The story of the Canadian foundation of the Sisters of Charity of Halifax begins when four American ladies, black-robed, black-capped, landed in Halifax from the Cunard liner “Cambria” on May 11, 1849. They came from New York City, these first Sisters of Charity, in response to a standing request by Bishop William Walsh of Halifax to his friend Archbishop John Hughes of New York for Sisters to work in his diocese in the care of orphans and in education. They would be the first religious community in this maritime city. Mother Basilia McCann, leader of the original four Sisters who arrived here in 1849, became the first Superior of the Halifax Congregation. Mother Basilia was a pupil of Elizabeth Seton, founder of the first Sisters of Charity in 1809. She served as Superior for three years, then returned to the New York community. The second Superior to serve in Halifax was Sister Mary Rose McAleer, also one of the original group to come to Halifax in 1849.
The order founded Canada’s best known women’s university, now co-educational, Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Mount Saint Vincent received its own college charter in 1925. A long tradition ended in 2006 when Sister Sheilagh Martin, a chemistry professor, retired as the last member of the congregation to teach there.
The areas of education, health care, pastoral ministry and social services are still paramount, though the ways in which the sisters work within a given field has changed. Sisters now serve in a variety of areas in Canada and throughout the eastern United States, in Bermuda, Peru and the Dominican Republic. Today, there are approximately 500 sisters.
Their charism is rooted in the tradition of Saints Elizabeth Ann Seton, Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac. The order is part of the Sisters of Charity Federation. Two growing interests for the order are ecological projects and helping victims of human trafficking, issues they are working on with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.