The Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Martha will host a ‘come and go’ tea Saturday afternoon [Dec. 2] at Bethany Motherhouse in Antigonish.
The celebration, from 1 to 4 p.m., will provide an opportunity for community members to visit the historic almost century-old complex.
“We are very aware this is a special place for not only us, but also the community,” Martha congregation leader Sister Brendalee Boisvert said, in reflecting on the thought behind the gathering.
The Marthas wanted to welcome people – one more time – as the congregation members prepare for their move to the neighbouring Shannex Parkland Antigonish early in 2018.
“It is an opportunity to come and share memories,” Boisvert said, noting many people have been coming to Bethany since they were children.
During the tea, people will not only have an opportunity to share stories of their visits, but also spend time in familiar areas, including Bethany Centre, where many have participated in retreats, along with Assembly Hall – the first Bethany chapel – which has also hosted a variety of community events over the years.
And, of course, there is Bethany Chapel, where people have attended Mass and other events for decades.
As a ‘farewell,’ the Sisters have crafted a prayer, one that visitors will be encouraged to recite during their moments in the chapel.
Visitors will also receive a commemorative bookmark, one emblazoned with depictions of the historic and much-loved stained glass windows in the chapel.
Boisvert noted those windows – which honour eight female saints – will be moved to their new home, where they will be installed in a room that will be called Heritage Gallery.
During the celebration, there is also a plan to have someone interview visitors, with the comments becoming part of the congregation’s archives.
In the Bethany rotunda, there will be refreshments, while screens will loop pictures of memories.
As for the upcoming move to their new home, Boisvert, along with Sister Mary MacFarlane (community leader) and Sister Joan Fultz (transition co-ordinator) reflected on the journey.
Fultz described it as “a long process,” one that started almost a decade ago.
“They [congregation] have been a part of the whole process,” she said, noting the preparations have been constant.
When the Marthas gathered for a congregation chapter meeting, in 2014, they plotted their five-year direction.
“Creatively [moving] into the future,” Boisvert said of that plan’s theme.
Noting the understanding that an aging Bethany had become “way beyond our needs,” she said the congregation explored many options, such as renovations.
Boisvert talked about many people lamenting the plight of ‘the poor Sisters,’ because of the move.
“It is a great loss, but we have made a choice – moving creatively into our future,” Boisvert said.
She noted the accommodations made by Shannex, including providing a chapel and prayer room, will help the Marthas to continue “to live our community values.”
“The majority of the Sisters are embracing this [move] as a challenge,” Boisvert said.
There will be 61 congregation members making the move from Bethany, a home many have known for decades.
“I am so proud of our Sisters,” Boisvert said of their approach to the transition.
Nevertheless, she added, there is certainly a “sense of loss,” but also comfort for the Sisters in making the “journey together.”
‘Leap of faith’
MacFarlane touched on the Marthas having an understanding of the challenge aging people face, as they make the determination that they have to leave their homes.
“It is not an easy thing to do,” she said.
MacFarlane added it is “part of our life’s journey,” describing the move – and the coming new experiences – as “another dimension of our calling.”
“I think of it as a biblical moment in our lives – a crossing over to something new. It is another leap of faith, in a way,” she said.