Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
June 7, 2010
Gov't honours contributions of Halifax Sisters of Charity
HALIFAX - A federal government plaque marking the contribution of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul has been unveiled outside the order's Halifax motherhouse.
The public recognition of the rich contributions of these religious women was an affirmation of their enduring legacy in education, health care and social services.
Historian Heidi MacDonald said the recognition of the sisters' motherhouse as an historic site celebrates the 1849 arrival of the order in Halifax "as an event."
The sisters set up a home for orphaned children and became an independent congregation in Halifax in 1856, said MacDonald, a faculty member at the University of Lethbridge. Ten years later their involvement in health care began when members volunteered to nurse cholera victims quarantined on McNabs Island in the Halifax Harbour.
This led to the building of five hospitals where "unpaid but highly skilled labour" was offered and "everyone received care" regardless of their economic means.
At the height of their educational focus the sisters held responsibilities in 100 elementary and high schools. As well, among the schools established and run by the Sisters of Charity was Mount Saint Vincent College, the only degree-granting institution for women within the Commonwealth in 1925.
A former student of the sisters and a scholar of women religious, MacDonald said one cannot understand the history of Halifax as well as that of education, health care and feminism "without understanding the history of women religious."
Membership in the congregation peaked at 1,600 in 1959 and now is about 450, she said. However, no matter the number of sisters, there were never enough to fulfill all needs and respond to all requests.
They have been "a strong voice for members of our community" and "have always been on the frontline," added Senator Stephen Greene, who took part in the unveiling on behalf of Jim Prentice, minister of the environment and minister responsible for Parks Canada.
The sisters have been "very modest about their accomplishments," Greene said at the May 14 announcement.
Sister Roberta Kerins, a congregational counsellor of the Sisters of Charity, said the sisters greatly aided in shaping "the conscience of a country" by "grounding it in religious values."
"They really did advance the cause of women," she said.
Kerins said the sisters' ministries recognized the innate dignity of all.
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