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St. Francis of Assisi, Tofino – Legacies of faithful service

Mar 10, 2021 1:24:40 PM

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(From left to right) Sister Laura, Sister Margaret, and Sister Anita

As you might expect for a remote west coast parish, things run a little differently in Tofino. The parish of St. Francis of Assisi is blessed by the presence of Religious Sisters and, before COVID-19, semi-monthly visits from Fr. Michael Tran from Port Alberni. Sister Anita IHM and Sister Lilia RVM serve as Co-Administrators, assisted by Sr. Janet RVM, and they help look after the administrative and pastoral needs of both St. Francis of Assisi, and its sister parish Holy Family in Ucluelet. The now ‘retired’ Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who live in Tofino moved to the West Coast nearly sixty years ago. Their community includes Sister Anita and Sister Laura who are both octogenarians, and until recently, Sister Margaret, who passed away peacefully on March 3rd at 101 years old. “We are not getting old,” Sister Laura laughs, “We are old!”

Picture 2The three Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who moved to the West Coast nearly sixty years ago, have established a strong tradition of hospitality in the community. Sr. Anita said that at first there were not many parishioners and the Sisters had to raise funds so they started to do outreach. They began by holding big bazaars for the church and for the community. The Sisters would make pies and cookies, four hundred dozen cookies! Local businesses would contribute goods and services and many locals would also donate.

Because hospitality is a big focus for St. Francis of Assisi parish, Sister Anita says that, organisations and other churches know that they can send people to the Sisters’ door to receive a food voucher for the Co-op if they are in need. “If there is a fire, then we will give them a cheque,” she explains, adding “It is not from us; it is from the community. This is a very close-knit community.” And, although the last bazaar was held three years ago, the tradition of giving to the Sisters continues. Last year, thanks to donations, they were able to help 90 families with food vouchers and Christmas hampers.

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The evangelizing creche!

The Sisters’ house is a source of God’s light for everyone. Former students come to the door and ask the Sisters to pray with them. There is an annual blessing of the pets, in honour of St. Francis, and one parishioner has made a large nativity scene which is set up annually in the yard and adorned with lights. “People come from all around the community. You could see that the parents were telling the children the Christmas story and pointing to the Holy Family. This is an outreach that we had never even thought about,” Sister Anita says.

Since COVID-19 halted church gatherings, Sister Lilia and Sister Janet have not been able to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word services at St. Francis of Assisi, but they are able to open the church, upon request, for private prayer. They have also celebrated two baptisms and there are plans to celebrate a wedding in the summer. The Sisters know that parishioners are longing to come back and are sure that the church will be packed as soon as churches are allowed to gather once more. Sister Anita says she can’t wait to touch the organ keys again!

Sister Anita applauds the resilience of the parishioners of St Francis of Assisi. “They have always been so grateful when they do have a priest and they never complain when they do not. For the Tofino Catholic community, it is the gathering together as a people that is important. If you get a priest that is a real bonus.”

Bishop Gary Gordon celebrated the Funeral Mass for Sr. Margaret Baumann IHM at St. Francis of Assisi Parish on March 8, 2021. The link to the Diocesan website YouTube page for the live-steam of the Celebration of Life may be found via the link below: https://youtube.com/c/RCDVictoriaLiveOne

Your prayers for the repose of the soul of Sr. Margaret are greatly appreciated. May she rest in peace.

Liz Summers

Written by Liz Summers

Liz is a freelance writer and storyteller from Victoria.

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