Honouring an education legacy

Sister Alphonse served as the first school teacher and one of the founders of the City of St. Albert.

She moved to the city from Montreal in 1863, with three other young members of the Sisters of Charity, (Grey Nuns of Montreal) intent on starting a school and helping those in need.  

“She taught seven orphans and took care of a dying man-- all in a small little home,” says David Keohane, Superintendent of the Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools.

With her many contributions in education and healthcare, a new K-9 school, which opened last year in the Jensen Lakes community of St. Albert, was named after her: Sister Alphonse Academy.

To further honour her work (and in recognition of the more than 150 years legacy of the Sisters of Charity, Grey Nuns), officials of the Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools decided to commission a mural which will be showcased in the main gathering area of the school.

Sister Jeannine Coulombe, one of the 21 members of the congregation in Youville Home at St. Albert, says that Sister Alphonse was in charge of teaching mostly Indigenous children.

“She was only 23 years old at the time when she started the first school in St. Albert. She learned the Cree language and taught it with much dedication. She helped to develop the School.”  

Lewis Lavoie, a St. Albert native and an artist known for his murals featured at the Vancouver Winter Olympics and London Summer Olympics, is the lead artist.

“I have a strong affinity for the Grey Nuns Sisters. I just want to show the history of their involvement in St. Albert. We wouldn’t be where we are today if not for these wonderful women,” he says.

A group of community members, including the Grey Nun Sisters will paint a total of 600 tiles.  A team of artists will put them together as one mural mosaic that will be 8 x 28 feet in dimensions.

Lewis says his team will paint certain tiles showing the image of Sister Alphonse surrounded by children with two lines underneath written in Cree: Knowledge is power. Every child is a gift from the Lord. The rest he says will be provided by whatever participants create during the workshops using pre-determined colours to ensure they can be arranged into the planned image.

Sister Jeannine, who served on the mural project committee, helped arrange for a workshop to be held at Youville Home, where several of the Grey Nuns live. She’s proud of the work of Sister Alphonse as well as the contributions of her Sisters.

“We are now elderly and we’re coming back to our roots. We feel happy that we are completing our mission and handing over the work to lay people who captured so well the spirit of dedication to those in need.”

Sister Jeannine says that Sister Alphonse is a good model for everyone because of the way she lived her life: with prayerful dedication and great love for the children and the underprivileged of our society.

“She had a balanced life of prayer, community life and service to others.”

The mural known as “The Humble Seamstress” is scheduled to be unveiled at the Sister Alphonse Catholic Academy in September 2019.

Sister Jeannine Coulombe, other Grey Nun Sisters and Youville Home residents painted tiles for a mural project to be unveiled at the newly opened Sister Alphonse Academy in St. Albert in September 2019.

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