Below is the third part of a five-part story about the life of Reverend Mother Teresa Dease, who founded the North American Branch of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, aka the Loretto Sisters. She was a woman of faith, courage and love—a true daughter of Mary Ward. The first part of this series covered her life from birth until she left Dublin with her companions to begin a new mission in Toronto, Canada. The second part covered their travels, in the nineteenth century, by ship and overland to Toronto and their arrival in Toronto. This part narrates the first few years of the young foundation, the first Loretto foundation in the New World.
Sr. Theresa Dease, as she is known at this point of her life, is a courageous young woman, following the path that God, through her superior (Mother Teresa Ball), has given her.
I want to thank Sisters Maria Bierer, Elizabeth Crotty and Rosemary Lynch, for their assistance and support throughout this project.
Cindy Langlois, IBVM
PART III: BUILDING THE MISSION
The five of us, Mother Ignacia Hutchinson, Sister Bonaventure Phelan, Sister Mary Gertrude Fleming, Valentine Hutchinson (a postulant and the younger sister of Mother Ignatia) and I, had waited so long to set foot on Canadian soil, so we were overflowing with joy as we docked in Toronto. We were so looking forward to starting our mission. But our excitement and joy began to wane after disembarking the ship. We waited beside the ship for someone to come up to us. When Bishop Michael Power, bishop of Toronto, had written to Mother Teresa Ball requesting sisters to be sent to Toronto, he had promised to have someone meet us when we landed. But here we all were, sitting on our luggage, the other passengers and the crew being long gone. We had no idea of where to go, or what to do. Eventually a kind cabman saw us and came over to see why we were still there. Mother Ignatius told him that we had expected Bishop Power to send someone to meet us when we landed. But no one had come, and we did not know the way to his home. The cabman knew where the bishop lived and offered to bring us there. Blessed be God! We were saved. The cabman loaded all our luggage, and we loaded ourselves into his cab, and away we went.
The journey took a bit of time because the Bishop lived outside of the city proper. We noticed that there were very few people on the streets. Hardly anyone was out and about. Though we did not know then, we learned the reason as soon as we reached the Bishop’s house. We expected that he would be very happy to see us. But there was an unhappy surprise awaiting us.
When Bishop Murray opened his door, and recognized who we were, his face dropped. The letter from Mother Teresa Ball had not reached him, so he did not expect us. He apologized profusely at not meeting us at the ship. He also told us we had arrived during an epidemic. The Bishop’s house had become a hospital, and one of the priests was in bed with cholera. There was too much danger of contagion for us to be able to stay there. Bishop Murray led us to an empty bedroom, which had not yet been contaminated, so we could change into our habits. Oh, what a joy it was to put on the habit which was so dear to each one of us. After we had changed, the dear bishop had another surprise for us.
He had sent a message to his dear friend, Mr. Samuel Lynn, who had already arrived to greet us. He offered to let us stay at his home while he and another good Catholic man, Mr. John Elmsley, searched for property where we could begin our work. Mr. Lynn and his sons would stay at a hotel while we occupied his home. We left with Mr. Lynn, thanking the Bishop for his help in making these arrangements.
Only one week later, our gentlemen angels, Mr. Lynn and Mr. Elmsley, had found property suitable for our needs: a convent and a school. It was near to St. Paul’s Church . I was assigned to supervise the first recreation period for the students.
We took possession of the property as soon as the necessary furniture was in place. Joyfully and with great gratitude to all those who made this possible, we opened the school on September 29, 1847. Unfortunately, our good Bishop contracted the plague during this time. He died just two days later, on October 1st. This greatly saddened us all. He had been our protector and our benefactor. We would greatly miss him. We would not be able to attend the bishop’s funeral because of our school obligations. But his funeral was held at St. Paul’s, and the procession passed by the school. So, we were able to pray for him with the students as the funeral processed passed.
Our first few weeks in Toronto were eventful. Hopefully our future would be less eventful.