The Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul served in Holyoke, Massachusetts from 1873 to 1892, when the mission became an independent congregation still in existence today: Sisters of Providence, Holyoke MA.
Foundation of the first mission
In July 1873 two Sisters of Providence went to Massachusetts in order to collect funds. On their trip they visited Holyoke, a large manufacturing town. Fr. Harkins, Pastor of Holyoke, asked the Sisters to open a charitable mission in the city. That September, Fr. Harkins traveled to Kingston to discuss the proposed mission with the Community. General Superior Sr. Mary John and Assistant Superior Sr. Mary Edward visited Holyoke at the end of September. Upon their return the General Council of the congregation decided, on October 10th, to found its first permanent mission in Holyoke, Massachusetts.
“On this Tenth Day of October One Thousand and Eight Hundred and Seventy Three it was decided at a meeting of the Council that the Mission of Holyoke be accepted as everything seemed to prove that the Glory of God, the Salvation of Souls and the interests of the Company would be thereby advanced. It was further determined that the New Foundation be commenced on the Sixth Day of November of this same year and that Four Professed Sisters be given to commence the work.” Council Minutes, Oct. 10, 1873
South Hadley Falls (1873)
Sr. Mary Edward, Sr. Mary Patrick, Sr. Mary of the Cross and Sr. Mary Mount Carmel arrived in Holyoke on November 7, 1873. They established the first House of Providence 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 and swing ferry to visit the needy in Holyoke. Within a week of arriving the Sisters took in their first orphan and within a month they had accepted their first patients at the House of Providence.
House of Providence (1874-1892)
On October 17, 1874 the House of Providence moved from South Hadley Falls to Holyoke, as Fr. Harkins had purchased a house on Dwight Street to relieve the sisters of the need to cross the Connecticut River on a daily basis. The House of Providence housed orphans, the sick and the elderly, but crowding led to the orphanage being moved back to the rectory in South Hadley Falls in 1876 and remaining there until 1878. The House of Providence served primarily as a hospital.
St. Jerome’s Institute for Boys (1875-1892)
In 1875 Fr. Harkins asked the Sisters of Providence to take charge of the parish boys’ school. The Sisters hesitated, but at Fr. Harkin’s urging they accepted the school. The first school year was not a great success, partly due to the fact that the Sisters were new to teaching. In August 1876 the Sisters were given more authority and not only did they keep teaching, but they turned St. Jerome’s into a successful school.
Mount St. Vincent Orphanage (1880-1892)
In 1878 the orphanage in South Hadley Falls was needed as a rectory once more and the boys were moved to the top floor of St. Jerome’s Institute and the girls were moved to the House of Providence. This solution was only temporary and in 1880 the Sisters purchased Ingleside, a 53 acre hilltop estate overlooking the Connecticut River. Construction began in 1880 and Mount St. Vincent 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. Water had to be hauled up the hill from the river and baskets of laundry had to be hauled down to the riverbank for washing. In 1887 an entire new wing plus laundry facilities were built.
St. Vincent de Paul Convent (1891-1892)
The mission in Holyoke had grown so much over the years that the Sisters needed more space. By 1891 there were over 40 Sisters and novices in Holyoke. A three story brick convent, located on Hampden Street, was built for the Sisters who taught at St. Jerome’s Institute. The new convent was dedicated on August 13, 1891.
In 1891 Bishop Patrick O’Reilly of the Diocese of Springfield petitioned Rome to establish the Holyoke Mission as a religious community independent from the Kingston congregation. This effort was strongly resisted by the Kingston congregation and the Bishop of Kingston. On May 28, 1892 the Vatican issued a papal decree establishing the Holyoke community as a congregation of the Springfield Diocese. The Sisters of Providence in Holyoke were given the choice to return to Kingston or remain in Holyoke. This was a very painful process. Thirty-one sisters, between 1892 and 1894, chose to leave Kingston for Holyoke.