Pioneers

Eulalie Durocher (Blessed Marie-Rose Durocher) along with her two companions, Henriette Céré (Marie-Madeleine) and Mélodie Dufresne (Marie-Agnès) were the first three sisters of the Congregation of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. Soon after their arrival in Longueuil, two other young women joined the congregation: Salomé Martin (Thérèse-de-Jésus) and Hedwidge Davignon (Véronique-du-Crucifix).

Henriette Céré
Sister Marie-Madeleine
1804-1885

Henriette Céré was born in Longueuil and was the appointed teacher for her family and for almost all the children on “Rang de la Savane.” Her reputation as a teacher ultimately led her to the parish school across from the Church of Saint-Antoine-de-Padoue. It was in this house that the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary was born in 1843. Sr. Madeleine suffered through the premature death of Mother Marie-Rose (1849) and later on, that of her companion Mélodie Dufresne (Mother Marie-Agnès).

A creative woman, she passed on her art of teaching to novices and professed Sisters. She participated in the establishment of the Saint-Timothée convent in 1848. Wherever she went, she was always known for her welcoming spirit. She died at the age of 80.

Henriette Céré - Full biography

Henriette Céré
Sister Marie-Madeleine
1804-1885

Her childhood

Henriette Céré was born in Longueuil on August 20, 1804, to François-Xavier Céré and Ursule Brun whose ancestor had survived the deportation of the Acadians. She was the third in a family of 17 children. Mr. Jean-Marie Cherrier, a future lawyer, provided her basic education. She then attended the convent of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame in Boucherville.

Her life as a young woman

At the age of 19, she was admitted to the “Hospitalières de l’Hôtel-Dieu” in Montreal. However, she contracted typhoid fever and had to return home. At age 22, she had become the appointed teacher to the whole family and to almost all the children on “Chemin de la Savane”, (a country road). She asked her father to build a small school on the family property. By 1838, her success was noted by Fr. Antoine Manseau, pastor in the village of Longueuil. He invited her to teach at the parish school where her skill and reputation as an educator continued to grow.

A foundation in Longueuil

Henriette had always dreamed of becoming a religious. On October 28, 1843, she welcomed two companions, Eulalie Durocher and Mélodie Dufresne, into her school. This would be the beginning of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. At age 39, it was a challenge for Henriette to adapt to the demands of communal life and religious obedience, her new calling gradually took shape.

As Mistress of the boarding school, Sister Madeleine took care of the older children. She also had responsibility for day pupils. Although a severe disciplinarian, she respected the children, who in turn appreciated her devotion and the attention they received. Drawing on her talent for story-telling, she always knew how to amuse and interest students creatively. She was an outstanding reading teacher. She was particularly partial to the poor, the orphans, the sick, and those with fewer financial or intellectual resources. The vast experience of this woman, so concerned about the scholastic success and moral formation of her pupils, reassured the parents. Her experience as a teacher proved a valuable example for young professed Sisters and novices.

The expansion of the congregation

On August 17, 1848, she participated in the foundation of the Saint-Timothée Convent with three companions. She organized the house and the classes, and saw to beautifying the expansive convent grounds. She also contributed to the expansion of the convents at Saint-Roch-de-l’Achigan and at Verchères, the birthplace of her mother.

Her final days

Henriette was periodically afflicted with inflammatory rheumatism. She continued to render various services after retirement in Longueuil. She liked to talk about her past, the pranks of her youth, and the beginnings of the Congregation. She died on January 9, 1885, at age 80.

In her memory

The Henriette Céré Nursing Home, a residence for the elderly on Chambly Street in Saint Hubert, commemorates the life of this compassionate woman. Its geographical location approximates the “Rang de la Savane” where Henriette once taught.

Mélodie Dufresne
Sister Marie-Agnès
1809-1881

Mélodie Dufresne was born in Beloeil. She began her studies at the village school and pursued her education with the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame in Saint-Denis-sur-Richelieu. She was the second in a family of 14 children.

A friend of Eulalie Durocher, she assisted her for 10 years at the presbytery in Beloeil. In 1843, Mélodie joined with Eulalie in founding the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary in Longueuil. An artist, she encouraged the students by carefully introducing them to domestic and creative arts. A number of her works (priestly ornaments) are preserved in the Congregation’s archives.

Having consecrated herself totally to God, she died at 72. She always honoured the memory of Mother Marie-Rose and sought to keep her spirit alive.

Mélodie Dufresne - Full biography

Mélodie Dufresne
Sister Marie-Agnès
1809-1881

Her youth

Mélodie Dufresne was born in Beloeil on November 9, 1809. She was the second child of Jean-Baptiste Dufresne, “master blacksmith” and Ursule Poirier. Fourteen children were born into the family but only eight survived. Being somewhat privileged for the times, Mr. Dufresne paid to give the boys classical courses and to provide the girls with two years of boarding school. Mélodie initially attended the village school and then pursued her studies at Saint-Denis-sur-Richelieu, with the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame.

In Beloeil with Eulalie Durocher

In 1825, she met Eulalie Durocher (Mother Marie Rose) for the first time. The two young women immediately got along well. In 1833, shortly after a trial period with the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame, Mélodie was invited to come and help Eulalie at the rectory in Beloeil. The common desire to consecrate their lives to God brought these two young women closer together. In 1843, they placed their talents and creativity at the service of the parish of Saint-Matthieu in Beloeil and collaborated in the mission of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Life in Longueuil

In 1843, Bishop Ignace Bourget invited Eulalie and Mélodie to come to Longueuil to join Henriette Céré who was teaching at the parish school. Their house is now recognized as the “cradle of the Congregation” of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary dedicated to the education of young people. The three were to remain there until August 1844, when the Longueuil Convent was ready to welcome them.

On December 8, 1844, the three foundresses pronounced their vows in the church of Saint–Antoine-de-Padoue in Longueuil. Mélodie took the name Sister Marie Agnes. All her life, she made an effort to apply herself to the work entrusted to her: housekeeping, sewing, drawing and creative crafts. The products of her artistic talent were a source of great joy for her.

Overseeing the students’ work, she entrusted them with responsibilities. If sometimes she seemed too demanding, she was able to apologize with great humility. A generous soul, her love of beauty and great sensitivity softened the character traits manifested in her younger years. A former student commented, “She was strict, but we would say ‘she is a saint’ “.

Here and beyond

Mother Marie Rose’s death in 1849 left a great void in Sister Marie Agnes’s heart. It was in God that she found the strength and hope to maintain the spirit of the foundress alive. A “mystic of Jesus”, as she became known to her companions, she followed the path of renunciation and prayer as she offered her life as a teacher, an artist and a religious to God. She died on December 22, 1881, at the age of 72.

Salomé Martin
Sister Thérèse-de-Jésus
1823-1890

Salomé Martin was born in Saint-Philippe de La Prairie, Quebec. Her father joined the “Patriote” movement during the troubles of 1837 and was subsequently reported missing. Her mother had to flee into the woods with her youngest children, one of whom was Salomé. She would be the first postulant to join the three foundresses of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.

An outstanding educator, she was motivated by a great missionary spirit. As the third Superior General, she sent 12 Sisters to Oregon in 1859. She relied on Providence to move forward and overcome the many difficulties along her path.

Besides the foundations in Saint-Roch de l’Achigan, Hochelaga, Saint-Louis de Gonzague and Valleyfield, she was also responsible for those in Ontario, New York, California, Florida and Manitoba.

Salomé Martin - Full biography

Salomé Martin
Sister Thérèse-de-Jésus
1823-1890

Her childhood

Salomé Martin was born in Saint-Philippe de La Prairie, Québec. Her father Jean-Baptiste Martin was a farmer and an innkeeper. Having joined the “Patriote” movement during the troubles of 1837, he was reported missing.  Her mother Adélaïde Mac Nil, who was Scottish by birth, had to provide for the education of her 13 children. Salomé was the twelfth child in the family.

Her youth

Thanks to her intellectual curiosity, Salomé acquired a solid wide-ranging education.  She developed her artistic talents together with aptitudes for administration and business.  These assets were especially valuable to one who, from the age of 20, would collaborate in the work of Mother Marie-Rose whose faith and missionary spirit she admired.  

Teacher and leader

As a teacher, Sister Thérèse-de-Jésus mastered the art of passing on her knowledge, of rousing her students’ interest and of instilling in them a taste for culture. She loved the children and the feeling was mutual. Innovative, she ensured the reputation of the institutions for which she was responsible.  

From the very beginning of her religious life, she demonstrated skills of  leadership which would enable her to assume positions of authority in line with her active temperament, her bold approach.  Being cheerful by nature, she loved to laugh and had a sense of celebration; she knew how to create a community climate which favoured relaxation after hard work.  

In the thick of the battle

Because of her missionary heart, Sister Thérèse wanted to work for the evangelization of the poor and disadvantaged in underprivileged areas.  She would say: If we ask BishopBourget for Sisters for distant missions, we will have the wings we need. When she became Superior General of her Community, she sent two groups of Sisters to Oregon. She visited them to support them, to learn about their living conditions and to resolve problems that arose.  

Her journey would not be without its challenges. She often had to challenge members of the clergy – chaplains and bishops – who assumed undue powers. They interfered with the internal governance of the community, with the temporal affairs, with pedagogical content, and even with the opening of a novitiate.

In the face of criticism and denunciation, she did not falter.  She explained her way of seeing things. The difficulties and failures were occasions for her to live the humility which characterized her.  She relied on Providence, which would lead her into the future.  Perceptive, often inspired, she had dreams which knew no boundaries and seemed impossible.   White or black, French, English, Cuban or Italian, all were the focus of her attention.

Time out

In 1876, she had to leave Key West, called back to Hochelaga undoubtedly because of criticism by a priest who did not appreciate her search for autonomy. After a year of seclusion, she returned to American soil to dedicate herself to her mission. In 1887, she faced a similar fate. She was forced into retirement in Longueuil. How painful it was to feel like an “unproductive member.” 

In 1889, her health had weakened. She was suffering from an incurable illness which would bring her to the Infirmary in Hochelaga.  She accepted her fate with courage and faith: “Icannot fight against the will of God ,” she said. She died on August 12, 1890 at age 67.

For the glory of Jesus and Mary

Sister Thérèse-de-Jésus’ dynamism, fearlessness and apostolic spirit brought vitality to the Congregation and to the Church. This pioneer woman fulfilled the dream of Mother Marie-Rose who said to her novices: “ Pray for our Sisters who, later, will go to distant missions.”

Hedwidge Davignon
Sister Véronique-du-Crucifix
1820-1903

Hedwidge Davignon was born in St-Mathias-de-Rouville. Her father, a farmer, died when she was 5 years old. Her mother taught at Académie Davignon and provided the education of her 10 children. Hedwidge attended the convent of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame in Saint-Hyacinthe where she developed her aptitudes for the arts and for study. She then became a teacher in her mother’s school.

She would be the 5th newcomer to enter the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. A born educator, she had exceptional gifts for teaching and a great apostolic spirit. It was she who would succeed Mother Marie-Rose as Superior General (1849-1857).

She founded the boarding schools in Saint-Hilaire, Beauharnois and Verchères. In charge of the missionary Sisters in Oregon from 1864 to 1872, she visited homes, bringing help and encouragement and gaining the respect of the population. She died at age 83.

Hedwidge Davignon - Full biography

Hedwidge Davignon
Sister Véronique-du-Crucifix
1820-1903

Her youth

Hedwidge Davignon was born in Saint-Mathias-de-Rouville. Her father, Joseph Davignon dit Beauregard, was a farmer. He died when Hedwidge was 5 years old. Her mother, Victoire Vandandaigue, dit Gadbois, taught at Académie Davignon and provided for the education of her 10 children. Hedwidge attended the convent of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame in Saint-Hyacinthe where she developed her aptitudes for the arts and for study.  Later she became a teacher in her mother’s school. Hedwidge experienced the Troubles of 1837. During a riot, her brother Joseph was arrested and then deported to the United States.

Hedwidge’s first encounter with Eulalie Durocher (Mother Marie-Rose) took place on the occasion of the blessing of the Cross on Mount Saint-Hilaire in 1841. From that time on, the young woman enjoyed visiting Eulalie and Mélodie Dufresne in the presbytery in Beloeil. She would become the 5th Sister in the Congregation.

Her personality

Sister Véronique-du-Crucifix is portrayed to us as an exceptional woman through her qualities of heart and mind, her deep faith and her concern for people. Her great apostolic zeal led her to Oregon after she recognized the major needs of this region.  She brought support, formation and encouragement to the young missionary Sisters. She was highly regarded by the people of Oregon of all ages, races and religious persuasions.

Sister Veronique was sometimes criticized for being too tolerant of clergy who were interfering in the organization and life of the Community. A sensitive woman, she could be seen weeping for joy as well as at times of trial. She found joy and serenity in prayer which helped her to maintain a strong presence in challenging situations.

Her commitment

An extraordinary teacher, Sister Véronique was always drawn to teaching poor children. She effectively contributed to our mission of education through the breadth of her knowledge and implementation of innovations in teaching.  In company with Sister Thérèse-de-Jésus, she had been introduced to the methods of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in 1844. As Directress of Studies, she prepared a Directory which was used within the Congregation for many years.

Active for 56 years, Sister Véronique held important positions of leadership.  She replaced Mother Marie-Rose as Superior General and always tried to maintain the spirit of the foundress. She deemed maintaining unity within the Congregation essential, and she tried to ensure that through good communication.  Her extensive correspondence, her sharing of the experience of her missionary trips and the biographical notes about the foundress testify to her efforts.  

A valiant worker, who was nicknamed “the Mother of the Pacific,” she was at the heart of our history. She fulfilled the mission given to her by Mother Marie-Rose.  Withdrawing to the Infirmary at Hochelaga and suffering from rheumatism, she said with humour that it was better “to be held back by the legs than by the head or the hands” because she could still write and make herself useful.  A wealth of gratitude and admiration followed her when she died at age 83.