Always quick to deflect publicity away from herself, Sister Christine Leyser would not grant media interviews Thursday during a celebration in her honour. She would, however, joyfully and without hesitation grant a reporter a warm embrace, and then another, saying she hoped one day to grow as tall as he.
Neither did Leyser want her photograph taken, but the Guelph community will undoubtedly want to have one final glimpse of her radiant face before she leaves her longstanding service in Guelph and heads to Toronto to work with the Loretto Sisters in that city. Her departure is imminent.
The Welcome In Drop-In Centre at 23 Gordon Street, which Leyser founded and served in daily for over three decades, was abuzz with well-wishers and supporters of the saintly woman. Credited with saving souls and lives of caring for the destitute and seeing the very best in all she encountered, Leyser announced her retirement from the Guelph chapter of life earlier this month. The Order of Canada recipient is in her mid-80s.
Bonnie Knight is a volunteer at the Drop-In Centre and friend and admirer of Sister Christine. “She was very good at finding jobs for you to do,” said Knight, describing the women as having boundless in energy, joy and faith. “She is very spontaneous when it comes to assigning jobs.”
Knight said Leyser has the capacity to help others see the best in people – to see beyond behaviours that may seem frustrating — and reflect a need for care and kindness.
“She inspired you to be a better person,” Knight said.
Gail Hoekstra, director of the centre, said Leyser will be sadly missed.
“She is so vibrant and special,” Hoekstra said. “We just love her. She is a person with a great personality, and a complete character. That will be sorely missed around here.”
Knight and Hoekstra said the centre, and the other services that Sister Christine started, will continue to run smoothly despite her absence.
“I am going to look down and work as hard as I can,” Hoekstra said. “I have so many very supportive people behind me and we have a great board.”
In a press release in early April, Sister Christine expressed mixed emotions about her departure from Guelph.
“I leave with a heart full of sadness and joy,” she said. “Sadness because I will miss the wonderful people at the Drop-in Centre and the many people who have supported me all these years. Joy because the Drop-In Centre is thriving under the very capable and lovely Gail Hoekstra.”
Sister Christine started the Drop-In Centre as part of local Loretto Sisters charitable work about 33 years ago. Homeless shelters and a host of other services followed.