Catherine McKinley was instrumental to the growth of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul. The order was founded on December 13th, 1861 when four Sisters of Providence of Montreal came to Kingston at Bishop Horan’s request to found a new congregation to care for the poor. Catherine McKinley was born in Kingston in 1837 and was the first candidate to join the newly established congregation in 1862. She was appointed the congregation’s first Superior when the Montreal Sisters returned to their community in 1866. Catherine McKinley served as General Superior from 1866 to 1872, and 1884 to 1896. In addition over the course of her religious life, she also served as Assistant to the Superior, General Treasurer of the congregation and local Superior of two missions.
Shortly after becoming superior in 1866 Catherine McKinley realized that the House of Providence was not adequate for the sisters and the poor, the aged and the orphans in their care. Under Catherine McKinley’s leadership the first addition to the House of Providence was constructed in 1871. In reference to the new wing, the congregational annals state that “by Christmas we were pretty comfortable installed in our New Home, the old people seemed happy, in the clean, airy homelike wards.”
Catherine McKinley’s leadership and the contributions of the other original members of the Kingston community were crucial to the early development and success of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul. At the time of Catherine McKinley’s death in 1904 the congregation had grown to include 98 Sisters, teaching and nursing ministries and missions in Belleville, Brockville, Smiths Falls and Trenton. Catherine McKinley’s pioneering spirit helped set the tone for the congregation’s 150 years of service.
By Veronica Stienburg, Archivist for the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul