CADOTTE, MARIE-ELMIRE, named Marie de Saint-Alphonse-de-Liguori, provincial superior of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd (Angers); b. 23 Feb. 1848 in Sainte-Rosalie, Lower Canada, daughter of Alexis Cadotte, a farmer, and Apolline Blanchard; d. 10 Feb. 1909 in Halifax.
Marie-Elmire Cadotte entered the noviciate of the Good Shepherd monastery in Montreal on 11 Nov. 1868. She reportedly had earlier spent a few years at the boarding-school of the Sœurs de la Présentation de Marie in Saint-Hyacinthe. The Congregation of the Good Shepherd of Angers, brought to Montreal in 1844, was a French cloistered order which had a particular objective: the rehabilitation and supervision of delinquent girls and women. This specialized vocation probably accounted for its exceptional influence internationally.
Marie-Elmire Cadotte took her vows in 1870 and was appointed assistant, and later principal, of the boarding-school the nuns had just opened in Saint-Hubert. It provided secondary education and enabled the congregation to recruit postulants. When the first Canadian to be provincial superior, Marie-Aurélie Cadotte, named Marie de Saint-Alphonse-Rodriguez, died in 1877, Marie-Elmire Cadotte (who was not a relative) was elected to the office although she was only 29.
The congregation was in charge of a number of charitable works at that time, one of which was the Asile Sainte-Darie, the Montreal prison for women founded in 1870. A great many inmates went through it, most of them serving light sentences for vagrancy, theft, fighting, alcoholism, or prostitution. It also housed former prisoners known as “the penitents,” who were encouraged, sometimes by their relatives, to stay with the nuns in order to complete their rehabilitation and do some work for pay. If they decided to remain with them, they made an annual vow of constancy and became “the consecrated ones.” In addition to the noviciate and the convent, the monastery on Rue Sherbrooke in Montreal included a reform school, which took in young women placed there by the court. The monastery also housed the Magdalens, a contemplative order associated with the Good Shepherd and recruited from among the penitents. Lastly it had an industrial school, where the nuns cared for “the preserved girls,” aged 3 to 16, whom they tried to shelter from family environments considered dangerous or marginal and to whom they gave an essentially practical education. Some of the girls were placed there by various organizations because of their parents’ delinquent behaviour; many of the others were children whose parents were separated or deceased and some of them paid for their board. The choice of terms sheds light on the pedagogy inspiring all the congregation’s benevolent endeavours, a pedagogy based on conversion and withdrawal from the world. The “Good Shepherd” protected the “wandering sheep,” and articles written at the time refer to “the sheep wounded by the murderous tooth of the marauding wolf.” “We never,” said the Annales, “grew tired . . . of . . . seeking and . . . finding precious pearls, lost in the mud and refuse of the world.” In the 25 years from 1876 to 1900, of the 13,908 women sentenced to jail, 839 (6 per cent) became penitents and about 40 (0.3 per cent) entered the order of the Magdalens. All the charitable works with the exception of the Magdalens and the boarding-school were financed, albeit meagrely, by the provincial government. For example, it paid on average $168 a year for each female prisoner, whereas a male prisoner cost it $410.
Counting on the effective protection of Abbé François-Théophile-Zotique Racicot* of the archdiocese of Montreal, Marie de Saint-Alphonse-de-Liguori promptly undertook to make better provision for the financial security of her institution. In 1878 she had a semi-public chapel built adjoining the monastery, the annual revenue from which was estimated at $800. That year she also decided to open a second boarding-school close by, the Académie Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague, which soon acquired an enviable reputation among the large Montreal boarding-schools and brought in additional revenue. Recruiting was so successful that membership in the order grew from 76 in 1876 to 134 in 1883.
After a visit to the mother house in Angers in 1886, the provincial devoted her efforts to consolidating the sisters’ missions in South America. Since 1871 the monastery in Montreal had been responsible for one mission in Quito, Ecuador, and another in Lima, Peru, where the nuns had founded a large school at their own expense. She sent reinforcements and in 1887 set up new establishments among the Incas in the Guaranda and Napo regions of Ecuador, and in 1896 at La Paz, Bolivia. By 1894 the Good Shepherd in Montreal had sent 37 women from Quebec to South America, thereby contributing to the congregation’s international influence. During her visit to Angers in 1892 the Canadian provincial no doubt reported on these missionary activities.
In 1888 she had enlarged the monastery and installed an ultra-modern steam laundry, which soon became the congregation’s principal source of income. The penitents and young women from the reform school worked there, and occasionally even some of the preserved girls, a fact that provoked a bit of criticism in the city.
In 1890, at the request of Archbishop Cornelius O’Brien of Halifax, she set up a monastery there to undertake the same socially oriented charitable endeavours; she received financial support from Geneviève Walsh, a local philanthropist. She repeated the exercise in 1893 in Saint John, N.B., at the invitation of Bishop John Sweeny. In 1894 the order’s fiftieth anniversary was solemnly observed with three days of festivities and religious ceremonies. The following year she was moved to inaugurate a new service for women, the Pension Sainte-Euphrasie, which provided accommodation in the monastery for alcoholics and morphine addicts.
Since the work with preserved girls had expanded considerably, Marie de Saint-Alphonse-de-Liguori went ahead in 1895 with the construction of a new house, Lorette, on Île Jésus, to which girls were brought from the industrial school. She became its first superior in 1898, after new directives from Rome, which limited the number of years of service as head of any one establishment, had put an end to her 20-year term as provincial superior. In 1901 she was sent to Halifax to deal with a disastrous financial situation. There she increased the number of novenas to St Joseph, but also proceeded to set up a laundry modelled after the one in Montreal. The undertaking proved successful, and in 1908 she was able to realize one of her major objectives: to establish a new congregation of Magdalens in the province.
Stricken with cancer in 1907, Marie de Saint-Alphonse-de-Liguori died in Halifax on 10 Feb. 1909. A talented and energetic woman, she had embodied with rare administrative efficiency, but in harmony with the values of her time, the particular charisma of the Congregation of the Good Shepherd, to come to the assistance of women in trouble.
ANQ-M, CE2-25, 24 févr. 1848. Arch. de la Chancellerie de l’Archevêché de Montréal, 525.107. Arch. des Sœurs du Bon-Pasteur d’Angers (Montréal), Corr. de Zotique Racicot; Dossier M.-E. Cadotte; Religieuses du Bon-Pasteur décédées, 1901–50; Tableau des œuvres de la fondation. Annales des religieuses de Notre-Dame de Charité du Bon-Pasteur d’Angers à Montréal: depuis leur établissement jusqu’en 1896 (2v., Montréal, 1895). Annales du monastère de Notre-Dame de Charité du Bon-Pasteur d’Angers, dit asile Sainte-Darie à Montréal, 1870–1900 (Montréal, [1900?]). Au soir d’un siècle; le Bon-Pasteur d’Angers à Montréal, 1844-1944 (Montréal, 1944). Sous les feux des saints cœurs: le Bon-Pasteur à Sainte-Darie, 1870–1920 (Montréal, 1937).