Feb. 17 marks the anniversary of the approval of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, Halifax by Pope Pius IX in 1856.
The story of the Canadian foundation begins when four American ladies, black-robed, black-capped, landed in Halifax from the Cunard liner “Cambria” on May 11, 1849. They came from New York City, these first Sisters of Charity, in long-awaited response to a standing request by Bishop William Walsh of Halifax to his friend Archbishop John Hughes of New York for Sisters to work in his diocese in the care of orphans and in education. Halifax had a population of 20,000 when the four “American ladies” arrived. The Bishop gave them a house on Barrington Street, near the cathedral, where they took in a little orphan girl on the very first day. They immediately opened a school and by the end of the school year (July) their classes held 400 children. By that time the Sisters were also caring for twenty little girls in their own house.[Halifax in 1849, like many other North American cities, was flooded with refugees, especially the Irish, victims of the potato famine. Organizing the care of their children was the beginning of the Sisters’ work.]
Sister Mary Basilia (Rose McCann) was the leader of the little group. Born in Ireland in 1811, she was educated at Emmitsburg, Maryland, and entered the Sisters of Charity there at the age of eighteen.
With Sister Basilia came Sisters Mary Cornelia Finney and Mary Vincent Conklin, who had both trained at Emmitsburg; and Sister Mary Rose McAleer, a newly professed Sister of 22 who was to become the next Mother Superior when the other three returned to New York.
…in 1856, i.e. within seven years of the arrival of the four Sisters, the Halifax foundation became an independent unit separate from New York. Approval from Rome came on February 17, 1856, from Pius IX.
The following video aired on NET TV Catholic cable TV network in Brooklyn, NY.
Another interesting piece of the Sisters of Charity of Halifax foundation story, again from Sister Marianna O’Gallagher, S.C.H.:
The separation from the New York Motherhouse was not without precedent, for the New York Sisters had already experienced a similar event. Their Superior General in Emmitsburg was a Father Louis Deluol. Now Sisters in New York cared for orphans, boys as well as girls. Father Deluol interpreted Saint Vincent’s rule as not allowing the Sisters to take care of boys, hence they should withdraw from New York and return to Emmitsburg. Bishop Hughes of New York, not wanting to see the orphans left uncared for, solved the difficulty by offering to create a diocesan community which would be composed of any Sisters of Charity who would make the choice of staying in New York. An agreement was reached with the Emmitsburg Motherhouse. Of the 62 Sisters in New York, 33 remained to do the work. The others returned to Emmitsburg. That was in 1846. In 1849 that little band of New Yorkers spared four of their members to pioneer the Halifax foundation.
Sister Basilia McCann traveled to New York to negotiate the new status for Halifax. She returned in time for the December 8, 1855 Feast of the Immaculate Conception, at which she announced that Saint Mary’s was now an independent Motherhouse, and that she was the Mother Superior.