Sr. Anna McNally of the Sisters of Service. Photo courtesy Sisters of Service

Sisters’ service still looms large at 99

  • February 6, 2021

The Sisters of Service of Canada may not be pioneering Catholic schools and institutions in remote communities like they did from the 1920s through to the start of the 21st century, but these missionaries are still having a sizable impact.

Through the order’s Daly Foundation a $1 million gift was conferred to the Archdiocese of Toronto’s 2020 ShareLife campaign, a donation that helped the charitable fundraising arm of the Archdiocese of Toronto raise $14.5 million for those in need in a tumultuous year. 

“We knew that we needed to offer a large donation so that it would be impactful,” said Sr. Anna McNally, a member since 1954. “The agencies supported by ShareLife help so many different groups of people both financially and emotionally.”

Indeed, seniors, children, domestic violence victims, individuals with special needs, single mothers and more access the Catholic social services that ShareLife funds each year.

This donation is another notch on the legacy of an organization that is poised to celebrate its centennial in 2022.

The Sisters of Service, founded in Toronto on Aug. 15, 1922, was conceived by Catherine Donnelly in a response to the mass arrival of immigrants into Canada. The federal government offered land in the prairie provinces for Central and Eastern Europeans to create homesteads. Donnelly and Redemptorist Fr. Arthur Coughlan felt that Catholic values and instruction would help these outlying communities flourish.

Just over 18 months away from its centenary, the Sisters have a legacy of 55 successful missions in Canadian communities in all provinces and territories (except Nunavut) along with international projects in Casa Nova, Brazil, and the North Dakota cities of Fargo and Grand Forks.

The Sisters have led schools, residences/hostels for young women, recruited and trained volunteers and educators, founded social service agencies, nursed the sick and provided innumerable levels of support to the parishes in each of the communities they graced.

Pier 21 in Halifax, deemed a National Historic Site and known as “the Gateway to Canada,” is one of the crown jewels of the Sisters of Service legacy. For nearly 45 years (1925-1969), the Sisters supported Catholic immigrants at this facility by offering interpretation, settlement and spiritual support. 

McNally, who has worn many senior leadership hats during her 66 years with the Sisters, was instrumental in forging the sisterhood’s legacy in northern Saskatchewan for nearly 40 years.

“It’s been the most incredible life. I came from of L’Île-du-Grand-Calumet, Que., and was blessed with the opportunity to serve as principal of (St. Pascal School) in a Cree and Métis community of Green Lake, I taught in La Loche and led a teachers’ development program in La Ronge,” she said.

Teaching represented the best way for the now 86-year-old to contribute to the Sisters after graduating from McGill University.

McNally continues to commit to God’s purpose for her in Toronto for the past quarter century. She is on the board of directors for the Catherine Donnelly Foundation.

“We continue to reach out and try to transform our society and culture to honour God’s will.”

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