divine Liturgy, the two departing Sisters went to the sacristy and asked Father to bless their scapulars. Then they spoke a while in the parlour. Father gave them crucifixes with plenary indulgences at the time of death and he blessed the Sisters on their long, adventurous journey. Athanasia asked Father whether he was happy that she was going to Canada. His answer was vague but easily understood. ‘As to you, my child, I cannot tell you, but I am happy that our Sisters are continuing their mission in Canada.’ They parted, hoping to see each other at the train station.

Sister Elder Basilia gave the two Sisters holy cards in remembrance of their departure to Canada – May 5, 1905. Sister Elder and several Sisters accompanied the Sisters to the train station. The Basilian Fathers were already there, with whom the Sisters were to be travelling together to Canada – Father Josaphat Tymochko and Father Augustine Fylypiv. Father Lomnytskyj was also there, and immediately came to speak to the Sisters. Too soon, the alarm rang for all the passengers to board the train. As the train moved away from the station, everyone bid the Sisters Good-bye, and Father Lomnytskyj waved his hat.

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30 Sister Athanasia Melnyk, Memoire II, p.5 in SPA (back to text)