Sister Imelda Cahill spent 17 years as principal of former St. Joseph Catholic High School.
Students of the former Dundas Street West all-girls’ school in Islington remember her as tough, but fair. Cahill had spent 40 years in the ministry of education as a teacher in Toronto, Thorold and St. Catharines, among other communities.
Cahill died on June 23 in the infirmary of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto Motherhouse on Bayview Avenue after suffering dementia for many years.
She was 94.
In April, Cahill celebrated her 75th jubilee as a religious. She entered religious life at age 18 in 1936.
“Her desire was to serve,” said one of her fellow Sisters. “As a religious, she saw herself as carrying out the mission of Jesus in today’s world. She was very much a compassionate woman, reaching out to people.”
In Toronto, the Sisters perform parish outreach for the poor, at St. Michael’s Hospital, St. Joseph’s Health Centre, as well as at Village Mosaic, a community building space in south Etobicoke. Their beginnings trace back to 1650 France when Father Jean-Pierre Medaille gathered six women to care for the sick, the poor and the disadvantaged.
Patricia Howorth, 86, remembered her oldest sister, born Catherine Cahill, as “a very humble person with a good sense of humour, very cheerful.”
The last surviving sibling of seven was struck by the former St. Joseph students and staff who attended Cahill’s wake. Cahill retired from St. Joseph High School in 1982. She had been involved with its merger with the all-boys’ Michael Power Catholic High School.
“I was amazed at the students and teachers who showed up at the wake to show their respect,” she said. “She was very well-liked. She could be tough, but she was very fair.”
Cahill took the name Imelda after Saint Imelda born in Italy in the early 14th century, upon taking her vows as a nun. “She said she was impressed with Saint Imelda’s young life.”
At age nine, Imelda Lambertini was placed at her own choosing in a convent. Receiving Holy Communion became her consuming desire, even though age 12 was the youngest age for first communion. At age 11, it is said a miracle was observed when the sacred Host hovered in the air above Imelda at mass. The priest is said to have given Imelda communion and she fell unconscious to the ground, dead.
Cahill was elected congregational leader, otherwise known as Mother Superior, for two consecutive four-year terms after her retirement as St. Joseph principal.
After a year’s sabbatical, she served as local leader for the Motherhouse infirmary before moving to St. Joseph’s College for four years.
Since 1997, Cahill lived in the infirmary, her ministry one of prayer.
A mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at St. Joseph’s Convent on June 26. She rests in Holy Cross Cemetery in Thornhill, Ont.
Last year, the Sisters of St. Joseph marked their 160th anniversary in Toronto.