The bond is unbreakable.
“It has really been a gift to us,” Sister Anne Aucoin said of the connection between the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Martha and the R.K. MacDonald Nursing Home.
Aucoin spent more than 17 years of her ministry serving in pastoral care at the Antigonish residence.
“I loved every minute of it – visiting and listening to people,” she added.
Aucoin noted one of her focuses was to provide comfort and support for residents who, often, “suffered losses.”
“It has been an amazing experience,” she said.
Sister Caroline Leahy is equally proud of her time providing pastoral care at the R.K.
“It was great,” she said.
Leahy became well-known for singing for – and with – residents, particularly Irish tunes.
“I am not sure,” she said, with a laugh, when asked if there were any favourite selections.
Congregation leader Sister Brendalee Boisvert said “their heart is here,” when it comes to her colleagues’ connection to the home.
“Our sisters have always loved working here,” she added.
In her remarks during an Oct. 3 open house to mark the 60th anniversary of the R.K., Boisvert noted congregation members trained in pastoral care “offered many years of visiting the guests and would take requests for prayer home to Bethany.”
“So, in many ways, your family was always deeply connected to our Martha family,” she said.
From the beginning
The delivery of pastoral care is just one thread in the rich relationship between the Sisters and the R.K. – one that began years before the sod was turned for the Pleasant Street facility.
It would not be an exaggeration to say there is no R.K. without the tireless effort, leadership and financial support of the Marthas.
“The opening of the R.K. was the culmination of 15 years of planning by the Sisters of St. Martha, the clergy and many local citizens,” Boisvert said.
“Its beginnings were characterized by struggle, commitment to caring, courage to risk and a desire to vision.”
The community recognized the need for a facility, she noted, but “finances were tight.”
In 1955, Roderick Kennedy ‘R.K.’ MacDonald willed $100,000 for construction of a seniors’ home in Antigonish, a donation Boisvert called a “great impetus” to try to raise the $450,000 required for the initiative.
“From its earliest day, the values of courage and risk were essential qualities in making this project successful,” she said.
“Somewhere deep inside our Martha hearts was found a seed of risk and courage as we made the decision to mortgage Bethany, our beloved Motherhouse, to finance the construction for the original guest house.
“It was a happy day when we were able to burn that mortgage. I can only imagine our early sisters singing Alleluia,” Boisvert added.
Christened by Bishop John R. MacDonald, the then R.K. MacDonald Guest House – a 70-bed, two-storey seniors’ home – opened in February 1958.
In the 1960s, the Sisters decided they could no longer operate the R.K., relinquishing ownership and entering into a management agreement in 1971.
“We remained at the R.K. for many years following this, in order to manage the guest home, oversee its expansion and renovations, and we served in roles under the direction of the new R.K. MacDonald Nursing Home Corporation,” Boisvert said.
The Sisters’ involvement continues, with four congregation members occupying positions on the R.K.’s board of directors.
“We continue to pray for them [people of the R.K.] and they are part of our lives,” Boisvert said.