Sister Esther Kurylo died on 2 July 2021 at Providence Centre in Edmonton, AB, at 92 years of age and with 74 years of religious life.
Sister Esther (Maria) was born in Waskatenau, AB, on 25 May 1929, the daughter of Harry (Hryhorij) Kurylo and Eva Koziak, and baptized at Holy Cross Church in Skaro, on 30 June 1929. She was the third of ten children, six of whom lived to adulthood. Her junior high education was completed at Sheptytsky School in Delph, AB, and high school at Sacred Heart Academy, in Yorkton, SK, having entered before Grade XII.
On 4 July 1947, Maria entered the Congregation of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate in Ancaster, ON. She became a novice on 6 January 1948, taking the name Esther; her first profession of vows was made on 7 January 1950, and perpetual vows on 15 August 1956. Religious life was not new to Sister Esther, as several of her relatives dedicated their lives to God: Sr. Stanislaus Koziak, SSMI (aunt); Bro. Methodius Koziak, FSC (uncle); Fr. Sebastian Kurylo, OSBM (uncle); and Fr. Theodosius Synyshyn, OSBM (cousin).
Sister Esther entered with a deep desire to be a missionary. As a young religious, Sister Esther began her mission in parish work, in Toronto and Winnipeg, teaching catechism in the rural areas in the summers. When she completed her Grade XII in Yorkton, in 1952, she went on to Normal School (Teachers’ College) in Saskatoon, and thereafter, continued her teachers’ training through summer school, in Hamilton, Saskatoon and Edmonton. Her BEd was completed in Edmonton at the University of Alberta, in 1970, with a focus on elementary grades. Sister Esther loved working with young children, and her effervescent personality was well matched to their energy. This aspect of her teaching ministry took place in various centers across Canada: Kitchener, ON; Prince Albert, Yorkton and Regina, SK; and Vegreville, AB. Even with her own summer studies, she was still able to teach catechism in rural Saskatchewan and Ontario, and at Camp St. Basil’s in Pigeon Lake, AB.
In the mid-1970’s, her ministry changed from classroom teaching to Religious Education Coordinator for the Yorkton Separate Schools. From 1974-78, her sphere of influence broadened, as she provided resources for all the schools of the district. In these years, she enrolled in further courses in the summer, more focused on Religious Education: Christology, Intro to Christianity, Teaching Children to Pray.
In 1978 she was missioned in New Westminster, where a new Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy had recently been formed. There, she worked towards setting up a Religious Education centre for the Eparchy. Later, she also helped to set up a resource centre for the Edmonton Eparchy. In New Westminster, she and the Sisters with her travelled the Eparchy throughout the year, catechizing people of all ages in remote communities. This type of work was to characterize the Sisters Servants’ ministry in British Columbia for many years to follow. In the summer of 1988, she catechized in a children’s camp in England. In the summer of 1992, when Ukraine was emerging from ‘the underground’, she joined several other Sisters Servants from Canada to bring the word of God to the people of Ukraine, who had been deprived of faith instruction for decades, while under Communist rule. These experiences satisfied her missionary dream in a particular way.
In the summer of 1985, Sister Esther studied at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. She also studied in Rome, in1991-92, at the Regina Mundi Institute, through which a pilgrimage to the Holy Land was offered as part of the curriculum.
In Montreal, Ituna and Calgary, she engaged in parish work and pastoral visiting, which she enjoyed. After her studies in Rome, and mission in Ukraine, she resumed parish work, pastoral care and catechism, based in Edmonton, and occasionally travelling to Calgary. This allowed her to stay close to her aging father. In those years, she assisted with the SSMI Associate program, and participated in the annual Catechetical Conferences in Banff and Indianapolis.
She remained in the Edmonton SSMI mission for the next twenty years, until her own health declined. In 2014, she relocated to the Providence Centre Care Home.
Sister Esther was predeceased by her parents, her sister Eugenia, and brothers Peter, Steven and Methodius, all in infancy, and later, brothers Nicholas and Harry. She leaves to mourn her sisters, Jane Gubersky and Irene Sawchuk, and brother, Joseph and his wife, Pat, numerous nieces and nephews and their families, and her Community of the Sisters Servants.
May her memory be eternal! Вічна їй пам’ять!