This Week in History
Helping the Fallen: Body and Soul
For the week of Monday July 7, 2008
Born in 1794 at Lavaltrie, Lower Canada, Rosalie married at the age of 17 and subsequently gave birth to 11 children, five of whom died in infancy. Widowed in 1832, she continued to raise her family, surviving by acting as a paid midwife to anyone needing her assistance. In 1840, despite the misgivings and fears of her family, Rosalie began to care for unwed mothers in her home. Undeterred by her extreme poverty and the general loathing of the Montréal community, she continued assisting unwed mothers and poverty-stricken pregnant women in her home until 1845, when she opened the Hospice Ste-Pélagie, the first maternity home dedicated to the care of unwed pregnant women.
Bishop of Montreal Ignace Bourget was well aware of Rosalie’s necessary and invaluable work. Offering support, Bourget counselled her to form a new religious institute dedicated to this same mission. Rosalie agreed and, in January 1848, she and seven followers founded the Soeurs de Miséricorde Congregation. By the time of her death in 1864, the institute had grown to 33 nuns, along with novices, Madeleines and working-class women. Most impressive were the 2,300 unwed mothers that had been received and granted asylum in the congregation’s institutions. The public had slowly shaken off its self-righteous prejudice towards the sisters and the fallen women they cared for and had come to recognize that these sisters were not “accessories to sin.”
The Contributions of the Soeurs de Miséricorde in the Field of Healthcare was designated a National Historic Event in 2006.
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