Dec. 3, 1891 – To Prefect of Proganada, Rome Italy from General Superior Sr. M. Edward, Kingston ON

Convent of the Sisters of Providence,
Dec. 3, 1891
Cardinal Simeoni,
Prefect of Propaganda
Most Eminent Lord Cardinal:

By direction of the Archbishop of Kingston, our ecclesiastical Superior, I beg leave to submit to your Eminence authentic testimonies of certain facts stated by our Archbishop in his letter of defense of our Institute mailed to your Eminence two days ago.

Letter #1, signed by Sister Mary Magdalen, relates an interview between the Bishop of Springfield and Sister Mary of Providence at which she was present. It shows the Bishop’s warm appreciation of the good work done for his Diocese by our Sisters; the effort of Sister M. of Providence to alter the Bishop’s mind in favor of the Separation of the two Houses in his diocese from the Mother House in Kingston and the creation of an independent Institute under her administration as Superior General; the unaltered determination of the Bishop to maintain the union with the Mother House in Kingston, and his vigorous reply to Sr. M. of Providence, twice repeated, suggesting the possibility of her following the ways of Sister Mary Francis Clare Cussack. The reference is to the unhappy nun of the Order of Poor Clares in Kenmare, Diocese of Kerry, Ireland, whose pride caused her to leave her Convent many years after her religious profession, and apply to the Holy See for leave to found a new institute subject to herself; and who having come to the United States and failed of her purpose, proceeded to publicly attack the Bishops, and then the Pope and Cardinals, and finally renounced the Catholic faith and joined the Methodistic sect. In the same letter, Sister Mary Magdalen states the impression made on her mind by the habitual action of Sister M. of Providence, indicating underhand work against the integrity of our holy Institute, which is proved by the following:

Letter #1: – “I the undersigned, Sister Mary Magdalen, testify that on one occasion I was present and heard these remarks in the course of a conversation between His Lordship, Bp. O’Reilly of Springfield, and Sister M. of Providence, Local Superior of the Mission of Holyoke.

The Bishop expressed in glowing terms his entire satisfaction at the work being accomplished by the Community. His Lordship’s appreciation was very evident by the earnestness of his manner and the force of his remarks. Sister M. of Providence said: “but My Lord, there is so much that I could do, were I free, my hands are tied”. Upon which the Bishop said, “Sister, I suppose you would be another Mary Francis Cussack”, (meaning the misguided nun of the Community of Poor Clares, Kerry, Ireland, who by her pride and presumption lost her faith and became a Methodist). Continuing, he said “there is one thing I will say and that is I never wish to see you separated from your own Community. Again Sister repeated her willingness and ability to do so much were she not kept back by being obliged to submit everything to Kingston. Once again the Bp. made the same reply. I had no idea at that time that she contemplated a separation from our Mother house. I only thought she meant to lead the Bishop to believe that Rev. Mother was not willing to allow the Sisters to do as much good as they could do.

I know also, that the Local Superior was not as observant concerning directions coming from the General Superior, as she should have been; neither was she exact in causing the subjects to observe them.

My impression is that the Local Superior has for many years been working underhandedly in her dealings with the General Superior.

Sister Mary Magdalen.
House of Providence,
Kingston, Nov. 15, 1891″

Letters #2 and #3, from Sister Mary James and Mary Philip, show the methods whereby Sister Mary of Providence worked upon their minds and upon the mind of the Bishop of Springfield, in order to obtain assent to her project of breaking up the unity of our Religious Institute.

Your Eminence will observe that each of these says she preferred to be in Holyoke (the place where our Houses are in the diocese of Springfield) in case of a separation being decreed; whereas this conditional assent was used by His Lordship, the Bp. of Springfield, as an argument for absolute separation; and accordingly, without awaiting the receipt of any mandate or authority from the Holy See, proceeded to absolve those two Sisters, and next day, all the Sisters of the two Convents from their religious obligations towards their General Superior, as these two letters show.

Letter #2: – to Rev. Mother M. Edward, S.G, House of Providence, Kingston

Dear Rev. Mother,

As you know, I lived ten years at Mt. Vincent, that my Superior there for fourteen months was Sr. M. Ignatius; that last May I petitioned you Rev. Mother, to remove me from the Mission and locate me at the Mother House in Kingston; that again in August I repeated my urgent request, giving each time as reason for asking such a change the condition of my health which had suffered considerably.

On the 20th of August, I received your kind letter with the long desired permission to return to the Mother House, Kingston. The date of my departure being fixed for the 26th inst.

I made my preparations accordingly, but before leaving, I went at the invitation of Sr. Mary of Providence, Superior of the House in the City, Holyoke, to spend Sunday and bid farewell to my Sisters. While there, Sister Mary of Providence asked me if I would not like to return in case of separation from the Mother House; I said “I would”, Sister expressed a wish to have me return, and said that if she could, she would take me to the Bp. of Springfield; but as that could not be done, she suggested to me to write, and upon my declining to do this she forthwith drafted a letter to His Lordship and caused me to write it, which letter she sent to the Bishop of Springfield. In that letter I told His Lordship, that I wished to remain in his diocese, and he afterwards made a visit to Mt. St. Vincent (my residence) and forbade any Sister to leave his Diocese without his permission.

I fully and clearly understood by this, that I was not obliged to obey the General Superior, as the Bishop said, he assumed all responsibility. I therefore, remained until you, Reverend Mother, came to Holyoke and sent me to the Mother House at Kingston on the 18th day of September.

I remain Rev. Mother, Your obedient child,
Sr. M. James
House of Providence
Kingston, Ont. Nov. 16, 1891

Letter #3:

House of Providence
Kingston, Ont. Nov. 16,

Dear Rev. Mother,

Immediately after the announcement made by the Bishop of Springfield, Aug. 13th, I told Sr. M. of Providence, the local Superior in Holyoke, that in case of a separation, I would remain in the Springfield diocese.

Your letter of the 20th Aug. calling me to the Mother House, Kingston, naming the 26th as the date of departure, was received Aug. 24, and I again expressed my intention of remaining in the Springfield Diocese to Sr. M. of Providence. She then proposed to me to go to the Bishop of Springfield and tell him of my resolution, and although I knew it was against the written direction of my Superior General for me to go outside of the City in which I resided, without her permission, I went to Springfield with Sr. M. of Providence and made known my desire to the Bishop of Springfield, who told me to remain. Two days after, the Bishop assembled the entire Community in Holyoke, and said that no Sister should leave his Diocese without his permission, and that he took all responsibility on himself. I firmly believed that I was thus freed from the obligation of obeying my Sup. Gen. and that I was at liberty to remain until the 17th of Sept. when you Rev. Mother came to Holyoke and sent me to Kingston.

I testify also, that on another occasion the same Superior took me to Springfield in violation of the order the Superior General had previously given.

Your child in Christ,
Sr. M. Philip

Letter #4, from Sister M. of the Immaculate Conception, bears testimony to other unfair methods employed by Sr. M. of Providence, to draw the Sisters of her Convent over to her side in pursuance of her scheme of separation. Her complaint is addressed to the Archbishop officially:

Holyoke, Nov. 8, 9

Your Grace, Most Rev. Dr. Cleary, Abp. of Kingston.

Allow me the privilege of addressing a few lines to Your Grace.

As this is the first time I have availed myself of this favor, I am pained to bring any unpleasant matter for your perusal.

Since she agitated separation of the Mission from the Mother House, the Superior here, Sr. M. of Providence, has been fully convinced that I was opposed to such a procedure. In consequence of this, she has tried every means in her power to make things as disagreeable as possible for me. I knew there was danger in her power and I wrote to the Rev. Mother telling her this and begging her to take me home.

She thought differently and I was obliged to remain. I never made any secret of my desire to go home since the first announcement Bishop O’Reilly made to the Community regarding separation.

Last evening Dr. Beaven summoned me to the Parlor, and in presence of the Superior, said: that owing to facts which had come to his knowledge, since the opening of the Commission, he found it necessary to have me removed to another House and that he would write to Your Grace, and the Rev. Mother to this effect.

I know not what the charges are that they have manufactured in order to accomplish their ends, as he did not acquaint me of this. I did not say anything when he spoke to me, as I did not know what Your Grace would wish me to say. I will anxiously await your decision in the matter, as I do not know what step they may take next.

I will now beg Your Grace’s protection against this woman. I feel that I have nothing safe in her keeping but the life of my body, and I beg of Your Grace, if it is possible for you to do so, to call me home.

Hoping that I have not intruded too long on your precious time, I will anxiously await a word from Your Grace. Remaining your devoted child,

Sr. M. Immaculate Conception.

Page #5 contains extracts from letters of several other Sisters addressed to me as their General Superior. They relate the words of the Bishop of Springfield in his public utterances before the Sisters of both out Convents, affirming in distinct and warmest manner his appreciation of the fidelity and efficiency of our Sisters in the work of his Diocese, and also the disquietude of mind that resulted from his recent determination to sever them from this Mother House:

#5: – Extracts from Letters:

Aug. 14, 1891, from Sr. M. of Providence
The Bishop of Springfield paid high tribute to the usefulness of the Sisters and said it was his “desire to extend their usefulness still further”.

Aug. 21, 1892, from Sr. M. Ignatius, Superior, at Orphan Asylum
The Bishop said he was highly pleased with the Community since they came to his Diocese; he knew many had worn themselves “out here”

Aug. 1891, from Sr. M. Jane de Chantal
The Bishop said “you are respected for the good you have done, for the good you are doing and for the good you will do”

The Bishop of Springfield said he was waiting an answer from Rome and he had every reason to believe it would be in his favor. God alone knows what will be the result. What shall we do dear Mother? We always had peace; you told us in your letter not to allow it to trouble our minds; but is very hard to banish the thought of it. He said decidedly neither St. M. James nor Sr. M. Philip, nor any other Sister were to leave the Mission without his permission. I never thought it would come to this. I do wish you could come to us.

Hoping to hear from you soon, I remain you fond child, Sr. M. Augustine

P.S. The Extracts were signed by the General Assistant and Secretary.

I might send Your Eminence much more of written testimony; but I reverently abstain from wearing you out, being fully confident that the origin of this project of separation, and the unworthy methods whereby it has been promoted, will appear plainly enough to your mind. I venture to say that there are few Convents in the Catholic Church, wherein division of sentiment and diminution of loyalty towards Superiors would not result from a similar course of proceeding.

Permit me, Your Eminence, to make declaration with all the sincerity of my heart, that during my term of office, as Local Superior in Holyoke for five years, and throughout my frequent visits subsequently to those two Convents for inspection and arrangement of affairs, as Superior General, I have invariably found the good Bishop of Springfield kind in word and deed, sympathetic and encouraging. Neither have I had personally, nor have I heard that any Sister has had the least occasion to complain of his dealings with our Community. His manner has been always fatherly towards us, and he most generously was wont to express his gratitude for our services, and to cheer us in our labors and privations. Had he been left to himself, he would undoubtedly have persevered in this condition of mind. The reasons he now alleges for the breaking up of our Institute are so like the words of Sr. M. of Providence, that I cannot help thinking, especially in view of her efforts to influence the Sisters’ minds, that she is the whole and sole cause of this unhappy disturbance – and that, were she constituted Superior General of an independent Institute, she would continue to practice her various artifices to the ruin of religious simplicity and unselfishness in the Community subject to her.

I deem it right, Your Eminence, to refer to a remark made by the Bishop of Springfield in a recent letter to me, which he seems to use as an argument for separation, namely that we failed to supply him with subjects for a new foundation which he contemplated making in another part of his Diocese a year ago. The good Bishop called for subjects to be sent him at once for that purpose. It so happened that we had a short time previously established a House in Brockville, a town in this Diocese of Kingston. We had not consequently a sufficient number of professed Sisters suitable for the work of a new foundation just then, and accordingly, we were reluctantly constrained to defer to a later period the undertaking proposed to us by His Lordship, the Bishop of Springfield.

We would have been very happy to carry out his wishes; and, had he given us a fair interval of time, we would have been able to do so. But surely he ought not to be displeased with us for keeping the young Sisters in the Mother House until they had completed their term of Novitiate and enabled us to judge by experience how far they were qualified and suited for founding a branch house and fulfilling their several duties. It is a wise old saying “Don’t take the bread out of the oven before it is baked”. Should the good Bishop desire to get Sisters for a new foundation anywhere in his Diocese at present, we are happily able and are most willing to send them to him.

In this connection I take the liberty of sending to Your Eminence, a letter #6 from the Bishop of Springfield, and one #7 from the priest of Worcester, a town in his Diocese, both letters having been addressed to me in February of the current year:

Letter #6

Springfield, Feb. 2nd, 1891.

Mother Mary Edward:

I saw Rt. Rev. Msg. Griffin in Worcester yesterday, and communicated the contents of your kind letter. He said he would write to you. I think it would be very much more satisfactory to have you visit Worcester, to see the property and talk over all the conditions. If I knew when you would make such a visit I would like to meet you.

Yours Respectfully,
P.T. O’Reilly.

Letter #7

St. John’s Church,
Worcester, Feb. 13, 1891.

Rev. Mother Mary Edward.

Dear Rev. Mother:

Bishop O’Reilly informed me that he had correspondence with you relative to your acceptance of an estate in Worcester for the founding of a home for aged persons and for the prosecution of any other works of Charity that the circumstances of time and place might call for.

He also spoke to me concerning your work as teachers, assuring me of your success in whatever you might determine to undertake. As regards the property in this City, it contains about eight acres, is delightfully situated and within twenty minutes walk of our Church. The land is rich in a high state of cultivation and can with proper management support not only the goodly household that may be gathered within its bounds, but yield also a surplus for Market use.

Whether for the aged or the sick and infirm or for the tender orphan, or for school purposes, it would not be easy to surpass the Site to which your attention is called.

The Bishop intimated to me that he suggested a visit on your part to view the Site. I should be most happy to meet you at any time that would suit your convenience and show you the property. It is of course, understood that in inviting you to take possession, you become owners for carrying on the works of Charity for which your Institute was founded.

We need very much in our City a home for the aged, and a hospital. There is a yearning on the part of the Catholic girls for an institution of this nature, and there is no doubt that it would be munificiently supported by the public.

I remain Very Sincerely,
Yours in Christ
Thomas Griffin.

These letters plainly show [how] favorably the Bishop thought of our Institute so recently as nine months ago, and render it difficult to explain, apart from sinister influence, the action he has taken since the month of August.

I humbly hope Your Eminence will excuse me for intruding upon you so long a letter and so many documents. But I feel the very existence of our holy Institute is threatened by the project of our separation from the one [and] only diocese in the United States in which we have a foothold, and from which were we excluded, we could have no hope of recruiting our Community, as death or sickness may require in course of time, by the addition of new subjects to our Novitiate. The Catholics are too few in this Protestant Province of Ontario, and religious vocations are unhappily too rare to allow us hope for novices in sufficient number to maintain our existence. We have moreover expended vast labor in collecting money for the institutions in Springfield diocese, and have recalled to the Mother House and nursed, at our own expense and without any compensation whatever from Springfield, every Sister who became sick or infirm in working for that diocese. All this loyalty and self-sacrifice ought not to be forgotten for us now; nor does our Institute deserve to be threatened with extinction. I may be pardoned if I venture to give Your Eminence one special proof of the spirit that animates our Sisters in the cause of Charity. A few years ago, the dreadful epidemic of small-pox invaded certain towns in this diocese of Kingston, and so malignant was the disease, that Physicians everywhere refused to attend the sick and Protestant Ministers fled away. The Archbishop of Kingston applied to us for Sisters to nurse the sick and dying, but he wished the selection of the Sisters for this post of danger to be determined by the votes of the Community. Now, so unselfish and so devoted are the Sisters, that every one of them, over thirty in number, delivered her billet with her own name written on it, begging to be selected for the honorable and perilous task of nursing the poor sufferers from small-pox. We thank God for this grace of charity and pray that He may preserve it to us. Our Sisters acted similarly in the diocese of Springfield during an epidemic of diphtheria.

In conclusion, I place myself and our humble Community on bended knees before Your Eminence beseeching your kind and charitable consideration in our regard and the intervention of your authority to save us from this dreaded calamity of disintegration. Had we been troublesome to the good Bishop of Springfield and his clergy; or had we, through want of zeal or ability failed to give him satisfaction in our work, we could comprehend the justness of demanding our exclusion from his diocese. But since all things have gone well between him and us throughout the past twenty years, and his good-will and appreciation of the Sisters, likewise our filial reverence and gratitude towards him, remain as firm and cordial as heretofore, we hope and most fervently pray the God of Charity to control the issue of the present dispute, and through Your Eminence, restore to us the peace we have hitherto enjoyed in serving the diocese of Springfield, to which the memory of long years of service and of kindness shown to us in return, by the good Bishop and his clergy, holds us firmly and affectionately attached.

With profound reverence and supreme submission to Your Eminence, for whose length of days and health and happiness we will continue to pray to God and His Blessed Mother,
I remain, Your Eminence's most obedient and humble servant in Christ,

Sister M. Edward,
Sup. Gen. of the Sisters of Charity, Kingston
Source: 407-409-A, General Secretary Fonds, Annals of the Congregation/Generalate series, Volume 1861-1892, pp. 224-235, Archives, Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul.
Catherine McKinley’s Letters

This letter is part of a large database of correspondence written by and to Catherine McKinley, who is considered one of the founders of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul. As a Sister of Providence she was known by her religious name Mother Mary Edward.

Letters Navigation

⇐ Return to Main Page:
Catherine McKinley Letters