Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada/Pembroke

By Mary McGuire, csj

Third in a 12-part series

The convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Chapeau was founded in 1921 and the sisters’ work of instructing young people was soon recognized. The Quebec ministry officials held much respect for the sisters’ work. As early as their founding year in Chapeau, Ralph Maltais, a school Inspector, wrote: “I must congratulate you for having given your boys and girls an opportunity of acquiring a much better instruction and education.”  The sisters could take credit and praise, at least in part, from the 1936 report to the Chapeau School Board by inspector J. Bedard, states: “Your schools, twelve at the time, are among the best organized of my district and the sacrifices which you make for their maintenance indicate the great importance you attach to education.”

 The first Teachers’ Convention held in Pontiac County occurred in 1934 in Chapeau at the Convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph, a three-day event for some 35 teachers and hosted by the sisters, underscoring the congregation’s intense involvement in the educational effort of the area. The sisters were an abiding presence in the elementary and secondary schools and parish community until the convent closed in 1999. Thereafter the convent was used for various purposes. Then, in 2016, the building was purchased by Rejean Marion, an entrepreneur and former resident of the area, who has reclaimed the convent and restored the interior to include a restaurant known as, ‘Les Gourmandieu du Couvent’ and a venue for musical concerts.   

On October 1, 1940 a teacher training center was established in Chapeau under the directorship of the Sisters of St Joseph. It was a residential, bilingual Normal School. For the first 15 years 300 teachers were graduated, English or French speaking and frequently bilingual. Then in 1955 Chapeau Normal School became St. Mary’s Teachers’ College (S.M.T.C.), an English-speaking institution which continued until June 1969, when teacher training in Quebec became affiliated with universities. In its 14 years of existence, it prepared some 412 teachers, some local, some from western and northern Quebec, Montreal, Gaspe, the Eastern townships and Ontario. From its inception in 1940, as a residential women’s college, through its years of expanding courses (two-year diploma courses), admission of men students, doubling of enrollment, lay rather than clerical administration, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Pembroke undertook the direction and much of the teaching. Some 25 sisters acted as directors, teachers and eventually, in its closing year, Sr. Mary Edwin (Marjorie McGuire) was principal. (The principalship was in the hands of the clergy during the early years as Quebec Council of Education demanded.) While the Sisters remained the stable directing and supporting factor, their annals record a close working relationship and interdependence with other men and women, both clerical and lay. (With notes from Sr. Mary Desmond (Clare Gallagher)

Sister Mary Edwin (Marjorie McGuire), Principal

Many young women and men were able to access teacher training and develop long and successful careers in education due to the sisters’ dedication to excellence and loving concern for their students. The following anecdotes about the sisters express thoughts and feelings of some graduates. For more stories go to the Congregational Facebook site: Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada/Facebook or website http://www.csjcanada.org 

“Congratulations to the sisters on the 100th anniversary of their coming to Pembroke ON. I and three of my siblings were fortunate to have graduated from St. Mary’s Teachers’ College. The spirit of generosity of the sisters allowed our parents to afford to send the four of us there for a period of years from 1957 through 1965. In fact the Sisters of St. Joseph were our educators from the beginning of our school days.” — Kathleen (Sullivan) Ranger 1959-60

“My friend, Ted, later husband, had come to pick me up and Sr. Edwin wanted to meet him before we headed out into the night. We were in the library where Ted and sister played a game of ping pong for several minutes. I was surprised by the spontaneity of it all and the skill of both players. Imagine a sister in long robes and veil, starched head piece, etc. playing table tennis with a blonde protestant!” — Elaine (McCambley) Gibson 1957-58

 “There are a number of memorable women who introduced me to the value of natural process. One of them was Sr. Mary Bridget. She and I used to have a wee chat many days. One day she pointed out the health of one of her plants which thrived as it followed the sun. She made the point that one must follow simple processes. I always appreciated her observations.” — Tim Houlihan 1966-68

“As I look at my yearbook I think of all my good friends I have who are teachers and I remember Sr. Mary Agatha’s words written there, ‘Blessed are they who have the gift of making friends, for it is one of God’s best gifts.’ I am grateful for her words expressed in my yearbook and for all the friends I made at S.M.T.C.” — Marilyn (McGuire) Tanguay 1966-68

“From the first day I became a student at S.M.T.C. I felt part of a very special family. I was a day student so I drove to school. One day a snowstorm started early and got worse as the day went on. Sr. Edwin called me to her office and told me that my father had called and was worried about my driving home. She reassured him that I would be staying overnight. All of my needs were taken care of as I was more than welcomed into the safety of the dormitory. This happened a few times over the two years and was really appreciated by my parents and I.” — Sandra (Herault) Mousseau  1963-65

Grace McGuire, associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph

Stay tuned as our storycontinues unfolds in 2021.