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Harriet Starr Cannon founded the Community of St. Mary. Cannon was born in Charleston in 1823 and was orphaned in 1824 when her parents died of yellow fever. She grew up with her only surviving sibling in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in the home of relatives. In 1851, Cannon entered the Sisters of the Holy Communion, an order founded
by William Augustus Muhlenberg, Rector of the Church of the Holy Communion in New York City. The Sisters were heavily involved in the operation of clinics and care facilities that would become St. Luke’s Hospital in the City of New York. During her years with the Sisters of the Holy Communion, Cannon served as a nurse.
Over time, Harriet Cannon yearned for a more traditional monastic form of religious life. When agreement could not be reached with Sisters of the Holy Communion, Cannon and a small group of her sisters moved to form a new order. On the Feast of the Presentation, February 2, 1865, Horatio Potter, Bishop of the Diocese of New York, received from Harriet Cannon and her sisters the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, at St. Michael’s Church in Manhattan. The sisters began life together as the Community of St. Mary and Harriet Cannon became the Order’s ﬁrst Superior.
The apostolate of The Community of St. Mary began with nursing and the care of women who had endured difﬁcult circumstances. After time, however, Mother Cannon and her Sisters became increasingly committed to providing free schools for the education of young women in addition to their medical work. The Community continued to grow and developed girls’ schools, hospitals, and orphanages in New York, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
The Community of St. Mary played a critical role in response to the yellow fever epidemic in Memphis in the 1870’s. Sister Constance and her companions are remembered on September 9.
I. Gracious God, who didst call Mother Harriet and her companions to revive the religious life in the Episcopal Church by founding the religious community of St. Mary, and to dedicate their lives to thee: Grant that, after their example, we may ever surrender ourselves to the revelation of thy holy will; through our Savior Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
II. Gracious God, you called Mother Harriet and her companions to revive the religious life in the Episcopal Church by founding the religious community of St. Mary, and to dedicate their lives to you: Grant that, after their example, we may ever surrender ourselves to the revelation of your holy will; through our Savior Jesus Christ, who
lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2 Esdras 2:15–24
Preface of a Saint (2)
From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.
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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?
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