Sisters' legacy in Trochu spans more than a century

Nestled in the rolling hills of Trochu, teams at St. Mary’s Health Care Centre have been helping to improve the quality of life for residents in this rural Alberta community.

What many may not realize is the remarkable history that brought it to life. St. Mary’s is rooted in a 110-year legacy of service and compassion that began with the Sisters of Charity of Notre Dame d’Evron from France.

What led to the Sisters’ journey to a small town in Alberta in 1909 to continue their charitable work abroad was the social unrest many of the Sisters in France were facing at the time in their homeland.

After an exploratory mission earlier that same year, Trochu was chosen as the place for eight founding sisters to continue their ministry and build St. Mary’s Hospital, later changed to St. Mary’s Health Centre.    

Setting up a new hospital in unfamiliar and unforgiving terrain was a challenge. But the Sisters persevered and braved consecutive brutal winters, fueled by their spirit of service and ministry to the community.     

“The Sisters wanted to be with the people and to be available to meet their needs,” says Sister Therese Verrier.

“They established a school, as well as the hospital, to serve the community and the surrounding areas,” adds Sister Therese, who became a Sister in 1952.

Since there were no cars and heavy equipment at the time, building a hospital was a monumental task. Materials had to be transported via horse wagon from a train station in nearby Olds and Didsbury.

Sister Therese says the community and fellow Sisters developed a strong bond and worked closely together to make sure that the health, education and spiritual needs of the people were met. She adds that the generosity and cooperation of the residents of Trochu really helped advance their mission from 1909 until 1999 when they left Trochu.

“Some of the greatest memories I have happened in this town. I enjoyed my time here because we became like a really big family. We welcomed and served everyone regardless of their background.”

Sister Therese, who grew up in La Corey, Alberta, recalls how the Sisters had a wide range of service, including tending to the sick, teaching, gardening, and cleaning the hospital facility.

“The Sisters had many programs although a big part of their work was devoted to health care,” says Sister Therese, who worked in administration at the hospital from 1985 to 1997. “I think the hospital was the biggest legacy that we left behind with the people.”

For Sister Gloria Butler, 67, it was during a visit with the Sisters in 1974 that she realized God was calling her to serve.

“I was already a registered nurse at the time and was working in St. Mary’s Hospital in Camrose. I realized that if I want to be happy in life, I need to be part of the work that the Sisters are doing in helping those in need.”

Sister Gloria who continued her nursing career here before moving to Edmonton General, fondly remembers working in the maternity unit as well as with seniors in long-term care. She remembers the strong bonds she formed with the people of Trochu and surrounding communities, especially the parents of young children.

“The residents here still remember the work that the Sisters did through the years," says Sister Gloria.

"People from other communities come here to visit and to learn how it all started,” says Sister Gloria who now lives overseas providing health and pastoral care in Peru.

While the Sisters’ rich legacy of compassion lives on, their numbers are dwindling. There are only 11 Sisters of the congregation left in Canada; all of them living in Edmonton.

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