Theresa MacDonell

June 13, 1929October 22, 2020
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Theresa Margaret MacDonell, nee Meagher, died on Thursday, Oct 22 in Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, Halifax, surrounded by her family. She was born on June 13, 1929 in Pirate Harbour, Guysborough County, on the shores of the Strait of Canso, immediately south of Mulgrave. Theresa was the sixth child and only daughter of Clara and Maurice Meagher, both natives of Guysborough Co. as well. She was predeceased by her husband of 63 years, Bernard Francis MacDonell, and by her parents and five brothers: Jim, Ed, Bern, Harold and Tom. She is survived by her six children: Bernard, Mary (John Skaife), Helen (Tom Ward), Margaret (John Edmonds), Gerard (Abby Naylor MacDonell) and Joe (Christina Jahncke); five grandchildren: Sarah, Colin, Emma, Ruah, and Harrison; as well as by twenty-eight nieces and nephews, and her sister-in-law, 98 year old, Annie Meagher, the reigning matriarch of the Meagher clan.

Theresa cherished her formative years and returned to them often in memory. The Mulgrave of her youth, especially during the war, was a lively place-- the mainland terminal for all trains and automobiles ferried across the Strait of Canso in the era prior to the causeway. As the youngest child and only girl she had a unique place in the family and was well-liked, even doted upon at times, by her older brothers. When I asked her once if she ever milked a cow or chopped kindling wood, she said: ''No, I had five brothers to do that.'' As the only other female in the family she remained close to her mother throughout her life, returning home to Clara with her own children in the early summers of her marriage, and, later, being visited often by her mother and brother, Harold, at her own summer house in nearby Judique.

Theresa was a good student and decided, along with her best friend, Barb Gillis, that they could advance their studies by taking the mail boat from Mulgrave to Arichat to complete Grade 11 at the convent school there. When her father heard of this plan his only comment was “When you leave there, be sure you tell the sisters first.” Maurice Meagher's prediction proved true, Theresa's spreading of her wings in Arichat didn't last very long but it no doubt helped her find the strength to leave home for Sydney the following year to take her Grade 12 at Holy Angels, where she graduated.

After high school Theresa attended Normal College in Truro, in 1949-50, and, upon this second graduation, was offered a teaching post in Little Dover, Guysborough Co., a more remote village in Nova Scotia one would be hard pressed to identify. Theresa's Dover was Make and Break Harbour while the fishing was still good! She loved the family she boarded with; enjoyed the local dances; remembered the fiddlers who played there, and could recount the dance card etiquette of the period in detail. But mostly she remembered how much she enjoyed the children she taught, and kept numerous photographs of them she had taken in front of Dover's four-room schoolhouse.

She met Bernie, her future husband, at a church picnic in Judique in 1951, and they married and settled in Halifax in 1955 where they soon began a family. As was the custom, Theresa left the teaching profession when she married but returned to substitute teaching once her own children were in school. True to her rural roots, however she rarely taught in the city schools of Halifax preferring to teach in the fishing villages outside the city.

While Theresa enjoyed her youth and years as a full time teacher, she certainly saw her long period as wife and mother as the centrepiece of her life. While the self-sacrifices of a mother of six children can't be gainsaid, what's most striking about her mothering is the poise and pleasure she brought to the calling.

Much of her ease with motherhood seems to have come from her nature. It's interesting to note that the medieval Irish of today's “Meagher” takes its root from the Gaelic for “hospitality”. While one would not wish to hang too much on this etymological curiosity, it is no clear that her married brothers also parented in a unruffled, generous way and that her bachelor brother, Harold, too, showed a similar ease with both customers in his store and friends at his camp. On weekends in winter, late into the night, there were often twenty people crammed into Harold's small cabin on Goose Harbour Lake heated, in signature style, to 98 degrees against the cold of the snowmobiling season. Harold loved such social excess, even if he, like Mom, was a card-carrying introvert. Mom's mother, too, was easy around people, would take a drink, and was unmoved by hubbub.

This theme of hospitality gives us further insight into Theresa's parenting style in that it helps us to see the central place of visiting-- giving and receiving hospitality-- in the culture of the Meagher family. Theresa's large trove of photographs is plainly a testament to this fact: Sunday drives, visiting in small and large family groups, conversation, storytelling, playing cards, evening tea and lunch, with beer or rum as the company and occasion warranted it. All this was key to the Meaghers' view of the good life, as Harold might have put it.

In due course Theresa brought like themes to her life with her children in Halifax to similar happy effect-- bottomless cups of tea, long conversations at dinner, the family rosary, games of auction forty-five. Her new setting inspired more urban themes as well, such as keeping in touch with the other mothers on our street and staying on top of the sports and arts involvements of her kids across the city.

Mom and Dad did their part in fuelling the fires of the Baby Boom. At one point there were 65 children, from Primary to Grade 12, on our block of Summit St. alone: the Joyces, Richards, Ewings, Youngs, Mayos, Lloys, Hartnetts, Bakers, McLauglins, MacLeans, Grays, Osbergs and more. It was a very lively scene. And its wintertime hub was the backyard rink at the MacDonells. At suppertime I would leave the hockey game in our yard, crawl across the kitchen floor with my skates on, climb up to the table to eat, then return to the game, like Napoleon's soldiers, on my stomach. Hockey was sacred, of course, but Mom assured that the girls could skate hockey-free (all this long before girls hockey caught on) and she maintained a schedule to this effect.

Another memory I associate with winter is entering the house to smells of Mom's fresh baking, a warmer feeling of home in all of life is still difficult to conjure. Even in my fifties, almost embarrassing to relate, she continued to send me care packages of her famous molasses cookies to Ontario by post-- her long view of motherhood gloriously displayed.

Theresa's summers with us in Cape Breton saw her again in her element. Surrounded by the close-knit community bordering the MacDonell farm in Judique Intervale, she showed us new sides of her love of nature and tradition. In many ways our family time there transported us to a simpler age where tasks like drawing water from the well and picking wild berries for jam were morning duties undertaken with the assurance of a long afternoon at the beach to follow. These were wonderful experiences she gave us in the twilight of the Gaelic language and the older ways of Inverness County. At some level most of us knew this world was special, even beautiful. We were privileged to have had parents who made us part of it.

Even after her children were grown, Theresa still loved her Cape Breton summers where, on occasion, she would stroll along the Glencoe Road under moonlight. Sometimes she would grab a sheet to cover her head from the mosquitoes until local rumour, and a report in The Inverness Oran, told of multiple sightings of the Gussieville Ghost— a new spirit unchronicled by Helen Creighton. Mom enjoyed this episode of secret, otherworldly notoriety but she refused to embellish the plot further, despite our excited encouragement that she do so.

In her later eighties Theresa was beginning to show signs of dementia. When arriving home from Ontario one summer I began to notice that she had family photos arranged, shoulder-to-shoulder, all along the tops of the Chesterfields and mantlepieces of the house. When I asked what all the photos were about, she simply said she liked them. But there was more to this than pleasure: she was using the photos to hold onto to her personal narrative against the onslaught of her disease.

Alongside her busy outer life, Theresa also cultivated a strong interior life. The first aim of this inner life was an intentional and disciplined love of others.

This love was shaped by marriage and motherhood certainly but it was also reinforced by daily prayer, weekly mass, and the great cloud of witnesses in her extended family and community. Mom's kindness and ease in giving of herself became her spiritual path. And she followed this path faithfully to a place of fruitful virtue and undeniable peace.

As recently as six weeks ago she spoke of her prayer life with articulate clarity, her quiet centre still inviolate to her dementia.

As her son I cannot respond to her life, especially her gracious presence, with anything but the most tender gratitude, her love having long since become one of the few felt certainties of my life.

Our family would like to thank John Edmonds and our sister, Margaret, for generously opening their home and their hearts to Mom in her last two years. A debt of gratitude is also owed to our brother, Joe, for the loving devotion he showed Mom and Dad in their final years together on Summit St. Many thanks also to the Homecare workers and the VON of Halifax and Guysborough County for the warm, professional care they gave Theresa on a daily basis.

Mom's funeral mass will be celebrated at St. Theresa's church, 6351 North St., Halifax, 11 am, Thursday, November 5. Unfortunately, due to COVID restrictions, funeral attendance is by invitation only. If you would like to view her funeral remotely, the livestream may be accessed at

Theresa's burial will take place at 2 pm, Saturday, November 7, at St. Andrew's Parish cemetery, Judique. All are welcome. A celebration of Theresa's life will also take place when COVID restrictions are lifted. Details to follow at a later date. In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to the VON at

''O sacred heart of Jesus, I place my trust in thee.''

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  • Funeral Mass

    Thursday, November 5, 2020

  • Burial

    Saturday, November 7, 2020

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Theresa MacDonell

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Catherine (Rogers) Johnson

November 13, 2020

I Catherine (Rogers) Johnson am the daughter of Emily (O’Neil, Rogers) Cohoon, from Mulgrave. When we lived in Halifax, and you
MacDonell children were young, your mom used to take on some substitute teaching. Emily Cohoon (my mom) would go over and be with you children, she always spoke of those darling children and marvelled how good they were. She loved being with you and she loved your mom and they always kept in touch. You mom & dad used to occasionally drop over for a visit in Halifax ,or Mulgrave or Aulds Cove. Your mom & dad where beautiful people and our family always appreciated their wonderful lives together. Sincere Sympathy! God Bless! Catherine Johnson

Peter O'Brien

November 12, 2020

I don't think I ever met any of Theresa's children, but my family lived across the street at 6270 Summit from 2000-2008. She was a wonderful neighbour with deep roots on that street, always ready for a chat and kind to our children. Condolences on your loss. She set a great example and will surely be missed. As fate would have it, Theresa and my mother Valerie are sharing space on the Cruikshank's obituary page at this moment.

Peter O'Brien

Ian Murphy

November 8, 2020

As Jim Meagher's oldest grandson, I had the pleasure of meeting his youngest sister on a few occasions. She was always kind, and I am sorry for your loss. I re-read the obituary several times, as it was such a beautiful tribute to your radiated throughout the piece...what a beautiful sendoff.

Stephen Pottie

November 8, 2020

To Gerard, Joe and family,

My deepest condolences on the loss of your mother.

There are so many memories of growing up in the area we did and many of them were made with the friends and families along Summit St. I remember your mom as being a wonderfully kind and caring person. I, too, remember the smells of baking from your front door when I would come over to your house!

I know you will find loving support from your family and friends and please, rest assured, my thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time.

Bernie MacDonald

November 5, 2020

I thought the family would like a copy of this 1944 Mulgrave Loggie School photo with her, and many of her friends from around town, including my family members. Condolences, Bernie MacDonald an old Mulgraver.

Christine Hoyt (nee Tanner)

November 4, 2020

My condolences to your whole family. Your mother was always welcoming to me and she was first to teach me to use a stove. Several years back, when I was home I dropped flowers off for her in appreciation. She called me a few days later and we had a good chat. Enjoy your memories of her. It takes a long time to adjust to the loss of your mother, even when they have lived a long life. Be gentle with yourselves. Christine (Tanner) Hoyt

Judy Gray

November 4, 2020

My sincere condolences to the family. Mrs MacDonell was a favorite neighbour during our time on Summit Street when my children were growing up. So enjoyed meeting her on the street and talking with her.
She was a lovely lady and certainly will be missed.

Mark Tanner

November 4, 2020

My sincere condolences to the entire MacDonell clan. So sorry for the loss of your Mom. I remember many days playing on Summit street and congregating at your house. Bernie was always a great friend of mine. I wish you all strength and peace in this difficult time.

Joanne Duffett

November 3, 2020

I just loved your mother Theresa. Always had great chats with her no matter where we met. Loved your father too. They were such an amazing couple. Loved getting a hug from Theresa when I’d see her at mass at St Theresa’s church. She’ll truly be missed by all who knew and loved her. I enjoyed every word I read in her obituary. She was beautiful both on the inside and outside.

Jim David

November 3, 2020

My sincere condolences on the passing of your Mother. Although I do not recall meeting her, my mother (Gertrude Hall David) often spoke of her Aunt Clara and cousins. Harold would visit our home in Port Felix and I recall bringing Mom to visit him in Mulgrave a number of years ago. I so enjoyed reading your mother's obituary and viewing the picture collection. What a lovely tribute to this beautiful lady and her life.


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