Historic portrait of P.E.I. bishop finds new home at SDU Place

Mary MacKay
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Sisters of Notre Dame community leaders Sisters K.T. MacDonald, Joan Marie Chaisson and Patricia Smith transferred a historic portrait of Charlottetown’s second bishop Bernard MacDonald to SDU chair George MacDonald.

The watchful eyes of Bishop Bernard MacDonald in a historic portrait will no longer be upon the stately halls of Notre Dame Convent in Charlottetown.

Now that the sisters are downsizing to smaller quarters in a local seniors living facility, the painting of this second bishop of Charlottetown is on the move to a new home at SDU Place in Charlottetown, which is home base for the St. Dunstan’s University (SDU) board of governors.

“It’s a perfect fit for us because he was the founder of St. Dunstan’s (which opened in 1855) . . . , and he was responsible for bringing the (teaching order of the) Sisters of Notre Dame here (in 1857),” says George MacDonald, chair of the SDU board of governors

“His commitment to education (was there), not only establishing programs (at SDU), but also for bringing the sisters here to begin a program (of education) for girls at a time when a lot of Islanders didn’t believe that educating girls was important.”

What ended up as being the catalyst to more than a century of school service to Island students began in 1841 when Bishop MacDonald purchased four pasture lots in Charlottetown Royalty as the future site of SDU.

At the time, St. Andrews College, founded by the first bishop of Charlottetown, Angus MacEachern, was still in operation in St. Andrews, near Mount Stewart, says SDU director George Morrison.

However, Bishop MacDonald believed that Charlottetown was a more suitable site for a college.

After the last class of the year in 1844, St. Andrews College closed and it did not reopen.

For 10 years Bishop MacDonald raised funds for the purchase of materials and oversaw the construction of what was then called St. Dunstan’s College, which opened on Jan. 17, 1855, and is now the site of UPEI.

“At just about that time he had a dream of having a school for (Island students), especially for girls. So he got in touch with our sisters in Montreal — our motherhouse is there — they accepted to send four teaching sisters to come to P.E.I. to be educators,” says Sr. Joan Marie Chaisson, community leader team for the local Sisters of Notre Dame.

“In 1857, four sisters arrived in Charlottetown in this actual location to teach girls — they might have had boys in Grades 1 and 2 — but it was mostly girls and it was day scholars and boarders.”

On Sept. 25, 1857, the sisters opened the doors to 15 Island students: seven boarders and eight day students.

“For the first two weeks there was nothing here except the building, so they had to get materials and they had to get books. So they started their school later on in September,” Chaisson says.

“(And the school grew) as the demands presented themselves. When more people wanted to come here, it necessitated building a larger building,” adds community leader and retired teacher Sr. K.T. MacDonald.

The sisters started with the lower grades and eventually expanded to Grades 1-12 at the end

“Our convents on the Island started the Grade 11 programs, when there was no Grade 11 program, and then the Grade 12, until the (provincial) government took over and made themselves responsible for that,” Chaisson says.

Now that the sisters have relocated to the Andrews of Charlottetown seniors living facility, the portrait of Bishop MacDonald will be featured prominently in its new home at SDU Place.

“We are delighted and happy . . . that we are able to have a part of the legacy of education of Catholic men and women on P.E.I.,” says George MacDonald.

“It’s a very important part of our past and we want to make sure it’s an important part of our future.”


Fast facts

In 1860, students attending classes at the Notre Dame Convent could expect a course of instruction that “embraces the English and French languages, writing, arithmetic, grammar, geography and the use of the globes, ancient and modern history, rhetoric, logic, chemistry, philosophy, botany, music — vocal and instrumental, drawing, painting and every kind of useful and ornamental needlework.”

Each pupil had to be furnished with at least four changes of linen, shoes, stockings, sheets, towels, coloured dresses, etc.

One light blue and one dark blue uniform and one white dress were also required.

Board and tuition per quarter was £6.

(Source: The Examiner, Aug. 28, 1860)

Organizations: Andrews College, SDU board

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Notre Dame, Dunstan P.E.I. Iceland Mount Stewart Montreal

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Recent comments

  • Anne T. Gillis CND
    February 06, 2014 - 14:54

    Thanks for sharing the important story of the educational history of the CNDs in Charlottetown; This closure is indeed an important historical moment in our lives as well as in the lives of all our students and support staff.