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MAGUIRE, MARY ANN, named Sister Mary Francis, member of the Sisters of Charity of Halifax, mother superior, and educator; b. 10 July 1837 in Halifax, daughter of John Maguire and Elizabeth Meister; d. there 9 Feb. 1905.

Mary Ann Maguire was one of the first pupils at St Mary’s Girls’ School in Halifax, opened by the Sisters of Charity shortly after their arrival from New York in 1849 [see Rosanna McCann*]. When the community in Halifax was established as an independent congregation in 1856, Mary Ann sought admission, one of ten local girls to do so within the first six months. She entered the congregation on 14 June and took Mary Francis as her religious name.

Her first teaching assignment that fall was at the community’s second school, which was located in the basement of St Patrick’s Church on Brunswick Street. By 1859 she was at St Mary’s, but she continued to go to St Patrick’s twice a week to teach music. Because the community’s records were destroyed in a fire at the mother house in 1951, it is not known how long Sister Mary Francis remained at the two Halifax schools. But by 1865 she was at Holy Family Convent in Bathurst, N.B. Four years later the annals of Sacred Heart Convent in Meteghan, N.S., record that she was on the staff there. In the fall of 1871 she was appointed local superior of the convent in Meteghan and principal of its school. She served in this double role until 1876, when she was chosen mother superior of the Sisters of Charity.

By the time of Mother Mary Francis’s election, the congregation was solidly established as part of Catholic life in Halifax. Archbishop William Walsh* and his successor, Thomas Louis Connolly*, had both been supportive of the sisters’ work. A number of schools had been opened, in Halifax, Dartmouth, and western Nova Scotia, as well as in Bathurst. In Halifax the sisters also administered St Joseph’s Orphanage in temporary quarters while funding was sought for a permanent home. A new mother house, Mount St Vincent, together with an academy for girls, was opened in 1873 at Rockingham on Bedford Basin.

Not everyone in Halifax had agreed with the archbishops’ support of the sisters and their work. Among the dissenters was Michael Hannan*, who had been named superior general of the congregation by Archbishop Walsh in 1858. According to the sisters’ constitution, his role was to advise the mother superior and her council on matters of diocesan concern, especially finances. Hannan saw his position quite differently and attempted to instil his opinions into the sisters and to turn them against their mother superior. When Connolly became archbishop in 1859, he recognized the problem at once and removed Hannan as superior general, assuming the office himself. In the 1860s and 1870s Hannan was again in conflict with the Sisters of Charity when, as a member of the Board of School Commissioners, he was in a position to influence the schools and teaching positions to which they were assigned. Connolly asked Hannan to resign from the board in 1874 because of his prejudice against the congregation. A laudatory address presented to him on that occasion by the teachers of Halifax was not supported by the sisters.

After Archbishop Connolly died two years later, Hannan was named to succeed him. From the beginning of his episcopate, his relations with the sisters were difficult. He complained of a lack of discipline among them and blamed a growing rift in the congregation on Mother Mary Francis and her failure to provide clear leadership. Some of the sisters did not agree with the congregation’s increasing emphasis on training professional educators for the province’s public schools rather than caring for the poor and needy. Hannan shared this view. He was opposed, as he had always been, to the operation of Mount St Vincent academy, established to prepare sisters for careers in teaching, and he criticized St Joseph’s Orphanage as an unnecessary diocesan expense.

A contemporary has provided a different picture of the mother superior. “Though always frail in body,” Sister Mary Bernard Stuart wrote, Mother Mary Francis “was endowed with unusual force of character; she possessed a strong intellect, a clear judgment, and a discernment of motive that seldom erred.” She measured and weighed all sides of a question before coming to a decision. “She was, therefore, slow to resolve, but unalterable in resolution.” In the struggle with the archbishop, which dominated her whole administration, her inflexibility drove some members of the community to side with him.

Gradually the quarrel between the archbishop and the congregation became public. Some priests in the diocese joined in the campaign against the sisters, and members of the laity began to take sides. Mother Mary Francis consulted the congregation’s lawyer, John Sparrow David Thompson*, who advised her to appeal directly to Rome. In September 1879, in a lengthy report to the cardinal prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda, Giovanni Simeoni, she laid out the difficulties confronting the sisters. Two of them took this document to Rome, where they pleaded the case for more than six months. Finally Cardinal Simeoni requested Bishop John Cameron of Arichat, N.S., to report on the situation. Cameron had observed events in the neighbouring diocese with dismay, but had not interfered. He presented an eloquent statement on the controversy, and 43 prominent Halifax laymen forwarded an expression of their high regard for the sisters. In April 1880 Pope Leo XIII, on the recommendation of Simeoni, issued a decree freeing the Sisters of Charity from Hannan’s authority and placing them under the jurisdiction of Bishop Cameron.

The decree did not restore harmony. Within the congregation itself there was much bitterness. Forty-four members supported Mother Mary Francis; fourteen sided with Archbishop Hannan. Thirteen of the dissidents withdrew from the community, most of them to enter other religious congregations. Some priests became more supportive of the archbishop and hence more opposed to Mother Mary Francis and the congregation. By June 1881 she was failing both physically and mentally. On the advice of Bishop Cameron, she agreed to resign, along with her council, to allow for a new election. She was succeeded by Sister Mary Benedicta [Harrington*]. Mary Francis Maguire lived another 23 years, eventually suffering from complete loss of reason. She died at the age of 67 of cerebral meningitis.

There was no victor in the struggle between Michael Hannan and Mother Mary Francis. For the archbishop a life’s-work dedicated to education, ecumenism, and the development of the church in Halifax was all but overshadowed by a quarrel concerning his authority. For the Sisters of Charity it was a period without growth; no new houses were opened, no new work begun. The nature of the strife is still not fully understood. In 1972 Archbishop James Martin Hayes of Halifax, in the preface to a biography of Mary Francis Maguire, regretted that “the events of almost a century ago so damaged the relationship that ought to have existed between the Bishop and his clergy and the Superiors and members of the Congregation.” Today restored unity has brought the Sisters of Charity and the church in Halifax to renewal, reform, and adaptation to the demands of the apostolate.

Margaret Flahiff

Arch. du Diocèse de Bathurst, N.-B., Groupe II/1 (fonds James Rogers), Mother M. Josephine to Bishop Rogers, 19 Aug. 1865. Arch. of the Archdiocese of Halifax, St Mary’s (Halifax), RBMB, 19 July 1837. Archivio della Propaganda Fide (Rome), Scritture riferite nei Congressi, America settentrionale, 22: ff.164–80, 205–8, 212–14, 425, 443–45. Halifax County Registry of Deeds (Halifax), Deeds, 123: f.34. NA, MG 26, D. Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul Arch. (Halifax), “Cholera on board the England” (several accounts); Sister Mary Clare Connolly, journal, 1849–70 (typescript); Constitutions of the Sisters of Charity in the archdiocese of Halifax, 1857; Sacred Heart Convent (Meteghan, N.S.), annals, 1869, and information book, 1871. William Foley, The centenary of StMarys Cathedral, Halifax, N.S., 1820–1920 (Halifax, 1920). J. B. Hanington, Every popish person: the story of Roman Catholicism in Nova Scotia and the church of Halifax, 1604–1984 (Halifax, 1984). [M. A. McCarthy, named] Sister Francis d’Assisi, Mother Mary Basilia McCann, first mother superior of the Halifax daughters of Blessed Elizabeth Seton, 1811–1870 (Halifax, 1968); A valiant mother, Mother MFrancis Maguire, 1832–1905; a selfless mother, Mother MBenedicta Harrington, 1845–1895 (Halifax, 1971). [Mary Power, named] Sister Maura, The Sisters of Charity, Halifax (Toronto, 1956).

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Cite This Article

Margaret Flahiff, “MAGUIRE, MARY ANN, Sister Mary Francis,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 28, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/maguire_mary_ann_13E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/maguire_mary_ann_13E.html
Author of Article:   Margaret Flahiff
Title of Article:   MAGUIRE, MARY ANN, Sister Mary Francis
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1994
Year of revision:   1994
Access Date:   September 28, 2023