St. Mary's Convent was a religious schooling institution founded in Souris in 1881.
Early History Edit
In 1876 the Bishop of Charlottetown, Monsignor Peter MacIntyre, issued a request to the parish priest of Souris, Father Donald Francis MacDonald, to begin planning for the construction of a convent school for the Sisters of the Congregation de Notre Dame in his parish. Technical plans were provided by the religious community.
The building was a four-storey structure, and was built on the north end of Longworth Avenue, near the cemetery, on property which was owned by the parish. It was opened to boarders and day students on 7 September 1881, with an enrolment of 80 pupils instructed by four nuns.
Those on staff were the Superior, Sainte-Cornélie (Marie-Léa Lord) and her companions, Sisters Saint-Thomas-de-Cantorbéry (Marie-Julie-Elizéas Pépin-Laforce), Saint-Eugène (Marie-Clémence Volant-Dechamplain) and Sainte-Marguerite-du-Sacré-Cœur (Mary Margaret Dunn).
It is presumed that in these early days only female students were permitted.
Townshend informs us that "many memories cling to St. Mary's Convent chapel. Native born priests have chosen it as the hallowed spot of their First Mass. Prominent among these was the Right Reverend Monsignor Richard R. St. John, first native son to be ordained".
One noted issue, however, was that the school was notoriously difficult to heat. In the early days, coal had to be carried by hand from the basement to the thirteen stoves scattered throughout the building. This problem was overcome though through the kindness of the estate of Owen Connolly, who in his will of 1891 helped cover the payments to install a new furnace. In return "the Sisters were to educate eight young boys of Irish parentage with limited financial resources for one year. Books, clothing, meals and board were to be provided if necessary".
In 1906 the provincial government took control of the school, and the Sisters were then required to obtain a teaching licenses in order to be able to teach. Financial support through the government was also introduced at this time. By 1918, the school had an enrollment of 187 day students and 50 boarders. In 1919, prior to the retirement of Father Ronald Bernard MacDonald, he donated the necessary proceeds needed to ensure that an annex wing was added to the convent (see photo below).
Further change came in the 1930s, when a small number of boys were permitted to enroll in some of the classes. A Social Club was also established in 1934.
"When officials came to visit, students decked out in the school dress for special occasions—black with white collars and cuffs—gathered in the reception hall and looked on with envy as one of their classmates, with great poise, delivered the speech of welcome".Townshend writes that St. Mary's Convent had a profound effect on the town, and that "many students achieved high academic standing. In 1943, the Island Entrance list (for Prince of Wales College) was headed by Isobel MacDonald, in 1950 by Frances Campbell and, in 1955, by first and second place: Catherine MacPhee and Jennie O'Hanley. In 1945, a Grade XI class was opened to both male and female. Out of a total of 178 students who wrote Maritime Board Examinations, from 1945 to 1953, only 7 failed". Townshend also notes that music was very much a part of the curriculum as well; there was a small portable organ which made its way from room to room, and the music teachers over the years led the classes in songs both in English and in French.By 1954, there were seven teachers at the school, six of whom taught from grades 1 - 10, while one taught grade 11. The total enrolment at that time was 188, while, 27 were in grade 11 at the time.
In 1955 Souris Regional High School opened its doors, and as a result students in grades 11 and 12 were transferred there immediately, while grades 9 and 10 were transferred sometime after. From that time on St. Mary's Convent offered only elementary level education, and classes were taught both by Sisters and lay teachers. By the 1960s the school no longer received boarders, and it was closed as a school in February 1968 after 87 years of service towards the youth of the town. Despite this closure towards students, it remained as a residence for the Sisters who taught at the local schools, including Souris High School Consolidated, Souris Elementary School, Rollo Bay Consolidated School and Montague Regional High School.
In 1970 the community bought property and built a new residence into which the Sisters moved in 1971. The main building of the old convent was demolished in March 1972 but the wing was kept to serve as a youth centre.
The 100th anniversary of the mission was celebrated in 1981. By the 1980’s, "fewer Sisters devoted themselves to teaching. They became more involved in pastoral and community ministries, which included such things as teaching catechesis, visiting the elderly and serving on various committees. For instance, beginning in 1986, they organized days of recollection and retreats for adults. In 1991, the residence was put on sale and the Sisters rented a house in Chepstow, until the mission was closed in July 1993. The property was finally sold in 1995".
- ↑ 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Archives, Congregation de Notre-Dame. St. Mary's Convent. Web. 7 November 2017.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 The Guardian. "Early Souris History Associated With Catholic Mission of St. Mary" 7 May 1954. Print. 7 November 2017.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Townshend, Adele. Ten Farms Become a Town. Souris, PEI. 1986. Print