Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
May 7, 2001
N. S. exhibit shows sisters' efforts
Notre Dame sisters provided education in 18th century Louisbourg
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
LOUISBOURG, N.S. — In 1727 a teaching sister of the Montreal-based Congregation of Notre Dame arrived in the fortified town of Louisbourg.
She was 53-year-old Marguerite Roy (Soeur de la Conception), a determined woman with a mission to influence the lives of young girls in the community through education. The next few years would test her commitment to the educational project on which she had embarked.
Even though there were almost 250 girls and boys in the local population there was still no formal school in the town. There had been repeated calls for a school to be established at Louisbourg, but the royal officials had shown no interest in the project. Their priorities were the economy and the defence of the colony, not the education of its youth.
The story of the Marguerite Roy's work and achievements and that of the other dedicated Sisters of Notre Dame who followed in her footsteps is a remarkable saga.
From 1727 until 1758 they taught Louisbourg girls, both rich and poor, reading, writing and domestic skills, preparing them for an active life in the community. Their presence had another impact on Louisbourg as well, for the sisters are credited with elevating the moral tone of the rugged seaport town.
For the sisters, life in Louisbourg was a constant struggle to earn sufficient money to survive and to keep their school alive. As residents of the town, they shared the fate of all of Louisbourg's people who were deported to France after the sieges of 1745 and 1758.
In the end they prevailed and demonstrated how a few determined individuals, in this case religious women, can make a world of difference.
A new exhibit at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site entitled, The Sisters of Louisbourg: The Mission of the Congregation of Notre Dame, recounts the challenges and successes faced by this highly motivated religious community of women in establishing the first formal school for girls on Cape Breton Island.
The exhibit, which will be launched May 31, was created by Jean Pearl of Louisbourg working with the Sisters of Notre Dame and with the historians, curators, archaeologists and costume designers of the Fortress of Louisbourg.
It tells the story of a dedicated religious community of women - teachers - who had a profound impact on the lives of young women and on the well being of the 18th-century town.
The exhibit is housed in the reconstructed home of Jean-Fan‡ois Eurry de la Perelle, an officer in the Louisbourg garrison. De la Perelle's two daughters no doubt attended the sisters' school.
The story is told through a series of thematic panels, recorded music, displays of reproduced furnishings, clothing and archaeological artifacts from the Fortress of Louisbourg collection and the curatorial collection of Maison Saint-Gabriel, an historic site of the Congregation of Notre Dame, in Montreal.
The music of the exhibit includes Gregorian chant and French hymns sung by Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame from Sydney, N.S. Also included is a selection of 16th and 17th century motets sung by the women of the Cape Breton Chorale.
The artifacts in the exhibit provide a direct link with the past. Maison Saint-Gabriel in Montreal, an historic site of the Congregation of Notre Dame, lent a collection of books and wooden artifacts.
The Louisbourg artifacts are from the extensive archaeological collection at the fortress and represent literacy, religion and needlework. One of the artifacts, a small cross, was found on the site of the Louisbourg convent where the sisters taught.
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