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Sisters of St. Joseph win the Niagara Catholic Education award

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto received the Niagara Catholic Education Award of Distinction on Feb. 4, 2005 at the Bishop's Gala in Niagara Falls's Club Italia. The Niagara Catholic District School Board has inaugurated this award, given to recognize individuals and groups for their outstanding contributions to Catholic Education in the Niagara region. Representing the Sisters of St. Joseph at the awards ceremony were Sisters Margaret Myatt, Pat Conway, Loretta Rollheiser, and Kathleen Conway (pictured right).

All the recipients this year are the religious communities of men and women who pioneered Catholic Education in the Niagara region. They also include: The Holy Cross Community (Fathers, Brothers, Sisters), The Loretto Sisters of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, The Sisters of St. Joseph, The School Sisters of Notre Dame, The Felician Sisters, The Vincentian Sisters of Charity, The Sisters of St. Martha and The Sisters of Holy Cross.

For the past 149 years, the Sisters of St. Joseph have been involved in the life of the Niagara region, primarily through the Sisters teaching in the elementary and high schools.

It all began in 1851 when four Sisters arrived in Toronto from the United States in response to the appeal of the Bishop of Toronto to minister to the urgent needs of that diocese. Just five years later, in 1856, at the request of Dean Grattan, three Sisters came to St. Catharines to teach the Catholic children, many of them the children of Irish labourers who had moved here to find work in the building of the Welland Canal. Just after Christmas of that year, the Sisters accepted the responsibility of the only parochial school in St. Catharines. Over the years, there was a gradual growth of the Separate Schools due to changes in population and fluctuations of the financial world. By 1970 at least two Sisters, one being the Principal, were assigned to each of the following schools: St. Nicholas, St. Catherine, St. Mary, St. Joseph, St. John, St. Denis, St. Alfred, Christ the King, Canadian Martyrs, St. Christopher and St Peter.

When the Convent at Church and James Streets was completed in 1875, it not only provided a residence for the Sisters but, as the need warranted it, housed a music department, a private elementary school and eventually St. Joseph's High School for girls from 1946-1958. When Denis Morris High School opened in 1958, St Joseph's High School closed and the Sisters joined the staff at Denis Morris.

The Sisters of St. Joseph also lived in Thorold and from 1866-1986 taught in three schools there as well as in Merritton, Fonthill, Niagara Falls and Welland.

At present, the three Sisters living in the Niagara Peninsula are no longer engaged in the Separate Schools as teachers but they continue to meet the needs of the people in their areas of work as Pastoral Assistant, Catholic Marriage Tribunal Case Instructor and Diocesan Archivist. Their ministries include Sacramental Preparation, RCIA leadership, Lectors and Eucharistic Ministers in their local parishes as well as in nursing homes and to shut-ins living in their own homes. During the winter months, they assist in the Out of the Cold Program.

Mr. Gerald Dwyer, former Separate School Superintendent, wrote a history of the Separate Schools in St. Catharines, Ontario, from 1857 - 1957, and in it he stated, "Throughout the gradual growth of the Separate Schools (in St. Catharines) ... in the centre, as a constant invariable fountain of inspiration, were the Sisters of St. Joseph. This religious order of teachers was indispensable in the development of the schools."

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