Rwandan orphans live from Yolanda’s passing

Yolanda and Seamus (pronounced Shay-muss) Feeney are careful people. Like most parents, they paid regularly for life insurance policies. When Seamus was a Toronto policeman, their concern for safety was great. When he moved to Barrie to work in the City’s Provincial Offences Department as a prosecutor, the work seemed less dangerous, but the need to insure their lives remained constant.

Neither Yolanda nor Seamus expected life to end. Neither did their three children.

But four years, one month and 12 days after Yolanda was diagnosed with colon cancer, she left her earthly address. She was 47 years old. She spent only 23 hours in hospital at RVH but she spent months at home with the care of friends and family.

Yolanda Feeney was born to be a mother, says her husband. She was a Foster Mother and an adored figure to her three children, Peter (23), Callie (22) and Justin (19). Even during chemotherapy treatments, Yolanda Feeney lived with great faith in her Lord. She openly shared with her children her belief in the Christian teachings of salvation and resurrection.

Enthusiastic members of Mapleview Community Church, the Feeney family became recipients of goodness during Yolanda’s fight for her life. For 30 weeks in a row, Yolanda travelled to Buffalo to receive chemotherapy treatments not available in Ontario. Seamus recalls his frustration when they were first refused financial coverage for the treatments by the Ontario Ministry of Health. He wrote a careful letter to the Ministry and indicated he would appeal the decision.

“I called Yolanda from work, expressing how stressed I was by this denial, this withdrawal of something that might save her life. I was really upset.

“She asked me if I’d prayed about this and I said that no, I hadn’t. She told me to pray about it and call her back. Before I could do that she called me to say that RVH had just called with permission for her to get the Buffalo treatments.

“I’m so grateful to the taxpayers of this province.”

Seamus points out that faith is not tested during the good times. It’s tested in times of struggle and watching his children lose their mother was a great struggle for him, as he was forced to release his wife to what he believes is her heavenly life.

So, how does a man take a tragedy and make goodness from it? How does he honour the life of the woman he loved, of the woman who was mother to his children?

First, Seamus sought respectful attention to his wife’s formal farewell from earth. “I wanted to spend the monies from her life insurance in a responsible way. I decided to purchase the services of Marshall Driver (Cremation and Burial Services) because they were economically priced. I like Marshall. I like his personality. Marshall was also recommended by a friend who had good things to say about Marshall.”

The Feeneys decided to hold both the Memorial Celebration and visitation at Yolanda’s beloved Mapleview Community Church. It was a good thing because a few hundred people came to share beautiful pictures positioned around the church.

“The service was just awesome,” says Seamus. Yolanda’s best friends Paul and Helen Smith were with her when she died. It was fitting that Paul Smith conduct her funeral service and Pastor Craig Pitts her burial. Yolanda’s oldest son, the one who lead the family into its religious fervor, spoke about his mother. Yolanda was a light to the world. She was one of those people who would walk into a room and when she smiled, everybody noticed.

Seamus chose for his wife’s service music that had meaning: Amazing Grace because its author John Newman, a slave trader, found his Christian relationship during a storm at sea; All is Well With My Soul because it was written by a Chicago lawyer who had lost all four of his daughters on an ocean voyage; I’ll Fly Away because it’s an old Negro spiritual song.

Having celebrated Yolanda’s life in a respectful, celebratory style, Seamus then used the remainder of her life insurance policy to do good in her name. He has made a substantial donation to Victory Churches who have purchased land in Kigali, Rwanda. Paul Smith (Seamus says Paul is a mason by trade and a pastor by heart) will be travelling to Kigali to actually build an orphanage for 60 children whose parents were butchered to death during the Rwanda massacres. Ten widows will be hired to work in the orphanage. “I respect the urgency of this project. As fundraising nears completion in the spring, Paul will be taking two weeks to physically build this place. In my view this is one of the most important things that every person in Simcoe County, anybody in the City of Barrie, can help do… to bring life to a place of sorrow and murder and death.”

Seamus is excited to be able to give [Yolanda’s] money directly; he knows that all the money will get right to this project. The Victory congregation in Barrie is small (100 members) and each person decided to give up one day’s pay for the Rwanda project… they raised $6000. Seamus and his children intend to add another $10,000 to the project.

“This isn’t about me. It’s about doing right for a place,” he says. “I’m being blessed. I’ve been blessed. I”m trying to bless somebody else. That’s what it’s all about.”

Yolanda’s two sons, Peter and Justin, plan to join the work crews in Rwanda next May. They are going to carry out their mother’s legacy.

Thanks, Yolanda. And thank you, Seamus, for giving her life honour in such a soul-giving way.


Support for the Victory Home of Champions
Pastor Paul McCulloch
Barrie Victory Centre
97 Birkhall Place
Barrie, ON L4N 0K2