By Thandiwe Konguavi
Staff Writer

Jeanne Leguerrier may have a limited education, but it hasn’t stopped her from making a big difference in her community.

After more than 50 years of service to her local Catholic Women’s League, Leguerrier received the Elsie Yanik award – the top honour from the Alberta Mackenzie Provincial Council of the CWL – on June 10.

“I’ve got a Grade 8 education but spiritually, I’m there,” said Leguerrier, 79, who lives in Fort Smith, N.W.T. “You don’t have to be qualified. You just have to be who you are spiritually and the Holy Spirit does the rest.”

The Elsie Yanik Award is a special honour for Leguerrier because she knew Yanik personally. Leguerrier met Yanik the day she moved to the Northwest Territories from Bonnyville, Alta., in 1964.

Yanik, a longtime CWL member and spiritual adviser, also lived in Fort Smith. She died last November at age 99.

“She was my mentor,” said Leguerrier. “Mrs. Yanik loved dancing and music. The best advice she gave me was, ‘Be yourself, and be happy and be kind to everybody.’ She was just an all-around saint.”

Elsie Yanik didn’t wait to be asked to get involved; she took charge, said Cathy Bouchard, past-president of the provincial CWL.

“When her husband was out trapping she took care of their family — sometimes in the bush and sometimes out at their cabin — but she saw so many needs of the Catholic community,” Bouchard said.

“Instead of waiting for someone else to do it, she led the way. We continue to honour those women who have been like Elsie Yanik, who see what needs to be done and get on with it.”

Yanik, a residential school survivor, was a beautiful, caring and gentle faith-filled woman, said June Fuller, president of the Alberta Mackenzie CWL.

“Just being in her presence you felt so blessed.”

Yanik was president of the Fort Chipewyan council when Leguerrier went to her first CWL convention in 1965. For Leguerrier, a young stay-at-home mother with six of her own children as well as foster children, the invitation to join the CWL was appealing.

“I thought maybe one night a month would be nice to get away from it all, and my husband is so understanding,” she said.

Instead, she spent decades serving the CWL. Leguerrier followed in the footsteps of Yanik when she became a spiritual adviser in the Mackenzie-Fort Smith Diocese 17 years ago. Leguerrier’s mission was to help the Catholic Women’s League remain active and alive in the North.

“(I love) everything about the CWL. It’s my life,” Leguerrier said. “All in all, it’s like a sisterhood and the action of what we do, all the way to Ottawa — I’m really pushed to duty to help because you have all of these things going on like abortion and euthanasia. It makes me feel good that I’m part of the push.”

Leguerrier will continue to stay active in the Church and the CWL even after a new spiritual adviser was appointed to succeed her.