Keeping the faith: Call to God leads Saskatoon-born woman down varied paths

 — Apr. 18, 200018 avril 2000

by Ned Powers, Saskatoon Star Phoenix

Sister Kay MacDonald has seen the Easter sun rise over Rome and Jerusalem, two of the world’s oldest and most historically significant holy cities.

The Saskatoon-born MacDonald landed in Rome when she was selected to the general council of the Sisters of Sion in 1970 and she became the order’s superior general from 1975 to 1986. She went to Jerusalem as provincial superior of the Sisters of Sion in 1990 and remained there for six years.

Now back in Saskatoon, MacDonald’s eyes light up when she remembers the Easter seasons in both cities. “`In Rome, Holy Week was definitely marked by the outdoor stations of the cross led by the Holy Father through the streets and into the coliseum. And there were tens of thousands at noon on Easter Sunday at St. Peter’s Square. I would go because of the special occasion and I loved to see the crowds. There were enthusiastic visitors from all over the world. They wanted to see the Holy Father, receive his blessing and share in the true meaning of the season,” says MacDonald.

She says she saw celebrations in Jerusalem from three perspectives.

“The Jewish Passover was almost at the same time as the Christian Easter season. The city was filled with Jewish pilgrims, and having many friends in the Jewish faith, I was able to share, celebrate and rejoice in their Thanksgiving.

“I saw the Christian pilgrims come to the city in droves. And then there were the local people, who made Palm Sunday a feast, remembering how Jesus came down from Mount Bethany and walked their street. For everyone, it was the deepest and most meaningful week of the year.”

MacDonald’s house was in a prime location on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem and she treasured many moments where she followed the historic steps that Jesus took.

One of her most moving inter-faith experiences occurred in September, 1980, when she spoke on behalf of her sisters on the top of Mount of Olives where a wild olive grove was dedicated as a garden of prayer. It was a ceremony which brought together Christians, Muslims and Jews, theologians and labourers, bishops and the faithful in friendship.

MacDonald’s work in Rome brought opportunities for first-hand audiences with Pope John Paul II.

“I was president of the International Union of Superiors General, representing 2,000 congregations around the world, and our executive would meet with the Holy Father.

“He was a wonderful listener, who would also ask challenging questions. After Vatican II, the mandate of the Catholic Church was that women should be brought forward in their roles. He wanted us to talk about the universal issues which touched our life and work.

“The Holy Father could bring his reflections to a meeting but he wanted to understand what directions we were taking ourselves and what we were doing to move forward.”

MacDonald says Pope John Paul II was “a most gracious, charming and entertaining host at the lunches we attended.”

There was a timely irony that MacDonald happened to be in Jerusalem just a week before Pope John Paul made his historic visit in March, 2000. She sensed the “unbelievable preparations and the enthusiasm” which was building among Christians, Jews and Muslims.

“I can understand why his trip was such an unmitigated success. Here was an elderly, holy pilgrim, reaching out with love and affection, reaching out without offending anyone in a minefield of difficulties, and leaving behind the most lasting experience that any Catholic pope has ever accomplished.”

MacDonald says she couldn’t have imagined where her paths would take her in the world, even in the years of novitiate training in Saskatoon.

Her father, Walter, was a customs officer, her mother, Lillian, a homemaker and MacDonald and her four brothers “learned the great values of home life, faith and education. They made education a priority, no matter what the cost and we all received university degrees.”

MacDonald attended St. Joseph’s elementary school and Sion Academy.

“When I was 17, I knew I was going to give my life to God. When I graduated from high school, I said yes to the call with a capital C. I always had great admiration for the Sisters of Sion, who were my teachers. It was a private school small enough where you knew everyone, and the teachers were marvellous, and I might add, even extraordinary.”

She wasn’t sure she wanted to be a teaching sister but from 1951 until 1967, she was a classroom teacher and then principal at both Sion Academy in Saskatoon and Austin O’Brien High School in Edmonton.

At Sion, she was known as Sister Lillian but after Vatican II, sisters were allowed to use their baptismal names if they desired.

While teaching, she also worked on her studies, gaining a bachelor of education in 1959 and a bachelor of arts in 1961, both from the University of Saskatchewan, and a masters in arts, majoring in history and English, from the University of St. Louis in 1963. Later, in 1983, she would gain a masters in theology from the University of Fordham in New York.

MacDonald says the vocation of Sion is filled with a hope of women committed in the church to serve a world thirsting for justice, peace and love. As Sion sisters, “we are called to witness to God’s faithful love for the Jewish people and to hope in the promises He confided to them for all humanity.”

That commitment has been the cornerstone for her varied roles, from the time in Rome, through three years as associate director of the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism in Montreal and later in Jerusalem where she was also director for the Centre of Biblical Formation and vice-chair of the Interreligious Coordinating Council of Israel.

“I came home from Rome, wanting to work in Christian-Jewish relations. Two Jesuits had responded to Vatican II with the beginning of the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism. I was very happy when a role came along that was significant for me. I wanted dialogue to begin among all religions and I was able to share in the founding of an Inter-faith Council in Montreal,” says MacDonald. Then, when she went back to Jerusalem, all kinds of opportunities arose in biblical studies and excursions. The Centre of Biblical Formation served participants from 25 countries, presenting balanced study programs, trips to historic sites and a strengthening of relations within Jerusalem’s biblical institutions and churches.

Her international ecumenical endeavours were fed by participation in Kaire, a women’s group.

“For eight days each year, Kaire gathers in prayer, reflection on the Word of God and friendship. Its aim is to be a leaven in the church by witnessing unity and extending the mission of hope. Often, we try to hold meetings in areas of division and suffering, trying to reveal the unity and commitment,” says MacDonald.

After her duty in Jerusalem, MacDonald took a sabbatical, upgraded her studies in Scripture and on the computer and then decided it was time to return to her roots in Western Canada.

“I had been away from the West for more than 30 years and I wanted to be a little closer to my family.”

She was named director of the Sisters of Sion, a home on Acadia Drive which takes care of 20 retired Sion sisters and another six sisters of Providence.

But her enthusiasm takes her in other directions, too. She is a resource person for the Catholic diocese, teaching the Scripture and the relationship between Catholics and Jews.

She is secretary of Multi-Faith Saskatoon, which schedules activities and arranges dialogues on a regular basis. She is also president of the Women Religious of the diocese.

MacDonald enjoys the teaching, the open attitude within the diocese and the community and finds that “people are eager to learn and move in new directions.”

Posted: Apr. 18, 2000 • Permanent link:
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Transmis : 18 avril 2000 • Lien permanente :
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