Article by M.C. Havey
MC has worked as an archivist for the Sisters of Service for 15 years and the Edmonton-Toronto Redemptorists since 2000.
An active era of service is ending.
In mid-November at the General Assembly, the Sisters of Service (SOS) signed a sponsorship agreement with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto, who will provide Leadership in the closing years of the community.
All but four of the 20 SOS live in Toronto with the largest group at LaSalle Manor, where Fr. James Farrell resides. The SOS will maintain an office with the Catherine Donnelly Foundation, their charitable foundation, while their archives will share space in the CSJ archives.
At the General Assembly, Fr. William Fitzgerald celebrated the concluding Mass of thanksgiving just as he did for the final gathering of the community at their Motherhouse on August 15, the 89th anniversary of their founding.
Pictured at right: After Mass at the General Assembly on November 10, celebrant Fr. William Fitzgerald (back row, extreme right) with 16 Sisters of Service, the leadership of the Sisters of St. Joseph, administrative staff, facilitators from the Sisters of Providence of Kingston, ON.
For Redemptorists, the SOS connection has spanned from 1920 when Catherine Donnelly, the community’s foundress, received advice from Toronto Provincial Arthur Coughlan about establishing a women’s teaching order to meet the needs of immigrants in Western Canada. His advice was simple: “You had better start a community of your own.”
Immersed in the Provincial administration of launching a juvenate and novitiate as well as expanding the new Toronto Province westward, Fr. Coughlan assigned confrere Rev. George Daly to assist in the early organization of the SOS. From his appointment in January 1922 until his death on June 1956, Fr. Daly directed the community spiritually, administratively and financially. Many of the SOS missions and Redemptorist foundations worked closely together, especially in Western Canada.
Pictured at right: Fr. George Daly with members of the first SOS Chapter. Sr. Catherine Donnelly, the community’s foundress, is standing in the second row, third from the left. Sr. Margaret Guest, the first-elected Sister General, sits at Fr. Daly’s immediate left.
Guided by the chosen motto of “I Have Come to Serve,” the Sisters provided a Catholic presence for newly-arrived immigrants and isolated settlers from the ports to their homesteads. They were teachers, catechists, nurses and social workers among those most in need.
At the request of Archbishop Neil McNeil of Toronto, two Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto provided leadership and formation during the first five years until 1927. In that year, the Archbishop appointed a Novice Mistress and a governing Council from among the pioneer Sisters. For the next 84 years, the SOS governed themselves, electing their first Council in May 1937.
From the founding, it was the Redemptorist spirituality that guided the community. Through Fr. Daly as spiritual director and more than 100 CSsR retreats/conferences, the Alphonsian spirituality was explained, explored and emphasized. The Alphonsian spirit was also reflected in the SOS living among the people.
Pictured at left: Frs. George Daly and Arthur Coughlan in May 1937. In the 1990s, the SOS declared them as co-founders.
The Redemptorist connection was also reflected in the number of vocations from direct and indirect Redemptorist contact. A total of 15 Sisters grew up in the Redemptorist strongholds of St. Peter’s parish in Saint John and St. Ann’s parish in Montreal.
More directly, seven Sisters were related to Redemptorists. Fr. Fitzgerald from St. Peter’s parish is the cousin to Sr. Rita Hurley. However, the most connected to Redemptorists was Sr. Anne Johnson, a sister of Fr. Bernard Johnson, the first Provincial Superior of the Edmonton Province, and cousin to Frs. Kleinnart and Clair Johnson of the Toronto Province.
A more detailed description of the CSsR influence and connection with the SOS has been published in the upcoming issue of Spicilegium Historicum.
Following the Second Vatican Council and changes in both communities, less contact ensued. However, Toronto Provincial Superiors still presided at profession ceremonies and confreres across the country led retreats and celebrated Masses for special SOS events.
Although the 54 SOS missions are closed, the legacy of assisting the “most in need” will continue through the Catherine Donnelly Foundation, which was founded eight years ago in memory of their foundress. Through the foundation, the Sisters remain promoters of positive social change and seek to serve “the most in need” in the spirit of St. Alphonsus.