Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Abandonment Issues: Mount St. Joseph Convent

Mount St. Joseph

According to the "History of the Sisters of St. Joseph" by Sister M. Ursula, Bishop R.A. O'Connor reached out to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto in 1889, in hopes of bringing a diocesan congregation to Peterborough "which would devote its energies to the educational and health needs of his huge diocese." At that time the "Peterborough diocese stretched from the shores of Lake Ontario northward, and westward beyond the western end of Lake Superior by a hundred miles or more - encompassing at least four present-day dioceses in northern and northwestern Ontario."

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peterborough was founded in 1890, as the daughter congregation to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto. Fourteen sisters from congregations in Cobourg, Port Arthur and Fort William (now Thunder Bay) signed a document volunteering to give themselves to this new congregation.

The task ahead was monumental.

"It had been arranged that they would take over the academy in Lindsay, and staff the newly opened St. Joseph's Hospital in Peterborough as well as the existing houses. To further complicate the task, the new hospital was to care not only for the sick, but also for forty of Peterborough's elderly poor who were at the time residents of the House of Providence in Toronto."

"They were truly God's afflicted, the blind, the lame, the epileptic, and the half-witted. No one but the Sisters who laboured in the hospital can realize the difficulty of caring for the sick, the poor, the aged and the orphaned under one roof in quarters both unsuitable and inadequate for these very different charities"
-Mother Vincent (One of the caregivers)

Acknowledging the enormous and seemingly insurmountable tasks the fourteen nuns in Peterborough were faced with, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto allowed 6 more sisters to voluntarily join the new congregation. In the first year, another fifteen new members would join as well.

In 1894, although impoverished, the congregation was flourishing and began teaching apostolate to the community. At this time a large plot of land was purchased on what was at that time the outskirts of Peterborough. The land and newly constructed convent was to be known as Mount St. Joseph.

Mt. St. Joseph Convent, Peterboro, Ont. Postcard
Mt. St. Joseph Convent Postcard circa 1910 (Image c/o the Toronto Public Library)

The congregation continued to grow in the following years, and by 1901 consisted of 86 sisters. Throughout the 1900s the sisterhood also continued to grow and spread across Ontario, and then Canada, and then to other parts of the world, fulfilling their mission in hospitals, schools and orphanages.

In recent years, the religion industry has taken a nosedive. Congregations of almost every faith are dwindling and the Canadian landscape is now peppered with abandoned and re-purposed churches. The congregations of the Sisters of St. Joseph have also dwindled. But even as numbers decrease, convents are closed and well established institutions are handed over to governments and corporations, the sisters continue their mission both at home and abroad.

In 2009, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peterborough sold the majority of the land known as Mount St. Joseph, including the convent, which had been granted heritage status. They then constructed a new award winning environmentally friendly building on the remaining land.

The Peterborough Poverty Reduction Network has purchased the heritage building and plan to pass it over to The Mount Inc., who plan to convert it into the Mount Community Centre. The plan states that the newer portions of the building will be converted into 100 affordable and market-value apartments, as well as non-residential spaces for non-profit organizations and community groups.

During yesterday's walkabout on the property of this magnificent historic building, I was shut out. But I am very motivated to access and document its interior before any renovations get under way. This morning I am planning to return to the new adjacent convent and ask the sisters for permission.

I pray it works out.

Fingers crossed.

Mount St. Joseph (Google maps screenshot)
Google Maps Screenshot

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I really hope to God that I will be delivering a follow up with interior images of Mount St. Joseph in the near future. But for now, that's all folks. Stay tuned.

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UPDATE
October 6, 2013

I have been returning fairly regularly to assess the status of the old convent, but nothing ever seemed to change. Over the past few months, no work appeared to have gotten under way converting the southern portion of the building into condominiums, as had been reported by local news agencies.

Two days ago though, I came upon a very different scene: Police were training inside the building.

Yesterday Ninja and I returned to re-assess the situation. There was no sign of any police presence, so we walked the perimeter, as we have now done on countless occasions. As we concluded the lap, something awesome happened: a woman approached us and began waving us toward her. As we got closer she asked "Are you artists, are you here for the tour?"

A quick glance at each other and then a simultaneous response, "YES!"

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The end, for now.

click here to check out all of jerm & ninja IX's ABANDONMENT ISSUES

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hving visited Mount St Joseph all of my life - the shell is beautiful but had you had the opportunity to visit like I had growing up it was a mystical place and still is to me.

juliahogan_ said...

I found you on ontarioabandonedplaces.com. I just wanted to tell you that I absolutely love your blog, and can't stop flipping through the pages. I hope to one day travel as you do and find such great places. So much potential wasted.

Jerm IX said...

Thank you both for your comments.