At the request of Rev. Eugene Funcken, CR the School Sisters of Notre Dame came to Canada on October 7,1871 to take charge of orphaned children in the village of St. Agatha, Ontario. Mother Caroline Friess came from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and brought Sister Joachim Bushmann and Sister Hunigundis Brust to care for the 20 children.
As the number of orphan children increased, more Sisters were sent to help. Through the years there were additions to buildings. The spacious land provided a playground for children, vegetable and flower gardens, orchards and fields for crops. Contributions of many benefactors assisted greatly. Former children residents spoke with gratitude of the loving care and guidance they received.
In 1872, Mother Caroline brought sisters from Milwaukee to open the mission in Formosa, Ontario. The third mission, St. Mary’s, was opened in the town on Berlin (later named Kitchener) in 1874. In the early years, this mission became the central mission for convents in Ontario. Also, it had a significant role as a precursor to the future motherhouse in Waterdown. Mother Caroline opened nine missions in Ontario, the last being St. Louis, Waterloo in 1891.
The legislation in 1907 by the government of Ontario was a prime factor leading to the establishment of the motherhouse in Waterdown. The law required all teachers engaged in Public and Separate School Boards to hold Ontario Teaching Certificates. The majority of SSND teachers were from Milwaukee and did not qualify. The Department of Education realized the effects of the law and made plans to alleviate the teacher shortage. Hence summer schools were set up for unqualified teachers. Between 40-50 Notre Dame teachers availed themselves of the summer schools in Kitchener, and, as a result, could legally teach in Ontario.
Future teachers had to have an Ontario Teaching Certificate. Many SSNDs came from the United States. One solution was to prepare students in a private school and have them write examinations set by the Department of Education for admission to University or Normal Schools (Teachers’ College). Thus, under the foresight and administration of Sister Lioba Dietrich, St. Anne’s Convent High School was established beside St. Mary’s Convent. It opened in September 1907 for girls interested in a religious vocation and for girls not wanting to attend the local public high school. From 1907- 1927 approximately fifty young women attended St. Anne’s, many of whom entered SSND.
In 1924, Reverend Mother Stanislaus Koska, Commissary in North America, discerned that it was time to establish a Canadian Province. This concurred with the consent of the Provincial Superior in Milwaukee, who felt she did not know the sisters in Canada and, because of the distance, had only visited the convents on a few occasions.
His Excellency, Bishop J.T. McNally of Hamilton, expressed a wish that the motherhouse be located in the Hamilton Diocese. He personally became involved in securing a property for this purpose. On March 20, 1925 the deal was closed for the purchase of farm property in Waterdown, with a population of 921, located five miles north east of the city of Hamilton. The location was well chosen, for it was near Hamilton Normal School, where Sisters could attain their Ontario Teaching Certificate.
On February 14, 1927, the Canadian motherhouse welcomed the students from St. Anne’s School, Kitchener. The Canadian province was the twelfth province in the international congregation. There were 18 missions with 123 sisters – 67 of whom were Canadian and 56 who were from United States.
Approximately 643 SSNDs have ministered to God’s people across Canada, and in England, Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay, Africa, Italy, and the USA.
“We should devote all our energy …. that God be fully glorified, honoured and loved, and thus, His reign is extended.” – Blessed Theresa