Srs. Pauline Magnan, Henriette Morin, Doreen Victoor, Gisele Labonte, Gerorgine Morin (back row) Srs. Jean Rufiange, Claire Bilodeau, Marlene Tracy and Gabrielle Fortier (front row).

WCR PHOTO | LASHA MORNINGSTAR

Srs. Pauline Magnan, Henriette Morin, Doreen Victoor, Gisele Labonte, Gerorgine Morin (back row) Srs. Jean Rufiange, Claire Bilodeau, Marlene Tracy and Gabrielle Fortier (front row).

May 4, 2015
LASHA MORNINGSTAR
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Sister Doreen Victoor gives an evocative reply when asked why so many vocations for her order, the Filles de Jesus, come from away – Africa, the Philippines, India.

"A vocation is about God's call," said Victoor. "The soil was fertile in North America, and now it has shifted to places such as Africa."

It is in those southern continents that les Filles de Jesus (Daughters of Jesus) are gaining new members, with 40 professed in Latin America and 44 in Africa in 2013, plus 25 postulants in Africa.

The mission of the order no doubt attracted the women from these developing areas. Its traditional ministry is in the care of the sick and poor, and the education of girls.

Victoor said, "The origin (of the order) is born of the fire of God's love, living close to the people and having a special compassion for the poor."

Numbering just under 1,000, the order is present in France, England, Columbia, Belgium, Chile, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Chad, Ireland and, of course, Canada.

The founding vision of the order came from the Jesuit-educated Abbé Pierre Noury (1743-1804), who was pastor of the parish in Bignan in the Brittany region of western France in the late 18th century.

Noury wanted to establish a small community of women who would lead lives focused on prayer and performing charitable works in the region. However, the French Revolution intervened, and he had to flee the country.

Noury returned to Bignan after the Reign of Terror, only to find the people impoverished and dispirited. His bishop soon transferred him to the cathedral in Vannes, leaving the town without a priest.

A new pastor, the Abbé Coëffic, wasn't sent to Bignan until 1821. However, Coëffic learned of Noury's vision and decided to implement it.

He came to know parishioner Perrine Samsom who lived in a nearby hamlet where she served the poor, nursed the sick, taught children the Breton language and led prayer.

In 1829 Coëffic invited Samsom to come to Bignan and run a school for boys. He also hoped she would embrace Noury's vision of a community of women who served the poor and the sick in the town.

Samsom came, bought into the vision and was soon joined by four other women. In 1831, they began a novitiate and professed their vows three years later.

The community expanded, and by 1887, more than 600 sisters were working in various places in France. In 1893, they came to Canada, establishing a house at Trois Rivières, Que.

Then, in 1901, religious persecution broke out in France, and 80 schools administered by the Filles de 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 France to find refuge abroad in England and Canada.

Soon, St. Albert's Bishop Vital Grandin asked them, "Bring me some sisters."

Consecrated Life

The requested sisters came in 1904, scattering themselves to smaller hamlets and reserves across Alberta, including Plamondon, Lac La Biche, Lac La Biche Mission, Morinville, Picardville, Brocket, Didsbury, Cold Lake, Alexander, Cluny and Enoch.

Typical of their Alberta ministry was the school they launched in Morinville, mere days after arriving in January 1904.

LIVING IN POVERTY

The sisters, like the people, lived in poverty. They lacked physical comfort in Notre Dame Convent and during the winter, the only source of heat in their convent was a small stove.

By 1954, the sisters' 50th anniversary in Morinville, Thibault School had 440 students including 80 boarders and 23 nuns.

In March 1958, fire destroyed the school and soon a new school, spacious and modern, was built. The sisters gradually turned over the operation of the school to lay people, and in 1970, the last Filles de Jesus left the town.

Age has diminished the order's numbers here in Edmonton, with two recent deaths and one member leaving to join another community. Still, there are 19 sisters living in three houses on the city's east side.

But the nine retired sisters who recently gathered around the table in their Bonnie Doon home are anything but retired. These women of faith volunteer in a variety of ministries.

Sister Pauline Magnan does pastoral work at St. Thomas Health Centre, takes Communion to shut-ins and is supportive of the order's associates (lay people who follow the order's mission).

Sister Georgine Morin also takes Communion to private homes, has mentored inmates at the Edmonton Institution for Women for the past eight years, represents the community on the Greater Edmonton Alliance, and is secretary of the Edmonton vice-province.

Retreats and being present are Victoor's forte, especially with her associates. "It supports them so they fully live their life commitment." She also provides a listening presence to those in need, those who live alone, especially the infirm, and also members of the Council of Consecrated Women.

That presence is also given in the form of compassion during a time of grieving.

Sister Gabrielle Fortier takes care of the household accounts. "I pay attention to those in the house, make it a welcoming place."

Sister Marlene Tracy is vice-provincial of the vice-province of Edmonton.

PROVIDING COMFORT

Offering comfort and relaxation are Sister Henriette Morin's responsibility and she brings pleasure to her fellow sisters with her piano playing and decorating their home. She also works with Development and Peace and Amnesty International.

Sister Gisele Labonte is the local community leader, visits a sister in a nursing home, and supports associates in Calgary and Edmonton.

Staying in contact with friends, family "people in need of being heard" is Sister Claire Bilodeau's mission. She also follows the order's desire to help the poor by volunteering at Anawim Food Bank.

Sister Jean Rufiange is a caregiver to Sister Cecile Dupuis, the longtime archdiocesan archivist, and she also volunteers at Jubilee Lodge Nursing Home.

These sisters give so many gifts to the community, yet are humble and must be pressed to tell how busy their days are.

Every Wednesday the sisters gather and dedicate their prayers for vocations.

So while they may say they are retired, these women of living faith still fulfil their mission each and every day.

Said Tracy, "We are relevant as a community today."

Indeed they are.