Meeting the Needs of the Dear Neighbour

By Leah Watkiss

From the Catalyst, Summer 2017

On May 12, 60 Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto, along with their associates and partners, gathered to illustrate the faces of poverty and offer solutions. At the Sisters’ residence, they hosted Meeting the Needs of the Dear Neighbour, a story-telling event in response to the federal government’s poverty reduction strategy consultation process. With MPs Julie Dabrusin (Toronto-Danforth) and Rob Oliphant (Don Valley West) in attendance, five Sisters of St. Joseph took a few minutes each to tell stories of those to whom they have ministered over the years.

For over 160 years, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto have worked to respond to the needs of the dear neighbour. They have especially focused on those who are experiencing economic hardship and those living in situations which put them at risk. Their response over the years has provided leadership and support in health care, education, and social services. So when they heard about the federal poverty reduction strategy consultations taking place across the country, they knew they had something to contribute.

Watch the Sisters’ stories on YouTube at

Sisters Sue Mosteller, Divinia Pedro, Gwen Smith, Georgette Gregory, and Anne Schenck each took a few minutes to talk about their experience. Their stories covered many types of poverty that exist in Canada: people with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, those who are food insecure, those too poor to afford dental care, and those who have housing but lack the funds to furnish it.

What made their addresses so powerful were the personal stories of those they had worked with:

  • Parents of children with disabilities desperate not to fall ill for fear that they would be unable to care for their children. They are frantic to know who will love their children and provide a place of belonging and safety for them in the future when they can no longer do so;
  • A woman who hadn’t smiled in years because of her bad teeth;
  • A family with four children in a home with no more than a TV sitting on the floor, two pots, a few forks and spoons, and three small plates;
  • Men, women, and children who deal with a lack of food on a daily basis; and
  • Indigenous families who are having their land stripped in order to build mines.

Undaunted in the face of the needs of these people, the Sisters responded with love and support, coming up with systemic solutions that the government can copy and build on:

  • Respite and support for caregivers;
  • Dental coverage for all;
  • Furniture banks to distribute gently used furniture that is no longer needed;
  • Healthy food gardens and recipes; and
  • Prayer groups, drop-in centres, and language assistance in northern communities.

Listening to the Sisters’ stories, part of me was overwhelmed. There are thousands of gaps in supports and services in Canada that millions of people are falling through. But a larger part of me was inspired that these women of faith saw a need and responded as part of their baptismal and Congregational call to care for the dear neighbour. They worked with others and found solutions to offer to the government, calling for the systemic change that is required if we hope to eliminate poverty in Canada.

Sr. Sue closed her talk by arguing that “caring for our less fortunate citizens is not simply about money, but about the kind of society we are creating together.” In a world that considers self-interest a virtue, faith groups have the opportunity and obligation to demonstrate and promote an alternate worldview that upholds the common good and care for others. We pray that these stories will touch the hearts and minds of our policymakers to help bring about the Kingdom of God.

Photo: Left to right: Sr. Gwen Smith, Sr. Anne Schenck, MP Julie Dabrusin, MP Rob Oliphant, Sr. Thérèse Meunier, Congregational Leader Sr. Georgette Gregory, Sr. Sue Mosteller, Leah Watkiss, and Leanne Kloppenborg.

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