The Daughters in Canada

The first ministry of the Daughters of Charity in Canada occurred before Canadian Confederation of 1867, when three British North American provinces – Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick – united to form one federation, the Dominion of Canada.  Just as the American Civil War was about to begin south of the border in April 1861, the Council of the Daughters received a request from a friend and collaborator in the Vincentian Family, Bishop John J. Lynch, C.M.  One of the co-founders of Niagara University in New York, Bishop Lynch accepted the role as Bishop of Toronto the previous year and asked the Council to approve the operation of an Industrial School for Catholic girls.  The next year, the Daughters agreed to staff a similar school for boys, sending four Daughters to each institution.  The initial Canadian project was short-lived, however, and, due to the small Catholic population in the still very Anglican portion of the Confederation, the Daughters withdrew in 1868.

It took 80 years for the Daughters of Charity to return to Canada, when Bishop Phillipe Desranleau of Sherbrooke approached Mother Blanchot, Superioress of the Daughters, with a request for the Daughters to serve at a nursery for abandoned children.  The new Canadian community was made up of three Daughters from France and two from the United States.  The Canadian community was established as a “Vice-Province,” which was under the direct administration of a General Councilor in Paris.

Sisters Isabel Toohey and Mary Basil Roarke (seated, middle and right) travelled north from Emmitsburg for the installation of the first five French sisters in Sherbrooke

By 1953, there were four small houses of sisters throughout Quebec:  in addition to Sherbrooke, there was the Asbestos Maternity Hospital, the elderly and maternity hospital in Coaticook, and the Home for the Elderly at Viger Square in Montreal.  Additionally, Toronto saw the re-opening of a house under the Slovenian province of the Daughters.

By the 1960s, the Daughters in Canada were primarily engaged in ministry in hospital or hospital-likeministries.  The Quiet Revolution led to wide-ranging secularization in Quebec, and the Daughters saw a quick shift away from administrative roles to personalized outreach ministries, serving in parishes and in the community at soup kitchens and shelters for the unhoused.

Canada’s status in the global community of the Daughters shifted back and forth from Vice-Province to Region, an experimental new designation under the authority of the Motherhouse.  In 1976, Sister Balance Tremblay became the first Canadian to become Vice-Provincial, and in 1980, the community increasingly worked with waves of immigrant communities from Vietnam and Latin America.  By 1998, there were just two houses left in Montreal and Coaticook, and the Canadian community was formally combined with the Northeast Province of the United States in Albany (which subsequently became one of the forerunner Provinces of the modern Province of St. Louise; the former provincial house in Albany still flies both the American and Canadian flags).

“DC Northeaster,” the newsletters of the Albany Provincial House at the time of the merger, September/October 1998

In the nearly 25 years since then, the Daughters have continued to serve in parishes and particularly among the immigrant communities.  This is fitting, as the Canadian community of the Daughters has often been a majority immigrant one, with members often being from other nations and provinces.  One particularly interesting story is that of Sister Michelle Nguyen, who became a member of the Northeast Province at the time of the Canadian merger.  Sister Michelle arrived in Quebec as both a Daughter of Charity and a refugee from Vietnam, who used her position and experience to help others in the Canadian community’s ministry with immigrants and refugees.  She told her story to the Miraculous Medal Shrine as part of their “On the Move” series last year: 

We would like to thank Sister Judith Mausser, DC for her assistance in providing and translating materials from the Motherhouse Archives in Paris for this piece.

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