Sisterhood of St. John the Divine celebrates 125th anniversary

Published September 9, 2009

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, at a Eucharist celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine.

Andrea Scott calls it Toronto’s best-kept secret.

In 2007, homeless and wishing to escape, even for a few hours, the hustle and bustle of the streets, Ms. Scott had been referred by an Anglican priest to the convent of the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine (SSJD) located in the quiet, leafy neighbourhood of Cummer, a couple of blocks north of Finch.

“It’s been a place of sanctuary and support for me ever since,” said Ms. Scott. “When I needed a quiet space while I was living in a shelter, I would come here for prayer, support and counselling.”

She recalled how she was received graciously the first time she showed up at the convent. “I was in so much anguish I couldn’t even speak,” she said. “I just cried for half an hour and (a sister) stayed with me. There was no judgment, she was just there.”

Ms. Scott was among more than 100 well-wishers who attended the 125th founding anniversary celebration of the SSJD. The SSJD was founded on Sept. 8, 1884 by Hannah Grier Coome, who grew up in Carrying Place and in Belleville, Ont.

Today, Ms. Scott said she has gotten her life back in order but she still visits the convent “because it helps me to stay grounded in my life.”

Many others have similarly been touched and changed by the SSJD’s ministries, which range from healthcare to retreats and spiritual guidance. The sisters pioneered Toronto’s first surgical hospital for women in 1885 and went on from there to train nurses in convalescent care and in rehabilitation.

At various points in its history, the SSJD administered schools, orphanages, and worked with the elderly, and the poor in urban and rural areas. The sisters founded St. John’s Rehab Hospital in 1936, becoming Ontario’s first hospital focusing on rehabilitation care. Today the hospital, located just behind the convent, prides itself in providing “a multi-faith, multi-cultural approach to healthcare that emphasizes the dignity of individual patients.”

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada celebrated the Eucharist at the anniversary celebration and paid tribute to the SSJD saying the whole church is grateful for its ministries.

Archbishop Hiltz also said he would pray for an increase in the number of vocations for the SSJD, which describes itself as “a contemporary expression of the religious life for women within the Anglican Church of Canada.”

In his homily, the primate said, “The whole church rejoices with you. We are grateful for your service… for your quiet confidence in the Lord and his leading of our beloved church.” He praised the SSJD for its ministry of prayer, companionship, spiritual counsel, scholarly research and writing, and “practical service” to those in need. “In you, (people) see something of God’s goodness and grace,” he said.

The celebration on Sept. 8 coincided with the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Archbishop Hiltz said like Mary, Hannah Grier Come and the sisters of SSJD “heeded the call to become a servant of God.”


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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