CCHA Report 8 (1940-1941), 11-20
Human history is all of a piece. Its pattern lies before God, Who sees our past, our present and our future. It is ever our privilege, as students of history, to grapple with the problem of that pattern, to learn to read it, at least in some of its sections, with a feeling for its continuity. In all cases, we must make our chief study from books which give us details of biographical, social and political history. Sometimes we have the joy of illuminating dark spots, exploring dull caverns, verifying happy conclusions, by contacts with museum pieces, old manuscripts, statues, or pictures, by visiting monuments, historic sites and ancient buildings where traces of the interesting past may he found written legibly for sympathetic readers.
Our Canadian history has been graven on the rock at Quebec ever since Champlain raised his rude fort there in 1608. Laval, the magnificent and, austere first bishop, Talon, the mighty colonizer, Frontenac, the fighting governor, each left his own personal stamp on that New France which was the foundation of OUR CANADA: but Mother Mary of the Incarnation, Ursuline of Tours, mother of women missionaries in the church, left a woman's mighty impress on the young colony, an impress of perpetuity which comes to a nation only through the quality of its homes.
As I stood on the rock of Cape Diamond on August 1, 1939, for a dignified and fervent celebration of three Ursuline centuries in Quebec in the one building the first school in North America found for girls by the first cloistered missionary nun sent by the European church to another continent - I understood more about Canada than I have ever been taught from text books. Here, I found, was a woman's will projected across three hundred Canadian years right before my wondering eyes.
Catching that thought, I easily caught a greater. Mother Mary, kissing the earth at Quebec in 1639, brought with her a magnificent tradition, the tradition of Catholic education of youth. I see it in that Quebec monastery - the tradition of ST. ANGELA MERICI, her mother and mine, the saint of women's education, who, in 1535, had launched a crusade for CHRISTIAN HOMES under the banner of a BRITISH PRINCESS, calling her maidens the Company of St. Ursula. With the tradition of St. Angela and St. Ursula, Mother Mary brought the tradition of St. Augustine. (His mitred, gold-leafed statue is opposite that of St. Ursula on the main altar at Quebec.) His rule was given to Ursulines by St. Charles Borromeo who drew the Company of St. Ursula from Brescia into a convent at Milan. That tradition of St. Angela, St. Ursula, St. Charles, St. Augustine, has its excellence here and its guarantee of authenticity in Christ's Own order to apostolic men and women of every age - "Go and teach all nations." That commission is the explanation, the only adequate explanation, of the wonder of Mother Mary of the Incarnation's work. God Himself sent her to America with that command - "Go and teach."
Going was very difficult. Permission so unusual, strange, courageous preparation, gathering of inspired companions, three painful dangerous months on the Atlantic (five days now by boat in peacetime, a few hours by clipper plane!), bad drinking water, illness, storm, a fleet of icebergs, miraculous escape, but, at last, THERE was Quebec with its waiting children, dirty, pagan, little Indian girls, speaking two or three different tongues. However, Mother Mary, who had been given Latin and knowledge of Holy Scripture by swift infusion in the early days of her religious life, now grappled with Indian dialects and wrote dictionaries and catechisms in Algonquin and Huron, Montagnais and Iroquois, to help later instructors. Father Paul Prudhomme, Jesuit missionary in the north Michigan peninsula today, uses an Indian dictionary (I saw him use it), which owes something, at least, to the toils of a nun at Quebec in the seventeenth century. There, for the first two years, in a shack near the dock which was merrily dubbed the "Louvre," Mother Mary and her three companions - Mother St. Joseph, Charlotte Barre, who later received the habit, Madame de la Peltrie - were happy teaching, clothing the naked, caring for smallpox patients, struggling with many difficulties, recorded and unrecorded. The place of that "Louvre" is now marked by a bronze plate on the side of a wretched looking hotel in the square of Louis Quatorze - "On this site stood in 1639 a house belonging to Noel Juchereau des Chatelets which was the first residence of the Venerable Mother Marie de l'Incarnation and of the Ursuline nuns in Quebec." There was the tradition - St. Angela, St. Charles, the Apostolic commission - at the place of action. Mother Mary, says Dom Albert Jamet, "opened a new epoch in colonial history and also in the history of the church; she began the era of the modern apostolate."
THE MODERN APOSTOLATE. That is my emphasis. My knowledge of this great Ursuline of the seventeenth century rays out to the past as I have briefly sketched it, and to the future, our own present. She is at a point of exquisite importance in church history. She brought the tradition of France, Italy, Judea, to a new continent in a woman's way, for fusion into homes of a new tradition. Here we are, children of that tradition. We are non-European. Our ancestors in Ireland, Scotland, England, France, never knew an Algonquin. That makes a difference. For all their barbarisms, and ignorance, and vices, those redskins who came into the seminary at Quebec or who stood outside the cloister grille had their qualities of courage and perseverance and generosity and racial fixedness which have made contributions to the character of civilization in this new world. Once some Iroquois chiefs, amazed at the skills and graces of the little Indian pupils at the Ursuline school, asked, "How long does it take to make a little French girl out of an Indian?" They were deceived. It was not done. No one knew it better than Mother Mary. One does not, even if one be the best of missionaries, make a French girl out of an Indian. Our Holy Father Pope Pius XII accents a Catholic mission principle which Mother Mary followed, "All that in their usages and customs is not inseparably bound up with religious errors will always be subject to kind consideration, and where it is found possible will be sponsored and developed." Little Charles and Pigaroouich and Agnes and Teresa, Huron or Iroquois, received teaching and grace and habits of domestic neatness in the convent garden; they gave Mother Mary and her Ursulines (as pupils always give to good teachers) ideas and knowledge, which have been stamped on Canadian teaching. No Ursuline in Quebec could teach quite as does an Ursuline in Paris. The Quebec Ursuline cannot but remember Mary of the Incarnation, her mission mother. The Quebec Ursuline is Canadian; and we who are Canadian should appreciate better our amalgamated heritage. We are the children of a transplanting, it is true, but in that transplanting, Europeans have not suffered loss; they have been enriched.
Some of the particular richness of our Canadian inheritance may be traced in the corridors and kitchens and chapels of the Ursuline monastery at Quebec. It was my delight in the form and spirit of the old monastery which I regarded as a NATIONAL TREASURE that encouraged me to accept the honour of a paper for this association. As a Canadian, as an Ursuline, as a Catholic, I wish to share with you my happiness as I attended the celebration in 1939 - THREE HUNDRED YEARS IN ONE HOUSE IN CANADA. I do this the more willingly as I know that my privilege was unique. Because I was an Ursuline, allowed to live within the cloister, I was able to see things which could not be shared by any secular or even religious visitor who might be granted the rare grace of entry beyond that doublelocked front door on some special occasion. It might be remarked here that after 1612 the King of France, because he guaranteed protection for Ursuline cloister, kept for himself the right of entry. After 1763 the privilege in Canada belonged to the King of England. William IV, Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII and Mary the Queen Mother, have exercised it. Last month the Duke of Kent and the Princess Alice granted holiday at the request of a little seven-year old who prettily remembered to answer "Your Royal Highness". No one but the Pope's representative, the Cardinal, or the King's representative, the Governor-general, may grant admission. Even visiting Ursulines must secure specific authorization. I had that authorization. I lived in the monastery for a few days. I tried to keep my Ontario eyes wide open and my twentieth century heart warmly receptive. I bring you the results and a chart of the monastery drawn from memory as I wish to locate roughly points of special inspiration.
Two old large keys unlocked the door by which we entered the cloister. To the left we passed a hall with large French windows opening out on the fifty yard quadrangle with its three fine maples and four elms which seem so strange in such a complete enclosure. At the end of the hall is the precious oratory of the Sacred Heart built on the actual foundation of the chapel of 1641, restored after the fire of 1650, and again after the fire of 1686. What a bad insurance risk was an Ursuline convent in that inflammable century!) I touched the very flagstones worn by Mother Mary's zealous feet. Here she attended masses said by the martyrs Brebeuf and the beloved Jogues; here, no doubt, she sang the promised "Te Deum" when the news of their martyrdom came to her; here Jeanne le Ber (later recluse of Montreal) as a pupil, received holy communion; here Madame d'Youville, foundress of the Grey Nuns, another pupil, got early impressions of sanctity; here Madame Cadillac, as a child, was guided towards her graciousness as the "Lady of Detroit"; here Bishop Laval celebrated mass daily for two years while he lived in the seminary section waiting a house of his own. What a concentration of history that was - Laval the Bishop, Mother Mary the Missionary - mind sharpening mind for two years, soul lighting soul. History has yet much to do for this Canada of ours. And while it must deal with that great Bishop and that ecstatic mission nun, it must deal also with the colourful, charming, enthusiastic, rich young widow who made possible this monastery on the rock. Madeleine de Chauvigney, Madame de la Peltrie, of Norman Alonçon, gave her vigorous life and her money and her entire devoted service for thirty-two years to this foundation for the souls of savages and little French girls. History must not forget either that dear, witty, cheerful Mother St. Joseph who played the viol. She was buried still young in a garden plot where there is now a wall shrine of St. Joseph. In that little oratory of the Sacred Heart, seventeen by eighteen feet, so small, because, says Mother Mary, "the great cold does not permit to have larger rooms", the bones of the three foundresses are confused and united in one walnut case. This union is embarrassing to the officials of the beatification process, but very fitting in the eyes of historians who find those three together in death who were so magnificently united in life. One woman could not have done it all. These other two are her coadjutors in the rooting of a nation.
Mother Mary's mystic journey, her visions of the Precious Blood, her tenderness towards the Passion of Christ, her heroic practices of penance, her raptures before the Sacred Heart which encased her heart, her illuminations on the Mystery of the Incarnation, the Trinity, the Divine attributes, her mystic marriage, and her transforming union with the Word Incarnate, her desires for the spread of the Kingdom of Christ, her ecstatic recognition that God had substituted His Will for hers, her prophetic visions of the apostolic mission to Canada, her companionship with Our Lady, her vow to do always the most perfect thing, all her contemplative gifts, seem like properties of a recluse, not of a pioneer missionary who had to rough it in a wilderness. Once again in the world's history they are proof that great houses are not build with hands but with blows of the spirit. "Unless the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it." Mother Mary did not labour in vain. She know, what Our Holy Father know as he wrote just two years ago, "Forces that are to renew the face of the earth should proceed from within, from the spirit." Mother Mary conserved the spirit during those laborious days when her hands were so busy "with a thousand little cares plucking at her sleeve." She was revealing much when she wrote, "Monsignor of Geneva said that there are birds who take their food as they fly. I am LIKE THAT with regard to the life of the spirit, for in the work to which I must attend I take solid and continual nourishment." Wonderful Mother Mary - holiness on the fly!
Work in Mother Mary's monastery is simplified now. Large kitchens, well equipped with electric and gas ranges and all modern helps enable the staff to serve the noon meal to nearly 600 every day during the school year. A basement kitchen opens out gaily on the garden because of the slope in the foundation. Behind that kitchen, cut right out of the rock, is a windowless room which contains the convent spring - Mother's Mar's own well. In a wall niche there is a double door, less than a yard across and just more than a yard high. I opened and looked in. There was the shaft of a bucket well, I dropped a bit of plaster and found that water was ten or fifteen feet down. The well is not used now; but in the next room there is a hand pump and a few steps away there is a set of shiny modern faucets. That progression - bucket, pump, tap, is typical of the Quebec monastery, typical of Mother Mary, of SL Angela, of the Catholic church. Reverence for the past, hold on tradition, are Catholic traits. They are Ursuline traits. St. Angela was a modern feminist in many ways, a shock to her times by her dynamic fearless Christianity, a social service worker at Brescia who did her work according to careful formulas. The OLD WAY she called it and THE NEW LIFE. The old way of prayer, labour, solid philosophy, which is as old as the heart of man and as new as the latest little girl in our kindergarden. The new life of - first individual perfection and then of religious teaching given to children by uncloistered nuns. That was in 1535. Here in Canada a hundred years later is her spiritual daughter, the first woman missionary in the entire world bringing her teaching project to America WITH THE CLOISTER; but it seems to have only concentrated her work, not to have hampered it. St. Angela would have understood. THE OLD WAY and THE NEW LIFE. A bucket well, a pump, a spring faucet to serve the newest need.Near that pump there is a brick bake oven. Its iron door opens into the kitchen. The ten foot oven is filled with wood which is kindled to a roaring fire. When this has burned to ash the coals are raked out by a long handled scraper. The oven is then hot for baking for 24 hours. Pans of buns or cakes are pushed in on a shovel. (Not bread now - because 100 years ago this September - bread from a bakery was introduced into the monastery. Fancy baking for 500 people every day!) From this efficient oven I turned towards the garden door and I found before me a huge electric kitchen-aid with a mixer-pail like a bushel basket. There it is again, that startling juxtaposition of the old and the new - ancient oven and the latest hydro service. In the laundry, well and modernly furnished, I was attracted by a fine and useful iron from the Canadian Laundry Machine company, Toronto, which is a yard and a half long and a half yard wide. It does an Ursuline linen guimpe with one press of the foot treadle. Fascinating utility and speed. Yet, near it is another anachronism - a tenfoot plank worn pulpy with the beating of woollens by a ping-pong-batlike paddle. Old ways sometimes die hard. The nuns' cells in the ancient building have had electricity only since 1936. Their low narrow doors which open by a latch have a shelf over each where the nuns used to put their lanterns with tallow or paraffin candles which shone, into the corridor and into the rooms. Today those lanterns are not needed even in chapel on dark mornings. A small electric bulb surmounts each choir stall for personal use if the central clusters are not enough. Mother Mary, whose eyes were weakened with smoke and candlelight, would approve. She would also approve the great Panet clock which rings the quarters to replace the old sandglasses which are now all in the museum except for the one on the superior's table in the refectory, still used to time the reader at meals. Mother Mary's brown eyes would have twinkled with appreciation for one bit of sweet novelty in Ursuline dinner service presented for the third centenary. After the singing of "Tu Autem" which announced the luxury of conversation, a small table was rolled up the centre of the refectory on which there was a thirty inch model of the good sailing ship "ST. JOSEPH", with Captain Bontemps, Father Vimont, and the nuns, all made in sugar and cake, set on a river of blue with toffee Indians in sweet canoes. It was charming tribute from a skilled confectioner among the Hotel Dieu nuns to their good friends the Ursulines, unique history out of a bake shop.
One chapter of the story has never been enough explored and appreciated. That is the chapter of 1660. Adam Daulac and sixteen young heroes -Bibert, Josselin, Boisseau, Martin, Lecombe, Grenet, and the rest - several names on record in Ursuline pupil lists - died at the Long Sault, while Mother Mary, sleepless, untiring, wise, unconquerable, gave bread and cheese and gun-powder to the garrison which the governor had stationed in the Ursuline monastery in Quebec during five weeks. Those seventeen found the colony worth saving by their sacrificial deaths because men could make homes here, because young women were ready to marry them and to bring up good families. Mother Mary had been preparing mothers of homes for 21 years before Daulac and his band received Communion and went out to die. THERE is a key to that heroism of 1660 like the key to Thermopylæ and to the "Jervis Bay". Greeks fought for their homes. Captain Fogarty Fegin fought and died for free Christian homes in a free land, please God. A train of thought may now be clear - secures homes with good wives - Daulac dead - the colony safe - otherwise - New France abandoned - New England Puritanism and its intolerance swinging to the St. Lawrence - Blue Laws - no "Quebec Act" - no freedom of religion for many a year. We who are so free and happy should consider affectionately our debt to those seventeen heroes of the Long Sault and to the domestic-spiritual inspiration behind their heroism.Mother Mary's devotion to the Algonquins in her early mission days bears remarkable fruit today. A Christian Algonquin maiden was carried off in a Mohawk raid. A savage chief married her and a girl was born of the union in 1656. Four years after, when smallpox swept the Mohawk villages around the present city of Albany, the mother and the father were buried, the child was left pockpitted and weakeyed for life; but that good Christian mother who had prayed for her child's baptism, had left a mark on the little one which preserved her through twenty dangerous years, pure and lovely-souled among the vileness and demon-infested cabins of an Iroquois village. At twenty Catherine was baptized by a passing Jesuit. Shortly after, to escape the evil pressure of her Iroquois uncle, Catherine was able to reach Caugnawauga, near Ville Marie, where a colony of Christian Indians lived in great fervour. At twenty-four, in 1680, CATHERINE TEKAKWITHA, lily of the Mohawks, was dead, holy in the eyes of French and Indians. Last year the cause of her beatification was presented at Rome.
Three bulletins issued by the Ursuline Monastery at Quebec.
Copies of The Canadian Messenger of The Sacred Heart: - April, 1940 - "Mère Marie de l'Incarnation", by the Rev. John B. O'Reilly; June, 1940 - "Lighting The Lamp", by the Rev. John B. O.Reilly.
Copies of "L'Action Catholique" and L'Evénement-Journal" published during the August celebrations, 1939."Summi Pontificatus", October 1939.