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An Ursuline Nun in Quebec by Madelyn Frawley

Posted: 1/11/2017   (post expired on 1/11/2018 and may contain outdated information)

Student Essays 2017

Each year, Regina Caeli showcases great samples of student essays from around the United States. Our next essay exemplar for 2017 is “An Ursuline Nun in Quebec”, by Miss Madelyn Frawley. Madelyn is in 9th grade at the Fairfield County, CT, center.



Sister Marie Alphonsine

    When I first joined the Ursuline Order and took my new name in religion as Sister Marie Alphonsine, the thought of living out in the frozen colony of Quebec in New France was certainly far from my mind.  I naturally assumed I was to peacefully live out my consecrated life in France with my fellow sisters.  I soon learned that the Lord had other plans for me!

In May of the year 1639, I found myself on a boat to Quebec, New France, with Mother Marie of the Incarnation and a few other sisters from the Ursuline Order.  Mother Marie planned to set up a school in Quebec for the poor French and Indian children living there, and myself and a few other sisters were sent along to assist her.  

    Not long afterward, we were living in a little convent set against the sheer wall of a cliff in Quebec.  We soon learned that the Ursuline life was dramatically different here from what it was back in France.  Our meals, salt fish, salt pork, and sagamite, never varied. I often found myself missing the delicious French meals we used to eat without a thought. The frigid temperature in Quebec was trying as well.  I have never been as cold before in my life. Prayers in the freezing chapel were very difficult.  Not one of us could stay focused on our prayers in such cold. Eventually Mother Marie gave us permission to say our prayers in bed, where it was slightly warmer than the chapel.

     At first, our little pupils from the Huron, Iroquois, and Algonquin tribes did not remind us much of the French schoolchildren back home.  When our poor Indian girls first arrived at our convent school, their bodies were smeared with grime, they hardly wore any clothing, and they could not speak or understand any civilized language.  We were compelled to learn their languages in order to communicate with them, which proved to be a very difficult task!  Because of this, Mother Marie of the Incarnation somehow found time to write dictionaries, catechisms and grammars in these difficult native tongues.  These precious books assisted the sisters greatly in the duties that came with the education of the ignorant native children. Once we could converse with our students, reading and writing, needlework, embroidery, and other domestic arts were some of the things we taught them.

    Despite the many hardships and difficulties of it, our life in Quebec was certainly rewarding.  It was special to hear a young Iroquois girl recite the Hail Mary in French for the first time. It was comforting to know that an Algonquin girl, dirty and uncivilized yesterday, would make a good Catholic wife for a French settler tomorrow. We were proud when we saw the little students under our care teaching other children the simple truths of the faith.  Hopefully they would do the same for their friends in the tribe not attending our school.

    Eleven hard but fruitful years in Quebec had gone by when one night all seemed to be lost. The little convent at the foot of the cliff was wrapped in sleep when the sisters were awakened by a bright glare, loud crackling noises and immense heat.  We were shocked and terrified to realize that our convent school, on which our lives and the futures of our Indian pupils depended, was going up in flames!  We had hardly time to dress and no time to save anything. It was a sleepy, bedraggled group of Indian girls and a worried huddle of sisters that stood outside at midnight in the icy snow that reflected the light of the fire that burned our convent to the ground.  

    It was a huge setback.  Lately, Mother Marie of the Incarnation has been busy writing letters to France, asking for new supplies and money to help rebuild our lives here.  The days have been difficult since the loss of our convent and school, but in our hearts we know that everything will work itself out.  God will provide.  




Anne W. Carroll, Christ and the Americas


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