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Rossbrook House workers receive Order of Canada

Two women who spent four decades helping youth in Winnipeg have received Canada’s highest civilian honour.

Sisters Margaret Hughes and Bernadette O’Reilly, both members of the Sisters of Sion, were made Members of the Order of Canada during a special ceremony in Saskatoon Tuesday evening. The event was attended by Saskatchewan’s Lieutenant Governor Russell Mirasty.

The pair were recognized for their 40 years of service with Rossbrook House in Winnipeg.

“I receive it humbly, celebrating the number of courageous children who gave school another chance at Wi Wabigooni Alternative Program, which translates as 'The Flower' and just beginning to open,” Hughes said during the ceremony, which was streamed on YouTube.

“It was my privilege and joy to walk with them, to share their joy in learning, their laughter, their humour and their love of life.”

“To be receiving this award is an amazing experience, and one that Margaret and I never imagined,” O’Reilly said. “It’s so clear to us that the youth and the young adults at Rossbrook House share deeply in this recognition.

“The success of Rossbrook House belongs to the youth and the staff who created and continue to create a place of community, of safety, of learning, of growth, and of very deep friendships.”

O’Reilly and Hughes arrived at Rossbrook House in 1979, to create a community in Winnipeg’s inner city. Rossbrook House was created by Sister Geraldine MacNamara as a drop-in centre for youth in Winnipeg. It includes education programs, Indigenous teachings, a young mother’s group, and other programs. The pair moved to Saskatchewan in 2019.

“The motto was ‘No child who doesn't want to be alone ever should have to be,’” said Paul Bavington, the brother of Bernadette O’Reilly, during a phone interview.

During their time at Rossbrook, Hughes helped start the elementary alternative education program while O’Reilly started a program for high schoolers.

“They were instrumental in keeping Rossbrook House going and expanding and establishing their school offerings,” Bavington said, adding that children who have graduated through the programs are now helping run the house.

Bavington said he is proud of his sister and Hughes for their work and the honour.

“I remember I was at a celebration when my sister celebrated the 25th anniversary of entering the order. One of the celebrants there said, ‘If it weren't for Bernie and Margaret, I would not be alive today,’” he said. “So that's the kind of impact that they had in the community.”

The pair, who were appointed to the Order in June 2022, received their awards in Saskatoon rather than Ottawa as they were unable to travel.

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