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Stéphanie Manseau

Sister Ann Marie McDougall – A Mission of Compassion

On November 9, we met Sister Ann Marie at Parkland Residence in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Sister Ann Marie would have been very happy to give us a filmed interview, only that a regrettable fall forced us to change our plans. Fortunately, Sister Ann Marie was not seriously hurt. However, because of the bruises on her face, it was best to put away the camera for another time. Still, nothing dampens Sister Ann Marie’s humour! To those who asked her what had happened to her, she laughingly answered in a heartbeat, “Oh, I won the fight!” While we remember her sense of humour from our interview, the two words that describe her are: gratitude and her compassion.

Teaching

Like most of the sisters of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame, Sister Ann Marie first worked as a teacher. She has fond memories of her experience teaching elementary and junior high school: “whether it was the little ones or the older ones, I loved them all.” Sister Ann Marie also taught French as a second language to different groups including young Natives from Truro. Although, sometimes it was necessary to negotiate with less motivated students: “If you pay attention to me now for 15 minutes, then I’ll let you look at the pictures in the Geographic magazines.”

Pastoral and Mission of Presence

After about 22 years of teaching, Sister Ann Marie felt she needed a change. She therefore became involved in the parish and discovered that she enjoyed pastoral work. This encouraged her to seek training in Toronto. She remembered thinking: “Now I have to learn some religion!” This led her to pastoral care ministry in a hospital setting. She confided that when she began working at the mental health wing, she felt some fear and trepidation. She then added that it was one of the most wonderful experiences she ever had. “You could be yourself; they were themselves and we had a wonderful relationship.” When she returned to Sydney, Sister Ann Marie very naturally began working with sisters with diminished autonomy. She eventually joined Parkland community where she provides various services like taking people to their appointments, etc. “We all need someone with us when we’re not well.” It is a ministry of presence which is lived in many ways. As she left the hospital with a sister she was accompanying and with whom she had waited a long time, Sister Ann Marie spoke to a woman who also had been waiting a long time. The woman said: “Yes, but it might be my turn shortly, and then added, but thanks for asking.” “You see, said Sister Ann Marie. Many times, a smile does it too.” Taking people to appointments is not all she does. Sister Ann Marie drives a companion to Screaming Eagles games which they both follow assiduously.

When asked how her mission connected with that of Marguerite Bourgeoys? She replied that it was in the freedom to reach out to people and be present to them, adding that this presence went both ways. Sister Ann Marie narrated how, in her experience, the tables really turned. Newly trained in pastoral work, she and another sister had volunteered to offer their support to families whose loved ones were caught in a mining disaster. When they entered the room, the other sister asked her “What do we do?” Sister Ann Marie, who had just finished her studies replied, “We say nothing.” It was about being there and listening. Something happened in that room, with all those people who were offering tea and coffee, comforting words and news. While she was remembering that time, a strong emotion overcame Sister Ann Marie. “I went thinking I was bringing God to them, she said, I left knowing that they had brought God to me.” That is what I received from my training of “saying nothing.”

Gratitude

Sister Ann Marie expressed deep gratitude for: the enriching ministry of presence; the opportunities the Congregation offered her: courses in French, pastoral training; the possibility to put her studies and training into practice; the chance to travel in order to continue her education. As part of an academic program, Sister Ann Marie visited La Rochelle, the port city in France from where Marguerite Bourgeoys departed. Finally, she expressed gratitude, for her community’s support throughout these enhancing life experiences.

In conclusion, when asked, “Your mission is one of compassion?” Sister Ann Marie replied, “I hope.”

Thank you, Sister Ann Marie.

 

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