Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 26, 2007
Elisabeth taught U.S. rural children
And went on to found the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Hyacinthe
Venerable Elisabeth Bergeron – April 29
- WCR photo by Ted Fitzgerald
The simple tomb of Venerable Elisabeth Bergeron in her centre attracts many visitors.
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
St. Hyacinthe, Quebec
Breakfast time and the enthusiastic restaurant manager/owner proudly boasts his City of St. Hyacinthe claims to have the holiest street anywhere.
A holy street
It follows then that those in search of the Venerable Elisabeth Bergeron will find her memory preserved along historic rue Girouard Ouest where it parallels the Yamaska River in old Centre-ville. There, a few blocks west of the cathedral, Mother St. Joseph's tomb can be visited in the historic motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Hyacinthe at a shrine dedicated to the holy Canadian foundress.
In the spring of 1851, a daughter born at a farm at La Presentation just outside of St. Hyacinthe, was destined to become a major influence on rural education in Quebec and elsewhere.
Elisabeth, a model Christian child, reverent and devout, at age 16 found her avocation teaching catechism to neighbourhood children after shift work in a U.S. factory.
Later, back in La Presentation and despite rejections from three area religious communities, she was sought out by St. Hyacinthe Bishop Louis-Z‚phirin Moreau and asked to establish a new order dedicated to teaching rural children. So in 1880, she and three companions took formal vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and founded the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Hyacinthe.
In 1889, the sisters moved into the city and are still headquartered in the large brick convent visitors see today. Situated on ave Raymond just off rue Girouard Ouest, it's an attractive structure, with a decorative main entrance and statue of St. Joseph, the order's patron.
Despite being replaced as superior just two years after the establishment of the order - probably because of her lack of formal education - Mother St. Joseph, as she was known, devoted herself wholeheartedly to the group's objectives and ideals and was the congregation's driving force.
Weathering setbacks and rejections, the sisters persevered in establishing schools so that by 1900, there were nine in the diocese. By 1949, they could claim schools in more than 80 parishes world-wide and since then have seen the establishment of teachers colleges and other institutions expanding in Africa and into South America.
Elisabeth found her avocation teaching catechism to neighbourhood children after shift work in a U.S. factory.
Although quite infirm following an arduous trip to Saskatchewan in 1911, Mother St. Joseph continued to provide spiritual support to her sisters through good times and a series of epidemics that ravaged the motherhouse.
A saint is lost
She passed quietly to her Maker on April 29, 1936 at the establishment that she had built, and many declared the world had lost a saint.
The Centre Elisabeth Bergeron displays artefacts relating to her life, but the focus of most visitors is the holy woman's simple sarcophagus centred in a room largely devoid of decoration. On the wall is a prominent and appropriate passage from 1 Corinthians 1:27, "God singled out the weak of this world to shame the strong."
The Sisters of St. Joseph are determined to advance the cause for sainthood of their founder and were rewarded when Pope John Paul II declared Elisabeth Bergeron Venerable. Literature available at the centre includes biographies, prayer cards, novenas and tiny cloth relics of the holy woman.
To verify the claims of the restuaruant owner and civic promoter, visitors also have a choice of religious sites to visit along "holy" rue Girouard Ouest.
The cathedral, dedicated to St. Hyacinthe, contains the much-visited tomb of city Bishop Blessed Louis Zephirin Moreau. Nearby is Eglise Notre-Dame-du-Rosaire, the original, 1777 parish church of the resident Maskoutains.
The convent of the Souers Adoratrices-du-Precieux-Sang contains a shrine to founder Mother Catherine Aurelie, whose cause is also being promoted.