Sunday, 12 April 2015

The Foundation of Saint-Anne de Beaupré (Canada)

The Venerable Father Passerat had just introduced the Redemptoristine Sisters into Austria (1831). When the sons of Saint Alphonsus had reached as far as America in 1832, the Servant of God resolved to have the nuns follow in their footsteps. It seemed to him to be absolutely in conformity with the views of divine Providence to thus give the daughters of the holy Doctor a part in the immense field that the New Word offered apostolic zeal. And so attempts were made for this purpose, and some time before 1840, some land was purchased for the establishment of a convent of Redemptoristines.

For reasons that have remained unknown to us, this attempt produced no effect. Later on the famous Father Bernard, the first Dutch Redemptorist and the first Provincial of North America (1848-1853), who personally knew the Redemptoristines of Marienthal, took up the project again, but without being able to put it into effect. [1] The Most Rev. Father Oomen, Provincial of Holland (1874-1887) in his turn took some steps to bring it about. An American bishop, His Lordship Mons Gross, Redemptorist, first of all Bishop of Savannah and then Archbishop of Oregon, keenly encouraged this project. On the two visits he made to the Convent of Marienthal in 1876 and 1889, he expressed the desire to possess a monastery of Redemptoristines in his diocese. As a special reason for a foundation in the United States, he alleged, on his second visit, that his priests desired to see established in America an Order less austere than that of the Carmelites, and promised to find them vocations, for besides, this country was already sufficiently provided with active Orders.

The nuns of Marienthal did not let themselves be easily influenced by these reasons. The number of Sisters they had did not seem to them to be very considerable, and the idea of founding a convent in Germany was much more attractive to them, and then, North America seemed far away to them, and the enterprise a very difficult one! The reply was put to them that if their fervour had already permitted them to found the Convent of Ried in Austria (1852), that of Sambeek in Holland, to which they had given thirteen religious, and to furnish Superiors many times to other monasteries of the Order, the colonising genius of Holland was to reach a pinnacle this time by making them cross the Ocean. But their hopes for a foundation in Germany (many of their Sisters were from this country) suddenly came to life more urgently than ever, thanks to the encouragement and promises of the Coadjutor Bishop of Cologne, Mons A. Fischer. When he became the Cardinal-Archbishop of this seat, this prelate gave them reason to hope for the accomplishment of their desires in 1904, the jubilee year of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and which the canonisation of Saint Gerard Majella (11th December) was to make dear to them forever.

However, this year passed without the Cardinal being able to realise his plans. His great influence at court was sometimes blotted out by the clamour of the German Protestants, for the progress of Catholicism had made inroads against the heretical and impious movement of the Loss von Rom (Far from Rome)! He made the Sisters of Marienthal aware of his powerlessness and asked them for the meantime to look for a more suitable site.

These successive delays or set-backs were permitted by Providence so that they could realise a more grandiose plan, or rather, so that the original plan could finally be put into effect. It was indeed to America that God wished the Redemptoristines to go. The graces spread into the hearts of the Sisters by the Jubilee of Mary Immaculate and the canonisation of Saint Gerard, the disciple of the founder of their Order and in the past so devoted to their first Mothers, - these graces, we may say, prepared them unknowingly to bring it about after a period of waiting that lasted thirty years.

* * * * *

On Wednesday, 18th January in the year 1905, the Most Rev. Father Meeuwissen, the Provincial of the Redemptorist Fathers of Holland, was visiting his confreres in the Convent of Wittem. On this occasion he went to celebrate the holy Mass in the chapel of the Sisters of Marienthal, not far distant from the Fathers’ Convent. After his thanksgiving, the Sisters came to greet him at the grille of the parlour, and the Superior, Mother Marie-Hyacinthe, asked his advice on the subject of a new foundation. Their hearts were still turned towards the frontiers of Germany.

The Very Rev. Father Provincial replied immediately and without any premeditation: “Ah well, my Mother, go to America. I promise you I will accompany you there in person.”

Great was the stupefaction of the Sisters in hearing such an unexpected reply, but it had been made in such an assured tone, and it seemed to indicate the will of God so clearly that their hearts soon recovered from their surprise, and soon the voice of the Most Reverend Father General Raus put an end to the few hesitations that had been produced. A foundation in the United States for the meantime seemed to be exposed to too many difficulties, but the Most Reverend Father Rau cut through the difficulties. In the month of February he wrote the following lines to the Most Rev. Father Meeuwissen: “A land that I think will be more favourable to religious contemplatives would be Canada. A Bishop from this country spoke to me about it not long ago. I am sure that our Visitor, Father Lemieux, if you ask him to examine the project, will be able to give you some good information and help you to find a suitable place for it.” This advice was decisive in the history of the foundation. The divine Redeemer wanted the successor of Saint Alphonsus to decide on the execution of the project, and himself determine the choice of the country in the New World in which the daughters of Saint Alphonsus were to be established. Thus obedience itself presided at this great act.

The Most Rev. Father Meeuwissen wrote in consequence to Rev. Father Lemieux, the Visitor and Vice-Provincial of Canada. He replied with entire devotion to this advance and referred him on to Mons Begin, the Archbishop of Quebec, who placed no other condition on the establishment of the Sisters than the obligation not to go begging, of which there was of course no question. This goodness of the Archbishop merits even more gratitude, because the Province of Quebec already included a good number of contemplative communities. Father Lemieux proposed to establish the new monastery in proximity to the famous shrine of Sainte-Anne de Beaupré, served by the Redemptorists of the Belgian Province, and at the same time he invited the Father Provincial of Holland to come in person to Sainte-Anne with some Sisters from Marienthal, to arrange everything and be sure that it was all right. Two months later, on 19th August, the foundation of the first Monastery of the Redemptoristines in America was a fait accompli. Thus were realised the words of Rev. Father Lemieux: “Our glorious Father, Saint Alphonsus wishes his work in Canada to be complete; and it is without doubt a token of blessing for our Vice-Province.” Thus the wishes of the Most Rev. Father Raus were accomplished.

* * * * *

The Sisters chosen for the attempt at this great enterprise were: Sister Marie-Stanislas of the Blessed Sacrament in the position of Superior. She was from Aix-la-Chapelle and aged about fifty five. Then there was Sister Marie-Gabrielle of the Incarnation, from Amsterdam, aged thirty five. The Most Rev. Father Provincial was of the opinion that the Superior of Marienthal, Mother Marie-Hyacinthe of the Precious Blood, should join them in spite of being sixty three years old, in order to put her experience of affairs to the service of the new foundation. When the foundation was begun, she would return. Mons Drehmans, the Bishop of Roermond, and as such, the canonical Superior of Marienthal, willingly gave the necessary permissions. Finally, the Sovereign Pontiff, at the request of Very Rev. Father Oomen, the Procurator General of the Congregation, sent the Sisters his apostolic blessing.

* * * * *

Finally the 21st July arrived, the day of departure. It was the feast of Saint Alexis. The Introit to the Mass invited the founding Sisters to go forth from their native country and come into the place that God would show them: Egredere de terra tua et de domo patris tui, et veni in terram quam monstrabo tibi. Obliviscere populum tuum et domum patris tui, et concupiscent Rex decorem tuum. [Depart from thy land and from the house of thy father, and come into the land which I shall show you. Forget thy people and the house of thy father, and the King shall desire thy beauty]. All the rest of the Mass, the translation of which they took pains to give the travellers, applied in a very special and very touching manner to the departure of the Superior and the two other Sisters, and to the whole enterprise, and also the Epistle: Est quaestus magnus pietas cum sufficientia [But godliness with contentment is great gain] (1 Tim 6:6) – and the Gospel: Ecce nos reliquimus omnia [Behold we have left all things] (Matt. 19:27). Even the future return of Mother Marie-Hyacinthe found a mention in the Offertory: Revertere in terram tuam … et benefaciam tibi [Return to thy land … and I shall bless thee]. The Itinerarium was recited by the whole community before the open tabernacle, and then the Sisters took their travelling costume (brown habit with scapular and black mantles), and after farewells full of deep feelings, they left for Rotterdam, accompanied by Rev. Father Jansen, the confessor to the community. The train had to pass near Nijmegen, at Sambeek, the Monastery founded by Marienthal. The religious of Sambeek, the oldest ones of which had been the companions of the travellers, waved a great white sheet from the windows from afar off as a sign of joy, and sent some even more clear evidence of their feelings to the station. At Rotterdam, they went to the Convent of the Redemptorist Fathers, where the Very Rev. Provincial and the community received the foundresses with a very fraternal charity. In the evening, at about nine o’clock, two carriages conveyed them to the Potsdam, the greatest of the ships of the Holland-America Line. The following day, the anchor was weighed. It was on the Saturday in the octave of the Most Holy Redeemer, 22nd July, the fest of Saint Mary Magdalen, one of the patronesses of the Order, and the contemplative par excellence.

The crossing was a most happy one. The Most Rev. Father Provincial and the Sisters arrived at New York on Tuesday, 1st August, the vigil of the feast of the Founder and Father of the Order, Saint Alphonsus. The Redemptorist Fathers of New York received the travellers with all the refinements of charity. After the feast of Saint Alphonsus they continued their journey to Montreal, and after that, Rev. Father Lemieux accompanied them the following day to Quebec, to present them to Mons Begin. The worthy Archbishop received them with great kindness, and after he had received from the hands of Mother Marie-Hyacinthe a copy of the Rules and Constitutions in French, he favourably received the request they made, that the spiritual direction of the Sisters would be entrusted to the Redemptorist Fathers.

On 5th August, between the feast of Saint Dominic, one of the protectors of the Order, and the feast of the Transfiguration, the date on which the first Sisters had put on their holy habit in 1731, they arrived at the shrine of good Saint Anne, in the shadow of which they hoped to found their first home in which they would exercise their apostolate of love, prayer and suffering. It was still the time of the great pilgrimages. Thousands of strangers, brought there by their bishops and priests, crowded the feet of the miraculous statue. The new religious Order thus made itself known right away, and without wishing to do so, to great multitudes. The Bishop of Trois-Rivieres said, on this occasion, to the Dutch Provincial: “You have done a great work in bringing the Sisters here. It is prayer joined to action. It is a blessing for the missions. They will be the lightning conductors of America.”

The Sisters found a veritable father in the Rector of the Convent of Saint-Anne, Rev. Father Honore de Nys, and from the very beginning he put all his devotion and that of his confreres to the service of the new foundation. “Mother Marie-Hyacinthe,” says an account, “set herself at once to the work with her usual energy, diligence and experience. Aided by the good Fathers of Sainte-Anne, she soon had a charming little house which would serve as a Bethlehem for the first Sisters. A temporary chapel was arranged, what was strictly necessary was bought, and then the first Redemptoristines were established in Canada.”

On 19th August, the Most Rev. Father Provincial of Holland celebrated the holy Mass for the first time in the Sisters’ house. In a short homily he remarked on the points of resemblance of this house with the first Monastery of the Order at Scala, and exhorted the Sisters to the imitation of Jesus Christ, which is the spirit and essence of their holy Rules. Holy Communion, which the Sisters received, was like the divine seal on this very touching inauguration. A few days afterwards, on 21st August, the Archbishop of Quebec wrote the following letter to the future Superior, Reverend Mother Marie-Stanislas:

“My Reverend Mother,
“In these few last days I have received your letter of 14th of this month, in which you ask me for the authorisation to found a Monastery of the Redemptoristines at Sainte-Anne, in the Archdiocese of Quebec.

“The excellent Vice Provincial and Visitor of the Redemptorists, Rev. Father Lemieux, prepared the way for you by communicating your project of foundation to me before your arrival in America. He approved your plan and desired its realisation. The good Fathers of Sainte-Anne, who have worked with so much zeal and so much success in my diocese for many years, share his views. All that remains is for me to decide to accept your request, in spite of the great number of religious communities which I have had to welcome since the persecution broke out in France.

“Your admission has been rendered easier by the engagement you have undertaken of never being a charge to the diocese, and not going begging no matter for what, but to live solely on the dowries of your nuns.

“The life of prayer, contemplation and penance that you will live in your Monastery, in conformity with the Rules that your illustrious founder, Saint Alphonsus, drew up for you, will edify our people. It will turn the anger of God away from our heads, and it will attract the graces and blessings of heaven to the Archdiocese of Quebec.

“Be therefore welcome amongst us. Here you will enjoy the liberty of the children of God. You will not be strangers, but members of my great diocesan family, the flocks that will be ever more dear to me the more you distinguish yourselves by the holiness of your lives. I pray to God to extend His most precious blessings upon you, upon your Sisters and upon the wonderful work that you are about to undertake.

“Please receive, my Reverend Mother, this expression of my most devoted sentiments in Our Lord.

“† Louis Nazaire, Archbishop of Quebec.”

The plans for the new Monastery were approved by Mons Begin, and the work began right away. The land had been handed over by the Fathers of Sainte-Anne. It was a fairly extensive site, on the slopes of the hill that the Basilica of Sainte-Anne dominates, and it has a magnificent view over the St. Lawrence River, which is so majestic in its course. Even before their departure, it had been decided that the new convent, like that of Scala, would be dedicated to the Immaculate Virgin, and the church to Saint Gerard Majella.

* * * * *

Once the foundation was assured, they arranged everything at Marienthal for the departure of the six other Sisters who, with the first two, were to form the nucleus of the first community of the Order in the New World. The Sisters chosen were: Sister Marie-Therese of the Holy Spirit (50 yrs old); Sister Marie-Jeanne-Evangeliste of the Divine Love (40 yrs old); Sister Marie-Dominique of the Holy Rosary (44 yrs old); Sister Marie-Raphael of the Divine Providence (23 yrs old); Sister Marie-Madeleine of the Crucifix (25 yrs old), and lastly, Sister Felicia of Jesus and Mary, a converse (30 yrs old).

Friday, 29th September 1905, the feast of the Archangel Saint Michael, one of the Patrons of the Order, was fixed for the departure. They celebrated the holy Mass very early. Rev. Father Jansen, the ordinary confessor, who was to accompany the Sisters to America in accordance with the wishes of the Most Rev. Father General, gave the Sisters a special homily for the occasion, and then, once the Itinerarium was recited, the benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was given. A very special benediction from our Holy Father the Pope, Pius X, written in his own hand, came to give the travellers the last pledge of heavenly favours, and the Sisters said farewell to their dear companions at Wittem.

Like the first journey, they were received at Rotterdam with the most cordial charity. At nine o’clock in the evening, they embarked on the same steamship that had taken those before them, and had it not been for their black mantles, we would have seen them, on this little moving town of the Potsdam, in their complete Redemptoristine costume that they brought from the convent. It was thus a curious spectacle for the 2500 passengers to see a whole religious community, attended by their Chaplain, applying themselves to their exercises. Respect towards them was general. Sympathies were numerous and many prejudices fell before their frank and sincere piety, their great degree of cordiality and the charitable courtesy that distinguished these travellers.

Moreover, they observed the Rule of the convent as far as possible. Every morning, the Father who accompanied them celebrated the holy Mass in a cabin. The nuns took Communion, and many persons, including the missionary nuns from the Convent of Steyl in Holland, profited from the same happiness. On the Sundays of 1st and 8th October, the holy Mass was celebrated at ten o’clock in the great hall of the second class, which included a good number of Catholics. Sometimes too, in their cabins, Father addressed to them a short instruction appropriate to the feast of the day, or the circumstances of the times.

After a fairly calm crossing, the Sisters arrived at New York on Monday, 9th October, towards evening. Rev. Father Speydel, Rector of the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, and Rev. Father Englet, received them with the greatest cordiality and brought them by carriage to the Franciscan Sisters, with whom they stayed and rested all the following day. On the Wednesday they left for Montreal, where the Most Rev. Father Lemieux received them, and the next day at about four o’clock, they were brought into the venerable sanctuary of Sainte-Anne de Beaupré. There they kneeled down and prayed fervently to the divine Redeemer, the Immaculate Virgin and good Saint Anne. Some moments later, Reverend Mother Marie-Hyacinthe and the two Sisters Marie-Stanislas and Marie-Gabriel entered by a side door, and while the organ made the place reverberate with its sweetest harmonies, the church was suddenly lit up with electricity as on the great feast days, and the two groups of religious embraced each other silently under the eyes of Saint Anne.

It is useless to tell of the joy and gratitude which flowed from the hearts of the daughters of Saint Alphonsus. Soon they were seated at the table of hospitality to which the Rev. Father Rector of the Convent had invited them. The Fathers and Brothers made it their duty to give their best welcome to their Sisters in religion. Finally, when they were brought to their little provisional convent, the nuns found all the lamps lit up in the modest sanctuary, the greeting of the Blessed Sacrament was sung, and Rev. Father Allard, in a touching homily, gave his welcome to the Sisters whom the Most Holy Redeemer had just brought together to work for the salvation of souls.

The mission of the Reverend Mother Marie-Hyacinthe had now been achieved. When she had left Marienthal, the worthy Bishop of Roermond, Mons Drehmans, told her: “And you, my Mother, when you have accomplished your task, you will return to us, as you are necessary for this house.” On 16th October, the feast of Saint Gerard and the first day of the solemn Triduum of the canonisation of the great miracle-worker, she took the road to Quebec, after attending the first solemnities. On 18th October she left New York on the same Potsdam that had brought her. On Saturday evening, 28th October, she arrived back at Marienthal. We can well imagine that she was received with open arms. “We were proud of our Mother,” wrote one of the Sisters in the convent, “because she had let herself be led like a child through obedience and the divine Providence, and God blessed her devotion. She took her rest only very late that night, and the following day at four o’clock, she was in choir with us to recite Matins.” [2]

On the third day of the Triduum of Saint Gerard, Mons the Archbishop of Quebec officiated pontifically at Sainte-Anne. He then visited the provisional convent of the Sisters and conversed paternally with them, and confirmed the election of Reverend Mother Marie-Stanislas as Superior for three years.

The building of the new Monastery advanced rapidly. On 8th December 1906, the Sisters took solemn possession of their permanent home. On the same day, through a delicate attention of Providence, the first American postulant presented herself to the Monastery. Thus the favours of heaven were united to the favours of the first Pastor of the diocese, the unanimous voices of the faithful, and the apostolic desires of the daughters of Saint Alphonsus. May the holy Doctor extend his greatest blessings over a Monastery that will be, we do not doubt, the faithful heiress of his spirit and his apostolic zeal.

[1] His Life has been translated from Dutch into French: Vie du Rév. P. Bernard, priest of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer and doctor of theology, by Mons M. J. A. Lans (1 vol. in 8o. Casterman, Paris-Tournai).
[2] This venerable religious was soon to go to receive the reward for her numerous works. Struck down by apoplexy on Friday, 10th May 1907, she died later on the Saturday at about 10.30 in the evening. Here is the notice that was communicated to us concerning this worthy daughter of Saint Alphonsus. “Sister Marie-Hyacinthe was born at Montjoie in 1842. Right up to her last days, in recreation she would happily recall the rustic and innocent joys that she had enjoyed in that beautiful countryside. Later on, her father, Mr. Pascal Massion went to live at Aix-la-Chapelle, where he was the proprietor of a large factory. He gave his daughters a distinguished education and a very Christian one especially. Adele, his oldest daughter, was soon capable of helping her mother with the cares of the household. Rev. Father Heilig, the Rector of the Convent of Saint Alphonsus at Aix, soon recognized a religious vocation in her, and after testing her out thoroughly, he had her enter Marienthal (1865). Right from her entry, she showed a great fervour and a serious desire for perfection. Her nature pushed her rather towards austerity, and she had to combat a certain impetuosity in order to become meek and good. She had an aptitude for everything, and was named Housekeeper after the fire of 1877, which was no small thing. The heavy burden of Superior was laid upon her on several occasions. Endowed with the most beautiful qualities of heart, spirit and many talents, with an exquisite taste for the arts, as well as being very capable in business matters, she was well able to give good advice to her daughters in all things. She also devoted herself entirely, and was always found ready to render service. All her life she showed herself as zealous for the exact and painstaking observance of the Rule, and when anything was lacking she showed herself inflexible. Her motto in practice was: “Duty before all, duty always.” Her greatest pleasure was to work for the ornamentation of the altar. She had an extraordinary skill, and our sacristy is rich in the works of her hands – so many souvenirs that are so precious to us. Her last trienniat was greatly disturbed by the foundation in Canada and her great journey, but in the greatest difficulties she never lost her courage and confidence in God. Our revered Mother made a good impression everywhere by her dignity and religious simplicity. She said: “In all these events I have let myself be led by Providence like a child.” “When she returned to Marienthal, where she continued her life hidden in Jesus Christ, whom she cherished above everything else, she helped the Sisters in America with all her power. But soon her task was finished, and she fell in the line of duty. Until her short illness she followed the common life in spite of her infirmities, which she bore in silence and with a great deal of courage. She still went on serving every week at table and washed the dishes, observed the fasts and abstinences, and gave herself the discipline with the others, etc. Finally, she was always our valiant Mother, who through her examples and her exhortations excited her daughters to virtue. Struck down by a mild attack on 29th April while coming to recreation that evening, she told Mother Vicar: “If I have to die of this, I shall yet be happy”, but she did not believe, however, that she was as ill as she was, and after a few days she wanted to get up very early for Holy Communion and the holy Mass, which she did until Friday, 10th May, when an attack of apoplexy in her brain threw her upon her bed, and soon made an end of her days. She lay unconscious, without a look of farewell, after Extreme Unction was administered, until Saturday evening about 10.30. Then the Blessed Virgin came to seek her faithful servant to bring her into the arms of her divine Spouse, who, we hope, would have given her the fine crown that she merited so well by a life of abnegation and fidelity to the Rule of Saint Alphonsus. It is the consolation of our community in mourning that she will not forget us in heaven.”

This necrology is translated from Fleurs de l'Institut des Rédemptoristines by Mr John R. Bradbury. The copyright of this translation is the property of the Redemptoristine Nuns of Maitland, Australia. The integral version of the translated book will be posted here as the necrologies appear.

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP