Rosalie Hall aids young mothers on their journey

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  • December 1, 2013

TORONTO - Myra found herself in 1993 at the lowest point in her life.

“I was 18 years old, at an all-time low, still in high school, three months pregnant, broke, alone and afraid,” said Myra, who wished to use her first name only.

Then, like hundreds of girls over the years facing a similar situation, she discovered Rosalie Hall.

“I walked through the front doors of Rosalie Hall with my head down and white-faced from fear, not knowing what to expect,” she said. “The moment I walked through the front doors I was greeted with a warm smile and open arms by my guidance counsellor. I was then told that this could be my home now. A ton of bricks were immediately lifted from my shoulders.”

Given the opportunity to continue her schooling during her pregnancy, Myra attained her high school diploma and was awarded the Cardinal Carter Scholarship which helped her earn a travel and tourism diploma from Seneca College, a vital step on the path to her current job as senior sales manager at the Delta Toronto East Hotel.

Myra’s story has been repeated thousands of times over the last century as the spirit of the Misericordia Sisters, who founded Rosalie Hall, has been journeying with Toronto teen girls facing pregnancies and the struggles of young motherhood. Rosalie Hall — named after Mother Rosalie, founder of the Misericordia Sisters — allows young mothers to continue their studies while being provided a warm environment to raise their child.

“The sisters put it best,” said Larissa Bholaramsingh, manager of development at Rosalie Hall. “We are not here to solve it all for them, we are not here to take it all away, we are here to journey with the young women and hopefully make change for the better in their young lives.”

The sisters’ legacy dates back to 1913 when Toronto Archbishop Neil McNeil invited the Misericordia Sisters, who had already been doing this kind of work in Montreal since the order’s founding in 1848, to Toronto. Immediately the three sisters who arrived in Toronto began serving young and soon-to-be mothers in need in the city’s downtown core. Within two years they had managed to establish the St. Mary’s Infant Home and St. Mary’s Hospital on Bond Street before moving to Jarvis Street in 1920.

As the needs expanded over the decades the sisters responded by moving to suburban Scarborough, purchasing 11 hectares of land for $30,000 at Lawrence Avenue East and McCowan Road. In 1956 the sisters opened both a hospital (today known as Scarborough General Hospital), which they ran until 1972, and Rosalie Hall.

The sisters continued to serve at Rosalie Hall until 2005 before returning to Montreal.

“Now it is entirely lay people who have been entrusted with the mission, but we are still very involved with the sisters,” said Bholaramsingh. “We were fortunate to have the sisters for so many years and we would love to have them back.”

Jenna, a 19-year-old mother of one, said she couldn’t imagine bearing the burdens of young motherhood without Rosalie Hall.

“It means a lot more than just being able to finish school and to have my son in a safe place where he is developing,” said Jenna. “It is a community here at Rosalie Hall. It is a community atmosphere and it is really nice to come in.”

Even before the challenges of pregnancy Jenna had struggled in high school, causing her to frequently change schools. Now at Rosalie Hall, where courses are tailored to each student, the young mother is thriving academically, making her dream career as an equine therapist for the developmentally disabled closer to reality.

She credits this not only to the style of teaching at Rosalie Hall but also to her ability to relate to her classmates, peers facing the same struggles.
“You look around and you see yourself in the person next to you and you can relate to that person,” she said.

Her 15-month-old son Keifer is also taking advantage of the services at Rosalie Hall. Keifer is enrolled at the on-site Childhood Development Centre.

Despite all the positive stories coming out of Rosalie Hall, both past and present, it has faced its challenges over the years.

“The biggest challenge, and I guess it is the same for a lot of non-profits, is the funding piece,” said Bholaramsingh. “There are certain things that we know that work and there is no need to change them but it is often the core services that are not funded as well as we would like them to be or not funded at all.”

While funding for salaries of teachers comes from the province, services Bholaramsingh sees as essential, such as counselling and the new infant mental health program, are paid for from scarce donor dollars.

Although Bholaramsingh cannot help worry about funding in the future, if only momentarily, she said she is sure that the spirit of Mother Rosalie will continue to sustain the place as it always has.

“Most staff members will tell you Mother Rosalie (has sustained us) and they joke about it but I think they are very serious about it too,” she said. “There is a lot of prayer happening inside this building and outside of this building for us and for what we do here. So we kind of call it the Mother Rosalie affect.”

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