Helen Petrimoulx, SNJM
I first encountered the Sisters of the Holy Names as teachers in my elementary school. By the time I graduated from St. Mary’s Academy, I knew them well. These Sisters were eager to share their faith life and to encourage their students to develop a personal relationship with God. They were enthusiastic about life and instilled in me a love of learning.
I was attracted to the spirit of the Holy Names Sisters because they were genuinely loving, and they were interested in each student. In addition, I thought they could help me find a way to deepen my relationship with God and make a difference in the world—and in people’s lives. So, I decided to become a Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary and entered the Motherhouse in 1964.
In my first SNJM ministry, I drew on my relationship as a teacher with my students to help them understand how faith can transform their lives. I encouraged students to develop their relationship with God and provided them with experiences of various ways of praying.
As the years passed, I developed a deep desire to work with the disadvantaged and the marginalized. This desire was nurtured by our General Chapter Acts starting with the 1991 call to become ‘Gospel Women for Liberating Action’. One terse and powerful excerpt from this General Chapter vision is the following: “As Gospel women called to liberating action in society and in the Church, we commit ourselves to be in solidarity with economically poor people.” Following in the steps of our foundresses, we continue to be challenged to identify those who are the disadvantaged and marginalized both in our local areas and globally.
This desire became a call and led me to become a tenant advocate at the ‘Windsor Coalition for Development.’ The Coalition was formed to assist residents in low income housing. By engaging with people who are struggling to cope with incomes at the bottom of Canada’s currently recognized poverty levels, I learned a great deal and began to really grasp the meaning of “It is the poor who will teach you.”
In the support groups that I facilitated as Tenant Advocate, women were encouraged to help each other by sharing their struggles and successes. The women felt free to talk about God and I witnessed their growth in faith and trust in God. Some discovered that as their faith and trust in God grew so did their strength to deal with the struggles and obstacles they faced on a daily basis. I experienced how miracles can happen when people have opportunities to share their stories and hear how others are able to grow beyond obstacles and move from isolation to supportive community.
In turn, I learned so much from these women. They have taught me to use simple, direct language. “Hey! Tell us in plain English, Sister!” they said to me. Of course, they were right. I looked at the Gospel and the words of Jesus are clear and simple.
In the early nineties, I had many opportunities while in province leadership, to travel to many other regions of the congregation. Witnessing SNJM Sisters and Associates in ministry together showed me how energizing this can be. My next ministry adventure was serving at the Diocesan Refugee Ministry as director of the office for Refugee Claimants. Here, I finally had this opportunity and invited SNJM Sisters and Associates to join me in refugee ministry. I experienced the dynamism of ministry with my religious community and others of similar values and goals. The freedom of offering support within a spiritually based environment provides refugees from many different faiths to talk about God’s role in their stories of fear and persecution.
Initially, I had assumed that their experiences of persecution and violence may have made some refugees angry at God. Surprisingly, it is the very trauma they experienced that often draws refugees to turn to their faith and to learn to rely on strength and courage from God.
I believe that through our SNJM faith-based approach to ministry, we provide the disadvantaged with a safe, compassionate space to share their stories and talk about the impact of God in their lives. In fact, it helps all of us deal with thorny, life changing experiences in a way that renews our hope, trust and faith in God.
I’m so thankful for being a Holy Names Sister and having had this wonderful, unpredictable, and enriching journey into a deeper relationship with God. I’m also thankful for the experience of standing in solidarity with other Gospel women as we together broaden our response to the many Gospel imperatives to serve the people of God.
I retired from a compensated ministry three years ago, but ministry to Refugees still fills my ministry time. With Sr. Lucille Breault and Sr. Lise Jolie, we overlook and supervise our SNJM Shelter for newly arriving refugee claimants. I also head the refugee fundraising for the Community Refugee Fund held ‘in trust’ by the Windsor Mission Centre. You can learn about SNJM involvement with refugees for since the 1970s on our website: http://communityrefugeefund.ca/