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Beloved nun wraps pastoral career with Blackfoot honour

August 26, 2014

Sister Ivy given the name Holy Star Woman by Martin Eagle Child

Story and Photo by Sherri Gallant

Sister Ivy McCann has spent the past 14 years praying for the sick and dying in Lethbridge. After retiring in July from her pastoral work at Chinook Regional Hospital and St. Michael’s Health Centre, the diminutive nun is heading into the next phase of her life with a new name: Holy Star Woman.

McCann, a member of the Sisters of St. Martha order (which arrived in Lethbridge in 1929), received her new name in a recent ceremony led by Blackfoot elder Martin Eagle Child. Other local clergy and supporters were on hand as well.

“I met Martin 14 years ago when my work here began,” said McCann during the ceremony, which was held in the Chapel at CRH. “We have shared resources and supported each other in our services.”

It was after recovering from breast cancer 14 years ago that McCann said she felt called to pastoral care, wanting to comfort patients with spiritual care and messages of hope. Now, she’s bound for the Seton Spirituality Centre in Halifax for much-needed relaxation.

“I want to take three months to just rest,” she said. “I’m very tired, so I felt I really needed some time to walk along the sea shore, and do some good reading, just to renew myself. I’m about two years behind on reading my favourite authors. Then I’m looking forward to spending December at our Mother House with the senior Sisters in Antigonish, in Nova Scotia. I haven’t been with them over Christmas for many years.”

From mid-January to mid-May, McCann will escape the Canadian winter to take some classes at the Oblate School of Theology, in San Antonio Texas .

“I’ve been doing this for a long time – ceremonies, giving out names, honouring people,” said Eagle Child. “I don’t honour just anybody. I look at the person. I study the person. This is why I’m honouring Sister Ivy.

She deserves to be honoured before she leaves here, and I do that in my native way.”

Eagle Child said he learned a lot from McCann, especially with regard to comfort for the dying. He called upon her often for advice, he said, and respected her wisdom and guidance.

Wearing his ceremonial headdress and beaded, white buckskin gloves - speaking and singing in Blackfoot and English - Eagle Child told how he arrived at the name Holy Star Woman after great contemplation, because it felt like good match with McCann’s life and her character.

“I wasn’t expecting this, it was such a surprise,” McCann said. “This is very special and I will treasure this memory for the rest of my life.”

Father Kevin Tumback, a priest at All Saints Roman Catholic parish in Lethbridge, said it would be a mistake to underestimate the tiny McCann, who won’t reveal her age.

“Sister Ivy is not to be measured by her height,” Tumback said. “She is to be measured by her heart.”