DAVANNE, MARGUERITE, named de Saint-Louis de Gonzague, Ursuline and superior; b. 3 Oct. 1719 in Paris, France, daughter of Louis Davanne, a merchant, and Marguerite Germain; d. 23 March 1802 at Quebec, Lower Canada.
Marguerite Davanne, who had come to New France with her parents, went to the boarding-school operated by the Ursulines of Quebec before entering their noviciate in 1737. A sum of about 1,900 livres was drawn from a foundation for the dowry that her mother was unable to provide. Her father had come to the colony because of financial difficulties, but when his situation failed to improve he had been obliged to exile himself again, this time to India, in the hope of rebuilding his fortune. He had disappeared without a trace. Her mother had returned to France and, believing her husband dead, had remarried after a few years. The situation turned to tragedy when he reappeared; in his rage he had his wife confined to a convent for life. According to the Ursuline annalist, when Marguerite learned of these events, she fainted. “The ebony-black hair of the young novice turned as white as snow overnight.”
Marguerite assumed the name Saint-Louis de Gonzague upon taking the habit on 21 Jan. 1738. She made her profession two years later, on 4 Feb. 1740, and then became mistress of boarders. During the siege of Quebec in 1759 she was one of the ten nuns who remained in the convent from 13 July to 13 September; the other members of the community sought refuge in the Hôpital Général, away from the shelling. On 21 September the nuns returned to their convent to find it uninhabitable. Governor Murray*, who wanted to entrust some of his wounded soldiers to the care of the nuns, provided the superior of the community, Marie-Anne de la Nativité [Migeon* de Branssat], with the financial aid necessary for the soldiers’ keep and for the indispensable repairs.
In 1766 Marguerite de Saint-Louis de Gonzague, who had “a happy disposition, a sound mind and good judgement, [and] a gentle and kindly personality,” replaced Marie-Joseph de l’Enfant-Jésus [Esther Wheelwright*] as superior of the community. After her three-year term ended, she held the office of zelatrice (councillor) from 1769 to 1772 and then served again as superior from 1772 to 1778. She was elected depositary (bursar) of the community in 1778, and in 1781 began her third term as superior. In all this time the community, which had been impoverished by the Seven Years’ War, received no aid from France. The Ursulines went ahead with the urgent repairs, towards which Bishop Briand* of Quebec contributed personally. To the financial problems of the community were added those of recruiting novices and of insufficient personnel. In 1776, for example, the community complained that “the girls have no great inclination for religion,” and the Ursulines had to refuse day-pupils for lack of nuns to teach them. In 1787 the wife of Governor Lord Dorchester [Guy Carleton] asked for French instruction for her eldest daughter and received permission from Briand to attend the lessons herself. They were given by Marguerite de Saint-Louis de Gonzague, who was completing her final term as superior.
On 4 Feb. 1790 Marguerite de Saint-Louis de Gonzague, who at the time held the offices of mistress of novices and assistant to the superior, celebrated her 50th anniversary as a nun. Despite her age and poor health, she continued to be active. She again served as zelatrice in 1796 and 1797, and then as assistant until 1799. In that year, on 16 December, she was relieved of all official duties. The discreets (councillors) nevertheless valued the advice of this experienced nun. Consequently the new superior, Marguerite Marchand, named de Sainte-Ursule, obtained an episcopal ordinance from Bishop Denaut which departed from the convent’s rules. In consideration of her long and important services Marguerite de Saint-Louis de Gonzague was allowed to attend every meeting of the community’s council as an eighth councillor. Said to be “very conscientious in all her duties, insistent about regularity, [and] active and untiring in her work, even in her final years,” she kept up her attendance at the meetings until her death on 23 March 1802.
AAQ, 12 A, D: f.22v. Arch. du monastère des ursulines (Québec), Actes d’élection des supérieures; Actes de professions et de sépultures, 1; Actes des assemblées capitulaires, 1; Annales, 1; Conclusions des assemblées des discrètes, 1; Reg. des entrées, vêtures, professions et décès des religieuses, 1. [Catherine Burke, dite de Saint-Thomas], Les ursulines de Québec, depuis leur établissement jusqu’à nos jours (4v., Québec, 1863–66). [Joséphine Holmes, dite de Sainte-Croix], Glimpses of the monastery, scenes from the history of the Ursulines of Quebec during two hundred years, 1639–1839 . . . (2nd ed., Quebec, 1897).