Books reviewed in this issue:
- Michael Power. Singular Vision: The Founding of the Catholic Church Extension Society of Canada, 1908 to 1915.
- Peter McGuigan. The Intrigues of Archbishop John T. McNally and the Rise of Saint Mary’s University.
- Denise Robillard. Monseigneur Joseph Charbonneau: Bouc émissaire d’une lutte de pouvoir.
- Kathryn Perry. The Courage to Dare.
Michael Power. Singular Vision: The Founding of the Catholic Church Extension Society of Canada, 1908 to 1915. Toronto: Novalis Publishing, 2013. 270 pp.
Since its founding in 1908, Catholic Missions In Canada (originally known as the Catholic Church Extension Society of Canada), has been raising funds and providing pastoral care to Catholic communities in isolated, poor and hard-to-reach areas across Canada. In Singular Vision: The Founding of the Catholic Church Extension Society of Canada, 1908 to 1915, Michael Power carefully chronicles the turbulent early history of this organization during its formative years. The dominant figure during this foundational period was the larger-than-life Father Alfred E. Burke, whose polarizing tenure as the first president of the Society, from 1908 to 1915, was both Church Extension’s greatest blessing and its most crippling weakness. More than a narrow institutional history of a faith-based charity, Singular Vision provides a fascinating record of how the established Latin Rite Catholic Church in Eastern Canada was forced to respond to the challenge of having tens of thousands Ukrainian Eastern Rite Catholics emigrate to Western Canada, which greatly complicated the religious landscape of Canada during the early twentieth century.
The foremost founder of the Catholic Church Extension Society of Canada was Father Alfred E. Burke. Modeled on Protestant home mission societies, the “singular vision” of Burke was to create a national Catholic organization that would assist new Catholic communities that were springing up in the Prairie provinces and British Columbia by: providing financial assistance for the construction of churches and chapels in poor places; supplying altars, vestments and sacred vessels for the liturgy; supporting missionaries; distributing Catholic literature; and educating priests for the missionary field. Burke’s talent as an energetic public speaker and his experience organizing Catholic agencies back in his native Prince Edward Island made him the right person to actualize this vision into operational life. Yet, Burke was also pompous, belligerent, and courted controversy wherever he went. Burke gained support for Canadian Church Extension from Archbishop Donato Sbarretti, OFM (the apostolic delegate to Canada, 1902-1910), Archbishop Fergus Patrick McEvay of Toronto (1908-1911), and Sir Charles Fitzpatrick (a wealthy and influential Catholic layman who served as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada). As Power is quick to point out, conspicuously absent from this group of founders were members of the French-speaking hierarchy in Quebec, as well as any bishops of Western Canada, where most of the resources would actually be used (and who also happened to be French-speaking). The exclusion of these key voices from what was intended to be a Canada-wide movement was “an organizational blunder and diplomatic oversight that no number of subsequent appointments of French-Canadian prelates to the board of governors, or Church Extension’s early achievements in the pursuit of its missionary mandate, would be able to ameliorate” (16). From its founding, Church Extension was seen by French-speaking Catholics as a threat and it was not supported by Quebecois bishops.
The initial board governors of the Catholic Church Extension Society of Canada named Burke as president and managing director. In this position, Burke was authorized to conduct all the organization’s financial affairs (thus making him the most influential member of the society). Furthermore, the board also appointed Burke to serve as editor-in-chief of the Society’s newly purchased newspaper, The Catholic Register and Canadian Extension. In this capacity, Burke had total freedom over editorials and selection of stories to promote and defend the work of Church Extension. An enthusiastic Burke wasted little time in quickly drafting a Constitution and accompanying by-laws, acquiring an act of federal incorporation, and securing a charter from the Holy See that made Church Extension a “Pontifical Society.”
In order to convince the Canadian bishops, and the broader Catholic population, to support the work of Church Extension, Burke chose to focus his efforts on a specific issue: the plight of tens of thousands of Ukrainian Catholics (so-called “Ruthenians”) who recently arrived in Western Canada without any clergy to provide for their spiritual needs. Rather than being seen as another charity, Burke wanted the Society to be seen as a crusade with a cause. In the pages of The Catholic Register, Burke gave the Society a mandate to help these Ukrainians from losing their Catholic faith at the hands of well-funded and well-organized Protestant proselytizers, whom Burke referred to as “soul stealers” and “soul snatchers” (100). Burke protested most loudly against the so-called Greek Independent Church that was actually financially supported by the Presbyterian Home Mission Society. Burke alleged that this ecclesiastical entity was a sham as it looked and felt like an Eastern Rite Catholic liturgy, but it was actually preaching Protestant doctrine. In response, Church Extension financed the construction of Ukrainian Catholic chapels; funded Catholic seminarians willing to continue their studies in the Byzantine Rite; and paid the set-up costs of a Ukrainian Catholic newspaper, Kanadyiskyi Rusyn (Canadian Ruthenian). Moreover, Burke was one of the first to openly call for a Ukrainian Catholic bishop for Canada. These chapters (69-130) on the historical context of Ukrainian immigrants in Canada, their diverse religious identities, and the efforts by various Christian communities to minister to their needs are enormously helpful in illuminating an essential—but seldom discussed—facet of Canadian religious history.
Power credits Burke with almost single-handedly laying the foundation for long-term assistance for the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada. Despite the lack of a generous Catholic middle class, from 1908-1915 Church Extension was able to send $93,452.89 to home missions (excluding money from 80,000 mass intentions). Moreover, Power credits Burke with helping Canadian Catholics “to emerge from their nineteenth-century ghettos to embrace a church that was far more universal and diversified than previously experienced” (220). Despite these accomplishments, the work of the Society was undercut by Burke’s combative journalistic style in The Catholic Register. Church Extension was not able to cultivate a wider audience (and broader base of financial support) due to Burke’s editorials that many Catholics felt were too harsh in tone and language, too divisive in its methods, and too alarmist in its diagnosis. Further limiting the effectiveness of the Society’s work was Burke’s unapologetic Anglo-centered vision of the Catholic Church in Canada. As a result, Church Extension was viewed with hostility in the eyes of French Canadian prelates as a tool of Anglicization. When Neil McNeil was installed as Archbishop of Toronto in 1912, he was convinced that in order to make Church Extension more productive, the antagonizing and openly anti-French Burke had to go. After a two-year battle of wills, McNeil was able to force the board to oust Burke from the organization that he founded and directed for seven years.
Michael Power is to be commended for meticulously piecing together a complicated history. Few stones were left unturned as each chapter has extensive citations from archival collections and periodicals from across North America. Power has done an impressive job of connecting all of these diverse sources into a colourful and lively narrative that reads almost like a novel. While the reader gets thoroughly immersed into the multiple controversies that rocked Church Extension during their early years, regrettably the work rarely moves beyond the work of the freewheeling Burke in Toronto. Aside from a brief chapter on the Women’s Auxiliary of Toronto (that founded Rosary Hall and St. Philip Neri Hostel as boarding houses for female Catholic immigrants), we are told little about the people who supported the Society. Furthermore, it would have been most interesting to hear the voice of those Catholics who were actually receiving funds and pastoral assistance in Western Canada. How did they perceive the work of Church Extension? Did the Ukrainian Catholics understand their relationship to Latin Rite Catholics in Eastern Canada? Nonetheless, Singular Vision is an important contribution to the history of Canadian Catholicism in that it recounts the early efforts of solidarity between Latin and Eastern Rite Catholics. Equally important, it also the exposes the underlying challenges Church Extension faced in creating a nationwide Catholic organization that sought to unite the competing ideologies of English- and French-speaking bishops.
Peter E. Baltutis, St.Mary’s University, Calgary.
Peter McGuigan. The Intrigues of Archbishop John T. McNally and the Rise of Saint Mary’s University. Halifax, NS: Fernwood Publishing, 2012.
For a book of only 125 pages of narrative, Peter McGuigan’s history of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax and its relationship with the Most Reverend John T. McNally, Archbishop of Halifax from 1937 to 1952, has proven a challenge to review. It is never quite clear what the book’s purpose is or what it adds to our knowledge or understanding of either the growth and development of Saint Mary’s University or the life and work of Archbishop McNally.
Part of the challenge is due to McGuigan’s rambling, discursive style. Commentary on ecclesiastical politics runs on to minute descriptions of long forgotten sporting events and tidbits of local history. The author is a well-known local writer, having contributed short commentaries to various community newspapers on historical and heritage topics. A long-time resident of the area around Saint Mary’s University and a graduate of that institution, McGuigan has incorporated into the book a number of these community vignettes, not all of which, while interesting in themselves, contribute to any comprehensive understanding of the theme suggested by the book’s title.
The history of Saint Mary’s has its origins in the efforts of the Edmund Burke, Vicar-General of Québec (and later Vicar Apostolic of Halifax) in 1801 to provide a rudimentary education for seminarians, and the institution can claim a continuous legal existence as a post-secondary institution from the grant of its charter. Its existence was always precarious, and from 1883 to 1903 it ceased to operate altogether, and it did not resume the granting of degrees until 1918. McGuigan outlines the efforts of Burke’s successors, particularly Archbishop Cornelius O’Brien (1882-1906) and Archbishop of Edward McCarthy (1906-1931), to stabilize the institution particularly their efforts to secure funds for Saint Mary’s from a major bequest of prominent Halifax businessman, Edward Power, to bring the Society of Jesus to the Archdiocese.
In 1913 Archbishop McCarthy signed a long-term agreement with the Irish Christian Brothers to give them responsibility for Saint Mary’s, which operated essentially as a boys’ high school until the end of the First World War. The Brothers appear to have been popular with their students and the Catholic community, but the contract under which they operated Saint Mary’s College was deeply disadvantageous to the Archdiocese, providing all revenues and complete independence in the conduct of the College to the Brothers, while leaving the Archdiocese to bear the expenses and liabilities of institution. After McCarthy’s death in 1931, his successor, Thomas O’Donnell, sought to regain diocesan control of the College but was outmanoeuvred at Rome by the Brothers and their supporters. From his arrival in Halifax from Hamilton in 1937, it was one of Archbishop McNally’s priorities to achieve what O’Donnell had failed to. More experienced in Vatican politics and diplomacy, and having built a powerful case illustrating the incompetence, and, perhaps, corruption in the original archdiocesan negotiations with the Brothers, McNally was able secure a favourable judgement and to arrange for the Jesuits to assume academic direction of the College, a process that was completed in 1940.
McGuigan devotes the bulk of the book to Archbishop McNally’s relocation and rebuilding of Saint Mary’s at the end of the Second World War, pursuant to the terms of the original agreement with the Society of Jesus. As Bishop of Hamilton, McNally had been responsible for a substantial amount of new building in that diocese, the most significant being the magnificent Cathedral of Christ the King, built during the Great Depression. Plagued by resistance to the project from some parts of the Acadian community, by difficulty finding suitable local contractors, and, primarily, by spiralling post-war inflation and banking restrictions brought in by the federal government to control it, the rebuilding of Saint Mary’s brought the archdiocese into financial crisis in 1951. A threat of bankruptcy was averted through the efforts of Alderman Norman Stanbury, a wealthy Halifax layman, who personally advanced a substantial loan to save the project, but to repay that loan, McNally had to borrow a substantial amount of money, for which Vatican approval was required. Having made his best efforts to secure that approval, and having a received an ambiguous, but fundamentally negative response from Rome, McNally concluded the loan anyway. The new Saint Mary’s was completed, but the Archdiocese was left with a substantial debt. Within a year, Archbishop McNally died at the age of 82, leaving his successors to manage the financial consequences.
It is a fascinating story, but it has been told before, most notably in Brian Hannington’s 1984 diocesan history Every Popish Person: the Story of Roman Catholicism in Nova Scotia and the Church in Halifax, 1604-1984. McGuigan draws heavily on Hannington’s work, as well as on a variety of other secondary sources, including work of my own on the life of Archbishop McNally. Even were one reading the story for the first time in this book, however, the author’s lack of focus and apparent desire to include a summary of almost any newspaper article, however trivial, on any aspect of college life at Saint Mary’s or its surrounding neighbourhood, limits its value even as a summary of existing scholarship. The book does contain errors of fact (e.g., a claim that a stained glass window in the Cathedral of Christ the King featuring McNally and Pope Pius XI had been removed is not accurate) and a number of editing errors (footnotes misnumbered, works cited but omitted from the bibliography, etc.) mar the book’s appearance.
More troubling is McGuigan’s consistently negative and often contemptuous treatment of McNally in every aspect of his episcopacies in Calgary, Hamilton, and Halifax. The book is shot through with snide and dismissive judgements of McNally’s character and competence, usually with little evidence offered in support. The author begins by claiming that McNally “never should have been elevated to the higher levels of the Church,” almost gleefully speculates that, had the Saint Mary’s project not been rescued by Alderman Stanbury, “Rome, angry and embarrassed, would force McNally into retirement and hide him in a convent for the rest of his life,” and concludes the book by observing that McNally’s grave in Halifax’s Holy Cross Cemetery is closest to its historic chapel and remarking, uncharitably, “Perhaps he needed that.”
The book is full of nuggets of local history and gossip, and, by turns, reminds one of being on a walking tour with a guide who has read a great deal in preparation for his work, does not hesitate to leave the main narrative for the sake of what he thinks to be an interesting side story or anecdote, and has formed sharp, firm opinions about people and events, often on the basis of thin and partial evidence, which he is eager to pass along. As is the case with many such walking tours, some visitors will just savour the stories without thinking further about their accuracy or fairness, others may be prompted to inquire further to get beyond the simplistic story of heroes and villains that they have heard portrayed.
One can only hope that they will do so. Archbishop John T. McNally had his flaws, as do we all, but he was also a man of vision, a man who sought what he believed best for the Catholic community to thrive in Canada, and, in contrast to McGuigan’s description, was a man who was respected and admired by many people whose lives he touched. As the great historian, Garrett Mattingly, wrote, “… [I}t it does not matter at all to the dead whether they receive justice at the hands of succeeding generations. But to the living, to do justice – however belatedly – should matter.”
Robert Nicholas Bérard, Mount Saint Vincent University
Denise Robillard. Monseigneur Joseph Charbonneau: Bouc émissaire d’une lutte de pouvoir. Québec, Presses de l’Université Laval, 2013. xviii, 507 pp.
At first glance, and judging a book by its title, one would immediately
think that this was yet another rehashing of John McDonough’s
persistent conspiracy thesis, in the stage play, Charbonneau et le Chef,
that Maurice Duplessis had succeeded in driving Joseph Charbonneau from
the Archbishop’s seat of Montreal because of the Archbishop’s
defense of the Asbestos workers.
On the contrary, Robillard carefully outlines the argument that the
Archbishop’s ouster was due to internal ecclesiastical manoeuvres by,
above all, rural, conservative Quebec bishops who did not approve of the
background, style, and initiatives taken by the younger,
Franco-Ontarian, American-trained, Joseph Charbonneau. Charbonneau’s
quest to update the chancery, the archdiocese, and the Church in Québec
from the point of view of the most urban, most diverse and most
populated city of Canada was met with incomprehension, dismay, and
Robillard is a prolific author of scholarly, yet easy-to-read histories
of the Catholic Church in French Canada. Her 1993 study of Cardinal
Léger’s episcopacy was a critical and popular success. This
biography of Léger’s predecessor was actually begun in the 1980s (and
many of the interviews date from that decade), but lack of access to
archival sources has kept the author from publishing until she had more
information. Nonetheless, several resources in Rome were denied her as
access continues to drag; 50-year rules have become de facto 70-year and
more rules everywhere personnel are lacking to process documents.
Unfortunately, then, this biography cannot claim to be definitive, but
it is as close to being the final word as most of us now alive can hope
Charbonneau was a quiet intellectual, born in 1892 in Lefaivre,
Ontario, who had a typical French-Canadian family and upbringing and an
isolated clerical training in Québec. After the juvenate with the
Montfortains in Huberdeau, Quebec, and the minor seminary in
Sainte-Thérèse de Blainville, he graduated summa cum laude in 1912
and headed off to the Sulpician Major Seminary in Montreal. Ordained in
1916, he spent the next year in Pointe-Gatineau. He (and several other
Canadians) then studied at the Catholic University of America, because
Europe was in turmoil. He became a noted expert in Catholic social
teachings. On his return, he again served as an assistant in parishes in
both Quebec and in Ontario in the Ottawa Archdiocese. He was loaned to
the Montreal Seminary for a couple of years and then sent to Rome where
he completed doctorates in philosophy and canon law at the Angelicum.
From 1925 to 1934 he served as the superior of both the minor and major
seminaries of the Ottawa Archdiocese. At the death of Bishop Émard, he
was then named vicar-capitular and then vicar-general. In 1939, he was
named bishop of the new diocese of Hearst. Not quite a year later, he
was named coadjutor bishop of Montréal and then archbishop in 1940.
Clearly, he followed his superiors’ instructions well and rose
quickly in the hierarchy. As Archbishop of Montréal, he organized
several works of charity for refugees in Europe and those coming to
Canada, wrote on Catholic Action and another pastoral letter on housing,
both pressing concerns in post-war Montreal. He helped solidify the
University of Montreal, supported workers’ rights and positioned the
Catholic Church in Montreal as the voice of the poorer, oppressed people
of the City. Above all, he trusted his clergy and the laity to do
justice and he gave them the authority to do what needed to be done. He
jokingly claimed that his critics wanted to keep the young men returning
from the war in children’s short pants.
Robillard argues that his unwillingness to negotiate with others over
principles of justice did him no harm and had no role to play in his
ouster. In fact, he was able to sway several of the bishops to sign
letters in support of Catholic principles of social justice. Although
somewhat watered down to help preserve some semblance of impartiality
toward business interests, these letters were triumphs of social
conscience unexpected by several observers.
What handicapped Charbonneau was his perception by his own staff and
clergy as a Franco-Ontarian outsider who had no business being in charge
of the Montreal Archdiocese. His reception was cool, to say the least.
He was unable to conciliate his own staff and he refused to replace them
even when they opposed him in his initiatives. He was also often opposed
by rural bishops who did not understand the situation in urban Montreal.
They were scandalized by Charbonneau’s arguments to secularize the
unions (they asked, would this promote secular, public schools?), to
lift the ban on the CCF (supported by English bishops, opposed by the
French bishops), and his refusal to attend Quebec’s episcopal meetings
(in order to keep the peace and in the correct belief that his ideas
would not be accepted). He then spent the meeting times speaking with
Georges-Henri Levesque, the Dominican, who was under investigation for
his own ideas of social justice. The vitriolic pens of nationalist
clergy, such as Lionel Groulx and a handful of Jesuits, who were
maddened by his openness to American ideas, to English conversation, his
support of Levesque, and his opposition to their attempts to centralize
all Catholic Action in Jesuit hands rather than in lay leaders, spread
the rumours that Montreal had a bishop who was barely a French-Canadian
Catholic. It was a short step to suggest he was a heretic.
Just as he refused to attend the Quebec episcopal meetings, Charbonneau refused to refute any ridiculous rumours; he refused to spend any extra time in Rome to meet with people to reassure them of his ability to lead
the Archdiocese. He thought charity and silence would help paper over
the difficulties. He became completely isolated in Quebec and in Rome,
although he was supported by bishops in English Canada who glimpsed the
future of the Catholic Church in Canada better than those in rural
Quebec–especially Cardinal McGuigan of Toronto who also faced a growing
immigrant Church. Report after report of Charbonneau’s dangerous ideas
about the proper place of religious and laity in the secular world
brought the Pope, Pius XII, to demand his resignation through the
Apostolic Delegate. When Charbonneau finally realized how isolated he
was and asked to speak to the Pope, the request was refused, to
Charbonneau’s shock. Paul-Émile Léger appears in this biography in a
much darker role, one which does him little credit, although it
highlights the political skills his predecessor lacked.
So, when told by the Apostolic Delegate to go as far away as possible
from Montreal, Charbonneau left for Victoria, British Columbia, where
the after-effects of the nervous shock he suffered brought on insomnia,
heart attacks and death in 1959 at the age of 68. His few letters home
to friends and family stating that health was not the reason for his
departure – and not naming any names or speaking ill of anyone –
were pounced on by his opponents as further signs of his disobedience
and unfitness as a bishop. Clerical dignitaries across Europe, the
United States, and English Canada were dismayed at the treatment dished
out to someone they had learned to esteem as a visionary leader. Now, he
was a martyr and a saint.
In all, the story is more tragic than any ordinary biography which
traces the rise and inevitable death of an individual. Robillard’s
handling of the Ontario portion of the biography gets bogged down in
tedious detail of Franco-Ontario school debates. Tellingly, the absence
of the Regulation 17 debate in his letters illustrates his absence from
French Ontario throughout his education and most of his life prior to
his ordination. How Franco-Ontarian was he? Whatever the answer, he
clearly believed that social justice was a pre-requisite to true
religion, religion was more important than language, lay people were the
future of the church, and he got on well with English speakers who
agreed with him. Provincial boundaries, between Ontario and Quebec, were
also of little importance to him as was the nationalist movement. Very
often, Charbonneau the man disappears behind the political fog and
crushing amount of work he accomplished through his reliance on lay
people and it is less a biography than a brief description of his life
and a lengthier description of the times. Fortunately for the reader,
each chapter ends with a summary of the events and Robillard’s
conclusions. The strongest, best-written chapters are the first, which
rely heavily on family archives, and the description of Charbonneau’s
time as Archbishop of Montreal, beginning in chapter 8 and ending with
his exile in chapter 15, again relying heavily on family papers and
interviews. Robillard’s description of the growth and masterly
dismissal of the Duplessis myth in the final chapter is especially
entertaining as historical debunking always is. Catholic religious
historiography has been moving steadily away from the Church and State
or Religion and Society themes that were so popular in the second half
of the twentieth century. Recent Catholic historiography about the Quiet
Revolution, especially illustrated in Michael Gauvreau’s work, places
responsibility squarely on the Church itself. This book does the same.
Readers with little time need only read the conclusions at each chapter
and the final conclusion to understand everything. For further details,
the book offers important new information relating to French Ontario
during the interwar period, Catholic education in the Archdiocese of
Ottawa, Montreal during the Second World War and its aftermath, the
Georges-Henri Levesque controversies, as well as other Quebec Catholic
controversies. Robillard adds a useful brief chronological biography in
the annexes, a lengthy bibliography and an index.
Joseph Charbonneau may have been the best archbishop Ottawa never had; instead, he became the Archbishop who fell victim to the last gasps of
rural ultramontane clericalism soon swept away in disgust. It had
nothing to do with Duplessis.
Paul Laverdure, University of Sudbury
Kathryn Perry. The Courage to Dare. Toronto: Novalis, 2013. 191 pp.
In the early 1980s, when concluding a delightful conversation with a woman religious, I asked: “what was the most challenging aspect of religious life which you had NOT anticipated before entering?” She responded: “Dealing with all the different personalities.”
I thought about this answer a number of times as I read Kathryn Perry’s nine chapter account on the spirituality of Catherine Donnelly (1884-1983), a woman who encountered a number of “different personalities” within the clergy and hierarchy, and whose role in founding the Sisters of Service (SOS) was not officially recognized by her own community until 1990— seven years after her death.
Donnelly was born and socialized, in rural Ontario. She would carry her affection for the land and rural life to the end of her days.
According to Perry, Catherine Donnelly’s spirituality arose from a “practical theology grounded in [her] practice of faith” (34) as she engaged with the exigencies of rural life. Donnelly’s earliest experiences involved caring for her younger sisters following their mother’s death.
Beyond domestic life, Donnelly’s initial professional work among people on the margins, first in rural Ontario and then in Alberta, convinced her of the existence of ecumenism before that word became a part of the Christian lexicon.
In 1918, she believed she was called to religious life. She applied to two congregations and was rejected by each. Visiting Archbishop Neil McNeil of Toronto and Fr. Arthur Coughlan of the Redemptorists she proposed an idea for a new community that would minister to rural Catholics in the West, who rarely saw priests and never saw sisters, and consequently, as she had witnessed, were being drawn into other churches….or worse, no church at all.
Catherine Donnelly returned to the West and documented the conditions she felt needed to be addressed. In the meantime, McNeil and Coughlan began the founding process for a community that Donnelly intended as filling a need then not being met by more traditional congregations of women religious. Her idea was that religious formation and professional development would proceed apace within the new community. Perry notes that Donnelly “envisioned women inconspicuously dressed ‘following the Master as far as humility, meekness, courage and endurance are concerned.’”(55)
In 1922 Catherine Donnelly became the first member of the Sisters of Service – a 36-year-old woman with eighteen years of teaching experience. Community life was not without challenges. Credit for officially establishing the community was attributed to Frs. Coughlan and George Daly, especially the latter as he wrote the community’s Constitution and Rule, managed the Institute’s finances and directed its foundations from coast to coast. As the years unfolded, the community, as Donnelly had conceived of it, was being drawn away from its rural apostolate when the Sisters of Service began missioning in urban areas, in both western and eastern Canada. Other than railing against this newer emphasis, Donnelly could do nothing as Daly controlled the order. Disappointingly for Catherine, Fr. Coughlan appeared unwilling to clarify the foundation issue by confronting Daly. Coughlan did acknowledge that Catherine had come up with the idea for the community, but Daly’s cross-country promotion of the community and his fund raising skill made him the perceived founder of the SOS. And apparently Coughlan did not want to deprive Daly, a fellow Redemptorist, of that prestige.
Subsequent novices were told only that Donnelly had been the first entrant and NOT that she had been the person who had had the idea of the order and its original rural mission. By 1940, at age 56, after many episodes of frustration and anger, Catherine Donnelly was in a deep personal crisis. She suffered a breakdown from a confluence of events: internal conflicts over the control of the Institute, overwork on the western missions, and watching helplessly as the initial mission of SOS was (in her view) being compromised by urbanization and the urban missions of the SOS. It may be implied from Perry’s work, and the work of others, that Catherine appeared not to have grasped the direction the country was taking, which may be attributed as much to her limited education as it was to her belief that her original vision for the congregation was being compromised. Finally, the strain of living out her vocation as a Sister of Service had caught up with her, and Catherine Donnelly spent a year in hospital resting.
She was now approaching the end of her most active years in the community and began speaking out about the presence of conflict and even evil within in the convent, claiming that people should be working to eliminate this at all times. (158) Her letters, for the most part written in retirement, reveal a constant complaining about the innovations that Daly added to the original vision. This drew sharp criticism from her congregational superiors and some other sisters in her community.
Many of Donnelly’s earliest ideas, about a modern habit (dress), support of local initiative on the missions, and the need for educating the sisters predated the Vatican II reforms.
At the end of Perry’s account one is left with the impression of a determined person of deep faith who achieved much in the face of substantial personal and structural obstacles such as the “notion that men held superior power within the Church because God wanted it that way.” Throughout Perry’s study, Donnelly’s prayer life is portrayed as having sustained her through most of her life in community. Beyond the spiritual dimension, however, Catherine Donnelly’s sense of self as a woman religious operating in a patriarchal Church is captured in her own words: “’it was most painful to be expected to be a mere puppet…and I had to pay the price of insisting on being a person.’” (180)
Elizabeth W. McGahan, University of New Brunswick–Saint John