Founded In faith, Sancta Maria House evolves to support Toronto’s diverse communities

Sancta Maria House was established in 1961 by a group of lay Catholic volunteers called The Legion of Mary and led by Joan Quinn and Father Michael Doyle.

Joan Quinn worked through the church with destitute women and girls in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and wanted to continue her the work once landing in Toronto. She soon discovered the Archdiocese of Toronto was not providing the equivalent support.

“Women, when arrested for various misdemeanors, were in holding cells in Old City Hall, sentenced to 2 years less a day to a prison for women, Mercer Reformatory, sometimes the Don Jail, and at other times allowed to spend time at Salvation Army and Elizabeth Fry Society,” Quinn said.

“As a result of my many questions, I was invited to a meeting to be held at the Catholic Information Centre.”

There she formed, with Fr. Michael Doyle, Margaret O’Hara, Janet Hillier and Terry Murray, Our Lady of the Wayside Presidium of the Legion of Mary. They soon scraped together $75 dollars for a first months rent and opened Sancta Maria House. The founding philosophy was holistic and faith based. The intent was to provide a safe, healing environment where women could eventually regain control of their lives and move on to a more stable future.

In 1976, an aftercare follow up service became more formalized to give support to past residents living independently in the community. In 1988, Quinn House was founded to provide affordable housing for young women between the ages 18 to 22 years.

Sancta Maria House changes to meet the needs of today’s at-risk young women

As the city grew and the community populating Sancta Maria House changed, becoming more diverse and complex, the service adapted.

The diversity of the staff now reflects the community Sancta Maria House supports. As well, more staff was brought on to provide 24-hour emergency support and to increase the level of services for the residents who are victims of complex generational trauma.

In the early days, the service focused on providing life skills to the women pushed to margins of Toronto’s communities. As our city has grown in size and complexity, so have the challenges. Today, Sancta Maria House is focused on stabilizing the mental health of young women facing a complex web of problems, such as depression, hunger, abuse, self-harm, loneliness, neglect, substance abuse and violence.

Sancta Maria House follows a non-denominational intake policy and the residence is licensed by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.

Sancta Maria House, from its’ birth until the present, has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of young women. Celebrations, tears and laughter have been part of everyday life, as Sancta Maria House has grown through happy times and hard times.