The Sisters of St. Martha were formally established as a religious congregation in 1900 after a providential beginning six years earlier. The first members came from a group of women who had responded to a call from Bishop John Cameron of Antigonish , Nova Scotia, in 1894. They were to be part of an auxiliary congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Halifax, and prepared for the ministry of household management at St. Francis Xavier College. A surprising change of direction occurred in July, 1900, when, in the silence of a retreat, the sisters were invited to establish themselves as a new and separate religious congregation, and to indicate their choice by standing. One by one, fifteen women stood and together they marked the beginning of an incredible journey into history.
The journey began with a community committed to the ministry for which Bishop Cameron had called them forth. At the College, the sisters saw themselves as collaborators in the Christian education of youth and in the training of young men for priesthood. Here, with nothing more than their faith, skill and generosity, they made a home for the students and priests of the struggling college. Concern for those who were sick in the neighbourhood quickly expanded the sisters' service beyond the College. As word of the spirit of the sisters spread throughout the home diocese and beyond, other women were inspired to commit themselves to the Martha way of life, enabling the charitable works of the sisters to grow and develop.
By the 1920's, the sisters were known from the east coast to the prairies of Western Canada. Their spirit of hospitality, simplicity and humanness became a blessing the sisters carried to sick people, homeless and neglected children, unmarried mothers, families in need and students in rural schools.
As the great depression swept across Canada, the sisters took their place among the people. Their 'hands-on' approach to service was welcomed by those suffering from the harsh social and economic conditions of the time. Giants in leadership arose among the sisters: in household management, health care, education and social work. As the College, now a University, moved directly into local community life through its newly established Extension Department, the creators of the Antigonish Movement looked to the sisters for inspiration. At the university, as well as within the small towns and villages, the sisters became key collaborators in the pursuit of the common goal of development.
The blessings and challenges of Vatican II were profoundly experienced by the Marthas. With enthusiasm they responded to the Church's call to a renewal of religious life. They both suffered the pain of diminishment and loss in membership and ministries, and were graced with new life to once again stand together - this time to move forward with energy ignited by a return to the original sources and inspiration of their way of life. Sacrifices were made and congregation resources were stretched to enable sisters to engage in theological studies, periods of spiritual renewal, spirituality programs and sabbath time. Renewal Centers were established, offering sacred space where laity and religious could gather for personal and communal renewal.
In the year 2000, the Marthas marked the centenary of their founding. This offered them, along with associates, collaborators, family and friends, opportunity to remember and celebrate the abundant blessings of God, and to acknowledge with gratitude a way of life full of meaning and beauty.
Today, as in the event of a century ago when fifteen women stood in response to an invitation into the unknown, the sisters are open to the surprise of the Spirit, and alert to being called forth through the needs of our times.