In Memoriam : Olga Leonidovna Jurgens (1926-2020)

February 9, 2020

Olga Leonidovna Jurgens fell asleep peacefully in the Lord on Thursday evening, 6 February, 2020.  She reposed in Ottawa, Ontario, in the Seniors’ Residence where she had been living for several years. 

Olga Leonidovna Jurgens was born in Milan, Italy, on 30 June, 1926, to Leonid P M Jurgens and his wife Anna Alexandrovna Solodovnikova. 

Olga’s parents had been born in Russia.  However, her father’s father Heinrich E Jurgens had been born in Riga, Latvia.  This fact of Heinrich Jurgens’ Latvian birth, together with a long family history in Latvia enabled the family to settle in Riga after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.  Leonid Jurgens eventually married Anna A Solodovnikova, who was an opera-singer. Leonid, a businessman, was moving from place to place because of work (which enabled him in some ways to accommodate his wife’s singing career and performing, such as in Milan at La Scala Opera House).  Later, when they were living in Helsinki, Finland, their second daughter, Helene Leonidovna was born. Both daughters grew up in an Orthodox-Lutheran-blended household, and they spent the next part of their young years in Riga. The whole family was already polyglot, and as time passed, the number of languages spoken increased : Russian, Latvian, German, Swedish, Finnish, Italian, French, and English came later. 

By 1944, with the chaos coming at the end of the war, the Jurgens family were able to escape eventually to Brussels, Belgium (where some relatives had already arrived), and it was there, before emigration to Canada was possible, that Leonid Jurgens reposed in Christ, in 1948.  His funeral and interment were in Brussels. 

It was soon after that when Anna Alexandrovna Jurgens and her daughters were able, through various international agencies, to emigrate to Canada, where they settled in Québec City, Québec in December 1951.  There, they lived in a degree of poverty while they adjusted to this new environment. All three found a spiritual home in the Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission that had recently been established in the city. The two daughters worked and continued their education at the same time.  Olga pursued fine arts, and she became very competent in pottery and other arts. Helene was eventually able to find work in a company in Shefferville, Québec (in northern Québec, near the Labrador border). In time, Helene married Jack Culhane, and she accompanied him in diplomatic postings in several countries for the next several decades.  Olga kept her mother company first in Québec, and then they moved to Ottawa, Ontario where Olga worked at the Canadian Commission for UNESCO until her retirement. In both places, they found that they had companions-in-exile, a substantial number of others who had likewise fled Latvia in 1944, and who had found refuge in Canada. There were others (from other countries where they had lived) who likewise had sought refuge in Canada.  They supported one another spiritually and emotionally. From 1963, Archbishop Sylvester (Haruns) was the bishop of the Archdiocese of Canada, and he also had come originally from Riga. 

In Ottawa, Anna Alexandrovna and Olga Leonidovna became members of the recently-established Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, situated in “The Glebe” district.  Eventually, after a final posting in New York, Helene, her husband Jack, and their two children Anna and Matthew returned to Ottawa. Both sisters began to participate in the “Orthodox Theological Institute” retreats and lectures that were now offered (after 1978) in Montréal, Québec, through the new “Sign of the Theotokos” parish there.  They also became founders and participants in the new “Holy Transfiguration Mission” in Ottawa, where services were offered in English (without abandoning the Saint Nicholas parish). Both sisters had a thirst for a deeper understanding of their Orthodox Christian Faith. They began to attend various meetings, such as Diocesan Assemblies and All-American Councils (as delegates or observers).  On 16 April, 1986, after an illness, Anna Alexandrovna Jurgens reposed in the Lord at the age of 91 in the home of her daughter Olga Leonidovna.

Over the next few years, Olga and Helene also began to help with the regular office work required in the administration of the Archdiocese.  The result was twenty-five years of almost weekly service to the Archdiocese of Canada. They spent one day per week (unless the bishop was away) at the office in “Fair Haven” (the name for the property).  They drove the hour’s distance in all weathers. After 25 years of direct support, their efforts changed to prayerful support of both the cathedral parish and the Archdiocese. 

Olga Leonidovna, who had been waiting somewhat impatiently for the Lord to call her, was called to Him peacefully in the evening after supper.  It is hard for all those who have known and loved her (some besides Helene for rather more than sixty years) to come to the time of being parted from her.  One person commented that the cathedral and the diocese had lost a great example of service and what it means to be a Christian; but at the same time, we are not parted from her in Christ : we are in Christ nearer than ever.  Nevertheless, the comment was apt. Although Olga could express strong opinions, she was not at all prideful. Rather, she cared to serve. She was a wise, self-effacing, modest, kind, generous, hospitable person who loved beauty and cared to make beauty everywhere.  She is an Orthodox Christian. 

The first public Litya for the Departed was served in the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Ottawa before the Vigil on 8 February.  The second public Panikhida was served after the Divine Liturgy in the cathedral on Sunday, 9 February. The third public Panikhida will be offered at the Cole Funeral Services facility at Pinecrest Cemetery on Tuesday, 11 February, 2020, at 6:00 p.m. 

The Funeral Service for the Burial of a Layperson will be offered at the Annunciation Cathedral in Ottawa on Wednesday, 12 February, 2020, 1:00 p.m.