PARENT, MARIE-GENEVIÈVE, named de Saint-François d’Assise, hospital nun of the Hôtel-Dieu in Quebec and superior; b. 10 Nov. 1740 at Quebec, daughter of Joseph Parent and Marie-Anne Chatellereaux; d. there 22 Dec. 1804.
Marie-Geneviève Parent was the daughter of a master ship’s carpenter who lived on Rue Saint-Vallier, in the Palais quarter. She entered the convent of the Hôtel-Dieu on 30 April 1755, when she was only 14. On 7 June the convent, chapel, and hospital burned down and the nuns were forced to take refuge with the Ursulines. Three weeks later they moved into a wing of the Jesuits’ house and it was in these makeshift premises that the young novice took her vows on 15 Nov. 1756. For her dowry her father provided 2,500 livres in payment orders drawn on the treasurers general of the Marine; the community itself added 500 livres from a foundation established in 1675 by Abbé Gabriel Thubières* de Levy de Queylus to supply dowries to nuns without means.
On 1 Aug. 1757 the nuns took possession of their new convent, which had been rebuilt at the cost of a heavy debt amounting to more than 100,000 livres. After the surrender of Quebec in 1759 they were able to keep only part of the building for their use, since a shortage of barrack space forced the military authorities to lodge some British troops in it. Despite the rent paid for the occupancy, which was maintained until 1784, and the donations of benefactors such as Bishop Briand* and Governor Murray*, the community had to employ all possible expedients to try to discharge its large debts: the hospital nuns had to become laundresses and bakers, sell several pieces of land, and, finally, put back under development their farm at La Canardière and their seigneuries of Saint-Augustin and Île-aux-Oies. In addition to having financial difficulties the community had received few postulants since 1755 and recruitment remained slow for 30 years.
It was in this context that the chapter of the community elected Marie-Geneviève de Saint-François d’Assise novice mistress in 1772. After she had held this office for four years, her responsibilities increased: from 1776 to 1786 she was annually elected depositary of the community by the assembly of choir nuns; then she was superior from 1786 to 1792 and again from 1795 to 1801. Between her two terms of office as head of the community, she held another elective post, that of assistant.
In the autumn of 1799 the nuns of the Hôtel-Dieu, with Marie-Geneviève de Saint-François d’Assise in charge, decided to go ahead with a project they had long cherished: the rebuilding of their chapel, which had been destroyed by the fire of 1755. Their finances, however, were still precarious and insufficient for the community to undertake such an endeavour without another source of income. Thus the hospital nuns had to appeal to public charity through a subscription, launched on 15 Dec. 1799, of which Antoine-Bernardin Robert*, bursar of the Séminaire de Québec and also confessor to the nuns of the Hôtel-Dieu, took charge. Difficulties arose, however, over the size of the future chapel. Some of the nuns, notably the superior and Marie-Angélique Viger, named de Saint-Martin, favoured a more imposing building than was needed; others were readier to accept a less extravagant project. Although internally divided, the community supported the more ambitious plans which to Bishop Denaut and coadjutor designate Bishop Plessis* seemed much too vast and which they vetoed. After an exchange of letters that reveal the fiery personalities of their writers, a compromise solution was accepted unanimously: the chapel would equal in size that of the Ursulines of Quebec. Abbé Philippe-Jean-Louis Desjardins* drew up the plans and Pierre Émond supervised the work. Building itself began in the spring of 1800 and was finished in 1803; the interior decoration took several more years.
The name of Marie-Geneviève de Saint-François d’Assise is also associated with charitable work for abandoned children. In January 1801 the House of Assembly set up a committee to investigate the position of the religious communities regarding assistance to the poor. The superior first maintained that the hospital nuns’ vocation was solely to care for the sick; responsibility for waifs was obviously incompatible with their duty because of the constant attention and additional expense it would entail. Nevertheless, at the assembly of the nuns held on 3 March 1801, the community reversed its stand and agreed to take care of foundlings on condition that the government assume the costs for room and board and other necessary expenses. Although the nuns advanced Christian and charitable motives to explain their change of mind, they did not conceal the anxiety that they, like the other communities, felt about the fate the government would reserve for them if it did not consider them sufficiently useful to society. The hospital nuns thought it was in their interest to keep on the good side of the lieutenant governor, Sir Robert Shore Milnes*, who seemed disposed to favour them and to let them continue, “but always in proportion to the services they will render; happy [they were] to buy this favour at that price,” as the minutes of their assembly noted; they undertook this work and kept it going until 1845.
At the end of 1801, in keeping with the rules of the Hôtel-Dieu a new superior, Marie-Vénérande Melançon, named de Sainte-Claire, succeeded Marie-Geneviève de Saint-François d’Assise, who was then elected assistant and re-elected the following year. In the annual elections of 1803 she became counsellor and in November 1804 was again elected to this office. She was to hold it little more than a month, however. Having been paralysed for more than two years, she died in December at the age of 64, after 48 years of religious life.
ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 11 nov. 1740. Arch. du monastère de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec, Actes capitulaires, I: ff.59, 61; Corr., Évêques, Pierre Denaut, J.-O. Plessis et A.-B. Robert, nos.3–6; J.-F. Hubert, no.1; Dossier des vœux, no.107; Église, tiroir 1, carton 5, nos.1–13; Élections triennales et annuelles, I: 165–220; Hôpital, Copies de lettres, requêtes, états de comptes, Législature, 1801–92: 1, 3; Notes et mémoires des anciennes mères, armoire 5, cahiers 2/1–2; Notices biographiques, M.-G. Parent. “Le recensement de Québec, en 1744,” ANQ Rapport, 1939–40: 52. Caron, “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Denaut,” ANQ Rapport, 1931–32: 165, 168, 183. “Habitants de la ville de Québec, 1770–1771,” F.-J. Audet, compil., BRH, 27 (1921): 249. Tanguay, Dictionnaire, 6: 236. H.-R. Casgrain, Histoire de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec (Québec, 1878), 401, 408, 421–25, 430–31, 445–46, 449, 465–68, 488–91, 493, 495–96, 576, 591. Raymonde Landry Gauthier, “Les constructions de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec (1637–1960)” (travail présenté à l’univ. Laval, 1974). [On p.25, Landry Gauthier errs in identifying the author of the church’s plans as Louis-Joseph Desjardins*, dit Desplantes, its future chaplain; they were in fact the work of his brother, Philippe-Jean-Louis Desjardins. f.r.]