In the midst of the protests of Toronto Police raiding bathhouses in February 1981 (Operation Soap), eight gay men were inspired by the exploits of the original Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (SPI) in San Francisco, and decided to establish its own Order in Toronto. This first Canadian Order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence™ was founded by Sisters Appassionata della Bawdy House, Opiate of the Masses, Robbed at Birth, Florida Naranja, Intelligentsia, Exposia, Rosa Relentless, and Hair Apparent.
Their first public manifestation occurred at the first ‘official’ Toronto Gay Pride celebration on June 28, 1981. During this celebration, there was a protest march, fueled mostly by community anger over the bathhouse raids. The founding Toronto Sisters took part in this march, and during a brief pause in front of Toronto Police’s 52 Division station, the Toronto Sisters performed an exorcism on it.
Many of the Toronto Order's appearances were tied to protests and rallies in response to what was happening in the queer community - generally important political or legal issues (such as the October 1982 protest of Jerry Falwell's appearance at a suburban fundamentalist church). They also participated in rallies, tea parties, dances, bingos, skating on the ice rink at Nathan Philips Square, and other prominent queer events. They would manifest – appearing in public while wearing the nun’s habit – at the Hassle-Free Clinic, encouraging gay men to test regularly for sexually transmitted infections and providing Indulgent Rainchecks to clients unable to participate in sexual activity while waiting for an infection to clear. They also visited and comforted AIDS patients in the hospitals and at their homes.
Although they were popular, there was also resistance towards them, including Toronto’s Mayor at the time, Art Eggleton (who was also a Catholic) and several city counsellors (who threatened to pull city funding or permits for Pride if the Sisters were involved), members of the lesbian community and women’s rights groups opposed them mistakenly thinking they made fun of women, and even the openly gay Reverend Brent Hawkes of MCC Toronto – a vocal and passionate supporter for queer rights who staged a hunger strike against the bathhouse raids – who was opposed to the Toronto Sisters, finding their brand of activism marred by what he saw as a disrespectful treatment of religion. Since then, Reverend Hawkes now sees the Sisters in a different light and is a cherished friend of the Order.
Faced against these insurmountable obstacles, they declared the Chapter inactive as of October 1986. The last active Sisters were Atrociata von Tasteless, Celestial Gates, Flagellation of Forbidden Fruit, Sadie Masochism, and Sleazia.
In 1987, a young gay man named Brad was doing his Masters in Theology at the University of Toronto. He had a deep vocation and thought about ordination, but he had a problem with gay people not being accepted by the church. Brad learned about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and wanted to be part of it. He met with one of the original San Francisco Sisters, was veiled to become Sister Merry Peter, and returned to Toronto to rebuild the mission.
Sister Merry Peter used “contract nuns” who took 24-hour vows that expired at midnight to help in manifests including Bingo at Bar 501, condom outreach to sex workers on Church Street, and bathhouse condom ministry. She hosted a Sisters’ “late-night confessional” on the steps of the original Second Cup in the Village, which became a popular community event with crowd participation. She organized queer-focused, outward-bound retreat experiences for LGBTQ+ Youth from the Triangle Program. She is also noted for starting the tradition of glitter blessings which is now used by Sisters worldwide.
Despite her great heart and firm dedication, Sister Merry Peter could not establish a new mission. In 1999, she left Toronto and migrated to the motherhouse in San Francisco where she still serves the Order.
Their first public manifest was the Toronto SlutWalk on May 25, 2012. On August 4, 2012, the Abbey of the Long Cedar Canoe became a Fully Professed House of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence – the first in Canada in over 25 years. Their journey was recorded in the film, Bad Habits: The Return of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an original documentary by award-winning writer/director Kevin O’Keefe (who would later be anointed as a Saint by the Vancouver Sisters).
For the next four years, the Sisters did bar and street ministry, promulgating joy and expiating guilt courtesy of their Sexually Transmitted Guilt Disposal Bags. They attended, supported, and blessed community events & causes, and local businesses & organizations, including the opening of the Cabbagetown Community Arts Centre's Over The Top LGBTQ youth program, selling Easter Basket Blessings for Rainbow Railroad, Nuit Rose, Inside Out LGBT film festival, Toronto Leather Pride’s Mr. Leatherman Toronto & Ms. Leather Toronto competitions, and AIDS Walk Toronto.
Some of this group’s highlights included Sister Mary Milkette speaking out at a Toronto rally protesting the Russian government’s forced 'treatment' of LGBTQ+ people in 2013 (which unfortunately let to threats to Sister Mary from Russian Facebook users), Toronto Sisters’ faces appearing in photos in local media such as Daily Xtra, Buzz magazine, and In Toronto magazine, and marching in the World Pride Parade in 2014 & meeting future Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau.
The group achieved Mission status with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in the fall of 2013 through the United Nuns Privy Council (UNPC), a group of representatives from every SPI mission and house in North America. However, by November 2014, the UNPC revoked the Abbey of the Divine Wood’s mission status due to struggles and challenges in its membership.
Sister Twisted Fister resigned from the Abbey of the Divine Wood after it lost its mission status. She gathered a new flock from former Abbey of the Divine Wood members and new interested aspirants, and they first met on January 19, 2015. The group named themselves the Toronto Sisters of the Jubilant Order of York (JOY).
On March 21, 2015, the Toronto Sisters of JOY manifested for the first time at Spearhead Toronto Leather and Denim Club's 35th Anniversary Dinner followed by its first Street Ministry. On June 15, 2015, the group achieved mission status through the UNPC just in time for Toronto Pride 2015. After its first Pride Parade, the Toronto Sisters of JOY appeared in photos on the front page of Canada's largest newspaper, the Toronto Star.
On June 7, 2015, the Toronto Sisters attended one of the rallies at Queen’s Park protesting the wonderfully inclusive new Sexual Education curriculum that goes into effect in Ontario that September. Along with former MPP Reverend Dr. Cheri Di Novo and her executive assistant holding a rainbow flag, the Toronto Sisters were there to provide an alternate viewpoint. Although parents say their protests have nothing to do with homophobia, the Toronto Sisters’ presence revealed something different. The event was documented by a team from Daily Xtra including producer Kevin O’Keefe (who made the Sister Documentary Bad Habits). Subsequent coverage of this event in the news featured confrontations between the protestors and the Sisters, which was shared worldwide.
On June 12, 2016, the day after the mass shooting in Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub, the Toronto Sisters had an idea to do a manifest in the Village to be present for those needing comfort after this tragedy. Other members and organizations in the community jumped in and helped turned this idea into a massive, inclusive community gathering that united Toronto's LGBTQ+ community in grief and resilience. Over $2,600.00 was raised through donations that night.
In October 2016, the Toronto Sisters were invited to bless the 30th anniversary of local Toronto and Canada’s first & largest leather retailer, Northbound Leather who has provided incredible support to the Toronto LGBTQ+ community.
On Easter weekend 2016 and 2017, the Toronto Sisters did their own version of the SPI’s Hunky Jesus contest, the Toronto Kinky Jesus Competition, which was presented as part of the Central Canada Drummer Fetish Weekend. This event included the induction of some of our first Saints to be beatified by the Toronto Sisters.
For a full listing of manifests, check out our Past Manifestations page.