A 70-year-history has come to an end with the departure of the Catholic Missionary Sisters of Christ the King from the Chilcotin First Nations community of Anaham.
Community members of Anaham Reserve along with Bishop David Monroe of Kamloops and Fr. Clinton Pendleton of Sacred Heart Church in Williams Lake held a special mass and community luncheon on Oct. 27 to say goodbye to the last remaining nuns living on the reserve.
The history of Catholic nuns living at Anaham dates back to 1944 when Chief Casimir Bob offered the nuns land and Archbishop Williams Mark Duke financed the building of a convent.
Working as teachers, nurses and in pastoral care, they remained in the community until the end of last month.
Sr. Evva Melanson was one of the last two remaining sisters living at Anaham and said it was an aging order that caused them to leave.
“The other sister with me at Anaham was 79 and I’m 77,” Melanson said from the mother house for retired missionaries in Laval, Que. “Our health wasn’t good so for that reason we had to come back to the mother house because there’s an infirmary here. There was no one else to replace us.”
In Canada very few women have become nuns and in the last 20 years in Canada their order has had no new sisters, Melanson explained.
“It’s similar across the country, not just with our order.”
Chief Bob was the present chief Joe Alphonse’s father.
Alphonse said their departure will leave a huge void in the community.
“I think everyone in the community, all of the clans, all of the family groups, have countless stories that they could share. There’d be endless stories about all the good work and all the good-hearted work the nuns have done over the years.”
There was a time when more members believed in Christianity, whereas today more people believe in First Nations spirituality, however, his community had the privilege to benefit from both beliefs, Alphonse said.
“We have the sisters to thank for that.”
With the sisters gone, the community will have to step up to do the simple things, like putting up Christmas lights and decorating the church.
“Anaham is known for its midnight mass,” Alphonse said.
Originally from New Brunswick, Melanson spent eight years in total at Anaham, arriving first in 1957 just after her noviciate.
She had been a nun for three years.
Her third stint in Anaham was from 2010 up until her departure last month.
When she arrived in 1957, there were eight sisters living together at Anaham.
They were involved in teaching in the school on the reserve, nursing in the hospital near the convent and pastoral work.
“We would travel to all the different missions whenever there was a need.”
The sisters had eight missions in B.C. at one time.
“We had over 30 sisters in B.C. at one time, but we opened up mission houses in Africa, on the Ivory Coast and in Haiti, so some of the missionaries went there,” Melanson said.
Alphonse said the community is looking at the possibility of turning the nun’s convent into an elder’s home, but would need to secure longterm funding.
“The house has been there for 70 years, we’d hate to see it gone,” he said.
Before the sisters left, the community held a goodbye party and several people sent greetings or attended in person.
One of those was Lila Gunn who travelled from Browning, Montana.
“The sisters have been a part of my life since childhood,” Gunn said. “We are so thankful and grateful for all those years they lived with us.”