August 6, 1932 – March 14, 2021
We mourn the death of Sister Mary Laura Distaso. Stella Teresa Distaso was born on August 6, 1932 in Los Angeles, California, the third of four children in a close-knit, loving, Italian family.
Laura credited her excellent education and her love for the creative arts to the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters who taught her in school. Upon her graduation from high school, in 1951, she entered the Immaculate Heart Sisters and she chose the religious name, Sister Mary Laura, in honor of her two sisters, Mary and Laura.
Sister Laura received her teaching credentials from Immaculate Heart College and the University of British Columbia.
After teaching in 5 schools in California, Laura was assigned to Meares Island as Principal of the Opitsaht Day School for a year. Her deep love and friendship with the Tlaoquiaht First Nations has remained intact through all her years on the coast.
In 1960, Laura moved to Christie Residential School on the other side of Meares Island. There she was teacher, principal, and child care worker. It was at Christie School that Laura’s creative talents manifested themselves in the form of entertaining plays, which she wrote, and in many dances which she choreographed for the students’ performances.
Laura’s years at Christie Residence were very happy, memorable ones. Many of the students began to complete high school since the IHM Sisters insisted on a full day of school, when they took over the Residence in 1960.
In 1971, when Christie School closed and the students were moved to a new Residence in Tofino, a new school was built and the children were integrated into the provincial public school system.
At the request of the First Nations’ Advisory Board, Laura and Anita were offered teaching positions in the newly erected Wickaninnish Elementary School in Tofino.
At Wickaninnish School, Sister Laura was assigned to teach Grade 7 and all the English Classes to grades 5, 6, and 7. An accomplished English teacher, she insisted her students learn all the proper grammar rules and, always inspired her students to express themselves in exceptional forms of creative writing. Twice, two of her students captured first place awards for all of Canada, in Haiku contests.
She and her students won all-expenses paid trips to Japan. Some of her students also had their poems published in an anthology. Sister Laura continued to write and direct Christmas plays she wrote every year for the Wickaninnish Christmas concerts, always making sure that the end of each play ended with the true meaning of Christmas, the Birth of Christ.
In 1998, after 45 years of teaching, Laura retired. She was still, however, active in ministry, counseling students, tutoring, helping immigrants with their English and volunteering with the Pacific Rim Hospice Society.
At St. Francis Church, Laura Eucharistic Minister, Parish Secretary, and worked tirelessly all year to raise money for a project dear to her heart, the Christmas Hamper Program for needy families in our area.
In her spare time, Laura’s all time favorite activity was jigging for cod on Joe’s boat. Other activities included picking berries, making tons of jam for her family, listening to music, playing cards (especially canasta), writing to former students to encourage them, cheering for Notre Dame as she watched football, and waging sport bets with her friend Neil.
Laura was very diligent about remembering birthdays, anniversaries and special events that occurred in the lives of her family, Godchildren, and special friends. Her handwriting was perfect and her messages always so inspirational.
Laura’s love for the local Tofino Community and for the First Nations’ Peoples was unquestionable. She always considered her mission to Canada a gift from God, and she devoted 62 years of service to the people here on the West Coast.
Special thanks to Dr. Williston,Dr. Croome, Dr. Finkler, our loving home care nurses, and the exceptional Tofino Hospital nurses who cared for Sister Laura. On March 14, Laura went to heaven peacefully in Tofino Hospital. Funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Francis of Assisi Church on March 20, by Father Roger Poblete, Bishop Remi De Roo, and Bishop Gary Gordon who was able to livestream the service for family and friends.
Sister Laura leaves behind her dear brother, Jack and his wife Dolly, along with numerous nephews and nieces who were always close to her heart. She also will be greatly missed by her sister, Anita, with whom she shared 56 years of Community living and Brother Joe who was always available to help in numerous ways, the Koreski family, and many close friends.
In the book of Sirach, we read: Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter: whoever finds one has found a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price; no amount can balance their worth. Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; and those who fear the Lord will find them. Those who fear the Lord direct their friendship aright, for as they are, so are their neighbours also. Thank you, Sister Laura for being such a friend to Margaret, Anita and so many who loved you. May you rest in peace, free of pain, in the loving arms of God and Mother Mary.
Donations in memory of Sister Laura may be made to the St. Francis of Assisi Church Hamper Fund or the Tofino General Hospital Foundation.
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