Sister Angelica Of Mary
(1851 – 1920)
“A whole society can be transformed if the minds and hearts of young women are properly formed.”
These words of Blessed Marie-Rose Durocher, foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (SNJM), served as a constant challenge and inspiration to Sister Angelica of Mary.
Born Mary Kelly in 1851, in Key West, Florida, Sister Angelica pronounced her vows as a SNJM in 1874 in Montreal, Quebec. In 1895, Sister Angelica was named the leader of the SNJM, their schools and convents in Manitoba. During Sister Angelica’s 14 years in Manitoba, the number of Sisters ranged from thirty-eight to seventy-five. They taught hundreds of students in three rural, French language schools; in three urban, English language schools and in two girls’ schools – St. Mary’s Academy (1874) and St. Joseph’s Academy (1898).
As a builder and educator, Sister Angelica knew the foundation of any school was crucial. One of the most important steps Sister Angelica took to ensure a good education for all students was to see to the education of the sisters. Sister Angelica sent the sisters to programs, conferences and courses in Manitoba, Montreal, Minneapolis, Chicago and California. The sisters were encouraged, even expected, to be lifelong learners.
Another building block was in programming. All high school students taught by the SNJM used the courses and met the requirements from the provincial department of education. This ensured the acceptance of graduates from the schools to any university or college. A business course was introduced in 1904, at a time when women were just starting to join the work force as secretaries and book-keepers.
Probably one of the greatest risks Sister Angelica took was building a new St. Mary’s Academy. When the original site downtown became inadequate, a move became a necessity. In 1901 Sister Angelica bought fifteen acres in Fort Rouge, a development with only one house, on a mud road parallel to the Assiniboine River. Many people, including Archbishop Langevin, questioned her choice of land, considered “in the bush.” However, on April 17, 1902, the Manitoba Morning Free Press had a quarter of a page, with the architect’s sketch and full description stating, “A Magnificent Modern Academy will be erected on Wellington Crescent.” The new Academy incorporated much of Sister Angelica’s vision of an exceptional school for girls.
Sister Angelica had financial headaches to face. After the Manitoba Schools Act passed in 1890, all parish schools no longer received public funding. Sister Angelica managed as best as she could until 1904 and then she did the unthinkable—she charged tuition, $3.75 a month. In some cases, tuition was paid with cords of wood, pounds of butter and bags of flour.
The year 1909 brought a new appointment for Sister Angelica and she moved to St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Oregon.
What a blessing Sister Angelica was for hundreds of young Manitobans. She truly honored Mother Marie-Rose’s vision of “forming the minds and hearts of young women.”
Sister Angelica of Mary died in Montreal in 1920.