Below you will find inspirational stories from current and past students who have enjoyed and supported Wellspring over the years. The story initiative was started as a means to highlight the presence Wellspring has had over the past 25 years. If you wish to add your story, please contact us.
Wellspring aims to enhance the life of the StFX community through a welcoming Martha presence.
These are their stories…
Sister Marion Sheridan
Sister Olga MacDougall; Sister Donna Brady
Sister Catherine Arsenault
Sister Joanne O’Regan, Coordinator, Wellspring Centre 2010-2014
Marielle Assad ’06 and Barry MacKenzie ‘07
When I was asked to share my story about Wellspring, I tried to pick one specific memory. This proved to be a futile task. My time at Wellspring cannot be characterized by one specific experience. Attempting to do so would undermine many of the wonderful moments that make me so fond of Wellspring. However, I can say with absolute certainty that the Martha hospitality Wellspring symbolises made my time at StFX memorable and pleasant.
Fortunately, I discovered Wellspring during one of my first weeks on campus. When I was given a tour of the space, I was amazed. I never would have imagined that this place could exist. But what truly differentiates Wellspring from any other place on campus, are the sisters who look after the space. Not only do they take care of Wellspring, they also show a genuine interest in the students’ wellbeing. No matter how overwhelming my classes, midterms and other responsibilities became, the sisters never failed to liven up my day. The tranquil atmosphere coupled with the sisters’ kindness easily made Wellspring my favourite place on campus.
The kindness seemed to spread throughout Wellspring. The Martha hospitality that Wellspring embodied inspired us (the students) to be more welcoming to each other. Despite being from different programs and backgrounds we fostered our own sense of community. Even though I would only see some people within the walls of Wellspring, we never turned down the opportunity to sit with each other in the Kitchenette to have some tea, coffee or cookies. It was comforting to know that there was always a friend nearby.
What truly makes Wellspring special to me is not the space itself, but rather the people I got to know within it throughout the years. I am thankful that the Martha presence was alive and thriving during my time at StFX. Happy 25th Anniversary Wellspring.
Wellspring Centre! Not a place I would have chosen for a ministry. However, over the 6 years there I came to love and be grateful for Wellspring. It is a place where Marthas offer Gospel Hospitality to students, persons of all faiths, LGBT groups, prayer groups, Catholics at X, Celtic Studies, Yoga, Mindfulness, Mental Health groups and many other groups on the campus. It is a little like the UN on the STFX campus with peace as the center of all activities. Gospel Hospitality could be having a coffee with students or people on the campus who just dropped in say hello or welcoming groups who came to use the Centre at night. It is to create an atmosphere of all are welcome here.
The core of volunteers was key to our presence there from 2010 to 2015. Through their expression of Gospel Hospitality, they became dear to the students. Two volunteers were even workers two days a week when I was at Wellspring myself for four months and had another ministry two days a week.
The Advisory Committee, mix of students, staff and Marthas, was key to the ministry there. The first layperson chair of the Advisory Committee came on during the time Sisters Joanne O’Regan and I were there.
It helped me see more deeply, that being with people can be as fruitful as doing with people. Age did not seem to be a factor for the students who came to Wellspring. Some were looking for a home away from home so having Marthas and other people who could listen to them was key to the heart of Wellspring.
In closing I would say that the lay people absorbed the Martha way of Gospel Hospitality and continued that Martha charism with all who came. It is a wonderful expression of what Wellspring is all about.
Beginnings of Wellspring Centre, StFX University
The year 1994 was a transition year; the Sisters of St. Martha were moving from St. Francis Xavier Campus having lived there and been an active presence since their founding in 1900. This opened the door for Wellspring Centre to be established on the third floor of Morrison Hall, part of the former convent. St. FX Administration provided the space and the Sisters of St. Martha were providing the furnishings and staff for this place of hospitality on campus.
Sister Olga MacDougall, Director and Sister Donna Brady, Staff were the first Marthas asked to pioneer this venture. The dream was for Wellspring to continue in a new way the Sisters’ warm, welcoming presence on campus. It was to include support for students, faculty and staff.
Getting established and getting ourselves known were the two priorities for the first couple of years. On the surface, the easier part was furnishing two offices, a kitchenette, a quiet, homey gathering space, and a small prayer room. The challenges were deciding what types of furniture would be appropriate to meet the needs that had not yet been established and getting the janitor’s floor mop sink transformed into a kitchen type sink for our kitchenette. We are grateful to Leon MacLellan, Director of Physical Facilities who was involved in the nuts and bolts of creating this new space.
A large coffee urn and CACL sweets is the image that comes to mind as the backbone of our effort to introduce ourselves to the university faculty. Each faculty on campus was invited to come and see what we were offering, have coffee and share with us what needs they saw on campus. Sometimes there was a good turn out and sometimes we disposed of a lot of coffee. We also attended as many functions as possible to make ourselves known and visible.
While we were living with the uncertainty of what we should be offering, individuals and groups began to find us. Students, faculty and staff came for a variety of reasons: quiet and reflection, companionship, study space, break time, and finding someone who would listen to them. This became an oasis for non-traditional students, and we set aside an afternoon a week for Coady students. Women professors made the most use of Wellspring for their own meetings and for engaging the campus in discussions on women’s issues.
Many things have changed over the past 25 years. Some things that have not changed are the slippers at the door, the co-ed bathroom, the warm welcome extended to all who come and the smiles on the faces of Wellspring visitors.
I had heard a lot about Wellspring and visited a few times. In 2017 I was asked by my Congregation to be coordinator of Wellspring Centre. After a short period of discernment I accepted this assignment with delight and anticipation. I always enjoyed working with young people, so this ministry should bring a wonderful challenge.
The first time I visited Wellspring Centre after accepting this assignment it was a delight to walk through the various spaces found at the Centre. I found myself recalling the different activities that had occurred in the various spaces. The Golden Chapel was the area where the Sisters of Saint Martha would spend many hours praying, meditating and attending Liturgical Services. They prayed especially for St. FX University and its students. The Gathering Room was the area where the sisters gathered to socialize
and catch up on the daily news as you would in your living room at home. Dwelling on my memories I sensed a peace and serenity in these spaces, It was as if our former sisters were still very present and
very pleased with what had happened to the space they called home for many years.
Memories connected me with the past, meeting the students connect me with the present and future.
It is a joy to interact with the students that visit and study at Wellspring Centre. Young people bring energy and vitality to this area. There are so many instance where concern, support and respect are observed in students dealing with one another. They are very appreciative and respectful of Wellspring area.
Students make the most use of this area, but we also provide a support for staff and faculty.
Our desire is to make Wellspring a welcome space, as we endeavor to live out our Mission Statement – “We, Sisters of St. Martha, inspired by God’s graciousness, hear, embrace and respond to the cry for Gospel Hospitality.”
We strive to make Wellspring Centre an area that will serve as a safe space for students from the pressures of university life. A space where students can find companionship and community.
It is also a space where one is able to make new friends from all over the Campus.
We are also able to offer this space to groups on campus, whose purpose is to enhance life on campus.
It is great to see many student groups make use of this space.
Besides the Sisters who staff Wellspring Centre, there are many other groups who contribute to make this space available and welcoming. We especially wish to recognize our Wellspring Advisory Committee, our faithful Volunteers, our donors, St. FX Custodial and Facilities Staff and all who encourage and support this facility.
A challenge we continue to pursue as we minister at Wellspring Centre is
“What are the needs of the students we encounter and how can we best meet these needs,”
As we continue to be faithful to Our Focus – “To enhance the life of St. Francis Xavier University Community through a welcoming Martha presence conducive to the development of people.”
For me, Wellspring Centre was always a place that held mystery, even as a Sister of St. Martha! I worked at the Coady for a few years when I first entered, and while I certainly knew about our connection to the University, it wasn’t until I began to work there that I understood just how deep that connection is. Fast forward to 2010, I had just made perpetual profession and was no longer full time at the Coady; I was asked to discern ministry at Wellspring. I really didn’t need much time to say yes to this request as I was happy to be back on campus and more directly in contact with students.
I quickly began to understand that the ‘mystery’ around Wellspring is one of its greatest charms! When you reach the top of the stairs a world of welcome and warmth greets you, and I thought if I feel that then the students, staff, faculty, and community members who reach that same landing must have a similar experience.
The other great charm that I came to love about Wellspring is the furniture. Sounds funny, I know. There is just something about the glider rockers, well used armchairs, side tables with coasters and doilies to cover the marks, and the couch…a real couch! Think about it, where else on campus is there an honest to goodness couch you can stretch out on? In my office I kept a glider rocker next to my desk, it took up a lot of the little space I had. It’s just that something kept saying to me, you need it here, just wait. Eventually that chair became a home for some pretty serious conversations, a lot of laughter, and more than a few tears. The rhythm of the chair helped to give a rhythm to the conversation.
I learned a lot from the students who came to Wellspring. They respected one another, and the staff, whether it was a Sister or one of our dedicated volunteers, and they respected the space. They taught me about tolerance, that sometimes a little bit of a change in the rhythm of the place was actually a good thing. One night during December exams, about 20 minutes before closing, I heard the piano. I got up and was about to stop whoever it was playing but before I got to the gathering room I could hear that the group that was still there were singing, not loud or boisterous, just soft and sort of mellow. I just stood there and listened. I think I needed to hear that as much as they needed to. I thanked them as they left. We repeated the same ritual for the rest of the exam period.
Wellspring is a sacred space that exposes hope, and in doing so helps us to nurture peace and build a sense of community.
Sr. Yvonne Vigneault, Director, Wellspring Centre, 2000-2010
Sr. Rita MacLellan, Staff, Wellspring Centre, 2001-2010
Sr. Yvonne Vigneault and Sr. Rita MacLellan knew all about that. Together they ministered to the Xavierian community for 9 years, Sr. Rita joined Sr. Yvonne after her first year. Part of that mystery of Wellspring is rooted in the way each of them lived Gospel Hospitality, as individuals and as a team.
Sr. Rita was always available to anyone who came up those stairs, her presence each day was a gift to many, in particular to international students. As a lifelong teacher she had a deep love for education and understood how to create an environment that was learner centered. She tutored many an English lesson over a cup of tea in the kitchenette. A prayerful woman, she never missed an opportunity to check in with people, ask about their families, how their studies or work were going, did they have enough to eat, and were they getting enough sleep, always assuring of her prayers.
Sr. Yvonne was also a lifelong educator, she too understood the needs of students, as well as the faculty and staff. Each day she made the journey to the mailbox in Bloomfield, taking detours along the way to check up on various staff, have a chat at the main switchboard and anyone else she encountered along the way. She said that she always attended anything and everything to which she was invited on campus. A few quotes from her yearly reports to the Congregation Board give us a glimpse of their experience of Wellspring:
“Each Monday Sr. Rita and I meet to reflect and pray on some area of our goal for the year. As in former years we attended to Hospitality as the heart of our focus. As a result of our discussion and prayer we decided this year to attend specifically to the people who come to Wellspring in need of a place to be at home” - Annual report of Wellspring Centre, 2003-04
“Sister Rita and I often notice how the students who come here are present to each other. It is as if the spirit of Gospel Hospitality that is our mission has been somehow taken into the lives of the students who experience this on a regular basis. Then we see it lived by them in their relationship with each other. It is a humbling reflection for us.” Annual report, 2006-07
“To be at the service of the St.FX Community in a spirit of hospitality has ever been a strong component of the Corporate Mission of the Sisters of St. Martha. We believe that the varied peoples who come to us seeking a space to give expression to the spiritual dimension of their lives is a valuable and needed continuation of this spirit…As we leave this ministry we do so with a sense of gratitude that we have been graced to be part of the life of this great University where we have experienced and been blessed by People and Things of Truth, Nobility, Goodness, and Purity. Phil 4:4-9 – Annual Report 2009-10
Embraced in the Mystery of God, in 2017, Sr. Yvonne died in January and Sr. Rita died in November.
A good friend of mine introduced me to Wellspring during my first semester at StFX, and it was my go-to spot for the remainder of my four years there. Going to Wellspring quickly became part of my daily routine at StFX. Nearly every day I went there in between classes and for lunch, and I always enjoyed having conversations with the Sisters of St. Martha. The Sisters are so caring, and supportive. They are always making an effort to make people comfortable, remember everyone's names, and wish students good luck before exams.
In Wellspring I studied for my first and last exams, wrote assignments, applications and my honours thesis. I got a ton of work done in Wellspring over four years, but I also spent so much time with friends there. My best friends from StFX also studied in Wellspring during all four of my years there, so it really became a space for studying and socializing.
One of my favourite memories of Wellspring was the day after my X ring ceremony. The day after X ring, all the friends that I'd studied next to for years were at Wellspring "studying". We all spent that day swapping stories from the day before, looking at pictures, and staring at our hands. I don't think anyone got any work done that day, but it was nice to celebrate and think about how far we'd come together.
When I look back on my time at StFX, I'll always think of all the time I spent at Wellspring working and making friendships. The Sisters of St. Martha really do make the whole space feel like a home away from home.
The Light is Warm in Wellspring
I always carried something up the stairs to Wellspring. A midterm, a final exam, a paper due too soon, missing home, a procrastinated task. Entering Wellspring, turning right, a kitchen with a round tin and a classmate waving, scraping peanut butter over toast. Ahead, a room with wide windows with weather outside, warm colours, blankets covering students who hold books. Tables, covered with paper. A spot is open. I throw my backpack down and it lands with a hard, resonating clunk. I pull scattered notes out, a thick textbook, a pen, my laptop. I study for hours, we all do. With each scribbled note my task gets lighter. Trading stress for knowledge. I look around. I see a sister in the doorway. She smiles and waves. I realize it's time for a break. I stretch, then walk to the kitchen. I slide the lid off the tin of cookies. It's late- there are six left with crumbs in the bottom. Butter, chocolate; what the brain needs during a study session. The sister asks me how I am doing. I reply honestly and say, "good and feeling productive" which might not have been the case before I walked up the stairs. The sister notices a student has fallen asleep: one of our friends (like everyone is here). She gently calls her name, points to the basket of woven blankets. I see her gesture to the back chapel, where the other students nap. She is aware how contagious naps can be. I return to my study. Chapters flipped, notes written, diagrams sketched, videos watched. My roommate plays Tetris determinedly on his laptop across the table from me. I put my headphones on and watch a skiing video. These are equally important tasks. I return to the chapters. It has grown dark outside, but the light is warm in Wellspring. The pages ahead of me thin, the pages behind me thicken, my stack of notes grows tall and wild. Finally, I know it's time to head home, or elsewhere. I slip my notes into my bag. I flick it onto my back. A cookie for the road. A Sr. waves goodbye - a quick chat about how things are going in my courses. I vent a little, and she responds with curiosity. I walk down the stairs with more peace of mind than I came with. I always carried something up the stairs to Wellspring. I carried less down.
When you first walk through the doors at Wellspring, you will be greeted by a warm and friendly volunteer likely a smiling Sister of the Saint Martha. The welcoming and supportive environment was present 2 years ago when I arrived at StFX campus. I surprisingly found this lovely gem of a place filled with caring, positive and hardworking Sisters and volunteers.
Another inspiring aspect of Wellspring is observing the unwavering commitment and dedication of the Sisters to their hard work. What I discovered and experienced at Wellspring is the tradition and long history of women with the passion to create an atmosphere filled with pleasant and growth-oriented energy.
What I like most about being a part of Wellspring is that we all honor the tradition and are willing to do whatever it takes to help students succeed. The sisters and volunteers work hard because they believe in the Martha’s mission.
I hadn’t visited Wellspring until my third year, and when I finally did, I always wanted to be there (even spending all of exam season feeling like I lived there). Something about the feeling of being in a cozy living room away from home was so comforting. Even now when I’m doing work back at home in Ontario I wish I was cozied up in one of the weaved blankets with a coffee and Wellspring cookie surrounded by friends. I ended up becoming close with my friends I have now just by having conversations in Wellspring between studying. I truly miss being there now that I’ve graduated, it definitely became our favourite place to study and catch up with everyone. The people working at Wellspring were so friendly and always offering kind words that left me with a smile no matter what mood I was in. I also really enjoyed playing the piano after everyone left at the end of the day, and the janitor sometimes listened. I will always consider Wellspring my favourite place to be productive while still enjoying myself and feeling welcome. I found it was one place on campus where I felt at home in a way, and wasn’t surrounded by tons of students. It’s a great environment that is calming, friendly, and non-overwhelming.
Wellspring was most definitely one of the most unique study places I have ever set foot in. I remember walking in, in my first year just before the rush of the December exam season. I was greeted by one of the lovely sisters who showed me around, it immediately reminded me of a home, quaint, quiet, and calming. Wellspring most definitely played a major role in my university career, as I am pretty sure I spent half of my time there. Walking up those stairs nearly everyday was never dull to me; I was always excited to get inside find somewhere to sit and get working. Wellspring was definitely more than just a study space. It was somewhere were we could relax, be with friends, and study all at the same time. Wellspring gave us the opportunity to find a spot to focus, but also a change of scenery to let loose, be silly and enjoy good times with friends. The community we created inside grew into a small little family. We would go in almost every day and greet the same lovely people, whether it was with a simple smile, or a full conversation, there were always people around who would help brighten your day.
The sisters who helped run Wellspring truly made it a special place. They always made an effort to make the space as comfortable as possible and really cared for the students. They learned everyone’s name and always ask how your day was going, or how many exams you had left, or how you spent your weekend. Amongst all the stress of exams and assignments they would always be there to comfort us and encourage us to work hard, but to also take care of our selves.
One of my founder memories was back in second year when a big group of us were all studying hard for our anatomy exam. Often when I think back to moments of stress and studying they are not the happiest memories, however this one, of all of us in wellspring late at night before our exam brings a smile to my face. We had collected students from all program, kinetics, nutrition, nursing, and we were all there together helping each other out. We sort of took over the main room and spent hours just quizzing one another. Wellspring gave us room to study hard and focus but not feel that pressure one would while sitting silently in the library. Wellspring turned those hard grinding study hours into fond memories of persevering with friends. Overall, for me Wellspring created this feeling of comfort every time I walked up those steps. I am grateful for the hard work the sisters and the committee put in to keep it running and am incredibly happy to have gotten the chance to spend many hours over four years studying and creating unforgettable memories.
To me, the best way to describe Wellspring is a touch of home in the middle of the mayhem. Being from a small town in the Yukon, coming to university was an absolute culture shock for me. Don’t get me wrong, it has been a wonderful experience, but going from a graduating class of six people, to lectures with 200 people was a little overwhelming, to say the least. For months, I tried to find routine and peace in my days, but I was struggling to do so without a place where I could really feel comfortable and at home. Wellspring was exactly what I needed. I find Wellspring can be a difficult place to describe because it can feel and mean something different to everyone. To me, it’s a home away from home. It’s a place I can find quiet, where I can relax, and where I feel I can “take off my mask”. There are so many things at Wellspring that seem to recharge my batteries. From the warm welcome I get from the sisters of St. Martha, to the cute knitted slippers and the private study rooms with comfy couches, everything about Wellspring is inviting and comforting. The wholesome environment has provided me with a sense of peace as I have continued to navigate these four wonderful and very busy years! Thank you to everyone who has created and maintained this wonderful environment for students.
Wellspring has played a part in our lives at two particularly important times. The first instance was during our undergraduate days at St FX. In particular, the warm and welcoming atmosphere which was nurtured by Sr. Rita MacLellan and Sr. Yvonne Vigneault was crucial in helping Marielle adjust to a life 6,000 km from her home and family. When homesickness threatened to consume her, she found the motherly love she had been missing, a safe place where people cared about her and she was more than just a number lost in a place far away.
We repeated a familiar routine often, walking up the stairs and rummaging through the little basket of homemade slippers to find a pair that fit us. A quick hello to the sisters, and we would wander in the Gathering Room, hoping that our friends might be there. Enjoying a slice of toast and a cup of tea (and, if you were lucky, some Martha-made treats) in the kitchenette was a comfort that was available nowhere else. When we were so far away from home, there was nothing quite as comforting as curling up on the couch for a nap, only to wake up finding that Sr. Rita or Sr. Yvonne had covered you with an afghan.
Even before we knew one another well, it was where we gathered for Faith Sharing and Catholics @ X each week, and – later – where a romance unfolded. Marielle would listen for footsteps coming up the stairs, hoping they would be Barry’s. Wellspring was where we studied, socialized, and engaged more deeply with our faith. It was home.
Wellspring, though we didn’t know it then, would eventually come to play an important role in our lives a second time, when we unexpectedly – though gratefully – found that God had drawn us back to Antigonish after an absence of nine years. Sr. Yvonne and Sr. Rita had left Wellspring in the capable hands of other Marthas, but the essence of the place had not changed. Importantly for us, it became a place where we reconnected with the spirit of the St FX we had loved so well as students.
Marielle initially had difficulty readjusting to life in Antigonish, but occasional visits to Wellspring, and an opportunity to volunteer there, have helped her to fall in love with the town and the St FX campus all over again. Through Barry’s involvement with Chaplaincy, he was able to spend time in this sacred space an evening a week, helping students to explore their faith in the same way he had explored his own within these walls. To be given the opportunity to volunteer at Wellspring – to help maintain the spirit of the Marthas on campus – is a privilege for both of us.
Our most recent memories at Wellspring as volunteers have been a gift to us. We see a whole new generation of students who love the space as we did. It has given them a space to study, to socialize and even to explore life’s big questions. It is home.
What does Wellspring Mean to Me:
I am a graduate of 2008 & 2011. When I was at X I spent a lot of my time at place I called a home away from home (Wellspring) The sisters at wellspring always made the place very welcoming and warm for me and my fellow classmates. Many students who are from out of town had a place they could go to and relax between classes, study, and meet new people. The sisters (Sisters of St. Martha) who run and operate Wellspring are fantastic and always welcoming their students with open arms. I have kept a close connection with the Sister of St. Marthas after I graduated University. I am presently a volunteer for Wellspring!
In my first weeks on campus at StFX I met with Mary Lilian MacDonald who made it a point to check in with students. Our Wednesday ‘hot chocolate dates’ were ones I always looked forward to. When I mentioned that I was finding it hard to study at the library, she got up for her chair and told me to follow her. She walked me up the steps towards Wellspring and introduced me to Sr. Rita and Sr. Yvonne who gave us a tour of the space. It was then that I knew something special was happening. Since that first meeting, I would meet Sr. Rita in the morning for a cup of tea and our morning chat. We would then part ways, Sr. Rita to her morning newspaper reading and me to my course work. From my first visit to Wellspring, to late night exam study sessions, to hosting society meetings after hours, and pizza nights after Mass, Wellspring has provided a space that made my student experience what it was.
During my time at StFX, Wellspring was a home-away-from-home on campus.
I am thankful beyond measure for the gift of the Sisters of St. Martha and their dedication to the students at StFX.
Wellspring always felt like a safe haven for me on campus: a quiet spot to study, contemplate and recalibrate, and sometimes even take a nap!
During my first years on campus—while living in residence—it provided me with a quiet spot to escape to and work. In later years as off-campus student, it became a home base, especially during exam season.
No matter what changes were going on around me, no matter the intellectual growth or tumult of my studies, I knew I had a place to refocus. Sr. Marion and Sr. Jo were always so welcoming and provided a listening ear and smile and I cannot describe how much Wellspring enriched my days as a young Xaverian.
Thank you Sisters of St. Martha for this amazing ministry!