The Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul served in Toronto from 1939 to 1971, and 1990 to 2020. Over the years their ministry included Rosary Hall, St. David’s School, and numerous individual ministries.
Rosary Hall (1939-1971)
Toronto’s Rosary Hall was founded in 1911 at 218 John Street by a charitable lay association in order to meet increasing demands for a hostel for young working women and students in the city of Toronto. During the post-war era in Toronto, there was a variety of different hostels run by religious and charitable organizations ranging from the YWCA to the Willard Hall Hostel operated by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union to house the female staff of Simpson’s department store. Each of these organizations shared the same goal of providing low-cost housing for women.
From 1939 to 1971, the Sisters of Providence managed a women’s residence called Rosary Hall in Toronto. This building was Rosary Hall’s second location and served as a young women’s residence from 1939 to 1965. (SPSVPA 188.8.131.52)
In 1939, Archbishop McGuigan, Archbishop of Toronto, asked the Sisters of Providence to take over the administration of Rosary Hall. At the same time Rosary Hall moved to a larger building at 264 Bloor St. East. On September 20th, 1939, three Sisters of Providence arrived in Toronto to manage Rosary Hall, including Sister Mary Catherine, Superior of Rosary Hall; Sister Mary Rita, Assistant and Secretary-Treasurer; and Sister Mary of Lourdes, Supervisor of Floors and General Help. During their time at Rosary Hall, the Sisters of Providence administered the facility and looked after room and board for the residents, while also living in Rosary Hall. It is important to note that Rosary Hall was also run throughout its 60 years of operation through the assistance of a lay association, the Ladies of Rosary Hall. On October 1st, 1939, Rosary Hall opened and had a total of sixty-four guests during the first year in its new location and under the new management.
Residents relaxing on the lawn of Rosary Hall in 1957. (SPSVPA 220.3.1-3-C)
In the 1940s and 1950s, Rosary Hall was a residence for Catholic young women between the ages of 17 and 25 who were working or studying in Toronto. The new building on Bloor Street had accommodation for one hundred and twenty-five lodgers in private and shared rooms. The white three-story house had large grounds and numerous amenities, including a library, a swimming pool, a domestic science room, a gymnasium, and an assembly hall. The residents of Rosary Hall came from a variety of backgrounds, including young women from every province of Canada and many different countries, including England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, the Bahamas and the British West Indies. In general, life at Rosary Hall was very busy with numerous events happening in the Hall’s auditorium ranging from dances, bridge parties, and meetings of various organizations. There were also, according to a 1950 advertisement, classes and lectures held at Rosary Hall on various topics ranging from swimming to domestic science to French conversation. In the 1950s, Rosary Hall often ran at full capacity.
Residents and Sisters in the Chapel at Rosary Hall in May 1957. (SPSVPA 220.3.1-11)
While attending the needs of the residents at Rosary Hall, the Sisters of Providence also served in the community. There are numerous accounts of the Sisters visiting former Rosary Hall residents who were ill in hospital or ill at home. Rosary Hall also acted as a home in the summer to other Sisters of Providence and other female religious attending summer school in Toronto. For example, in the summer of 1966, Rosary Hall was home to nine Presentation Sisters from Newfoundland, one Notre Dame Sister and five Sisters of Providence all of whom attended various academic institutions. The Sisters of Providence teaching at St. David’s School also resided at Rosary Hall.
Sister Mary Lorraine Chapelle, Sister Mary Magdalen (Sister Mary Collins) , and Sister Mary Marcia Goodwin standing outside the new Rosary Hall building at 226 St. George Street in ca. 1967. (SPSVPA 220.3.1-17)
In 1965 the building at 264 Bloor St. East was purchased by the Manufacturers’ Life Insurance Company (Manulife), in order to expand their head office. On March 12th, 1965, the Sisters of Providence moved Rosary Hall to a new building at 226 St. George Street after 25 years on Bloor Street. During the next few months, the new Rosary Hall, a three-story building previously owned by the Jesuits, underwent extensive renovations. The front section of the building which was formerly offices was converted into 14 rooms, including a chapel, a spacious parlour and sisters’ quarters. The rear section was converted into 36 double rooms with a capacity for 72 residents. In this new building, the mandate for residency changed with an emphasis on university students.
By 1971, the number of full-time residents at Rosary Hall had decreased to only thirty-five, as more students followed the trend of moving into apartment buildings. On May 20th, 1971, the decision was made for the Sisters of Providence to withdraw from Rosary Hall due to decreasing demand. The Sisters of Providence formally left Rosary Hall on June 24th, 1971.
Fr. Mulvihill, Msgr. McCann, and Fr. MacMillan standing on the steps of St. Francis of Assisi Church, Toronto with the First Communion class from St. David’s School on June 16, 1946. (SPSVPA 220.3.2-1)
In April 1944, the Toronto Separate School Board requested that the Sisters of Providence take charge of St. David’s School. St. David’s had eight class rooms with capacity for two hundred and eighty pupils. Previously, the Loretto Sisters ran St. David’s since the school’s opening in 1924. In September 1944, the Sisters of Providence started at St. David’s with Sister Mary Eusebia Kennedy being appointed Principal and Sister Mary Fleurette McKenna as a Primary school teacher. Between 1945 and 1948 there were four sisters teaching at one time at St. David’s. From 1948 to 1953 that number was reduced to two teachers. In 1953, the last two remaining teachers, Sister Mary Elizabeth and Sister Mary Donalda withdrew from St. David’s as teaching Sisters were needed at other schools. The administration of the school was taken over by the Felician Sisters. From 1944 to 1953, ten Sisters of Providence served as teachers, and principals at St. David’s school, while residing at Rosary Hall.
From 1990 to 2020 several Sisters shared their talents through a variety of individual ministries in Toronto, including teaching English as a second language, spiritual direction, helping refugees and immigrants, and teaching art therapy.
Sisters who served at St. David’s School
List of Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul who taught from 1944 to 1953 at St. David’s School, Toronto, Ontario by school year.