The Institute of the Sisters of Service of Canada

Under the motto of “I Have Come to Serve,” the Sisters of Service broke new ground as a non-traditional community of Roman Catholic women. Established in 1922 to serve rural Canada west of the Ontario border, the 125 permanent members encountered opposition and skepticism. Instead of convents, they lived in modest accommodation, dressed in a simple grey uniform and a hat and kept their names. As teachers, nurses and social workers, they provided a social safety net for immigrant women and families before and after the First World War.

The first rural mission was opened in Camp Morton (1924-1988) by two teachers and a district nurse and was followed in Manitoba by a women’s hostel (1926-1979) in Winnipeg and a teaching mission (1971-1979) in Churchill.

In the one-room schoolhouses of the Camp Morton area, a total of 15 Sisters taught at King Edward School No. 1, 10 Sisters at King Edward School No. 2 and six Sisters at the Bismarck school, Berlo until 1967. For 35 years, Sister Lena Renaud, a respected teacher, tireless community and parish worker, brought practical education into King Edward School 2 (1953-1960), Bismarck school, Berlo (1960-1967) and Gimli (1967-1983 through 4-H Club activities, carpentry, hockey and baseball. Active in the Manitoba Teachers Society, she received Manitoba History Society’s centennial medal in 1971.

For 15 years, three Sisters of Service provided free nursing care in the Camp Morton area until Johnson Memorial Hospital in Gimili was opened in 1939. The first district nurse, Sister Catherine Wymbs grew up in Brandon, graduated in nursing from Saint Boniface General Hospital and received a medal of honour from the French government for nursing in the field hospitals during the First World War. Her nursing successor Sister Agnes Brunning also looked after the horse stable.

The doors of a hostel for immigrant women were opened in April 1926 at 62 Hargrave Street in Winnipeg, assisted by the Winnipeg branch of the Catholic Women League. Sisters welcomed at railway stations, provided home-like accommodation, support and care in collaboration with government and other social agencies. As superior (1932-1945), Sister Eva Chartrand, who had owned a millinery shop, introduced a practical training course for the women entering domestic service. Sister Chartrand placed 220 young women in properly paid positions while 143 attended the in-residence cooking classes. In 1973, the Winnipeg YMCA assumed the management of Hargrave House with Sister Agnes Sheehan, a social worker at a Child Guidance Clinic (1968-1973), as director. The project was the first Canadian partnership of the YWCA and a Catholic religious community. Sister Marilyn MacDonald, a social worker caring for Indigenous children, worked for the Winnipeg Children’s Aid Society (1971-1973) in the field unit, located in the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre.

In Churchill, Sisters Patsy Flynn and Marilyn Gillespie taught at Duke of Marlborough school while Sister Anita Hartman taught at Hearne Hall school (1971-1972) before embarking on her heartfelt calling of teaching music.

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