The Canadian branch of the venerable Community of the Sisters of the Church – an Anglican religious order for women – has sold its residence and retreat house in Oakville, Ont., is moving into a smaller residence a stone’s throw away in Burlington, Ont. and is reassessing its mission, said the order’s leader, Sr. Marguerite May, the Sister Provincial.
“I’m feeling fairly upbeat. It’s a big change but we’ve been working toward this for some years,” she said in an interview.
St. Michael’s House and its two acres of grounds have been sold to a real estate developer, but the closing is not until the end of November and Sr. Marguerite declined to reveal the price paid for the property until then. The selling price was greater than that paid for the sisters’ new residence in Burlington, a seven-bedroom family house, she said. “We are extremely happy with our real estate agent. Providing everything goes through, we are financially viable,” she said. Oakville is about 40 kilometres west of Toronto and Burlington is about 50 kilometres west of Toronto.
The order had resided at St. Michael’s House since 1986, offering a “ministry of hospitality” to various groups, including national staff and committees of the Anglican Church of Canada, for meetings and retreats. The five sisters who live at St. Michael’s House will move to Burlington.
The new residence, which will also be dubbed St. Michael’s House, will have two extra bedrooms for guests or new members, but will not host groups. Membership in the order has declined over the years – it stood at 15 in Canada about 20 years ago – but Sr. Marguerite said the order is not contemplating winding down. Founded in 1870 in England and established in Canada in 1890, the order has branches in England, Australia and the Solomon Islands.
“Australia has said it’s unlikely they are going to grow but intend to live fully to the end. England is looking for new growth and the Solomons are blossoming everywhere,” said Sr. Marguerite. She noted that one member of the Canadian order recently became a junior sister, a step forward from the novice level.
No longer hosting meetings, the sisters’ new ministry will include “more involvement in the local community and with churches in the diocese,” she said. For instance, Sr. Michael Trott is working at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children as volunteer co-ordinator of the “woolly program,” in which senior citizens knit blankets for premature babies.
Some sisters are also doing paid work. Sr. Margaret Hayward last July began a six-month contract position as administrative support person to the general secretary’s office at the Anglican Church of Canada’s national office in Toronto. Sr. Marguerite noted that she and two others sisters are not yet at retirement age. “I would like to get a job,” said Sr. Marguerite, adding that she and another sister sit on the board of directors of St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn School in Oakville.
The order has been connected with education for many years. It ran St. Mildred’s College in Toronto for many years; in 1964, it began running the Lightbourn School, then in 1969 amalgamated it with St. Mildred’s. In 1986, the school’s board of governors took over its operation.