The Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul taught at St. Margaret’s School and Maryvale Abbey in Glen Nevis, Ontario from 1912 to 1950.
Fr. Dan MacDonald, pastor of St. Margaret’s Parish in Glen Nevis, established St. Margaret’s Separate School in February 1912. Fr. Dan visited the House of Providence in February 1912 to ask the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul to teach in the separate school and to establish a high school in Glen Nevis. The General council met on February 16, 1912 and decided to accept his invitation. Mother Mary Gabriel, General Superior and four sisters arrived in Glen Nevis on September 2, 1912 (some sources say they arrived on October 2.) They were met at Dalhousie Station by Fr. Dan and taken to the rectory where they received a lovely welcome. They were given what had been the sexton’s house to use as a temporary convent until a convent was built. Mother Mary Gabriel returned to Kingston on September 6, leaving Sr. Mary Amable as local superior and teacher of French and Music, Sr. Mary of the Precious Blood as teacher to the primary grades and sacristan, Sr. Mary Florentina as the convent housekeeper and assistant sacristan, and Sr. Mary Jerome as teacher and Principal of St. Margaret’s School. The school opened in the parish hall with 70 pupils, including both elementary and high school students. The sisters received boarders right from the very beginning who lived in the temporary convent with them.
St. Margaret’s School, Glen Nevis, Back row: Sr. Mary Elizabeth McDonald, Sr. Mary Urban Coleman, Sr. Mary Thrasilla Macdonell, Sr. Mary Cecilia Joyce, Sr. Mary Alexis Doyle, Sr. Mary of Nazareth MacDonell Front row: Msgr. D.R. MacDonald, Sr. Mary Andrew McDonald, Sr. Mary Clarissa Whalen, Sr. Mary Regina McIntosh
The cornerstone of St. Margaret’s school was laid on October 15, 1912 and the names of the four founding sisters were placed in the stone. The school building opened in January 1913 and enrollment increased almost immediately. By September 1915 there were fifty students in the Junior Room, and thirty-nine in the senior room. Approximately twenty Sisters of Providence taught at St. Margaret’s School from 1912 to 1950.
St. Margaret’s School, Glen Nevis, ON, (SPSVPA 014-207.1.2-1)
Once St. Margaret’s School was built, plans for the high school and convent were soon underway and the cornerstone of Maryvale Abbey was laid on June 22, 1913. The boarders and Sisters moved into the completed basement of Maryvale Abbey on November 26, 1913 while the rest of the building was still under construction. The first mass was held in the completed chapel on December 27, 1913. The number of boarders kept increasing and more help was needed. Sr. Mary Alexis arrived in December 1913 to help with the domestic duties and in February 1914 Sr. Mary of the Rosary was appointed the first Mistress of Boarders. Construction of Maryvale Abbey finished in the spring of 1914 and officially opened on June 10 1914. Maryvale Abbey served as convent for the sisters, home for the boarders and school for the boarding and day students.
Maryvale Abbey, Glen Nevis (SPSVPA 014-207.1.4-45)
Catholic High School was not financially supported by the government of Ontario in the early twentieth century, but Fr. Dan obtained a special Order-in-Council from the Provincial legislature in 1912 to provide high school. This allowed the local separate school board to operate a high school (grades 9 to 12) at Maryvale Abby. This continued until 1928 when the Provincial Legislature ruled upon a court case which established that Grades 9 and 10 would be funded by the government across the province. This ruling cancelled out previous Orders-in-Council, which meant that grades 11 and 12 were no longer part of the separate school board. From 1928 onwards, the senior high school was a private school, consisting of grades 11 and 12. Grade 13 was added to Maryvale Abbey in 1934. Students from the local section didn’t pay fees for grade school or high school and those from other areas paid only a small tuition fee.
Maryvale Abbey was known for its high standard of education. The students from the Abbey set records for Ontario in departmental examinations. Sr. Mary Jerome, who taught at Maryvale Abby from 1912 to 1932 and 1935-1936, as well as being principal for much of that time, established very high standards. Sr. Mary Jerome was the first Sister of Providence to receive a university degree. Upon her death in 1936 Maryvale Abbey published a tribute to her in the Guardian Magazine. Here is an excerpt:
Enthusiastic alike in the class-room and on the campus, for twenty-two years she directed the studies and recreations of the young. We shall no longer see her familiar figure moving in our midst but we have many reminders of her and of the lessons she strove to inculcate. The pictures and statues which adorn the school, the library she collected, and the dramatic performances which she skilfully directed and which still live in the memories of those who witnessed or took part in them, all speak of her refined tastes and deep aesthetic culture but more especially of her solid piety and her zeal for the sanctification of those souls for which she laboured. She made use of every means to develop in her pupils a love of the beautiful, the noble, and the good, at the same time teaching by word and example that a life spent in God’s service is a life full of joy.
Maryvale Abbey, Glen Nevis, ON, Spring 1919, Back: Msgr. D.R. Macdonald; Left: Sr. Mary Jerome O’Reilly; Right: Sr. Mary Edna O’Meara; Front row, left to right: Homer Rozon, Steve McGillis, Donald J. McDonald, John Chisholm, Allan Blair, Eugene McDonell, Aurele Laframboise, Angus Ranald McDonald; Second row, left to right: Donald McRae, Tena McGregor, Eva Kirby, Dora McDonald, Dolores McDonald, Cecilia McDonell, Lucille Compeau, Katherine McDonald, Lionel Major; Third row, left to right: Margaret McLaughlin, Anna McDonald, Hilda McMillan, Flora McKinnon, Alice Lagroix, Helen Beehler, Christina McDonald, Lillian Bathurst, Edith Purcell, Mary Walsh; Fourth row, left to right: Jeanette McRae, Mary Galvin, Stella McDonell, Mary Clement, Violet McIntosh, Winnie Diffley, Janet McDonald, Mary Williams, Kathleen Cafferty, Dorothy Coyne, and Effie McRae. (SPSVPA 014-207.1.4-9)
Music was an important part of the ministry in Glen Nevis. There was a sister music teacher from 1912 to 1950. The music teachers taught piano, violin and singing in the convent studio. The Sisters were also involved in St. Margaret’s Parish, teaching catechism classes, and taking care of the sacristy and altar. Maryvale Abbey was not only a high school for students in the area, but also educated many Sisters of Providence. After a sister had made first profession she was often sent to Maryvale Abbey to finish her high school education before being sent on to Normal School for teacher training or to Nurses Training School. Between 1913 and 1950 at least 50 Sisters of Providence attended Maryvale Abbey as students. Approximately 20 more attended Maryvale Abbey as students before they entered the congregation.
The last class of Maryvale Abbey with Sr. Mary Electa Murphy in June 1950. (SPSVPA 014-207.1.4-37)
The last group of Sisters to serve in Glen Nevis, June 1950
The Sisters of Providence withdrew from Glen Nevis in 1950, giving up their role as teachers at Maryvale Abbey and St. Margaret’s School. Enrollment at Maryvale had declined due to bus transportation being offered to the bilingual High School in Alexandria, and many families had grown up and moved away. There were no longer enough students and boarders to justify staffing the schools. On Sunday June 25th, 1950 the Catholic Women’s League of Glen Nevis hosted an open house reception for the people of Glen Nevis and the alumni of Maryvale Abbey to bid farewell to the Sisters of Providence. The Sisters of the Holy Cross purchased Maryvale Abbey and ran it as a bilingual high school until it closed in 1965.
In all, one hundred and thirty Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul lived, served or studied at Maryvale Abbey over the course of 38 years.
Enjoy photographs of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul’s thirty-eight years of service in Glen Nevis, Ontario.
Sisters who served in Glen Nevis
List of Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul who served from 1912 to 1950 in Glen Nevis, Ontario by school year.
Sisters’ remembrances of Glen Nevis
The Courier was an internal newsletter of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul that was published from 1969 to 1988. The June 1982 edition was devoted entirely to the history of Maryvale Abbey. It is full of individual sisters’ reminiscences and stories of their time in Glen Nevis.