Grey Nuns bid sad farewell to Chesterfield Inlet

After 68 years of service to the people of the Kivalliq region, the Grey Nuns are gone.


MONTREAL — On October 1 the last of the Grey Nuns left Chesterfield Inlet, bringing to a close a 68-year period of church history in the Kivalliq region.

“People couldn’t really believe we were actually leaving,” said Sister Laurette Allard, who spoke to Nunatsiaq News this week from her new home in St. Boniface, Manitoba.

“Before, another nun would always come to replace us when we left. This time, it was different.”

The entire community turned out at the airport to say good-bye to Sister Laurette and Sister Denise Gauthier.

“It was very, very touching,” said Sister Laurette.

These two elderly Grey Nuns were the last members of the religious order to remain in the Kivalliq region. The order has provided health and educational services to the Kivalliq region for 68 years.

Sister Laurette and Sister Denise Gauthier spent 14 years in Chesterfield Inlet taking care of the handicapped.

“But now our mission is over,” Sister Laurette said.

Grey Nuns also taught at the Joseph Bernier Federal School until the residential school closed in 1969.

Although this school has come under fire from many former students, many nuns remember their students fondly.

“The girls were happy,” said one former teacher at the school. “I had a lot of fun with them. Sometimes we’d just make popcorn. I never asked what happened in the past, so I don’t know what happened before me.”

Grey Nuns also staffed the former Saint Theresa Hospital, which later became a home for the physically and mentally handicapped.

After it was built in 1931, for many years this imposing building was the region’s sole hospital and the largest building in the eastern Arctic.

It was built to be totally self-sufficient, with huge reservoirs for fuel and water, a greenhouse, and even achicken coop.

“It was built on a rock” — to last forever — recounted Sister Thérèse Isabelle in 1993.

Sister Thérèse, who spent many years in Chesterfield Inlet, died on September 13. All those who met her recall her as a dynamic woman who was devoted to the handicapped people she cared for.

Despite the nuns’ departure, the home will continue, under a contract with the Roman Catholic Churchill-Hudson Bay diocese, to offer services to handicapped people.

“It’s the only facility of its kind in the eastern Arctic,” said its new manager, Diane Raniowski.

Raniowski, a nurse and teacher, came to Chesterfield Inlet last year with her husband, the school principal. She considers her arrival in the community a stroke of fate.

“I have big shoes to fill,” Raniowski admitted. “‘I’ll be looking over you,’ Sister Isabelle told me when I met her earlier this year.”

Raniowski wants to improve the home and promote its services. Eight handicapped residents live at the home, but it can accommate more.

Raniaowski is also interested in assisting the parents of handicapped children who live at home by providing them with respite, or short-term care.

“Having a handicapped child is like having a 24-hour job,” she said. “We’re here to help.”

Although volunteer Catholic workers will still lend a land, Raniowski is also training more members of the community to work in the home.

Sister Laurette and Sister Denise hope some day to return to Chesterfield Inlet for a visit.

“The younger residents, they were really like my babies,” Sister Laurette said.

At a ceremony last week, Bishop Reynald Rouleau accepted two plaques that honour the contribution of Sister Laurette and Sister Denise, as well as the 60 other nuns from their order who served in Chesterfield Inlet.

“We’ll miss them,” said Father Legare, the community’s priest. “But we’ll continue on.”

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