Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 15, 2004
Activist nun who became Canadian senator dies
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
A Cape Breton social activist who was the first Roman Catholic nun to become a Canadian senator has died at the age of 79.
Sister Mary Alice "Peggy" Butts, who had also served as director of the social justice office for the Diocese of Antigonish, died March 7 in Sydney.
Former prime minister Jean Chretien appointed Butts, a sister of the Congregation of Notre Dame, to the Senate in 1997 when she was 73. She resigned two years later after reaching the Senate retirement age of 75.
During that time she donated her government salary to the poor and lived in a convent in Ottawa rather than rent an apartment in the city.
"I've been working with the poor all along and if I can open some doors and work on a committee that will help me, I'm very much at home with that," she said after being sworn into office. "I've had a salary for years as a university professor and it goes to the missions and the poor . . . that's the people I work for."
When Parliament Hill reporters asked if they should refer to her as "Sister Senator Butts," or "Senator Sister Butts," she replied, "Call me Peggy."
A native of Bridgeport, N.S., Butts was tall and soft-spoken and had not been politically involved with any party although she taught courses in political theory as an educator holding a doctorate in political philosophy from the University of Toronto.
Butts had been retired for three years from the University of Cape Breton after 18 years on the job before her appointment to the Senate. In naming her to the Upper Chamber, Chretien observed, "She is a distinguished educator and social activist who has touched many lives for the better in her native Nova Scotia and across Canada."
Butts had close ties with the Catholic Women's League. As a child in Nova Scotia, she was influenced by the league and its Gospel values through her mother, a founding member of the CWL council in her home parish.
"I come at least in part to honour my mother who worked unceasingly for our organization," Butts said in a speech to a CWL conference in Ottawa while she was a senator. "It is to her beliefs and aspirations for this organization that I owe my earliest convictions that all human beings must be respected at all times."