Sister Denyse Delisle
(Marie Christiane de la Passion)
Franciscan Missionary of Mary
Born in Montreal, QC
May 18 1930
Entered the Institute in Quebec City, QC
September 15 1958
Died in Montreal, QC
April 11 2019
in her 89th year,
the 61st of her religious life
May she rest in the peace of Christ!
Sister Denyse Delisle was born in Montreal on May 18, 1930. Her father, Paul Émile Delisle, was a pilot and her mother, Annette Poulin, looked after the three young children, one boy and two girls. Denyse was the second child. Growing up, she completed primary and secondary studies specializing in drawing and in piano. One day, she heard a religious on the radio inviting young girls to come to help at a Missions Center. Having heard only the last words Missionary of Mary, she searched the telephone directory, found the right place, and arranged an appointment with Mother Olaire.
They received her with such simplicity that, on her return home, she cried out, Mother! These are real sisters. Shortly after, the family was involved in mission work. Her mother made vestments for priests and her father transported the material back and forth from the convent to the house. It is during these meetings that the missionary call grew in Denyse, and she entered the novitiate in Quebec City in 1958. She was 28 years old. Her religious formation brought her much happiness, in spite of all the sacrifices required, but this journey confirmed her vocation.
After her temporary vows, she went to Ottawa to study piano and drawing. Two years later, she was ready for her future mission. She left the country in 1963 to go to Aleppo, Syria via Rome to work in a school of 1200 students from kindergarten to the baccalaureate. She remained four years in this mission where she pronounced her final vows in the big magnificent chapel of Aleppo. She taught grade 9 and 12 French, catechism in preparation of the First Communion, drawing to the high school students, and painting to various other groups.
In 1967, during the nationalization of private schools, she was obliged to leave this mission to go to a very poor village. In solidarity with the people, she lived courageously extreme poverty for seven years where she learnt spoken Arabic amid the villagers. She gave pattern making and sewing classes to the women. She continued to teach catechism to the children. She writes in her memoirs, this time lived in such deprivation was such a benefit for my spiritual and human life. This experience led me to put aside my talents, my language, and brought me back to the essential, that is, to set my values much more in what I was than in what I could do. I felt happy and in awe because you cannot imagine what these simple people, living on almost nothing, were able to bring me in their way of being and their way of accepting life, no matter how hard. Their welcome extended even to the point of bringing us, each morning, bread hot out of the oven.
In 1974, she came to Damascus for two years, to study literary Arabic. She was elected superior of the fraternity in Homs. Added to this responsibility, she gave piano and French as a second language lessons. Each week, she arranged Gospel sharing in the families and every Sunday, she transformed the little fraternity into a place of worship for the Christians. Later the fraternity moved to a bigger house. The basement became a chapel and meeting rooms for catechism and youth groups.
For the next 18 years, she was elected successively superior and director of the women university students’ residence in Damascus and in Aleppo. Mostly Muslim, these young women came from distant regions for specialized studies. They took music, French, and drawing lessons from Sr. Denyse. One day, in the middle of the course, a young girl stopped abruptly and said, Sr. Denyse! How you must love us to do all that for us. Gratitude, yes! Also, the witness of a person completely given in the name of Jesus, who inspired many generations and made a multitude of young women grow to their full potential!
Sister Denyse was a missionary for 45 years in Syria. In her memoirs, she writes, Yes, I really loved these people, these young girls who were entrusted to me, without forgetting all my sisters with whom I journeyed. We worked a great deal, above all prayed together, supporting each other, enjoying also fine moments of relaxation at our mountain place!
In 2008, serious health issues forced Sr. Denyse to return to Canada. Despite the pain of leaving her adopted country, far from withdrawing, she looked to the future as another great mission. She writes, I trust the Lord and confide to him this new stage of my journey. Is not contemplation at the heart of our mission? And aren’t there sisters wherever we may be? With this spirit of abandonment, she undertook courageously her cancer treatments into a gradual remission. She left her sick room, joined her sisters in the community, and her artistic soul produced the most beautiful prized works of art. In her workshop, she lived days of peace, listening to music, and giving free rein to her imagination in the creation of the most beautiful greeting cards. After so many years away from her family members, she renewed her relationship with her younger sister, and got to know her nephews and nieces finding in them so much goodness and beauty. The Syrian people remained faithful to their adoptive mother and never missed visiting her when they came Canada.
In 2013, she had to return to the infirmary. Despite her weaken health, she was still able to give free rein to her artistic imagination in her works of art. One day, the Lord knocked at her door. She was ready. Cherished by her beloved sister, Aline, by the whole family, experiencing the love of Rahab, who represented all the young Syrians she had helped, surrounded by the love of all her sisters and the nursing staff, Denyse left in peace. She had just lived her Resurrection. Goodbye, Denyse. Rest in peace.