Sister Geraldine MacNamara, SNJM, C.M., LL.B.
(1938 – 1984)
Geraldine MacNamara, known as Sister Mac, saw the needs of the inner city in Winnipeg and moved, with a small group of Roman Catholic nuns, to live in solidarity with those who had been marginalized and oppressed. She became a lawyer and started Rossbrook House as a diversion from the criminal justice system and a place where young people could experience hope. She was one of the first persons of white privilege to begin meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. She was a strong and passionate woman of action.
Geraldine MacNamara was born in 1938, in Toronto, Ontario, but lived and worked most of her life in Winnipeg. She attended the University of Manitoba and acquired a Bachelor of Arts in 1959, a Certificate of Education in 1960 and a Bachelor of Education in 1965. During this time, she was named President Alpha Delta Phi.
Her teaching career began at Norberry School in St. Vital and then entered the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. She studied for two years in Montreal, returned, and continued to teach high school for the next seven years in Winnipeg, Flin Flon and St. Boniface.
MacNamara resumed her studies in the Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba in 1971. Her LLB was awarded in 1974.
While living and working in the inner city, MacNamara became intimately acquainted with the youth of the area. She had a great deal of respect for these young people and knew that solutions to their problems and the power to bring about change in their lives rested within them. What they needed was a chance to make their dreams come true.
In January 1976 Rossbrook House officially opened its doors. Its staff were drawn from the youth of the area. Together they created a “home away from home,” providing recreation, education, training, employment, socialization, and vocational and legal counseling.
In 1978, she was named “Native Citizen of the Year,” the first non-Native person thus honoured. In 1983, she was presented with the University of Manitoba Distinguished Service Award and the Solicitor General’s Crime Prevention Award. She was awarded the Order of Canada in a special ceremony held by the Governor General at Rossbrook House.
Sister Mac died at the age of 45 on February 20th, 1984.
In 1985, a neighbourhood playground was named Sister MacNamara Park. That same year, the Department of Education established an inner-city scholarship fund in her name. In 1986, the University of Winnipeg moved its childcare worker program into MacNamara Hall and in 1990 the Winnipeg School Division named a new inner-city school, Sister MacNamara.
In 1997, Sister Mac was inducted into the Winnipeg Citizens Hall of Fame created by the Winnipeg Real Estate Board. A bust of her can now be viewed along the formal garden’s walkway at Assiniboine Park among those of other prominent Winnipeggers.