Friend to Our Lady’s Missionaries

By Sr. Elaine MacInnes, O.L.M.
March/April 2009

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Our Lady’s Missionaries Associates (L-R) Maria Teresa (Mina) Velasco, Monica Donovan and Gloria (Goya) Caronan. Our Lady’s Missionaries Associates (L-R) Maria Teresa (Mina) Velasco, Monica Donovan and Gloria (Goya) Caronan.

Associates share in the life and spirit of the OLM community through prayer, liturgy, and celebration. In their commitment to our mission, they also participate in or support our local ministries. This OLM spirit inspires all aspects of their daily lives.

About eight years ago, at 12:15 on a hot summer’s day, I was arriving home at Our Lady’s Missionaries’ central house on Leander Court in Toronto when I noticed a cab sitting at the curb. When he saw me, the cab driver jumped out of the car and came forward. “Are you Sr. Elaine MacInnes?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. “Then you should be ashamed of yourself. I was told to be here at 11:45 to take you to the CTV studios for you to be on the air at one o’clock.”

He would not let me take the time to change my clothes or gather other props I felt I might need, and off we went. On arrival, I was met at the door, quickly escorted to a room to be registered, and then more quickly passed through the make-up room where someone ran a brush through my hair, dabbed my face with some cosmetic, and pushed me through another door.

Gemma Labitan Gemma Labitan

There sitting before the microphone, looking charming, cool, and collected, was the well-known hostess and interviewer, Mary Ito. She motioned that we were on the air, and seeing she was Japanese I said, “Konnichiwa!” (Hello).

“Konnichiwa” was her quick reply, which was immediately followed by “and don’t say another word in Japanese Sister, because I won’t know how to respond.” We both laughed.

And so I met Mary Ito. This was my first public appearance in Canada, for I had been abroad for 42 years. Mary went through all these years with me. What a public relations gift. I discovered she knew all about my mission in Japan where I taught violin at a Culture Centre and also studied Zen meditation under the Buddhist Sisters in Kyoto. She questioned me about the 17 critical years I was in the Philippines. I was first involved in animal husbandry in Southern Leyte. I then went on to Manila in 1986 when the revolution was brewing and taught meditation to a group of political prisoners. Seeing the inmates change from a discouraged group to one of purpose and enterprise opened up a whole new possibility for mission work.

Mary Ito and Sr. Elaine MacInnes. Mary Ito and Sr. Elaine MacInnes.

From there I moved on to England for 10 years. As Director of the Prison Phoenix Trust in Oxford, I endeavoured to put into action what I had learned in the Philippine prison that inmates can change with the help of yoga and meditation, two ancient disciplines.

When I left England, the Prison Phoenix Trust had meditation groups in 86 prisons all over the UK and Northern Ireland. I had even given workshops in the infamous Maze Prison, which from 1976-2000 held prisoners from the Northern Ireland Troubles.

Mary Ito’s compassion made her a superlative interviewer and publicist for the difficult and misunderstood type of prison ministry I was trying to do. Since our interview, she has followed my wanderings over the years, rejoiced when I was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, and had me on her program on one of my return trips home. After one broadcast, Mary and her staff surprised me with a splendid birthday party.

Mary always seemed to know what the public knew or didn’t know, and could guide my work and thinking into appropriate action. She has taken great interest in Freeing the Human Spirit (, an organization that I began and one that is a replica of my work in England. It now demands much of my time and energy. I have always felt Mary to be a silent friend to all those incarcerated, and since our first meeting that hot summer day, she has proved to be a great friend to Our Lady’s Missionaries.

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