LEMOINE, MARIE-LOUISE-THÉRÈSE, named Marie-Joseph de Jésus, founder and abbess of the first monastery of Poor Clares in Canada; b. 25 Aug. 1858 in Daon, France, daughter of Stanislas Lemoine and Colette Lemoine; d. 8 July 1925 in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Que.
Marie-Louise-Thérèse Lemoine attended the boarding school of the Sœurs de la Charité de Notre-Dame d’Évron between the ages of 6 and 14, and attracted attention for her piety and her ability to learn quickly. After a sheltered adolescence within the family circle – her widowed mother made flowers and liturgical decorations – she became a lady’s companion at 19. She applied for admission to the monastery of the Poor Clares in Lourdes in 1884 and took her final vows on 16 Sept. 1886. After performing various duties at the monastery, she became mistress of novices in 1897 and participated in making the decisions related to the founding of a monastery of Poor Clares in Canada.
At the time Mother Marie des Anges, the abbess of Lourdes, was being urged by a number of people to found a monastery in Montreal. Among them were the Franciscans, who had been established in the city since 1890; the Poor Clares formed the contemplative branch of this order. The Franciscans had stirred the interest of many young women in Canada, and a large number had become novices in Lourdes, though only three would persevere in their vocation. When Archbishop Édouard-Charles Fabre*, and later Archbishop Paul Bruchési*, refused to allow a new contemplative congregation to come to Montreal – the Carmelites from Reims, France, had moved there in 1875 [see Antoine-Nicolas Braun*] – an approach was made to Bishop Joseph-Médard Emard of the diocese of Valleyfield, who agreed to accept the Poor Clares. In 1899 Sister Marie-Joseph de Jésus was chosen to direct the work of founding the community. “She seems to me suitable in every respect because of her experience, her great faith, [and] her kindness,” Mother Marie des Anges observed. However, the project required funds, which were hard to find. The dangers threatening religious congregations in France in 1902 [see Gustave Blanche*] hastened a decision, and in April a group of five nuns that included the three Canadians, under the guidance of Sister Marie-Joseph de Jésus, left for Salaberry-de-Valleyfield. On their arrival the Poor Clares were taken in by the Little Sisters of the Holy Family until their monastery was ready. On 10 August, in the course of a spectacular ceremony, the Poor Clares were taken in procession by horse-drawn carriages to their monastery on the other side of the bay that divides the town. More than 5,000 people crowded around to witness the five recluses renew their vows at the foot of an open-air altar. The people of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield would show a lasting affection for “their” Poor Clares. “Far from having to suffer extreme poverty,” as the abbess of Lourdes had feared, “the dear children had rather to ward off the excess of Canadian charity.”
The new abbess now undertook to embed the rule of St Clare of Assisi and the constitutions of St Colette in Canadian soil, “requirements that are not incompatible with the rigorous Canadian climate.” The observance of the rule was hard: “continual abstinence, fasting throughout the year, bare feet, rising at night, no undergarments.” There were many candidates, and the abbess had to be extremely vigilant to be sure that they were serious about their calling. She found a supporter in Abbé Joseph-Charles Allard, the vicar general of the diocese, with whom she carried on a steady correspondence. In 1906 she asked his permission to hold regular elections so as to apportion offices among the nuns in an orderly way. “There is a difference or hierarchy in the offices,” she pointed out. “Otherwise, everything tends to turn into little republics where everyone gives orders and no one knows how to obey any more!” She complained that she was “always bogged down in material questions”: construction of a larger monastery in 1907, of the chapel in 1912, and of the cloister wall in 1921. She supervised the making and ornamentation of sacerdotal vestments, a craft that provided a living for the cloistered nuns. For a time glaucoma prevented her from reading and writing, but she was miraculously cured in 1917, according to her own account, by the intervention of the late Father Frédéric Janssoone*, a famous Franciscan who had canvassed every parish in the diocese to raise money for the Poor Clares.
When she fell ill in 1922, Mother Marie-Joseph de Jésus continued to carry out her responsibilities. With the publication in Rome in 1924 of Nuper Edito, which allowed French cloistered nuns to take their solemn vows – something they had been forbidden to do since the French revolution – she decided to send a petition to Rome. The rescript granting authorization reached her on 8 May 1925, and Mother Marie-Joseph de Jésus, along with 30 nuns from the monastery, took her solemn vows on 30 May. She died less than two months later, leaving a well-established congregation to the new abbess, Marie Hurtibise, named Marie Saint-Paul de Jésus; one of the Canadians associated with its founding, she would remain in office until 1956.
The Arch. des Clarisses de Valleyfield (Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Qué.) is the best resource for the life of Mother Marie-Joseph de Jésus. It holds, among other items, “Préliminaires de la fondation de Valleyfield,” a 190-page manuscript drawn up by Mother Marie des Anges around 1905, which contains all of the pertinent information about the founding of the abbey; the correspondence of Marie-Joseph de Jésus; and a “Journal de voyage” by the subject, along with personal documents and her “Autobiographie” (birth to age 19), written at the request of her spiritual adviser. Useful as well are Premier reg. and Chroniques.
Arch. Départementales, Mayenne (Laval, France), État civil, Daon, 25 aôut 1858. Bulletin paroissial de Valleyfield, août 1925: 227. Almanach de saint François d’Assise (Québec), 1927: 16–19. Guy Laperrière, Les congrégations religieuses: de la France au Québec, 1880–1914 (2v. parus, Sainte-Foy, Qué., 1996– ), 2. Marie-Cécile de Jésus [Mlle Mongeau], “La très révérende mère Marie-Joseph-de-Jésus, fondatrice et 1ère abbesse des Pauvres Clarisses de Valleyfield,” La Rev. franciscaine (Montréal), 41 (1925), no.9: 338–41; no.10: 81–83; no.11: 94–97.