Paths of Daring Deeds of Hope


Theresa's Sojourn in Ottawa

Mother Theresa's sixteen years of continued residence in Ottawa began on January 7, 1869. During these years she lived as a guest of the Grey Nuns and worked in their ministry. However, she did not make vows in that Congregation, considering her vows that of a Sister, Servant of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

From 1869 to 1881, Theresa had virtually no contact with the IHM Congregation. Sr. Ann (Charlotte Shaaf), her companion from Oblate days and through the earliest days of IHM, was permitted to write to Theresa annually. The other sisters were prohibited by the bishops from writing to Mother Theresa.

The silence was broken by Sister M. Genevieve Morrissey, of the Scranton Congregation, when she sent Mother Theresa feast day greetings in 1881. This initiated a frequent and warm correspondence between the two and between Theresa and a few other sisters.

[Mother Theresa's letters from this time reflect her] profound distress at being separated from the Congregation. They also record her persevering hope of returning to the Congregation and her active planning to achieve this return. There are also regular comments on her living conditions in Ottawa.

Some Comments

Who was responsible for the lengthy silence and the long delay in her reunion with [the IHMs]? ...

Bishop Lefevere was surely one of the prohibitors of communication and perpetuators of Theresa's exclusion. Even before Theresa's sojourn to Ottawa, he had banned contacts of the Monroe sisters with the sisters in Pennsylvania. That ban would surely have been extended to Theresa in Ottawa. He was, of course, the primary force in preventing her re-entry into the Congregation in 1868.

Archbishop Wood and Bishop O'Hara were clearly instrumental in preventing sisters from communicating with Mother Theresa and in preventing her restoration to the Congregation. Sr. Ann had to obtain permission from the Archbishop to write to Theresa once a year. Even after Theresa returned to West Chester, Bishop O'Hara prohibited the sisters from having regular correspondence with Theresa. The Bishop's persistent denials of appeals on Theresa's behalf were clearly decisive in the long delay in restoring her to the Congregation.

Why these limitations? At the time of the separation, the motive seems to have been Bishop Lefevere's anger with the Redemptorists and with Mother Theresa. Later, it seems that fear of Theresa's influence over the sisters motivated the Bishop's decisions to isolate her. From their perspective Theresa was a trouble maker and a threat to their authority. Their caution seems excessive and insensitive, especially as the years of her isolation became extended and Theresa herself became elderly and increasingly unlikely to do them any harm.

In Theresa's view, her motives were legitimate even if her actions were sometimes impetuous. Her efforts to lead the Congregation in accord with the Redemptorist tradition, were, for her, the fulfillment of her responsibility.

Mother Theresa to Sister Genevieve

There are ... numerous anomalies of sentence structure [in the following letter] indicating the spontaneous and hurried nature of the writing and the fact that Theresa did not learn English as her first language and had not often written it for the previous twelve years. J.M.J.A.TConvent of the Gray [sic] Nuns

Ottawa October 9, 1881

My dear Child, Sr. M. Genevieve,

Your very welcome letter come duly to hand and was for me a cause of both joy and sorrow. I was glad to learn that I was not forgotten by you and by many others of those ever dear to me, and grieved at so cruel a separation, doubt not that you are all always present in my memory and are objects of my daily prayers, my life here has been a long martyrdom indeed, it is was possible for the Archb. and Bp. to know the extent of the sufferings and unhappiness this state of things brings, the tears that are still flowing, their hearts would be moved to compassion should it be of stone, and all this for what, I could not say! Now that earch [each] diocese has its own Convents and Sisters independent of the others I should think that Bishop O'Hara [first Bishop of Scranton] could grant the permission necessary for my return without Arch Wood's having any thing to say against it, anyhow, he need not know of it, for my part, if I had the happiness of being again with my own I would be very quiet and silent, they need not apprehend any trouble from me, should they be merciful. It is now an old story, the anger of Bp. Lefevere ought to be in oblivion now.

You tell me dear Child, that everyone would like to have me back in the Order in fact, which I never left in heart, for I am now just the same as when I came here, necessity obliges me to wear another habit that is all by you know "L'habit ne fait pas le moine".

Now, why dont you write a petition to Bp. O'Hara. begging my admission and have every Sister in his Diocese write their name at the end in case it was the desire of all. I think you would be capable of doing it should you be chosen to do so in the name of the Superior. You may tell the Bishop that I am but a poor exiled member of the Instition [sic] of the Imm. Heart there is no inconsistency in me, for miserable I have been since; living in hope that Divine Providence would permit me to go back to my own, and pray daily for that object in reciting the Litany of Divine Prov. and many other prayers.

I have written to Father Smuder [sic] on the subject for I know that he has no other wish but that I should be with my Sisters, but got the answer that the Priest in charge of the Sisters, did not seem to care about it. I was not surprised at this from Father Joos, the Order is now altogether in his hands and is considered as his own work and I think he has done well for it is in a very good standing, however, could I return and have my choice I would prefer Pennsylvania to Detroit, havin [sic] been a victim in the transportation of the Order to Philadelphia, for this is the origin of all the trouble.

The Bp. of Detroit had given permission to have a mission in that state and a foundation was made instead, he got angry and on seeing that all the Sisters wanted to follow those that were there, he made the Division in the Order and wrote to Bp. Wood against the Fathers and poor me -- You say that you never gave up hope, I can say the same -- did all I could to make the sacrifice sometimes being told that I ought. Still in the most inmost recess of my soul always indulged the thought that I would not die here and with this strange habit on, I have kept the blue habit of flannel and scapular I wore when I came I sleep with my Rosary, have the same Im. ring on my finger besides, the prayers of the community I say my own privately. Even the good health I enjoy notwithstanding my years has been for me a subject of hope -- It is very seldom any Sister write to me I used to write sometime to one sometime to another and received no answer, and had to be silent even that consolation was denied me for Mother Gonzaga said many years ago that she dared not give my letters to the Sisters nor write to me herself. The good Sr. Ann writes every New Year to Sr. Mary [Whipple] and I, so this is the only sympathy I got, that, I don't know whether is the Bp. or the Superior who gave the privilege Sr. Mary and I are much pleased of it and always expect her letter tho' very short for she does not write herself. Mother Anastasia wrote too some time past I thought she would write again after the retreat. -- You must all have been pleased to have a Redemptorist. --

I am glad you expect to have a new mission, I remember Father Whitty he is a real gentleman, once I had to go to Phila. I think it was with Sr. Ignatia, as it was necessary to stop [sic] over night Father Hugh [Monaghan] sent him word about it, when we got at his house I found on his table a very polite note regretting of having been obliged to be absent from home but he had charged his housekeeper to take good care of us.

Sr. Mary is in the same city, but not in the same Convent with me. She is in the boarding school and I am at the Motherhouse we often see one another. Her case is altogether different from mine. She is a Gray [sic] Nun since she made a noviciate [sic] and profession here; this I did not I came with my habit and remained as I was could never change. In case I would be able to return home there would be no difficulty on this side, only the want of means, but feel capable on [sic] begging all the way, a thing I never did. I would not leave without the permission of the Bp. here, which I think would be obtained for in [he] knows my painful situation having opened my heart to him at his first pastoral visit in the convent which takes place every year every Sr. has to go speak to his Lordship privately. There has been three visits and each I mention my feelings, all he can do in the matter is to encourage me to bear my cross with patience.

The Sisters here don't understand why my Sisters dont exert themselves and make some effort to remove the obstacles. Tell you dear young Sisters to pray hard to our Blessed Mother tell her that I am in her Imm. Heart. Let those who are learning french study well for when I'll come I will hear their lessons.

Please present my most affectionate remembrance to Mother Francis and thank her for the picture she sent me, accept my thanks for the nice one I received from you. I trust that the Heart of a Mother will help her exiled child.

The Superior here was pleased with your presents and returns her thanks for the same. As for myself I have no pictures here but those that came from my own Sisters of the Im. Heart. I like the Scapulars much the work is so well done making Scapulars and Agnus Deis is one of my employments and at this present there is such a press for the brown Scap. it [is] by the hundreds I have to made [sic] and everyone are [sic] so busy that it is hard to get help. You can judge by that, why my letter is in such confusion, as I wanted to write without delay could not wait until I would have time but had to snatch a little moment in haste therefore it is all broken and even the wrong page was taken and it must be full of mistake. However I fear not of not bein [sic] understood for, by the tone of your letter and the sentiments of affection it contained I doubt not of being understood anyhow this scrawl will be seen only by my dear children in the I.H. as it is with permission of my Confessor I need not show them to the Superior my case is an exception my life here has been that of a religious and [I have] .. observed the rule of this order as punctually as any member. As it is I would wish you to write as soon as possible after you receive this to let me know what foundation you have for [hope] of my return. I think by the little I said the sooner would be the better for many reasons that I cannot mention in writing.

The S. General has many houses to visit so she is often absent and the Assistant Sup. who receives letter in her stead when she is absent is so considerate that when any letter is addressed to me she gives unopened. The Mother is leaving today or tomorrow for perhaps two weeks so by your writing soon you need not think anyone but myself will see it write freely. For the directions to be more sure direct as follows:

Convent of Gray [sic] NunsWater Street

Ottawa, Province of Ontario

The Superior of the Boarding School has the name of Theresa of Jesus, so it has happened that letter to my address has been found in the box at her convent and was opened by not taken [sic] to me to read the whole direction. This will not be by mentioning the street as above however your letter came direct I must now conclude I trust that you will write soon my sincere regards to all have no time to read this.

As ever truly and affectionately yours
In the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Sr. Mary Theresa
Servant of Cor Immaculatum Mariae
Nunc et Semper

Had I have time and made the enclosed Agnus Dei purposely to send they would be better but they are the best I have now one for Mother Francis and one for you.

Mother Theresa to Sister Mary Rose McNamara

April 19, 1882


Sr. Mary Rose
Very dear Child,

You may be sure your letter was most pleasing to me, for to hear from my own dear Sisters of the Imm. Heart, far from increasing my sorrows, is the greatest solace I have in my bereavement, on the contrary the long and dead silence kept with me has been very painful. It would have been otherwise had I been so disposed and able, when the strength of circumstance brought me here, to give up my own community which I intended never to leave and join another, but such was not the case, in spirit and in heart I remained always the same as when I left. At all times I feel as if the Sister-hood of the Imm. Heart was on my side my corporal eyes do not see them as does the eye of my imagination, but it is so, every one and every event are ever present in my memory, you in particular, dear child, I can yet see a little girl, when Sr. Aloysia and I arrived at St. Joseph's to prepare the way for the others to come running from Fr. O'Reilly's house to the Convent to bring us what we need and help us along, your hair flying in the air my memory is as good as ever and my heart does not grow old. When you have the opportunity do tell my dear Sr. Agatha that she is often present in my recollections and more than once have I shed tears on thinking of our sad meeting at good F. O'Reilly's in 1868 when I tried to be again with my own beloved Sisters, but all my endeavors was [sic] in vain my life ever since has been a slow and long martyrdom, few are the days, if any, on which I have been tearless but all before my God, when in the Community and in time of recreation I am as lively as the others you know it has to be so and that I am not of a melancholy turn of mind. There is only one thought that kept me up all along which is the hope of returning, no matter what was said to me on the subject or my efforts to change my feelings was [sic] fruitless. In the inmost recess of my soul I always felt as tho' I would not die here and that our Imm. Mother would obtain this grace from her Divine Son. Could we but meet again how many past reminiscences we would have to speak about & which it is impossible to trace on paper. Let us pray and hope, God can remove every obstacle should it be His Holy will. In the meantime make a good use of our tribulations.

Tell Mother Anastasia not to send back the relic of St. Theresa if she does I will think that she lost all hopes of seeing me in this life. My advanced age makes wish of going soon. Tho' having as yet no mortal disease I am sometimes subject to weak spells & need something strengthening. Some sudden disease may take me off still my health is remarkably good & often I take this a sign that Our Heavenly Father will have me go.

Have you a Chapel in your house? Are you near the Church? Can you go to Mass everyday? Unable to say all I would wish I will [keep] the rest for another or when we meet which is the most desirable. Pray my dear child daily for your old Mother rest assured that you are not and never was forgotten.


Mother Theresa to Sister GenevieveDecember 31, 1882

Ever dear Sister Genevieve,

Before your letter came I felt lonely, seeing nothing but letters going & coming. The Srs. from the near missions come here during Christmas time, they are all so joyful on meeting and it makes me sad thinking how far I am from mine. My joy on such occasions is, I think, very much like the children of Israel when in captivity at Babylon being in a strange country.

... In my present feelings, I believe that I would be nearer heaven if I was with my own, it may be an illusion but I am not the only one who has it. You yourself think it would be the most desirable happiness for me to die in my order with my immaculate habit surrounded by the Srs. of Imm. Heart. ...

Now, in your last you say that when your good Bishop was asked, he replied plainly that he would have nothing to do with the matter; until now I thought it was on account of ArchBp. Wood, that should God call Him to himself he would be at liberty to receive me, even Sr. Paul in her letter said that the Srs. told her the Bp. O'Hara was favorably disposed towards me, this meant that he would give the desirable permission, but I fear it not so. Now, about a Coadjutor1 would he be consulted. I know from good authority that it will not be necessary, for every Bp. is master to do what he pleases in his own Diocese. This was exemplified in this very Com. a few weeks ago. There was a Sister here from another Order who after remaining over two years a postulant, was by the exertions of the Bp. Duhamel received in her own Order, in another Diocese and by another Bp. contrary to the one who had sent her here. She and I had a great sympathy for one another, therefore, I rejoiced much for her happiness. Before leaving, she made me promise to be sure to write to her if I should obtain my ardent and lawful desire. She promised to continue praying. I have her direction. Do you correspond with Father Smulders? I should think so since you get news from Monroe. I must tell you a thought I had that if he should find out that you wish and trying to have me return, he would advise you to leave me where I am, that I have a good home and how does he know it? Yes, a good home to do penance, however, I think I have enjoyed it long enough now that I am old. I think Fr. Smulders who is our founder2 is very indifferent, when I write he does not answer. I may be wrong having those feeling but I tell you in all confidence, that you may undeceive me if I am mistaking. My age ought not to be an obstacle in his estimation, since our years are about the same and he is still laboring for the glory of God with the assistance of my own Srs.

I must mention another idea which causes me to fear, should you have a mission in another Diocese. Would not Bp. O' have something to say about the choice of members to be sent there and perhaps I would be rejected. Now, my very dear child, I told you all my painful apprehensions with all I cannot lose hope therefore please, as soon as convenient, let me know what you think. I dont wish to trouble you about writing so often but only a few words to ease my mind on the subject.

... Do not conclude from what I have said, that I do not value the place I am in, for on the contrary, I rather be here than anywhere else, if I cannot be at my beloved home. for the spiritual here is nothing wanting. Everyday I thank God for all the blessings I receive here. Nevertheless, my position is a painful one, the inconvenience cannot be told in a letter, besides it is not necessary. Were I not blessed with the remarkable good health I have, it would [be] a great deal worse to live in so numerous a community. Sleep in a full dormitory where silence is as strict as in the Chapel. One can breathe and that is all. To clear my throat I cover my head not to make a noise. To go down to my meals, three story in the refectory, etc. But my strongest reason for wishing to go is to die in my order. I would not send such a letter to anyone else. I trust you will understand it must be this way or not write at all, have no corner to go, my desk is in the community room, noise and disturbance all the time.

Sr. Ann sent a letter to Sr. Mary and I as usual for New Years, again she mentions the Archp. health and says he is failing rapidly. Another thing she never said before is "I hope and pray you may die in the Order." ...

Your poor exiled Mother
Sr.M. Theresa Servant C.I.M.


1. "Coadjutor" may not be the term Thersa means. The bishop of Philadelphia was Bishop O'Hara's "Metropolitan," or episcopal superior. A Coadjutor is a bishop who administers a diocese without having been appointed ordinary.

2. Only Theresa makes any claim that Fr. Smulders is the founder.