Friday 22 July 2016

Love, Mom: Letters from Mary Power to Her Son, 1822-1824

Mary Power, mother of the first Bishop of Toronto, had eight children who survived childhood; yet it was clear that Michael, her eldest son, whom she called Mick, was always number one in her eyes. When Michael was sent from Halifax to the minor seminary in Montreal in 1816, a few months before he turned twelve, it was a difficult transition for Mary. She missed him very much and expected a lot from him, but she was also very proud of him for fulfilling such an important role.

Photograph of an original painting of Bishop Michael Power


The Archives has seven letters from Mary to Mick, written between 1822 and 1824 while Michael was at school. Sometimes Mary would send letters or packages with a family friend who was travelling to Montreal because she did not have enough money for postage; regardless of delivery method, she made sure to write to keep him up to date. The letters provide interesting insight into Bishop Power's early life and family.

Addresses on letters for Michael Power

P AA04.01 (left) and P AA04.07

Even before he was born, Michael’s life course had been decided by his mother. She was a pious woman and sometimes used her letters as an opportunity to remind Mick of her promise to God.

Excerpt from letter dated July 20, 1824

I promised you to God before you were born[.] I made a vow if it would please God to bless me with a son that I would offer him up unto his Blessed will[.] It seemes [sic] that the Allmighty [sic] demands it now. Glory be to his holy Name for ever and ever Amen.

P AA04.07

The same year that Michael left for school, his mother had a baby and had another two years later. Being young and so far from home, it’s no wonder Michael was a bit unsure as to the exact make-up of his family.

Excerpt from letter dated September 24, 1823

You wishe [sic] to know how many sisters you have[.] You have 4[:] Margret[,] Maryann[,] Elizabeth and Frances[.] She is 4 years and a half old[.] She often asks who there [sic] Brother is and if she shall see you ever[.]

P AA04.04

All Mary hoped was that the family would see her dear Mick again before they died.

Excerpt from letter dated May 27, 1822

My Dear may the Almighty God send us a happy and pleasing sight of you before our death[.] it shall be the [constant] [illegible] of your tender parents William and Mary Power.
P AA04.01

Unfortunately, Michael did not return to Halifax until 1840, when he was 36. By that time, he was the only male left in his family; in fact, he had been so since before his ordination in August 1827. Sadly, after leaving Halifax the first time, he never saw his father or brothers again. In 1822, at just 16, Bishop Power’s brother James died of a lung inflammation. Shortly after retiring in 1824, his father died, followed by his brother John soon after. His brother William, who was a sailor like his father, died in July 1827. His mother wrote to Michael to tell him the news of James’s death in this heart-breaking letter.

Letter dated July 16, 1822

My Dear Child
I recei'd your letter by Capt. [McHeron][.] It gave me great pleasure to hear that you enjoy good health[.] My Dear I mentioned to you in my last letter that your brother was dangerously ill & I cannot hold the pen.
He departed this world on the 6 of June[.] His disorder was a [sic] inflammation on the lungs[.] A fine good natured boy as ever lived[.] He bore his disorder for 23 days with the fortitude of a [sic] old man ... He continually talked of Mr. Mignault and requested to remember him in prayers[.] ... I will write more to you the next opportunity. My Dear I am your affectionate mother
Mary Power
Do not fret for James for he is happy out of this world.

P AA04.02

Mary always worried about her son's well-being; however, after suffering a number of losses over the years, it is understandable that her level of concern may have increased. This letter, written 192 years ago this week, chastises Mick for his lack of communication.

Letter dated July 20, 1824

P AA04.07
Excerpt from letter dated July 20, 1824

My Dear and Beloved Son
This is the 3 letter I have wrote to you but recd no answer[.] It makes me uneasy[.] I wrote by post and I wrote by [Cleary] and John wrote at the same time[.] Your last letter was dated in February[.] What is the maining [sic] of such a long silence My Dear Son.

P AA04.07

These letters are a wonderful reminder that though the frequency and style of communication was different almost 200 years ago, a mother’s love remains very much the same. P.S. Call your mom.

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