House of Providence, Holyoke, Massachusetts. circa 1874-1880. Photo courtesy of the Sisters of Providence Holyoke Archives
BY VERONICA STIENBURG
In 1873, Sisters Mary Jane de Chantal and Mary Elizabeth went on a collecting tour in Massachusetts, where they visited Holyoke, a large manufacturing town.
They got permission from the pastor, Fr. Harkins, to collect in his parish – and discovered that he had studied under Sr. Mary Elizabeth’s brother, Fr. Stafford, at Regiopolis College in Kingston. He asked the Sisters to open a charitable mission in the city. That September Fr. Harkins travelled to Kingston to discuss the proposed mission with the community. Sr. Mary Edward and Superior Sr. Mary John visited Holyoke at the end of September. Upon their return the Council decided, on October 10, 1873, to found its first permanent mission in Holyoke, Massachusetts.
Sisters Mary Edward, Mary Patrick, Mary of the Cross and Mary Mount Carmel arrived in Holyoke on November 7, 1873. Two of the four Sisters were members of council. In March 1874, two more Sisters were sent to Holyoke, including a third member of council leaving the General Superior as the only council member in Kingston. The establishment of a new mission was a huge leap of faith for the young congregation and the number of senior personnel sent to Holyoke was a sign of the congregation’s commitment to the new mission.
The first House of Providence was established in November 1873 in the rectory of St. Patrick’s Church in South Hadley Falls, across the Connecticut River from Holyoke. The Sisters crossed the river by rowboat to visit the needy in Holyoke. Within a week of arriving, the Sisters took in their first orphan and, within a month, had accepted their first patients at the House of Providence.
In 1874, the Sisters moved from South Hadley Falls to a new House of Providence in Holyoke. The House of Providence functioned as a hospital, orphanage, home for the elderly and convent.
In 1875, Fr. Harkins asked the Sisters to take charge of the parish school, St. Jerome’s Institute for Boys. The first school year was not a success, due to discipline problems and differences in education in Canada and the United States. The Sisters considered giving up the school, but Fr. Harkins gave them more autonomy and, as recorded in the Council Minutes of September 5, 1876, two Sisters went on a fact-finding tour of schools in New York “in order to draw up regulations for the better government of the classes.”
Sr. Mary Charles (Anne Larkin), Holyoke, MA. circa 1884-1892
Photo courtesy Archives of Providence Kingston
Due to crowding at the House of Providence, the orphanage moved locations several times and the Sisters determined to find it a permanent home. In 1880, the Sisters purchased Ingleside, a 53-acre hilltop estate overlooking the Connecticut River. Construction began in 1880 and Mount St. Vincent Orphanage was dedicated in 1881 and served as a combination orphanage and home for the elderly. Although beautifully situated, with an adjacent farm that provided fresh food, Mount St. Vincent had its inconveniences, including no town water. Sisters had to haul the water needed for cleaning up the hill from the river and haul baskets of laundry down to the riverbank for washing. In 1887, the Sisters at the Mount were very pleased that an addition was built that included laundry facilities.
By 1891, the Holyoke mission had grown from four Sisters to over 40 Sisters and novices. More space was needed and, in August 1891, St. Vincent de Paul Convent was built for the teaching Sisters. By 1892, the small mission established 19 years earlier had grown into a thriving community dedicated to care for orphans and the elderly, teaching, a hospital and home nursing.
A year later, in 1892, the mission of Holyoke separated from the Kingston congregation to become a new religious congregation, the Sisters of Providence of Holyoke.
Veronica Stienburg is the archivist for the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul since 2011.