Originating in Ukraine, the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate migrated to Canada to serve the Ukrainian pioneers. They quickly became integrated into Canadian society and understood the benefits of cooperating with people outside their ethnic circle. Education of children and youth was an important priority for them and special emphasis was given to Catholic religious studies.
Their service to Catholic education in Saskatchewan is long and varied. They have taught in the Catholic School Systems of Prince Albert, Regina, Saskatoon and Yorkton. In addition, much of their teaching has been outside the school system in weekend and summer classes, particularly in rural and small town parishes. They established a women’s student residence in Saskatoon and a children’s residence in Ituna, where they also taught religion in the town school as well as high school classes. At present they conduct the Ukrainian Catholic Religious Education Centre in Saskatoon and instruct children and youth during summer camp at Madge Lake.
Their most concentrated effort focused on Yorkton. At the request of Father Delaere, the Sisters agreed to establish a Catholic school – no easy feat considering that they had no regular source of funds, no government grants and no experience in construction. With the help of Father Delaere and his confreres they managed to build Sacred Heart Institute and had it functioning by 1917. Once on their own, they expanded the building three times, ending up with many special features including: student dorms, a full-sized chapel, a demonstration library, a language lab, a home economics lab, a chemistry lab, a biology lab complete with greenhouse, a gym, bowling alley and a swimming pool that was also used by the city for a number of years. To emphasize the spiritual dimension, they erected a huge modern Sacred Heart statute at the front entrance and a Lourdes grotto with a fountain in the yard close to several majestic apple trees.
It must be remembered that until 1963 all the Sisters, be they administrators, teachers or domestic workers, received no salaries. For them belt-tightening was almost a permanent necessity because they were often “in the red”. They had to charge student tuition, but not everyone could afford even a minimal fee and some people could only pay in farm produce. Fund-raising projects and campaigns required hard work, and paying visits to people in all kinds of weather to ask for funds was a difficult task. What kept them going was a strong faith, a firm belief in the goodness of the people and a conviction that the need was real. When the Sisters finally received their salaries, much of the money was put back into the operation and maintenance of the school.
The Sisters never shied away from changes and adaptations. Soon after its opening in 1917, the Sacred Heart Institute, a boys’ and girls’ elementary school, became part-orphanage when the 1918 influenza left some children parentless. Girls from rural areas boarded at the school and attended Yorkton Collegiate. In 1934, high school grades were added and by 1945 Grades 1 to 8 were transferred to the Redemptorist Monastery at St. Mary’s Church. Sacred Heart then became a day school and a boarding school for girls in Grades 9 to 12 under the name of Sacred Heart Academy. Students came from all the Prairie Provinces and Ontario. In 1973 the school amalgamated with St. Joseph’s College and become co-educational, eventually being named Sacred Heart High School.
In 1979, the Yorkton Catholic School Division assumed responsibility for the high school program. In 1991, the last of the Sister principals vacated her position and in 1997 the Sisters discontinued teaching at the school.
As for their building and property, when the Catholic School Board opened a new school in 2003, the sisters retained the former one and searched for a developer to convert it to a seniors’ residence. In 2006, the Sisters turned the property over to Integrated Life Care Inc. from Edmonton who transformed it into a seniors’ assisted living facility.
It could be said that the Sisters Servants played a significant role in the establishment of the Yorkton Catholic School Division. Several served as principals of St. Mary’s School and many worked as classroom teachers or itinerants in all the Catholic schools in existence at the time. When St. Joseph’s became a junior high school, the Sisters taught there, too.
There was a special connection between the Sisters and St. Joseph’s College. The exchange of knowledge and ideas was helpful to both schools and the exchange of teachers and classes shared the expertise. Sisters Servants staffed the college kitchen. When St. Joseph’s became a university division the Sisters Servants taught there too, organized the library and provided library services.
Whenever the Sisters took on an education project, they worked at it with heart and soul. While always stressing sound academics, they were firm believers in the education of the whole person, placing special emphasis on sports, literacy and the arts. The school paper goes back many years, and their choirs and musical productions stirred the soul and left people talking about them forever. The teaching of spirituality and religion received special attention as they strove to balance the need to find new approaches without ignoring time-honoured practices.
In Yorkton, the rich legacy of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate presently resides in the highly successful Sacred Heart High School. Not far away, the Gladstone Seniors’ Residence still echoes the footsteps of the young. Most important of all are the former students who have been inspired by the Sisters and other staff members to be fine citizens and leaders in home, church and society.