St. John’s Estonian

The Young Finnish Women Pioneers of Montreal

Finnish maids in Quebec ca 1930

The earliest waves of Finnish immigrants to Montreal consisted overwhelmingly of young Finnish women. Unlike in other areas of Canada, where Finnish immigrants engaged in forestry or other labour, in Montreal the gender balance was definitely female! These determined and resourceful young Finns often worked as domestic help in the ‘grandes maisons”, or the large and rich homes of the Montreal wealthy. They were the primary movers behind starting the congregation, and the initial financial offerings they raised came from their own, often meagre, earnings. Through the years, unlike in many other churches, women and men together have always been on church council, and active in the direction of the congregation, its music and its social life. Newly arrived maids on the steps of the Finnish Immigrant Home in Montreal ca 1929 Victor Kangas Collection

It’s not surprising that so many of the Suomi activities planned for fall 2017 in Montreal – a Finnish bus trip to the Eastern Townships on Oct 14, the sold-out Suomi 100 Ball in December – are likewise spearheaded by women. The historical video can be watched here:

Everyday annunciations


Mary Eastlake – Annunciation – Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

This was the one God chose as theotokos, meaning “God-bearer”. My spirit rejoices, the girl tells the angel. For God has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. The message is simple. If God chose someone as weak and lowly as Mary for something so important and powerful, then surely God continues to choose the  outsider. We need have no shame when we feel that way. More importantly: we ignore the modern-day theotokai – the weak, marginalized, strange, poor, God-bearers around us – at our peril. They are the prophets. They tell us what is important.

What comes naturally


A few years ago my daughter called me from a soccer field, telling me she’d been hurt. I picked up crutches and met her at the field. “Thank-you, Daddy,” she kept saying to me as I helped her up. “Thank-you for coming.” So you also, Jesus says, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say “We are but slaves. We have only done what we ought to have done!” Let me rephrase. Who among you, who is a parent or a step-parent or a grand-parent or an aunt or an uncle, would expect one of the children in your life in an emergency to thank you for coming to their aid? Would you not rather say to that child: “you’re welcome my daughter, my niece, but really I’m only doing what any adult in this situation ought to do?” I felt a bit ashamed. After all, where else would I WANT to be? Jesus is making the point that there are certain things that are just part of the deal. They’re supposed to be part of our basic identity. One night, years ago when I had a house, I left the water running on my grass by accident and went to sleep. My neighbor, who arrived home late, saw it and came over and turned it off. When he told me the next day and I thanked him, he just shrugged: “I’m your neighbour,” he said. “That’s what neighbours do.” Feed the hungry, says Jesus. Clothe the poor, visit the sick, seek justice for the marginalized and powerless…and do it all while being thankful for what you have, trying to live in love. You and I, said Jesus, should just shrug and say: that’s just what we’re supposed to do. Imagine a world where it could be that natural. Truth is…it can.