1900-1961 - Beyond Old Boundaries

Disaster and Recovery

The first half of the 20th Century saw some of the worst disasters the world had yet known: two world wars in which millions died and between them an economic depression that impoverished millions.  By the end of the Second World War, weapons of mass destruction had been invented that for decades increased tensions in the Cold War between the West and the Communist Block. Yet some good emerged even from so much anguish.  One result of the First World War was that Canada completed its passage from a British colony to a mature and independent partner in the British Commonwealth of Nations.  Another was the beginning of the recognition of the right of women to vote in parliamentary elections, though this did not extend to the Province of Quebec until 1940.  Many women entered the work force during the wars and opportunities for women in the field of higher education and even in public life continued to increase.

In the period of prosperity that followed the Second World War, Canada saw another increase in population due to an influx of immigrants from Britain and other European countries such as Italy.  Like other countries in the West, Canada’s population grew through the birth of a large number of children born to families already established here, part of the group that became known as the “baby-boomers”.

This period of hope, optimism and rising expectations culminated in the Western World with the beginnings of unrest on university campuses, in Quebec, with the beginnings of the Quiet Revolution and in the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world, with the convocation of the Second Vatican Council by Pope John XXIII.

Sister Saint-Alfred (Délia Clément) during the Spanish Flu pandemic

Sister Saint-Alfred (Délia Clément) during the Spanish Flu pandemic

[Montreal, Quebec], 1918.

To the Land of the Rising Sun

In May, 1932, the Congregation made a momentous decision: the acceptance of an invitation to open a mission in Fukushima, Japan.  The five sisters who set out that autumn were on their way to live and work among a people whom Saint Francis Xavier had called the delight of his heart. His work and that of other Christian missionaries in the 16th and early 17th centuries had been preserved by Japanese Christians who had continued to transmit the faith from generation to generation in spite of persecution and the absence of clergy and all sacraments except baptism, but their numbers were very few.

Like Marguerite Bourgeoys on her arrival in Montreal, the sisters were not able to open a school at once but had, at first, to find other ways in which to offer their services.  Like her, too, they worked closely with the local women.  As foreigners they found it difficult to obtain official authorization for their projects, but in 1936 they were permitted to open a dispensary in Fukushima and by 1938, a kindergarten.  They also taught catechism and gave private lessons in French, English, and music in Hachinohe as well as Fukushima.  Other sisters arrived from Canada and Japanese women began to enter the novitiate, the first to open outside Montreal.  Then came December 1941 and the outbreak of war between Japan and the Western Allies.

There followed very difficult years for the Congregation.  Its institutions were closed, some of the sisters returned to Canada on a prisoner-exchange, the others were interned while their convent in Fukushima was used to house civilian prisoners of war.  As they faced the hunger, the cold and the fear that were also the lot of the Japanese population in wartime, their survival was largely due to the loyalty and care of the three Japanese novices.

The work of the Congregation flowered in the post-war years.  In 1946, the adoption of 19 war-orphans resulted in the opening of the elementary school in Fukushima, not in an abandoned stable, but in Quonset huts.  This school received the name “Sakura no Seibo”, Our Lady of the Cherry Blossoms.  In 1949 the  middle school opened in Fukushima and the Congregation also accepted responsibility for the Meji Gakuen School in Tobata in the south.  In 1952 came the senior high school in Fukushima and in 1955, the junior college.  By 1956, 33 Japanese sisters worked with 18 from North America and there were 10 postulants.  There were 1707 pupils in the schools of whom 153 were Catholic.

Tea ceremony with Sister Sainte-Marie-Theophane-Venard (Maria Germana Mazaka Anazawa) at Kita-Kyushu-Sui School,

Tea ceremony with Sister Sainte-Marie-Theophane-Venard (Maria Germana Mazaka Anazawa) at Kita-Kyushu-Sui School,

Tobata (Kitakyūshū), Japan, 1951.

Increasing learning opportunities for women

The new century began with the participation of the Congregation in the Exposition de Paris.  The pupils of all the schools of the Congregation took part in the preparation of an exhibit that   won both a medal and a diploma.  Throughout most of the 19th century the Congregation had made great efforts to enrich the curriculum for girls, bringing in male specialists to teach subjects for which women were still not able to qualify.  In the 20th century the sisters in English-speaking areas became active in high schools while, in the province of Quebec, beginning in 1922, many Congregation schools offered a four-year program called “Lettres-Sciences”.  Approved by the Universities of Laval or Montreal, this program enabled the student to obtain a diploma permitting entrance into university after Grade 11.

In the first decade of the 20th century the Congregation also became more intensely involved in a movement which was still regarded in some quarters with considerable hostility and suspicion: the struggle to obtain university-level education for women.  The “collèges classiques”, the Catholic colleges of Quebec, were closed to women and the first attempts of the Congregation to have some of its existing institutions recognized as such were rejected.  However, in 1908, the community was authorized to open a new institution whose course of studies, examinations and degrees would come from Laval University.  L’École d’Enseignement Supérieur (in English, Notre Dame Ladies College) opened its doors in October of that year in the newly-built mother house on Sherbrooke Street West.  It was bilingual and comprised three sections, arts, science and commerce.  In 1911, its first graduate had the highest average of all Quebec students finishing college that year.  However, the prix Colin which she had merited went instead to the young man who had come second.

The school quickly outgrew its mother-house quarters and in 1926 moved to a new building on Westmount Avenue and took the name Marguerite Bourgeoys College.  The English section separated to become Marianopolis College in 1944 while the commercial section remained at the mother house as Notre-Dame Secretarial School.  The Congregation also opened other colleges for women during these years, Notre Dame College at Staten Island, New York, in 1931 and Notre Dame College in Ottawa in 1932.

Commemorative photographs of the students of École d’enseignement secondaire pour jeunes filles

Commemorative photographs of the students of École d’enseignement secondaire pour jeunes filles

Montreal, Quebec, [ca. 1920].

Preparing women for the Business World ... and the Home

In 1905-06, Montreal had only three commercial schools while the demand for competent business personnel was rapidly increasing.  Responding to the awareness that many girls had little choice except to work in factories where they were frequently exploited and poorly paid, the Congregation opened a first commercial class in Pointe St-Charles in 1907.  The commercial section of the new college in the mother house thrived from its first enrolment in 1909.  The subjects taught included bookkeeping, business practice, banking, business correspondence, penmanship, commercial geography, stenography, typewriting by touch, indexing, letter press copying, manifolding and mimeographing, and letter filing.  The reputation of the school grew and its graduates had little difficulty finding good jobs as Montreal businesses began to count on “The Mother House”, as it was known, as the source of their best employees.

At the same time, the Congregation did not forget its long tradition of teaching women the household arts, though these were undergoing transformation into “domestic science.”  A domestic science school founded at St-Pascal de Kamouraska in 1905 became the Normal School of Domestic Science in 1913.  In 1914, domestic science section was opened in the school of advanced studies in the mother house, there was a section of domestic science at the Institut pédagogique in 1926 and l`École supérieure des arts et métiers opened in Montreal in 1932.  The Congregation was also active in regional domestic science schools at St-Pascal beginning in 1939 and at Ste-Marie-de-Beauce from 1944, in several junior domestic science schools in rural areas and in the School of Domestic Science of Laval University, opened in St. Pascal in 1941 and transplanted to Quebec in 1947.

At Mount Saint Bernard College in Nova Scotia, the sisters of the Congregation prepared a four year program leading to a bachelor of science degree in home economics that was accepted by the administration of Saint Francis Xavier University in 1928.  Official recognition by the Canadian Dietetic Association followed, thus paving the way for graduates with a major in Nutrition and Foods to be admitted to post-graduate internships for dietetic training.  From that time on, graduates of the Home Economics program went on to accept teaching positions in high schools and universities and in the research departments of government agencies both nationally and internationally.

Typewriting class at académie Marguerite-Lemoyne

Typewriting class at académie Marguerite-Lemoyne

Montreal, Quebec, [1925 or 1926].

Educating Teachers

In the first half of the 20th century, the Congregation was also active in helping many young teachers, both religious and lay, already working in schools, to improve their skills and acquire higher diplomas and degrees.  In 1916, a series of Pedagogical Conferences, partly subsidized by the Montreal Catholic School Commission, was inaugurated at the mother house on Saturdays.  The following year, Laval University recognized a three-year course of Saturday lectures and set out rules for a diploma program.  Close to three hundred teachers registered and in 1920 seventy of them successfully completed two years of the program and received the Certificate of Pedagogical Competence.  In 1921, four hundred and sixty teachers received the Certificate and eighty-nine completed the three-year program to gain a Superior Diploma.  In response to this success, the Quebec Government passed a law concerning Pedagogical Institutes or Écoles Normales Supérieures.  

As a result, the Institut Pédagogique opened in the autumn of 1926 in the new building also housing the Marguerite Bourgeoys College.  Affiliated with the University of Montreal, it offered a Superior Diploma of Pedagogy for Elementary Schools and the degrees of Bachelor, Master and Doctor of Pedagogy.  The Normal School of Music, an integral part of the Institute, and also affiliated with the University of Montreal opened in 1926, offering certificate and degree programs, including that of a doctorate in the teaching of music. 

Exterior view - École normale Jacques-Cartier, section féminine / École normale Notre-Dame

Exterior view - École normale Jacques-Cartier, section féminine / École normale Notre-Dame

Montreal, Quebec, [19-].

Maintaining Relations with Former Students

In the small world in which the Congregation had its beginnings, the sisters had no difficulty in remaining in touch with their former students.  Even then, however, they did not rely only on informal contact but held meetings of the older girls and women on Sundays.  In the course of the years they also organized groups like the Congregation of Notre-Dame-de-la-Victoire and the Oeuvres des Tabernacles.

In the first quarter of the 19th century alumnae groups became attached to Congregation schools in Bourbonnais, Kankakee, New York, Staten Island, Saint-Louis de Kent, Ottawa, Sherbrooke and Sainte-Thérèse and, in Montreal, at the Pensionnat Sainte-Catherine, Villa Maria and École Normale Jacques-Cartier.  In 1929 a federation of former students of Catholic Convents was created for Canada with the blessing of the Pope and the approbation of the Canadian bishops.  The “amicales” or associations of Congregation schools were given the generic name “Notre-Dame” to which each added its own identifier.  They were governed by a common constitution and rules and sent delegates each year to a meeting held at the mother house on the Saturday before the feast of the Ascension.

These associations served as study circles, organized social events for their members and used   their resources for works of charity and for Catholic social action.  The association of Catholic Convents became, in 1935, the FDAC, the Fédération diocésaine des Amicales des couvents, with directives supplied by the various dioceses.

First meeting of the Notre-Dame-des-Cèdres Club

First meeting of the Notre-Dame-des-Cèdres Club

Les Cèdres, Quebec, 19 October 1929.