DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day

JURY, ALFRED FREDMAN – Volume XIV (1911-1920)

d. 28 Sept. 1916 in Liverpool, England


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

CONNOLLY (Connelly), MARY, named Sister Mary Clare, member of the Sisters of Charity of Halifax and teacher; baptized 6 June 1840, aged two days, in Halifax, daughter of Patrick Connolly and Mary Broderick (Brauderick, Brawdorick); d. 10 April 1922 in Wellesley, Mass.

Mary Connolly’s parents were part of a wave of Irish Catholic immigration to Canada in the 19th century. They married in Halifax on 28 Aug. 1839, and Mary, their first child, was born the following year. The family included two other children who would become religious: Catherine also entered the Sisters of Charity of Halifax and John J. became a Jesuit. The Connolly family belonged to St Mary’s Cathedral parish and the children attended the parochial school. In 1849, at the request of Bishop William Walsh*, the Sisters of Charity of New York took on the instruction of the girls in the parish, and they continued this work until 1855 when the newly established Sisters of Charity of Halifax, an outgrowth of the New York group, replaced them [see Rosanna McCann*].

Mary Connolly was among the first young women to join the Sisters of Charity of Halifax, on 1 May 1856 at the age of 15 years. After a postulancy of three months, she entered the noviciate as Sister Mary Clare and she was professed in 1858. Once the congregation was permitted to pronounce perpetual vows, she would be the first member to do so, on 28 July 1908, and thus her community number is One. Immediately upon entering the congregation, she was appointed to teach at St Mary’s Girls’ School. She remained there until May 1858 when she became local superior of St Peter’s Convent in Dartmouth and teacher at its school. The school, which had opened its doors some months before, began with about 40 female pupils but, unlike the schools the sisters ran in Halifax, it did not experience any significant increase in enrolment. Sister Mary Clare blamed the lack of growth on the nature of Dartmouth, “the majority of the people being protestant and very bigoted.”

In 1862 Sister Mary Clare was one of two sisters appointed, at the request of Archbishop Thomas Louis Connolly*, to a house of refuge in Dutch Village (Halifax) for “fallen women” committed to the congregation’s care by the courts. She recorded in her diary that “the first arrivals . . . were of the most degraded type . . . discontented, idle, and quarrelsome; they would dispute and come to blows for the merest trifle.” All four ran away at different times but three were returned by police and were soon joined by five more residents. Though the archbishop was disappointed, after a year’s trial the sisters withdrew from this work because they could see no improvement in the women, and because it had been very difficult to bring basic supplies from Halifax, then some three miles away, especially during the winter.

Sister Mary Clare was one of three sisters who volunteered and were chosen for a perilous assignment in 1866. On 8 April that year the England arrived in Halifax with cholera raging on board. The ship was ordered to drop anchor off McNabs Island and the passengers, the majority of them Irish Catholics, were quarantined there. After visiting McNabs and grasping the gravity of the situation, Archbishop Connolly went directly to St Mary’s Convent on Barrington Street and summoned all the sisters to the parlour. According to Sister Mary Clare’s journal, “His Grace told of his visit to the cholera station, and the suffering and distress of the poor people. All of them in such a state of fear and excitement, and many poor children, whose parents had been carried off by the pestilence, having no one to care for them. His Grace then wanted to know how many Sisters would volunteer to go and take care of those children.” When every sister volunteered, the archbishop initially picked two, Sister Mary Clare and a novice, Sister Mary Vincent. The archbishop used the opportunity of their departure to display publicly the “charity of the Catholic faith” and accordingly, at 8:30 the next morning, 16 April, the two chosen sisters along with the archbishop, the mother superior, and another member of the congregation walked to the Market Wharf where they and the archbishop boarded a rowboat to go to McNabs. A third sister, Mary Alphonsus, soon joined them on the island.

For approximately one week the sisters worked amongst the immigrants, caring especially for the many children left orphaned. The city sent convicts, who were provided with a barrel of rum daily, to dig graves. Unfortunately, the sisters could hear the often drunken and profane gravediggers doing their work and, as Sister Mary Clare remarked, “it was easy to meditate on hell in those days.” After the sisters left the island they were required to spend two weeks in quarantine before returning to the congregation.

In 1864 Sister Mary Clare had resumed teaching at St Mary’s School in Halifax. She remained there until 1878, when she went to Church Point for two years. Subsequently, she taught at a number of institutions in Halifax. At various times she held office within her congregation, as assistant superior, treasurer, and mistress of novices. The last was an important position that had as its main task the development of young women who aspired to be Sisters of Charity. While teaching at Mount St Vincent Academy in Rockingham (Halifax) from 1892 to 1902, she served a final term (1892–98) as mistress of novices, during the course of which 82 young women entered the congregation. In 1902 she was sent to Wellesley, Mass., where in addition to teaching at the Academy of the Assumption she acted as vicar, second in command to the local superior, until her retirement in 1919. “Gentle, spiritual, and austere in character,” according to one of the congregation’s historians, she died of bronchopneumonia and endocarditis in 1922, and was buried in St Mary’s Cemetery in Needham, Mass. At the time of her death the Sisters of Charity of Halifax numbered 400 members in 35 houses in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Massachusetts, and Bermuda, serving schools, orphanages, hospitals, and a home for single expectant mothers.

Heidi MacDonald

Arch. of the Archdiocese of Halifax, St Mary’s (Halifax), RBMB. Arch. of the Sisters of Charity (New York), Sister Elizabeth A. Vermaelen, “Elizabeth Seton – educator” (paper presented at secondary school forum, April 1974, New York). Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul Arch. (Halifax), Biog. records of professed sisters, 1859–1951: Sister Mary Ann Connolly; Sister Mary Clare Connolly. Halifax Citizen, April 1866. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), April 1866. Dictionary of Jesuit biography: ministry to English Canada, 1842–1987 (Toronto, 1991). Judith Fingard et al., Halifax: the first 250 years (Halifax, 1999). J. B. Hanington, Every popish person: the story of Roman Catholicism in Nova Scotia and the church of Halifax, 1604–1984 (Halifax, 1984). Historical statistics of Canada, ed. M. C. Urquhart and K. A. H. Buckley (Toronto, 1965). [M. A. McCarthy, named] Sister Francis d’Assisi, A forgotten mother, Mother Rose McAleer, 1827–1870; our first Canadian mother, Mother Mary Josephine Carroll, 1815–1877; a gentle mother, Mother Elizabeth O’Neill, 1832–1908 (Halifax, 1968); Mother Mary Basilia McCann, first mother superior of the Halifax daughters of Blessed Elizabeth Seton, 1811–1870 (Halifax, 1968). [Mary Power, named] Sister Maura, The Sisters of Charity, Halifax (Toronto, 1956).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Heidi MacDonald, “CONNOLLY (Connelly), MARY, named Sister Mary Clare,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 28, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/connolly_mary_15E.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/connolly_mary_15E.html
Author of Article:   Heidi MacDonald
Title of Article:   CONNOLLY (Connelly), MARY, named Sister Mary Clare
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2005
Year of revision:   2005
Access Date:   September 28, 2023