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 MacNil, who was Scottish by birth, had to provide for the education of her 13 children. Salomé was the twelfth child in the family.
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 Bishop Bourget 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.
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: “I cannot 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.”