Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 26, 2004
Filles de Jesus
Sisters paved brave educational path
By SR. ALICE TROTTIER
Special to the WCR
On Jan. 21, 1904 - 100 years ago - on a most rigorous winter's day, Father Arcade Ethier, parish priest of Morinville, welcomed in his humble rectory four religious from Brittany, France.
With the rise to power of Emile Combes as president of the executive council and minister of education in the government of France, religious persecution broke out in 1901 when, in virtue of a Masonic law, no congregation could exist unless authorized to do so by another special law.
Forced to leave
In spite of numerous requests made by the superior general to the minister in Paris, 80 of the schools administered by the Daughters of Jesus were closed within 48 hours.
Some 500 sisters, expelled from their convents, arrived at the motherhouse from all parts of Brittany. They had to be relocated at once.
Many left their native land to find refuge abroad in England and in Canada - Alberta.
And so, on Jan. 31, at the Sunday Mass, Father Ethier invited his parishioners to the blessing of the school. The next day saw 60 students including 26 boarders attend the two classrooms in the large two-storey building.
The French class was taught by Sister Marie Adeline while the English class was under the supervision of Sister Saint Nicolas Marie.
The young 18-year-old Sister Marie Ste. Tarcienne was in charge of the piano lessons and Sister St. Eutrope Marie took care of the household chores and of the 12 chickens and the cow that were given to them by some generous persons.
The sisters, like the people, lived in great poverty. They lacked physical comfort in their convent and during this Siberian winter, only a small stove parsimoniously furnished them some warmth.
Many times, Bishop Emile Legal came from St. Albert to encourage them. He allowed them to beg in the parish and even along the Grand Trunk Railway line, from Edmonton to Edson, to and from the workers' camps.
Legal blessed the first convent, literally speaking, on Dec. 19, 1909.
Soon Notre Dame Convent acquired an enviable reputation and the number of boarders from outside Morinville increased from year to year. The 1909 building soon became insufficient.
The south wing was added to the central core in 1920 and 10 years later, an extension was built on the north comprising four classrooms, a dormitory and a recreation hall.
The Red School
In 1927, the Thibault School, also directed by the sisters, was also full to capacity. Built of red bricks it was generally called the Red School.
In 1954, on the golden jubilee of Notre Dame Convent, there were 440 students including 80 boarders and 23 nuns.
In March 1958, fire destroyed the Thibault School and soon a new school, spacious and modern, was built under the direction of Emilien Dupuis, architect. In 1966, the last principal Fille de Jesus handed over the direction of the school to a layman.
Nine sisters left Morinville in 1967; in 1970, five more and two years later, the sympathetic population had to bid farewell to the Daughters of Jesus.
In this centennial year of 2004, we want to commemorate that past, interpret it with faith and let it re-echo within the present moment to be understood and to give sense to our lives.
What vision of the future could have been theirs when our courageous predecessors were being threatened in their very existence?
Walk in their footsteps
Their superior educational performance entices us, Filles de Jesus, today to remember the benefits received, to give thanks and to walk in their footsteps.
Faithful to the tradition and to the spirituality of our congregation and taking into account our aptitudes, we wish to commit ourselves to social work and to the necessary tasks within our community.
That is our mission now. We want to live it to the end through our prayers and our fraternal collaboration.
We invite our families, our friends and our former students to come and celebrate with us Sunday May 30 with the Mass at noon in St. Jean Baptiste Church followed by a reception at the parish centre and a visit to the former convent.
Please contact Sister Jean Rufiange before April 30. (Phone 465-0898 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).