Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 20, 2003
Daughters of Wisdom celebrate
French-founded order still serves around the world
By RAMON GONZALEZ
"I like the spirituality of the congregation and the simplicity of our way of life."
- Sr. Claire Charlebois
The congregation of the Daughters of Wisdom grew fast. In the first 46 years, it spread its branches to 37 new hospitals in Western France. By the end of the century, more than 650 young women had dedicated their lives to serving the medical and literary needs of the French poor. In the late 1700s, the country was ravaged by the French Revolution, with the new government abolishing all religion in the land. Religious congregations were banned and persecuted, their buildings confiscated and sold. In 1894, four Daughters of Wisdom were executed by guillotine, 10 were massacred and 19 died in jail, worn out by mistreatment.
After the end of this chaotic period in history, the congregation began to grow again, answering to the needs of society by opening orphanages, institutions for the deaf and blind, caring for the mentally challenged and the aged. Marie-Louise Trichet, the foundress, died in 1759 and was beatified by Pope John Paul on May 16, 1993.
For some 100 years now the Daughters of Wisdom have been international in their work. They first expanded in Europe, then to the Americas, arriving in Montreal in 1884. They immediately opened an orphanage there.
Later, many new foundations sprung up in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and New Brunswick. There are also Daughters of Wisdom in 30 different countries, including Haiti, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil, Madagascar, Zaire, India and the Philippines.
The congregation arrived in Alberta in 1904 and soon began a boarding school in Red Deer for the children of rural Alberta who had no schools then. For the next 60 years this school served families in the area, providing academics from Grades 1 to 12, the arts and Christian values.
In 1911, the congregation arrived in Castor, where they founded and operated Our Lady of Rosary Hospital as well as a private school. They served there for 91 years. The sisters also worked untiringly with aboriginal people in northern Alberta for 24 years, mainly on the Whitefish Lake Reserve, where they started and operated a day school.
The congregation also taught and provided health care in Calgary, 1911, Ponoka, 1962, Grouard, 1963, Slave Lake, 1959 and Marten River, 1963. They also offered summer catechism in several other areas, including Evergreen, Rocky Mountain House, Bashaw, Stettler, Olds, Innisfail and Didsbury. In the mid-1950s they began operating the isolated Outpost Hospital in Leoville, Sask., providing medical and nursing staff and worked tirelessly for the next 23 years to improve health conditions in the community.
In 1966, they opened the congregation's central administration at 3820-114 St. The large, two-storey brick building has 16 bedrooms and used to house at least 60 sisters. Now it is home to only six sisters, including Charlebois, the superior. Over the past almost 100 years, 203 Daughters of Wisdom have served in Western Canada.
Many sisters left the order after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. But the thought of leaving never crossed Charlebois' mind. "I was too loyal to the order and to the Church," she smiled. Not only that, Charlebois approved of the reforms and was truly in love with religious life. She still is. "I like the spirituality of the congregation and the simplicity of our way of life. We have a very rich prayer life. And I love living in community with other sisters."
Currently, there are more than 2,300 Daughters of Wisdom around the world, including just over 400 in Alberta, Quebec and Ontario. They are all proudly preparing to mark their congregation's 300th anniversary.
In Edmonton, a celebration Mass will take place Feb. 2 at noon at St. Thomas More Church in city's southwest. Sacred Heart Church in Red Deer will also hold a celebration Mass on Feb. 2.
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