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Photos of Catherine Donnelly
The Catherine Donnelly Foundation

The Story of Catherine Donnelly

The story of Catherine Donnelly began with her birth on February 26, 1884 in Alliston, Ontario. Catherine grew up to be an adventurous woman. After many years of teaching experience, this adventurous spirit led her on a journey to Alberta in 1918 to teach in the rural areas where immigrant families were settling. Shortly after her arrival, the Spanish influenza epidemic swept through western Canada and the government closed the schools. She volunteered to nurse the sick in their homes. This was a soul-searching experience as she came to realize the great lack of spiritual and material resources for the families and their children.

A devout Roman Catholic and an ardent Canadian patriot, Catherine's experience there demonstrated to her that the struggling church in western Canada was ill-prepared to serve the increasing numbers of new Canadian settlers. She became convinced that only dedicated Sisters living with and among the people would enable them to remain faithful to their Catholic and Christian heritage. Her inspiration led to the founding of a new Canadian Catholic Women's Religious Order. The Sisters of Service were founded in Toronto in 1922. They were to dedicate their lives to the care of these newcomers, helping them to remain faithful to their Catholic heritage.

Catherine's gift was a holistic approach to life and mission, seeing the spiritual, social and cultural needs of all people and a way of being church where the church was not present. The Sisters would live in small groups, in scattered settlements being the ministering church for those most in need. To carry out their mission, the Sisters of Service taught in public schools with a strong emphasis on home visiting, operated small rural hospitals, taught religion by mail, provided immigration services at the ports of entry to Canada and established hostels in the major cities across Canada. Cooperating with public agencies, the Sisters aided the integration and adjustment of those most in need to take their place in Canadian society.

Sister Catherine Donnelly died at the Sisters of Service Retirement Center in St Catharines, Ontario September 5, 1983.

The Catherine Donnelly Foundation, in partnership with the wider community, will continue the unique history of missionary service in Canada so as to celebrate, honour and extend the vision, mission and values of the Sisters of Service.

Catherine Donnelly's endeavours in establishing the Congregation is documented in the book, To Do and To Endure, the Life of Catherine Donnelly, Sister of Service, by Jeanne R. Beck Ph.D, published by Dundurn Press, Toronto, ON (1997).

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photo of Catherine Donnelly