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125th Anniversary of the Faithful Companions of Jesus in the Archdiocese of Edmonton

Sunday, September 8, 2013
St. Joseph's Basilica, Edmonton 

In a letter dated March 26, 1882, Bishop Grandin wrote to the Mother General of the Faithful Companions of Jesus, inviting them to come to his diocese of Saint Albert for the purpose, primarily, of educating the young. If they were able to accept this invitation, the good Bishop promised them a welcome of poverty, lack of resources generally and inhospitable living conditions. He was evidently an early proponent of truth in advertising! As the Sisters contemplated this invitation, I would not be surprised if they included in their discernment the admonition given by our Lord in today's Gospel. There Jesus makes very clear that following him involves cost. Discipleship is inseparable from the embrace of the Cross and thus a life of sacrifice. Furthermore, he invites anyone who would follow him to reckon carefully with these truths before making a decision.

 Neither would I be surprised if they took into consideration the warning from the Book of Wisdom that human logic and reason are insufficient as guides for our decisions. What matters above all is trust in divine wisdom, and confidence that God, who acts in ways contrary to our own and who surprises with new and unexpected calls, will always be present and provide for our every need.

Indeed, human reason alone would have argued against the Sisters accepting the invitation. If they had acted along the lines of the builder contemplating the construction of a tower or the king considering whether to do battle, and decided that only when resources were sufficiently guaranteed would they come to this diocese, we would perhaps still be waiting. No, the Sisters chose to rely not on human logic but on trust in divine wisdom and providence. With faith in the Lord, they took the very bold step and accepted the invitation. The subsequent 125 years of their presence and ministry among us gives ample proof that their trust was not misplaced.

In my view, we have here one of the most important and timeless dimensions of the legacy the sisters bequeath to all of us. Time and again we come face to face with the reality of human weakness and limit and the question this imposes: will I rely upon myself or trust in God. Families face daily a bewildering variety of pressures and challenges. Contemporary society continues to be marked by large numbers of poor, homeless, vulnerable and otherwise marginalized persons. The world community remains plagued by war and violence, and is frustrated at the seeming inability of leaders to end conflict, such as the horror we witness currently in Syria. In these and countless other situations, the limits of human wisdom and competence are in painful evidence. And yet we continue to rely upon it! We persist in the illusion that we can solve our own problems. Those Sisters, who so long ago chose to come to this part of the world to serve, show us another way, namely, taking refuge not in our own weakness but in the power of God. Reliance upon self leads to frustration and despair. Reliance upon God gives birth to opportunity and hope.

 As significant as this particular lesson is, it is not the most important dimension of the legacy that the Sisters leave us. The very heart of the heritage we receive from them, and that which is most precious, comes to mind as we read the passage from St. Paul's letter to Philemon. There he appeals for Onesimus, whom he extols for having been to him a faithful companion. We know from his other writings that while St. Paul certainly valued highly the friendship and fidelity of his collaborators in the service of the Gospel, there was no more faithful companion than Christ Jesus Himself. So it is with the community of Sisters we honour today. As their foundress, Marie Madeleine Victoire d'Houet was discerning her call, certain interior illuminations made clear that, as the foundation of all the work she was to do, she was to live as a faithful companion of Jesus. Furthermore, she would do so in the "companionship" of humility, poverty, obedience and gentleness. Union with Christ fashions unity with others, and thus her acceptance of the call to be a faithful companion of the Lord gave rise to a community of sisters who adopted this name and lived henceforth as faithful companions of Jesus and of one one another in the service of the Gospel. In this example of the Sisters we have revealed the very heart of the Church's life and mission. All flows from our relationship with Christ and back to it. We are all called to be his faithful companions and to draw all of our inspiration, strength and accomplishment from his love. Indeed, we can love and follow him as companions, as friends, only because he has loved and chosen us first to be his companions and friends (cf. John 15:15).

 This lesson is necessary for all of us who strive to follow Christ, but it is of particular importance for our Catholic schools. One hundred and twenty-five years ago, three Sisters from the Faithful Companions of Jesus came to Edmonton to open a convent and school. That school was St Joachim Catholic school, the first of the newly formed Catholic school district. This is recognized as the beginning and foundation of our current Edmonton Catholic School district. To this day and beyond, the legacy of our Sisters must remain the beginning, foundation and end of all that we do, not only in the Edmonton district but also in Catholic schools everywhere. The sisters of the Faithful Companions of Jesus have taught us from the start that the very centre and heart of the educational enterprise is to help our young people meet Jesus, know Jesus, love Jesus and follow Jesus as his faithful companions. In no other way can we lead them to happiness and peace in this life and beyond.

 Sisters, I wish to take this opportunity to offer you and your sisters elsewhere our gratitude and express to you our esteem. I do so in the name of all who are gathered here. As successor to Bishop Grandin I do so as well in the name of the entire Archdiocese. Your presence and ministry have impacted enormously upon the life of this local Church. Thank you for your witness and for the legacy of fidelity you bequeath us. May the Lord bless you all richly as you draw comfort and peace from His abiding companionship.