On a beautiful autumn day last September, people in the mission of St. Joseph Church at Ebb and Flow First Nation, Ebb and Flow, Manitoba, joined in the annual Mass for the Dead in our cemetery. It was our 16th annual celebration. Father Norberto Monton, our parish priest, celebrated with us. We ended it with a potluck dinner.
Gladys Malcolm (in back) with her students
This annual Mass started the year after I tragically lost a daughter through suicide on a Sunday, May 29, 1988. That year, Father Dominique Kerbrat was our parish priest, and he came to our mission every other week. The following Sunday, there was no Mass in the community.
Feeling lonely and depressed, I went to the church, kneeled in front of the altar, and prayed. I made a commitment to God that day that I would start some kind of worship when there was no Mass in the community. I didn't know nor have heard of a Communion service before so I spoke to Fr. Kerbrat about this, and gradually got hold of the booklets on the "Liturgy of the Word."
At first, I used meditations from newspaper clippings and Rosary prayers. There were just a few of us at the beginning, consisting of a few family members and friends. To this time and day, parishioners here still attend these services. For me, it was the start of my commitment to fulfil God's call to serve my people both near and far.
Earlier, my husband Philip and I, together with Gladys Whitford, had been appointed to distribute the Holy Eucharist to the community.
I started a prayer group for the elders and we met every Thursday. These elders recruited me with all the faith and wisdom they had and gave me their full support. The different prayer groups are still active in these services. We pray and sing, and reflect on the Gospel at wakes, funerals and weddings. We visit the sick and shut-ins at their homes or in the hospitals.
During Lent, we have the "Way of the Cross" every Friday, and make the "Walk of the Cross" on Good Friday each year.
As visitors came to our services for wakes, funerals or weddings, they started spreading news to other communities of the activities that we provide at these services. We soon began to get invited to support their own communitiesthese include Sandy Bay, Lake Manitoba, Crane River, Skownan, Long Plains, Elphinstone and Kateri Parish. Likewise, I assist in the Rite of Christian Initiation (R.C.I.A.) programs.
I also teach catechism at the local school in Ebb and Flow First Nation twice a week. I started a children's choir where the young can enjoy singing in the church services. Each year, I prepare the Grade 2 children for their First Communion which takes place on Holy Thursday. Last year, we prepared 50 students for Confirmation.
It is a privilege to do this, to answer the call of God for my people, distributing the Holy Eucharist to the sick and shut-ins as well as preparing mothers for the baptism of their children. Baptisms are held on the last Sunday of each month when the priest comes to the community.
In 2002, another tragedy came into my life. My husband Philip suffered a heart attack and died on May 2 of that year. I had to let go of everything and concentrate on my grieving. Philip had always been by my side; we had prayed and travelled together, right up to the night he died. In life, he had always answered the call of people in need of support.
Gradually, I picked up my life again after my husband's death, seeing the urgency to attend to people in need. I also reach out to missionaries from the Philippines who have come to minister in many of our parishes, offering them support through hospitality and in getting used to our customs in "Indian Country." We have also introduced some of the native traditional ways like drumming, singing and smudging in funeral services on request of some parishioners.
I am still active after all these years, always searching for ways to promote church activities. God has always been my provider. I will serve Him as long as He wants me to, with St. Juan Diego and the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha by my side.
(Gladys Malcolm, a devout lay leader of Ojibway ancestry, teaches catechism in Ebb and Flow First Nation, Archdiocese of Winnipeg, Manitoba.)
Reprinted from Catholic Missions In Canada Magazine, Spring 2006.