Before Sister Geraldine MacNamara met a group of teenaged boys on Ross Street in Winnipeg, she was a teacher named “Sister Maureen Christopher”. She resumed her given name, Geraldine MacNamara, in 1968. She was lovingly known as Sister Gerry or Sister Mac to the staff and youth at Rossbrook House.
From 1966 to 67, as a teacher at Sir Maurice Roche High School in Flin Flon, Manitoba, Sister Maureen Christopher was making an impression on students like Robert Warick. These are some of his memories of a beloved teacher:
In my mind I can still hear the stiff swish of her long black habit as it flew down the hall of the small St. Maurice Roche high school. My eleven classmates and I would always be excited in anticipation to hear her coming, knowing that we would be in for another wonderful discovery as she revealed the mysteries of Pride and Prejudice or Macbeth.
To say that Sister Geraldine made an impression on me would be great understatement. She taught us the richness and value of literature, not just for itself, but as a way to understand people and the world at large. No topic was off limits in her classes, which is why as normal confused teenagers, we gravitated to her naturally.
She was also a demanding instructor. I still recall that she assigned as many as 30 literary essays in my final year. I suspect that I was one of the few university freshmen who knew how to craft an academic essay for any subject, which of course was her goal.
What a wealth of knowledge, and a love of literature and learning she shared with me and my classmates during that brief time.
So you see, to me, she will always be “Sister Maureen”.
Sister Geraldine never preached her beliefs, especially at a time when many of us were questioning ours. Like the best teachers, she taught by example.
Just before Christmas, our class had decided to buy her a special gift. So we asked her what her favorite treat was. She immediately replied “chocolate, I just love it”. We said no more, but on the last day of classes, we presented her with a huge gift-wrapped chocolate bar. It was absurdly large, measuring probably 2 feet long. She was delighted, but said she would wait until Christmas to open it.
As soon as the New Year started we asked how she enjoyed the chocolate bar. Her answer stunned a dozen naïve students. She explained that she thought it was a thoughtful gift, and that the other sisters who ate it, seemed to really enjoy it.
When we pressed her on what “she” thought about it, she quietly explained that she had divided it equally between all the other sisters, but hadn’t actually tasted a piece herself. She said she decided it was a good way to test her will power and commitment, and thanked us for that opportunity! Needless to say the class was shocked, but I am sure none of us have ever forgotten that small selfless act that would was so much a part of her, and would become so much more evident in the work to which she devoted the rest of her short but incredibly impressive life.
I think she changed all our lives in that small class, but of course, when on to change the lives of so many more children in the years to follow. I suspect she was an inspiration to everyone she met.
She was a beautiful gift to us all.
Sister Geraldine MacNamara biography:
Born at Toronto, Ontario on 29 July 1938, she grew up in Winnipeg, graduating from St. Mary’s Academy. She then attended the University of Manitoba, receiving degrees in Arts (1959) and Education (1965). She entered the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary in 1962 and took her vows in 1967. For ten years, she taught school in Catholic schools at Flin Flon, Winnipeg, and St. Boniface, later attending the University of Manitoba Law School and receiving a law degree in 1974. In 1976, she established Rossbrook House and served as its director until shortly before her death. In recognition of her community service, Sister MacNamara was inducted into the Order of Canada (1983) and posthumously into the Winnipeg Citizens Hall of Fame< (1997). She died at her Winnipeg home on February 20, 1984 and was buried in St. Boniface Cemetery. She is commemorated by Sister MacNamara School, Sister MacNamara Park on Ross Avenue and MacNamara Hall at the University of Winnipeg.