Sept. 15, 1891 – To Secretary of the Congreation for Propagation of the Faith from General Superior Sr. M. Edward, Kingston ON

House of Providence of the Sisters of Charity,
Kingston, Canada
Sept. 15, 1891
Archbishop Persico,
Secretary to Propaganda
Most Rev. Lordship Archbishop

With grief of heart and yet with unbounded confidence in the Justice and goodness of Propaganda, I beg to lay before your Grace the enclosed three documents, explanatory of the treatment our Community has received at the hands of the Bishop of Springfield, Mass. Hitherto we found that good Bishop always fair and kind towards us in the two Communities of our Institute in Holyoke, a City of his diocese. But latterly we have had many indications given us of a spirit of religious weakness and diminished respect for the authority of our Institute spreading among the Sisters. The climax has now been reached. Insubordination and disregard of the vow of obedience has been preached to them in full assembly by no less a person than the Bishop of Springfield himself, telling them that they must not believe any one who would say to them that it is sinful to disobey their Superior General or the Archbishop of Kingston, their ecclesiastical Superior. We have heard from him, but not from Propaganda or any official source that he has petitioned the Holy See for separation of those two Convents from our Institute. By the advice of our Archbishop we have held our peace, in the belief that Propaganda would not seriously entertain that petition, much less order compliance with it, until intimation of it should have been first given to us or our Archbishop, and our counter-statement considered in reference to the reasons of Justice and religion which seem to us to require the preservation of union between those branch-houses and this Mother-house. Meanwhile we proceeded in the usual order of business, and after our Annual Retreat in August, we changed some of the Sisters’ places by decree of our Chapter, as is always done at this season of the year in this and similar Religious Institutes. We sent seven Sisters from this [House] to Holyoke, and we recalled three Sisters from Holyoke to Kingston. Thereupon the good Bishop of Springfield took upon himself the grave responsibility of entering our Convents in Holyoke and exhorting those professed Sisters to disregard our authority. The seven whom we sent him he ordered to remain there; the three whom we had recalled, he ordered to disobey: and, in fact, he has not hesitated to state this in his letter to us, herewith enclosed (No.1) and furthermore, he declares in that same letter that two of those same Sisters are in accord with him.

The evil influence of these proceedings upon the minds of the Sisters in Holyoke for the weakening of religion and the fostering of insubordination has been made known to us. Distrusting ourselves, and fearing lest by any act of mine, pretext might be given for creating a public scandal, I awaited the return of our Archbishop from his Pastoral visitation of the rural missions, and forthwith proposed to him the questions stated in my letter (No.2). His reply and his instruction to me and our Sisters in Holyoke, regarding our duties to each other and the primary rule of authority and obedience as the basis of religious life, are contained in his letter to me (No.3). Relying absolutely on him as our ecclesiastical Superior, and on his practical knowledge of the laws of Religious Institutes, and his well-known zeal for the spiritual and temporal advancement of the Religious Houses in his diocese, I will proceed tomorrow to Holyoke for formal visitation of those two Convents, and will strictly adhere to his instructions.

May God grant the rebellious Sisters His Grace of light to recognize their religious duty, and His strength of spirit to fulfill their vow of obedience, despite the encouragement given to them to disregard their obligations. I must, however, confess that a blow has been struck against the essential discipline of Religious life in those Convents in Holyoke, and an evil seed sown, which it may take a long time to countervail. If the good Bishop expects to succeed in withdrawing those Convents from our Institute, he most certainly has laid a bad foundation for their future.

Permit me, Most Rev. Lord Archbishop, respectfully to express the hope that nothing shall be done by Propaganda, which might result in the belief gaining ground among the Sisters of this and similar Religious Institutes, that insubordination and violent resistance to authority, in contempt of the vow of obedience, might be readily condoned or palliated. The spirit of independence is strong and active at this side of the Atlantic, and its abnormal and sudden development in Holyoke will require the whole authority of Rome to bring it into subjection.

With profound respect and humbly hoping for the protection of Propaganda I beg to remain, Most Rev. Lord Archbishop,
Your Grace's obedient Child in Christ
Sister Mary Edward, Superior General of the Sisters of Charity, Kingston
Notes: Another copy of this letter exists as an individual letter. 105.6-C, Mother Mary Edward General Superior sous-fonds, Correspondence series, Letter September 15, 1891.
Source: 407-409-A, General Secretary Fonds, Annals of the Congregation/Generalate series, Volume 1861-1892, pp. 212-214, 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.

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