When teacher Catherine Donnelly first arrived in Western Canada from Ontario in 1918, she discovered two things: first, the need for a Catholic presence in the rural public schools of the west, and second, her own calling to be a religious. Catherine saw that the west was growing rapidly, and that there was a lack of religious guidance for the people of the region, particularly the immigrants coming from other countries. She looked to existing Catholic orders as a means of reaching these people, but found that none of the orders were willing to accept Catherine's radical ideas, such as her refusal to wear the traditional nun's habit, and her strong belief in the individuality of members of orders. Catherine founded the Sisters of Service in 1922, and through this new order was able to make an impact on the lives of townspeople and students in prairie schools of the west. In this biography, Jeanne Beck reconstructs the extraordinary life of Sister Catherine Donnelly. The well-researched account is at once informative and inspiring a fitting tribute to the woman who believed "the spiritual life and the intellectual life have the same root deep in the unity of the intelligence."
Jeanne Ruth Merifield Beck received her BA in Honours History from the University of Toronto in 1949, and her PhD in 1977 from McMaster University, Hamilton. She taught Canadian history at McMaster from 1975 to 1988. From 1979 to 1993 she was Assistant Editor and Secretary-Treasurer of the Ontario Historical Studies Series, whose mandate was to commission and publish a collection of thirty-one books on the history of Ontario. On the completion of this project she began work on the biography of Sister Catherine Donnelly, which is a subject with particular appeal, for it combines two of her main historical interests: pioneering Canadian teachers and Canadian social and religious history. As a resident of the town of Dundas, Ontario, and a parent of three daughters, the betterment of public education has long been one of her main goals. She was a school trustee representing Dundas on the Wentworth County Board of Education from 1966 until she retired from the Board in 1988 in order to devote more time to editing and writing history.