On October 11, 2020, Sister Mary Holowaty, of Ancaster, ON, died at the age of 90, having served 73 years in religious life.
Mary was born in Kitchener, ON, on February 22, 1930, daughter of William (Vasyl) Holowaty and Anne Zuk (Жук), who had both immigrated from the Ternopil region of Ukraine. She was the second of five children, with an older brother, Joseph, two younger brothers, Michael and Walter, and a younger sister, Barbara. Her father and brother Joseph had been cantors in their parish, a fact in which Mary took pride. She also inherited the gift of music, having a gentle soprano voice all her life. She was an active member of the church choir, and of the UCYO.
The Sisters Servants did not have a mission home in Kitchener, but Mary was acquainted with the Schools Sisters of Notre Dame, who conducted St. Mary’s Girl’s School, whence she graduated in 1947. When the SSMI arrived in Ancaster in 1946, Mary did not hesitate to participate in a retreat for high school girls, hosted there in March of 1947. No doubt the Lord specially touched her heart there, since she entered that summer, after graduation. Hers was the only vocation from her home parish, to this day.
Mary entered the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate in Ancaster, ON, on July 27, 1947, a scant year after the Novitiate had opened in that location. She became a novice on February 1, 1948, being given the religious name, Sister Christopher. She made First Profession of Vows on February 2, 1950 and Final Profession, August 15, 1956. In 1969, Sister Christopher resumed the use of her baptismal name, and became Sister Mary.
After her novitiate, Sister Mary was assigned to childcare, at the Sisters’ orphanage in Mundare, AB. Her gift of relating to children was soon recognized, and she was given an opportunity to study at the Teachers’ College in Toronto, teaching there for several years, before being sent to Saskatoon, where she could begin studies towards a Bachelor of Arts, through summer schools, as was often done.
Sister Mary completed her high school education at St. Mary’s Girls’ School in Kitchener. She received her BA at the University of Saskatoon in 1969, with additional courses in Theology and Old Testament from the Saskatoon Catholic Centre. She certified for Permanent Elementary Teaching in 1973, and in 1977, received her Permanent High School Assistant’s Certificate. Sister Mary’s program was well-rounded, but she had a particular leaning towards French.
Of her 73 years in religious life, 42 were taken up with the ministry of teaching. Sister Mary taught in Saskatoon, Prince Albert and Yorkton, Saskatchewan; in Winnipeg, Manitoba; and in Toronto, Ancaster and Hamilton, Ontario. In Yorkton, Winnipeg and Ancaster, she taught at the schools run by the Sisters Servants, Sacred Heart, Immaculate Heart of Mary and Mount Mary Academy, respectively, but she taught in other diocesan-run schools in the other locations. Before Mount Mary Academy was opened, she taught at St. Ann’s School in Ancaster, where her students still remember her, some 50 years later. In all, she taught at the elementary level for 16 years, and at the high school level for 26 year. She even taught Ukrainian language at the University level, for the Sheptytsky Institute in Saskatoon. Her final 20 years of teaching were in the Hamilton Diocese, at St. Jean de Brebeuf High School, where she was also specially appointed by the Diocese of Hamilton (Roman Catholic) to be a Special Minister of the Eucharist. After retirement, she maintained a close friendship with her fellow staff.
Along with grade school, Sister Mary also taught religion during the summers, in various locations: Waterford, ON, Sydney, NS; summer camp in Ottawa, ON; and parish catechism during the year, in Winnipeg, MB. Sister Mary served her community as Superior in Saskatoon for five years, and in Hamilton for eight years. In Saskatoon, she oversaw a student residence for girls; many a night, she paced the floor, worrying about the girls who overextended their curfew. For most of her years of retirement, she helped at Mount Mary Retreat Centre, running errands, and keeping the chronicle for the home. She was known by community and family for her photography skills, as well, and for many years, served as photographer for the annual Marian Pilgrimages (Vidpust), the largest gatherings of the Ukrainian faithful at Mount Mary, since its opening.
An avid student, herself, Sister Mary took opportunities to expand her experience. Beyond the academic requirements of her apostolate, she also held special certificates for Christopher Leadership and Leadership for Principals (OECTA), Continuing Education certificates in Sewing and Tailoring (Yorkton) and Data Processing Concepts and Applications (Hamilton), Standard First Aid (St. John Ambulance Assoc, Yorkton) and Biblical Andragogy Facilitators certificate (Mississauga).
Sister Mary was always very close to her family, spending most of her vacation time with them, and often joining them for special gatherings. Her nieces and nephews waited eagerly for her visits, as children, and later, her great-nieces and nephews awaited her visits with the same enthusiasm. At her jubilee celebrations, one of her nieces shared:
“In her sense of values, her love of Christ and adherence to His teachings shone through in everything she does. … In her generosity of spirit and patience, when she travelled with us throughout Atlantic Canada … she was able to amuse two very travel weary children for some long stretches of highway driving. She had a sense of fun. She could still romp and play with the youngest of children, even as she used to play with us… She had a great capacity for love.”
When she was unable to drive to Kitchener, her nieces and nephews would happily pick her up. They would not want her to be absent for any event!
Quadruple bypass surgery in 2004 slowed her pace for a while, but she was able to resume normal activities for many years afterwards, by being faithful to her diet and a program of exercise. She finally succumbed to a battle with cancer.
Sister Mary was predeceased by her father, William, and mother, Anne, brothers Joseph, Michael and Walter, and sisters-in-law Mary and Mary Anne. She is survived by her sister, Barbara, of Kitchener, ON, and numerous nieces and nephews and their families. She will be dearly missed by them and by her Sisters in the SSMI Congregation.
A visitation will be held on Wednesday, October 14, 2020 from 6:30 to 8:00pm at Dodsworth & Brown Funeral Home, Ancaster Chapel, 378 Wilson Street East. All Covid regulations will be enforced. A private funeral service will be live streamed on Thursday, October 15, 2020 at 10:00am with interment to follow at Mount Mary Cemetery.
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