Sr. Mary Basil Kunanec went home to her eternal reward on 9 September 2021, in Holy Family Home, Winnipeg, MB at 90 years of age and 70 years in religious life.
Mary Kunanec was born on 17 August 1931 in Wolverine, SK, near Saskatoon, the fifth of six surviving children (three died in infancy) of Dmytro and Maria (nee Kunanec). Her parents had immigrated to Canada from Yavoriv, Ukraine, in the late 1920s with their sons Emil and Robert (Roman). Their eldest son Volodymyr remained in Ukraine due to immigrations laws; a freedom-fighter for Ukraine, he was killed in defense of his beloved homeland. Her sister Anne was born in Canada before she; her brother Michael was born later.
Having endured the years of the Depression on the prairies, the Kunanec family moved to a farm they rented near Bronte, ON, in 1942, in search of a better life. A year later, they moved to Scarborough, outside of Toronto.
Mary’s elementary education began at Mile End School in Wolverine, SK and continued in an Ontario one-room country school. Excelling in her studies, she was able to skip grade 7, so she was able to join her sister, Anne, for subsequent grades. In Scarborough she completed eighth grade at St.-Joseph’s-on-the-Lake. She attended Notre Dame Academy, for grades 9 – 13, graduating in 1949, having won the Proficiency Award in grade 12. She graduated from Teachers’ College in Toronto, Ontario, in 1950, before entering.
Mary’s father, Dmytro, suffered ill health, and died in 1947 at the age of 65. To earn money for her schooling, Mary and her sister, Anne, accompanied by their older brothers, went to work on the tobacco farms in southern Ontario in August. It was hard work, but also a time to enjoy each other’s company in the evenings.
The Kunanec family treasured their faith, which had enabled them to overcome many hardships and sufferings in Ukraine and on Canadian soil. When possible, they went to Holy Eucharist Ukrainian Catholic Church on distant King Street for Sunday Liturgy. At other times, they went to a nearby Roman Catholic parish, St. Theresa’s Church and Shrine of the Little Flower. Maria taught her children how to pray, recounted Bible stories and sang hymns with them. In particular, she shared her deep devotion to the Mother of God, singing with them the Moleben during May. It was in this atmosphere that Mary grew in her own strong faith.
Mary, with her siblings, first met the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate in their country church in Saskatchewan, where they came to teach catechism during the summer months. When the family moved, she encountered the Sisters again, at Holy Eucharist Church in Toronto. It was Sister Juvenalia Kaniuk, SSMI, their music teacher, who taught Mary and her sister Anne piano, and who later recommended them both for entry into the Congregation.
When Mary’s sister Anne entered the Sisters Servants in 1950, (taking the name Sister Junia,) Mary felt this separation keenly, since they were very close. Later, she also felt called, and entered the Mount Mary Novitiate in Ancaster, ON, 15 August 1951. Anne and Mary were reunited under the mantle of the Blessed Mother! In this atmosphere, Mary’s devotion to the Blessed Mother flourished. On her Clothing Day, 16 January 1952, she received the religious name, “Basil”; later, she reverted to her baptismal name, “Mary,” but kept her religious name as well. Sister Mary Basil made First Profession of Vows on 17 January 1954, and Final Profession on 15 August 1957.
Having received her teacher’s certificate before entering, Sister Mary Basil was able to take on the teaching ministry for the Congregation soon after her First Profession. In her first mission, she taught and was principal for a period of about five years, at St. Ann’s School in Ancaster, which was newly opened. It was in these years that she also furthered her studies in music, receiving her Grade 8 Piano diploma from the Royal Conservatory of Music in 1957.
Until 1978, Sister Mary Basil was missioned in the teaching apostolate, teaching in Toronto, Montreal, Oshawa, Regina and Winnipeg, where she taught Kindergarten at Immaculate Heart of Mary School. She also taught summer catechisms, including First Communion preparation, in Sudbury and rural Manitoba. She was well-liked by her students and the staff, fulfilling her responsibilities creatively and intelligently. Because she never shirked her duties, she was entrusted with extra responsibilities, which she accepted in a generous spirit. Her quick wit and clever repartee made her a favourite, with the young boys, especially!
During her active apostolate, Sister Mary Basil was an avid reader and loved to play the piano, do handwork and sketch. She loved nature and animals, especially cats, and fully appreciated a good story or lively humour.
Sister Mary Basil had been awarded a Knights of Columbus scholarship to pursue studies in Slavistics for 1960-61, when she first took ill, and was unable to pursue those studies. In the following years, she had been sent for various teaching missions, but was often in need for treatment, which interrupted her ministry. When she was able, she would substitute teach. When it was evident that pursuing a teaching ministry would no longer be possible, she participated as her health allowed in the more contemplative duties of Community life, library and resource centre work, or domestic work. She did what she was able, to help the Sisters, supporting them with her prayers and sufferings. Eventually, she needed a higher level of care, and in 2003, she was admitted to Holy Family Home in Winnipeg.
Through the years of suffering, she always expressed gratitude for the opportunities for healing and spiritual growth, for the understanding of her superiors, and opportunities to visit her family, who were a great support for her. Even as she carried this difficult mission of suffering, she shared her faith and trust in Jesus and Mary openly. She always stressed that love was the be-all and end-all of our lives, and tried to live accordingly. And as she expressed her deep and humble love for her Lord and His Blessed Mother, she also never lost sight of her love for her vocation.
Sr. Mary Basil was predeceased by her parents Dmytro and Maria, three siblings in infancy, brother Volodymyr and sister-in-law Olga in Ukraine, brothers Emil, Robert and Michael, sister Anne (Sister Junia, SSMI), and niece Gail.
She is survived by her sister-in-law Joan (Michael), of Scarborough, ON, and sister-in-law Sylvia (Emil), of Toronto, and many beloved nieces and nephews with their families, and relatives in Ukraine.
Funeral services were held at Bethany Home in Winnipeg with interment at Holy Family Cemetery. Charitable donations may be made in her memory to SSMI Lubov Foundation—Immaculate Heart of Mary School, or Holy Family Home. Cropo funeral arrangements.
Вічна їй пам’ять!