The Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul served in King City, Ontario from 1937 to 1973.
Sr. Mary Fleurette and students at Sacred Heart School, King City, Ontario, 1951-1952.
Between 1937 and 1973, the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul played a significant role in the community of King City ON. Four Sisters of Providence arrived on September 15, 1937 and immediately took charge of Sacred Heart School and carried out social welfare work from Sacred Heart Convent. Among the first Sisters assigned to the community was a nurse and, from a small room in the convent, a clinic was set up where a doctor came for weekly visits and members of the community could receive help with their illnesses. The Sisters of Providence and their presence had not only been of immense value in the community’s academic achievements, they also played a role in the community’s character formation; deep Catholic values via instruction in the Catholic religion. Music was also taught by the Sisters of Providence to members of the community, with an emphasis in piano and music theory. The community developed into a thriving suburban area that supported Sacred Heart School, Sacred Heart High School, Holy Name School in which Sisters of Providence held positions of principals and teachers. At the end of the 1973 school year, the Sisters of Providence said their goodbye’s after 36 years of service to the community.
Sr. Margaret Black (Sr. Mary Imelda) wrote this history in 1984 of the Sister’s mission in King City. It includes some of her personal memories:
In 1937 the community made its first foundation in the archdiocese of Toronto. Father Francis McGoey, a man interested in social justice, had established a small parish at King in York township, about 25 miles north of Toronto, with the hope of enabling families suffering from the economic depression to recover by their own efforts. Father asked for Sisters to take charge of the small school he had built and to do social work. On Sept. 15, the feast of our Mother of Sorrows, Sr. M. Laura Otterson, as superior and principal, with Sr. M. Ignatius Masterson as assistant teacher, Sr. M. Jane Prior, music teacher and Sr. M. Catherine Dooley, nurse, opened a tiny convent dedicated to the Sacred Heart.
The early Annals of the house indicate that many people called at the convent to find out how Father’s “back to the land” movement was progressing. Some were just curious; others wanted to learn so that they could apply his methods to projects which they had begun. Many, too were very generous in bringing food, clothing, books etc. for the children. One of these was Dr. Bennett, a Catholic School inspector in Toronto diocese, a man whom some of us might recall.
Many parishioners visited the clinic set up in the convent and were helped in their illnesses through Sr. M. Catherine’s ministrations. It was a common sight to see Father’s car occupied by a mother and her sick child or a new-born babe coming home from the hospital for the first time. My first visit to the convent and school was in 1941 or 42 when I was stationed in Newmarket which had just been opened in 1941. Both Sr. M. Laura’s and Sr. M. Ignatius’ classrooms were in a basement for nothing had yet been built above ground. They were the poorest classrooms I had ever seen, yet, in spite of the poverty and lack of light, both teachers were as happy as if they had all the latest conveniences. This acceptance of the situation really touched me.
In 1952 I was named for King. By that time an elementary school had been built and a one-room building on the opposite side of the convent served as a classroom for grades 9 and 10. It was bright and airy and furnished with the essentials. The convent, however, left much to be desired. As men with little or no experience beforehand, had built it, there was no such thing as wall corners of 90° angle. Except for a door on the bathroom upstairs, old drapes covered the entrances to the three bedrooms. Yet, we slept as well or better in these rooms as we had in our former missions. We were living in the country, a few miles from King City, had no car, yet divine Providence looked after us well. Fr. McGoey came faithfully each Saturday morning, celebrated Mass, joined us for breakfast, then drove us to Aurora to pick up our provisions for the week. We had no deep freeze so we could not buy much more than a weekly supply of food that had to be kept cold. Yet, we lacked for nothing. During the six years I was there, only on one occasion, did a sudden snowstorm make our usual twenty-minute trip from Aurora a two-hour one.
Left to right: Sr. Mary Carmella Boyle, Sr. Mary Imelda Black, Sr. Margaret Mary Lines having a picnic at Sacred Heart Convent, King City, Ontario, between 1954 and 1957. (SPSVP 014-211.3.1-3)
One Sunday, the curate, who celebrated Mass at the parish church, came in for a meal bringing three friends with him, none of whom had been expected, Sister had prepared dinner for the four Sisters only, so this we gave to our guests. At four o’clock, when they left we were able to have, not what we had planned, but something else. Nobody complained, in fact, we often laughed about the situation, for our guests were quite unaware that they had eaten the meal we expected to have.
Our recreations were simple–a walk on the country roads, sometimes calling on a neighbour, a card game, sing-song, dancing while one played the piano. A drive through the countryside in our pastor’s car was a real treat. During Christmas and Easter holidays, or school meetings in Toronto, our Sisters of Rosary Hall invited us and always managed to find beds for us. These were red-letter days for us. So was an unexpected holiday when a bad winter storm caused a cut-off of electricity with the result that no school bus could bring children in. Our housekeeper, Sr. Margaret Mary, managed to boil water in the fireplace. We sat close to it enjoying a hot drink and the unusual holiday even though it wasn’t a particularly warm one. A short time before, the same curate mentioned above, conscious that we were very isolated, surprised and delighted us when he arrived unexpectedly with about fifteen excellent records. We had recently purchased a record player but had only two records until his gift came. These we enjoyed to the full when the electricity came on later that holiday.
A favorite spot for recreation was a verandah at the side of the building. Here, we had first row seats watching a robin bringing food to the new-born family nesting in the evergreen tree beside the verandah. In the early evening we could view a skunk followed by her little ones walking leisurely across the front yard. It was here, too, that we watched a flock of evening grosbeaks alight and remain for some time. In bright, warm weather we ironed, sewed, did our spiritual reading or just enjoyed nature and one another’s company. One sunny morning a large snake settled down for a nap on the threshold of the front door. No one had any desire to approach it, but we did know that snakes do not like the odour of moth balls or crystals. We scattered some, close to, but not too close, and soon the snake decided to rest at a more distant spot. The chipmunks enjoyed and even made their home in the front lawn, the blue jays often alighted on the roof of the entrance to the basement and we had complete coverage from the kitchen window just above the roof. On our walks up a side road where the traffic was light we often saw rare and brightly coloured birds, for example the bluebird, and indigo, the sight of which delighted us. It was such simple pleasures as these that did much to keep us happy, reminding us of the Lord’s providential concern and love for us.
While our prayer life and teaching kept us occupied most of the time and happy, too, life occasionally was difficult if one of the group was out-of-sorts. Then a pall descended over the whole group for we hadn’t reached the point at which we could ask for and expect the downcast one to share her feelings with us.
In speaking to Sr. M. Agnes Clare who was stationed in King in the early 1940’s I learned that her basement classroom was so cold at times, I presume in the early spring or fall, that the pupils had to go out to gather sticks and twigs along the roadside to provide sufficient heat in the stove to take the bitter chill off the classroom.
Once during my stay in King, the church caught fire during the noon hour. A grade nine pupil ran into the building, rescued the Blessed Sacrament, and running toward the Convent, handed the ciborium to me as I was on my way to the Church. I recall how privileged I felt to be holding the Lord Himself as I took the ciborium to our convent chapel. The Sisters with the help of the pupils managed to extinguish the fire. Fr. McGoey, informed of the occurrence, after said “Too bad you didn’t let it go up in flames,” for at that time, the church was in a very poor condition. Not too long after on the first Friday of February 1960, in the middle of the night, the roof collapsed and the church was in shambles when Father came for Mass the following morning. What could be salvaged was brought to the school basement where Sunday Mass was celebrated. God’s loving, providential care for children and teachers was again evident on this occasion for, had the accident occurred while Mass was being celebrated that day, many could have been injured or killed.
By Christmas of 1960 a new church directly across from the Convent was finished. In the summer of 1964 plans were drawn to move the Convent building to the old church site. This was accomplished in the fall of 1964.
On reading the Annals one is impressed by the spirit of the Sisters particularly in the very early days. There was little in material possessions but much trust in Providence.
Their spiritual leader, Fr. McGoey, another St. Vincent de Paul, had one great interest—the poor. He was always busy getting things for the needy and turned over many of his personal possessions to them. Aided by Sr. M. Catherine he saw that they were looked after in illness as well as in health. When, at times his attention was drawn to the lack of essentials his favorite expression was “These are only material things, Sister.”
Shortly after the convent opened, visitors were so numerous that one wonders how the Sisters could accomplish their duties. Yet they received all graciously remembering that the spirit of hospitality is a mark of a Sister of Providence.
During the whole time that our Sisters were in King there was a willingness to accept reality, a deep spirit of faith and a continual trust in divine Providence. The community ranged from the very poor in the beginning to a much more affluent society at the end. Yet, in changing circumstances, these virtues were practiced until the closing of the mission in .