BY VERONICA STIENBURG, ARCHIVIST
In the Archives of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul the majority of our early records are handwritten and are not always easy to read. Since the 1980s numerous Sisters and archives staff have transcribed many of these records by deciphering the handwriting and typing out copies of these documents. These transcriptions are an invaluable research tool and an amazing resource. The “Our Story” section of the congregational website is a great tool for sharing some of this material with the public. Our newest feature on the website is the “Catherine McKinley Letters”, consisting of transcriptions of all of Catherine McKinley’s incoming and outgoing correspondence.
Catherine McKinley, known as Mother Mary Edward in religion, was the first General Superior of the congregation and was also involved in the governance of the congregation for most of her religious life. Throughout her life as a Sister of Providence she served as General Superior, General Treasurer, General Secretary and First Assistant. She was instrumental in all of the congregation’s major building projects and in the establishment of missions in the first forty years of the congregation’s history. She was known as a successful fundraiser and oversaw numerous construction projects, including 3 major additions to the House of Providence and the construction of the stunning Mother of Sorrows Chapel. Under her governance St. Vincent de Paul Hospital Brockville was founded in 1887, and teaching missions were founded in Perth in 1892 and in Belleville in 1900. She personally founded missions in Holyoke in 1873 and Trenton in 1902 and dealt with the Holyoke mission becoming an independent congregation in 1892. She died in Trenton on November 21, 1904.
Catherine McKinley’s letters chronicle the development and growth of the congregation in its foundational years. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Catherine McKinley’s death, the Archives transcribed and compiled all of Catherine McKinley’s incoming and outgoing correspondence from 1884 to 1903. (Unfortunately the Archives does not have any correspondence from her first term as General Superior.) Transcriptions of this correspondence are now available to the public on the website. The letters are completely searchable and there are year and subject filters to aid in navigating the letters. They give the reader a fascinating glimpse at the struggles and achievements of the growing congregation.
Transcriptions of the necrologies of every deceased Sister are also available on the website. Necrologies are biographical sketches written by the General Secretary shortly after the death of each individual Sister. For ease of access we used the term ‘obituaries’ on the website instead of ‘necrologies’. All the obituaries, from the death of the first Sister in 1870 to the present, are accessible and searchable on our website. Each obituary is accompanied by a photograph of the Sister, or of a place she worked if no photograph of her was available. If you haven’t checked it out please do!
The Archives has also created a “Mission History” feature on the website, organized geographically with profiles on each of the congregation’s missions. This section is still a work in progress, as we continue to add histories of various locations. There are other interesting items available in the “Our Story” section of the website, including a photo gallery of the development of the religious dress of the Sisters of Providence. Please visit www.providence.ca/our-story/ to read Catherine McKinley’s letters, the obituaries, and mission histories.