Our History: Celebrating 130th Anniversary!
130th Anniversary of the Foundation of SSJD
- The Sisterhood of St. John the Divine celebrated the 130th Anniversary of its Foundation on Monday, September 8, 2014 - Holy Eucharist at Noon In the chapel at St. John’s Convent - Archbishop Fred Hiltz presiding - followed by a Reception. See more about the celebration on the community news page - photos, videos, text of the homily - see here »
|Mother Hannah in 1884.|
An introduction to our history
The Sisterhood of St. John the Divine was founded on September 8, 1884, when our Mother Foundress, Hannah Grier Coome made her life vows in the Community of St. Mary in Peekskill, NY, and at the same time became the Reverend Mother of a brand new Anglican community in Toronto.
When Mother Hannah and Novice Aimee returned to Toronto, they lived for a while at Bishop Strachan School where Hannah’s sister was the headmistress. Early in December they moved to a small house on Robinson Street which had begun life as a stable and had recently been used by the families of two working men.
They attended Saint Matthias Church, the only Anglican church that would accept nuns in their parish, and taught Sunday School and gathered children in as they visited from house to house to find out the needs of the people. They soon began the daily carrying of food to the sick and aged, then the provision of a dinner for convalescents, chiefly young mothers, twice a week at ‘Saint John’s House”, as the first Convent was called.
|The Sisters' hospital in Moose Jaw, 1885 the field hospital opened by Mother Hannah and the work she and the Sisters did with the soldiers during the Second Riel Rebellion earned Mother Hannah and SSJD a medal from the Canadian Government for our work.|
Hannah Grier Coome founds the order in 1884
The Sisterhood of St. John the Divine was founded in 1884 by a Canadian woman, Hannah Grier Coome. She grew up in Carrying Place and in Belleville, Ontario; married an architect; and went to live in England where her husband was employed by an engineering firm.
While in England, Mrs. Coome came to know the Sisters of St. Mary, an Anglican community in Wantage. Soon after she and her husband returned to Canada in 1881, her husband died and she began to think about going back to England and joining the sisters at Wantage.
Before the 1880s, there was no religious community for women in Canada, although there were many in England and the United States.
|Sisters Clare and Ethelwyn with children at an SSJD mission|
A community in Canada
In the meantime a group of devout Anglican men and women in Toronto felt there would be great benefit in establishing a women’s religious community in Canada and so they formed a committee to begin raising funds to establish a sisterhood.
When the committee learned that Mrs. Coome hoped to join the English Sisters of St. Mary in Wantage, they suggested that she stay in Canada instead and found a new community. Mrs. Coome came to believe this was a genuine call from God, and so she agreed.
Since there was no community in Canada where she could go for her training, she went to an American community, the Sisters of St. Mary in Peekskill, New York, for two years. In 1884 she made her vows and returned to Toronto, where several young women were waiting to join her in establishing the new community.
Before they had a chance to settle in Toronto, however, they were called to go out west to Moose Jaw to nurse the soldiers in the Northwest Rebellion.
|Some of the nurses who graduated from St. John's Hospital with Mother Dora|
SSJD pioneers Toronto's first Hospital for women
On returning to Toronto in 1885, the sisters moved into a house on Robinson Street that had been acquired by the committee. Shortly after, they acquired the house next door, on the corner of Euclid Avenue and Robinson Street, where they opened the first surgical hospital for women in Toronto.
Since that time, our community has pioneered in training nurses, in convalescent care, and in rehabilitation; we have administered schools and an orphanage; worked with the mentally handicapped; ministered to the elderly; and worked with the poor in large cities and depressed rural areas.
At different times in our history we have had houses in Ontario, Québec, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and New York state, as we have responded to Christ’s call to minister to the many different needs of God’s children.
|St John's Hospital opens in 1889|
|SSJD House of Rest convalescent care on Bayview Ave, Toronto (early 20th century)|
Liturgical & ecumencial presence in the Church
In recent years our community has become active in several other areas of the church’s life. We have taken a leading role in liturgical renewal in the church by making active use of the Book of Alternative Services and other materials, some written by our own sisters (including hymns); and by active participation on the Hymn Task force and in contributions to the Book of Common Praise.
We have become more active in praying and working for unity in Christ’s church, and various ecumenical groups meet regularly at the Convent. We strive for friendships with members of other faiths. And a number of our sisters are active in various Anglican and ecumenical organizations, including those working on issues of peace and justice.
As the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine grows into its second century, we pray that we may continue to be open to respond to the needs of the church and the world as God’s will is made known to us.