(This is the text of the eulogy delivered by Vicki Frankel at Sister Jane’s Funeral Mass, celebrated in St. Ignatius Church in Winnipeg. The celebrants were Father Paul Roy, Father Fred Olds, and Father Dominic Kerbrat.)
I would like to begin by thanking Jane’s family, especially Cheryl and John who are present as well as Father Paul, for the privilege of speaking today.
Many of you have known Jane for longer than I have, and during different stages of her life’s journey. Each of you no doubt will have your own special memories of Jane, Sister Jane. Like some of you, I came to know Jane in one context and over time we slowly began to know one another in other ways.
Jane loved life and lived it fully in so many ways. She had a sharp and curious mind, a great sense of humour, and an appetite for good conversation. She read voraciously – art history, Middle-East politics, Ireland, other cultures, and the great religions of the world. Jane loved Oprah, and she loved baseball, and lobster, and a good cup of coffee. She loved the ocean of her childhood and the prairies of her adult years. Garth Brooks, Celine Dion, Barbara Streisand, and Shania Twain all made music that was sweet to Jane’s ears. Jane loved America, her country of birth, and she loved Canada, her adopted country. But I think it was Ireland that gave her back her soul. Jane loved to bake – especially cookies and apple pie for her friends. And these were often given to the recipient in a fancy container chosen by Jane. Returning from Ireland or a trip home to Manchester, Jane always returned with mementos for others. Those she loved were never far from her heart.
Jane would not like it to be said that she was a perfect person. She had a temper that she was quick to lose when she perceived an injustice. But she was honest, direct, respectful of others, caring to a fault, a loyal friend, a good sister to her siblings, and loving neice to her aunt Mary. Jane was tremendously giving and compassionate. She gave of her heart and soul to anyone who would allow. She always made time to listen to others. I noticed that whenever we had been out together and I dropped her off on Main Street outside of Our Place – Chez Nous, people on the street always smiled and greeted her, and Jane always took time with each of them. Everyone in that part of the City knew Jane and she knew each of them by name.
Jane loved her friends and her family. She was especially grateful to her friends for their support in the past several years of her life while she fought health and other personal battles. Rene, and Aline and Gary enjoyed many special moments with Jane. Fred and Yvonne became friends and Yvonne travelled with Jane to Ireland. Jane described Jackie and Nelson, Robert and Linda, and Gerry, and Doreen as really decent people who gave generously of themselves to her. Jackie travelled with Jane to New Hampshire last summer. And Jane valued contact with her childhood friends in New Hampshire, especially Cathy. She found their love and support especially meaningful in the past year. Jane was especially grateful and close to Barbara and Leonard at Our Place – Chez Nous. Barbara lovingly took Jane to hospital when she saw how unwell she was last week. Jane spoke with gratitude of others who helped her along her way – her physicians and other health care providers, of Father Dominic and Father Olds and of Tony, and of Cynthia who each gave generously to Jane.
In hospital, a week ago yesterday, when I shared with Jane that her family was on the way to Winnipeg to be with her, I asked her if there was anything that she would like me to tell them. Her reply was three simple words: “I love them.” Jane recently told me that from all her troubles the past few years, one very good thing had happened, and that was that she felt more connected with and love by her family. As I sat with Jane and her family at the hospital the last few day of her life, I witnessed their love for her. Jame loved and felt loved by her Aunt Mary, who was like a mother to her. She took joy in traveling home for the wedding of her cousin and namesake last summer. Jane was very grateful for the closer friendship that developed between herself and Cheryl the past few years. She valued her friendship with John and Thomas, and recently very much enjoyed a telephone discussion with Bill. She looked forward to a trip to Manchester in the coming fall, and travel to Ireland again next year.
And there is more about Jane. She lived a life of personal commitment to social justice. When she entered Holy Cross as a novice almost 30 years ago, Jane knew that her vocation was to minister to the poorest of the poor. She believed in the right of every individual to be treated with dignity and respect and kindness regardless of race or religion. By the way she lived her life and vows, Sister Jane McDonald demonstrated that one ordinary person could move mountains and accomplish extraordinary things for other people. One rather small person with a very large heart and passion of live made a difference in the lives of so many others. On Canada Day, two years ago, Sister Jane was recognized as a “Citizen Who Makes a Difference.” As the Lieutenant-Governor presented Jane with a special plaque in front of several hundred Canadians celebrating our country’s birthday, journalist Gordon Sinclair described Sister Jane as the “Mother Teresa” of Winnipeg. Jane raised the profile of the needs of the poor and homeless in Winnipeg’s inner City. Indeed, she raised the bar on what can be done by one person with faith and determination.
Sister Jane worked tirelessly for the people of Our Place – Chez Nous, the drop-in center she began in 1987. She believed that they deserved a warm, clean, comfortable place where they would be be genuinely accepted and respected. And she raised money for this, penny by penny – through her ability to persuade others of the need, and because others came to respect her mission and understood its importance. Sister Jane deeply loved and respected all of the people she came to know there. She was a spiritual light in the lives of the people of Our Place – Chez Nous, and she will continue to be a guiding light in their lives.
It was the centrality of social justice in her life that resulted in Jane’s deciding to go public with her personal abuse issues during the past year. Jane did not want or ask for any kind of punishment for the harm, the abuse that was done to her by those she had trusted as young novice and consecrated religious in Holy Cross. But she wanted to be believed and to receive compassion. She wanted acknowledgement of the wrong that was done to her so that no one else would be hurt again, and so that other victims would feel safe in coming forward. And indeed other victims contacted jane after they learned of her story. Her own honesty and her faith, and perhaps her naivete, led her to think that she would be believed. Jane found the courage to set aside her fears about coming forward because she really believed that the truth would help others. She felt disappointed, betrayed and heart-broken that she was not believed by those she had trusted, when her cries and pleas for compassion and assistance were ignored within her Congregation. Jane asked out loud: “where is the justice in this?” An individual who devoted her entire adult life to service to God and her Congregation through social justice. In the past week or so of her life, Jane found some small solace in knowing that some members of her Order reportedly acknowledged her truth.
While Jane’s belief in those she had trusted in her religious life was sorely shaken, her faith in her God remained absolute. She told me in the past week that she believed that the Creator would take care of her, that her faith was as strong as it had ever been. Jane lived the life of a true Christian and she died a Christian, strong in her beliefs and her faith in her God.
I thought it would be fitting to close with some of Jane’s own words, which I have taken from an album she put together following her trip to Ireland. She quoted Garth Brooks:
I am coming home.
I can see your rolling fields of green,
And your fences made of stone.
I am reaching out,
Won’t you take my hand?
I am coming home, Ireland.
Under a photo of herself looking out over a beautiful Irish valley, Jane wrote:
I find myself trembling before the majesty of God that surrounds and fills me…
Everywhere you look, north or south, east or west, there is something beautiful to behold.
And under another photo of lake country in Ireland Jane wrote:
Ahead, the road narrows, winding, leading us deeper into this beautiful, God-filled land.
Beside another photograph, Jane quoted from the Eight Century Celtic prayer for protection on a journey, which is perhaps fitting today as her soul journeys home:
I draw to myself today
Strength of heaven,
Glory of sun,
Brightness of moon,
Radiance of fire,
Swifness of lightning,
Speed of wind,
Depth of seas,
Stablility of earth,
Firmness of rock.
I draw to myself today
The guiding power of God,
God’s might to uplift me,
God’s life to look before me,
God’s ear to listen to me.
Finally, I quote from Jane’s own notes on her last day in Ireland:
Most of all Ireland what have you been? What have you yielded of yourself to this poor emigrant child of yours who came knocking on your door? You have given back life to me. You have given back trust to me. You in your selflessness have given my soul back to me.
I came here poor and broken in spirit. Opposite to who you are. Your history has not broken you. Those who left your soil for generations left with the light gone from their eyes. Is it because of them that you knew how to welcome me? Was my healing born of the great tragedy that you suffered for generations at the hands of others? Was I to know compassion, gentleness and hospitality because of all that you have had to endure? You welcomed me home so that I could go home.
I trembled before the majesty of God that surrounded me. Who am I to have been given the privilege of being given this gift to behold and to carry in my heart for as long as I live? Each view, each rolling hill, each seascape returned me to me. My roots, my family, my history, my people, my spirituality. Each has brought me home so that I can go home! May this life that has been given to me bless me and all those that I meet both here and abroad. I leave with your blessing.
Go neiri an bother leat — May the road rise to meet you …
Have no doubt dear friends and family of Sister Jane. She was a truly just and Christian person whose faith in her God was with her to her last breath. Jane as you are welcomed to the loving arms of your Creator, “May the road rise to meet you, and may the wind be at your back.”
(Vicki is a social worker and therapist. She does not seem to be a religious person. She referred to God as Jane’s God, which is a conventional way to talk about a friend’s religious beliefs.)
(This is a letter written by Jackie Gushuliak May 22, 2002 to Gordon Sinclair. Jackie was one of Jane’s closest friends and she worked with Jane at Chez Nous. Gordon Sinclair was a journalist and columnist working for the Winnipeg Free Press. In May 2002 he wrote a column inviting nominations for a special award by the “Celebrate Canada Committee”. The Certificate announcing the award was presented by the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba on Canada Day, July 1, 2002.
Dear Mr. Sinclair:
In response to your column, “People who Make a Differnce”, I wish to nominate Jane McDonald, the founder of Our Place/Chez Nous at 676 Main Street.
Jane has devoted most of her life to working with the poorest of the poor in our society. In 1987 She founded a drop-in center, Our Place/Chez Nous, in an old restaurant across from the CPR station, and five years ago moved across the street facing Thunderbird House. As you are well aware, this area of town is one where prostitution, poverty, loneliness, destitution and abuse of every sort is a part of everyday life. A lot of people who have those problems have no family ties anywhere. There is a lot of mental illness on the street – people who have fallen through the cracks.
Our Place/Chez Nous is a drop-in center where people come in for tea, coffee and sometimes a light snack but it is not a soup kitchen. Everyone who enters the building knows that he/she will be safe, respected and protected. However, Jane has made it clear that two very important rules be followed at all time – people must be sober and must respect the rights of other. If someone enters that has been sniffing or drinking, Jane will very gently ask he/she to please come back on the next day the center is open.
Jane has created a very special atmosphere at Our Place/Chez Nous. When visitors come they are shocked by the peacefulness and sobriety that exists in the room. People are sitting, chatting with each other, playing crib or board games, making puzzles, reading the paper or a book or just plain relaxing. One a month one can do some shopping at “The Bargain Basement”. Most of the articles are donated, but Jane feels it’s important to have a sense of self-worth, so things are sold for 5 cents to a dollar.
Celebrations are not rare. Jane makes sure that Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day (she’s Irish), Easter, Thanksgiving, Halloween, etc. are fun days for anyone who drops in. Christmas however is the time when Jane expends a lot of energy. She orders food, prepares stockings with a small gift attached, has Santa come to distribute the gifts, has volunteers come to sing carols, etc. – everyone shares and everyone has a great time.
In the past two years, the Center has only been open Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9 am to 4 pm, instead of the four days a week as it was previously, because Jane has been recovering from breast cancer. Through all her treatments (and there were were many) she was determined to keep the Center open. She is […] stronger and hopes to return to 4 days a week in September. In the meantime, she has invited people to teach arts and crafts and the response has been terrific. She hopes to expand this area more next year. Also she is striving to hire professionals to give workshops to further the education and learning opportunities for the poor.
Watching Jane work with the poor is so touching. She is calm, quiet and so respectful of others. She never preaches but rather guides and directs. She is very knowledgeable about various resources in the area and directs people to the proper places. She is so compassionate and truly cares about the health and well-being of every individual that walks through the door. She has taken people for their cancer treatments, been at their bedsites and they neared death, prayed with them, and sat and listened to many very sad stories. She has been surrounded for years by people who have suffered so much abuse of all kinds. Her mission is for Our Place/Chez Nous to be a refuge for those who are most poor and vulnerable in our society. Jane has truly made a difference!
Yours truly, Jackie Gushuliak
P.S. I have been a part time volunteer since 1988 and now I volunteer every Thursday all day. More info? Call [phone number]
Meeting Sister Jane