Who wouldn’t want to come here?
That was the rhetorical question Kevin Wamsley offered during a 25th anniversary open house for Wellspring Centre at St. F.X. in Antigonish.
The interim president described the third-floor Morrison Hall location as the “warmest place” on campus.
“It is a tribute to you,” Wamsley said, noting the large turnout for the celebration, which took place Oct. 4 as part of St. F.X.’s annual homecoming weekend.
The ‘you’ he was referring to is the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Martha, who established the oasis for St. F.X. students in 1994.
The Marthas launched the ministry to help maintain a presence at St. F.X., after the closure earlier in the year of its on-campus convent, which was converted into the home for Wellspring.
As described by the congregation, the ministry “aims to enhance the life of the St. F.X. community through a welcoming Martha presence.”
“It is a community of welcome,” congregation leader Sister Brendalee Boisvert said when she took the podium.
She reflected on the establishment of the Marthas in 1900, a creation of then Bishop John Cameron, who wanted to start a new religious order.
“We responded to the invitation of that call,” Boisvert said of those who came from Halifax to launch the congregation and establish their first motherhouse on the St. F.X. campus.
“I believe the spirit lingers in this place,” Boisvert said of the former convent chapel were the celebration took place.
She thanked those Marthas who helped established and continue to carry out the ministry, along with the St. F.X. faculty and staff who have provided support; not to mention the “faithful group of volunteers,” including Wellspring’s advisory board.
To help mark the milestone, that group – one chaired by St. F.X. human kinetics professor Angie Kolen – gathered stories of Wellspring’s establishment, history and effect on people, which were framed and now line the walls of the former chapel.
In one, Sisters Donna Brady and Olga MacDougall, the first staff member and director, respectively, reflect on the launch of the non-denominational and ecumenical centre.
“The backbone of our effort,” the plaque reads in describing the large coffee urn and Antigonish CACL workshop sweets – a couple of the key early elements of Wellspring.
There were also two offices, kitchenette, gathering space that was “quiet and homey,” along with a small prayer room.
Although there have been changes at Wellspring, as part of its evolution, the reflection notes that elements, such as slippers at the door for visitors to wear, a co-ed bathroom and, of course, a ‘warm welcome,” remain.
“It was a home for us,” St. F.X. history professor Barry MacKenzie said.
He and his wife, Marielle Assad, shared their Wellspring story, one that began almost 20 years ago, when they were undergraduate students on the Antigonish campus.
Before the formal ceremony, Assad said “we practically lived here.”
"It is a special place for us,” she added.
Although they didn’t meet at Wellspring, it is the place where their relationship deepened and love grew.
Since their recent return to Antigonish, the coupled renewed their relationship with the centre, including offering their time as volunteers.
“We fell in love all over again,” MacKenzie said.
After 25 years, Wellspring continues to thrive, continuing to offer that home-away-from-home for St. F.X. students.
And, of course, there is always tea and toast.