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Who was Mother Mary of Providence?
Mother Mary of Providence, our foundress, was born Catherine Horan on July 19, 1850 in the small Canadian town of Belleville, Ontario, Canada. At the time, July 19th was the church feast day for Saint Vincent de Paul, our community’s patron.

Catherine’s childhood was characterized by her untiring devotion to God, her mother and charitable works.

mother mary
Mother Mary of Providence

She was attracted to the community of the Sisters of Providence in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, because of their commitment to the care of the poor, sick, elderly and orphaned; and because her one sister, Elizabeth (Sister Mary of the Seven Dolors) was already a member. She entered the 14-member order at 19 years of age in 1869. She was the community’s only postulant and subsequently made her profession in 1872.

The first four Sisters from Catherine’s original community arrived in Holyoke in 1873. She came two years later. Now professed as Sister Mary of Providence, her first assignment was to teach in the all-boy St. Jerome’s Institute.

Her faith in God’s providence was strong even in her early years as evidenced in her writings: “My assignment to schoolwork was somewhat of a disappointment to me, as I had been wooed to my vocation by a great sympathy for the poor and an ardent desire to relieve them in their sufferings. However, I was consoled by the circumstance that my charges were of lowly condition.” Within a year, in addition to teaching, she was named school principal.

Like a mother not content to be away from those she loves, Sister Mary of Providence spent what little time her school responsibilities allowed to minister, side-by-side, with her Sisters: begging door-to-door, caring for the ill in their homes, scrubbing floors, laundering clothes, doing whatever was needed, whenever needed.

By 1890, Sister Mary of Providence was not only the school’s principal but local superior of the entire mission. Under her careful direction, the Sisters’ works of sheltering and caring for the city’s poor and infirm flourished.

Forming a new, independent community
Two years later, at the request of the Bishop of Springfield, the Sisters of Providence were incorporated as an independent community in the Springfield Diocese, legally separate from the Kingston order. Sister Mary of Providence was selected to serve as our first major superior. With her new office, came her new designation—Mother Mary of Providence.

She and her Sisters spent the next 15 years establishing 20 works of charity in central and western Massachusetts. These included acute care hospitals, nursing schools and homes for children and the elderly. According to some of our archival materials:

“Administrative cares engrossed much of her time, but Mother Mary of Providence managed to steal some hours for manual labor, too. Every Monday she went to the laundry to help with the washing, and was the first to arrive there after breakfast. Once a week she took the novices for instructions and conferences.”

After 35 years of selfless ministry in Holyoke, 18 of which she served as Major Superior, she chose to relinquish that leadership role, but continued as councilor and treasurer general for the next 16 years.

In 1923, she was instrumental in establishing the New England Conference of Catholic Hospitals Association and served for seven years as its first president. In 1926 she was named superior of St. Luke’s Hospital in Pittsfield and remained there until retiring in 1932. Even then she continued as a Councilor on our Community’s Executive Council, to work with novices while spending most of her time writing a history of our then 40-year-old Community.

Mother Mary of Providence suffered a stroke in 1936 and never fully recovered. She died on January 25, 1943, the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. (It seems more than coincidental that this woman, born on the Feast of Saint Vincent de Paul would enter her eternal rest on a feast day set aside for Saint Paul.)

At the time of her death, our community had already made sharp inroads into alleviating the health and social needs of the area. Our ministries included several hospitals and nursing schools, an orphanage, nursing homes, a residence for working girls and a home for unwed mothers, as well as social service programs to aid those who in need of assistance.

Living a life of exemplary service
Mother Mary gave almost 74 years to the service of God. Nearly three-fourths of those years were spent as our community’s major superior or treasurer general. She had labored as teacher, principal, housekeeper, nurse, administrator and businesswoman. She was an exemplary religious leader, and a compassionate confidant, a gifted writer and beloved friend. She was a mother in the most loving sense of the word, and during her lifespan the humble mission that began in 1873 with four Canadian Sisters increased in number to almost five hundred.

Among her greatest accomplishments is the fact that she left the work of her order in the hands of women well attuned in a vision, that even today, so closely resembles her own.

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