A woman of courage and tenacity

Mère Marie-AnneEsther Blondin, a woman of boldness, showed other women the way to fearless and subversive militancy. Illiterate at the age of 20, she founded a teaching order at the age of 39.

In 19th-century Quebec, against a backdrop of nationalism and the social economy, Quebec women were taking steps to act on behalf of their fellow Quebecers. One important effect of British domination was the subjugation and potential assimilation of Quebec’s French-speaking people. The best way to accomplish this was to eliminate the French Catholic schools by giving them to the Protestant upholders of the Royal Insurrection, thereby cutting off access to education for French speakers. Being poor meant first and foremost being deprived of an education, which in turn led to exclusion from social, cultural, economic and political life. The story of Esther Blondin’s life is a reminder of those times, which created in her a desire to learn and then give back by teaching in the écoles de fabrique set up here and there by parish priests. “She wanted to do something to transform the situation,” someone wrote about her. Out of compassion, she took action.

The third of 12 children born to a farm family, Esther Blondin was born in Terrebonne, Quebec to parents who could not read or write. Still illiterate herself at the age of 20, she thought every day about her dream of becoming a teacher. Her work as a domestic for the village sisters from the Congrégation Notre-Dame whetted her ambitions. During any free moments she had during her workday, Esther learned to read and write, and became keenly aware of the exclusion of almost all her people who, like her, were denied access to an education. One of the excluded herself, she found herself at the age of 22 in the midst of poor children who were faithfully attending classes in the convent.

After a failed attempt at religious life, Esther continued to feel the depth and breadth of ignorance. Although her state of health was fragile, she struck out on the path of the excluded by agreeing to go teach at the Académie de Vaudreuil. There, she became fully aware of the social and collective impact of exclusion from education. She instinctively understood that her efforts alone were not enough, and that she needed others and the support of a community. She quickly brought in sub-teachers. Her innate sense of strength in numbers would lead her to found a community dedicated to teaching, in spite of the small amount of instruction she and the others were equipped with. Without using the modern terms of “social justice” or the “social economy,” Esther, who had become the leader and president of a confraternity of young women, led them to care for the widows and orphans of typhus, the unemployed, the poorly-housed, uprooted farmers and families broken up as a result of social change. Although she was also responsible for training schoolmistresses for the country schools, she would not be distracted from the urgency of educating French-speaking children of both sexes in the Quebec countryside. Her dream continued to grow until it reached even distant lands. The teaching order she founded was therefore born out of an ongoing option for those who were excluded, mainly from education, with the aim of liberating them and ensuring that their rights and dignity were respected.

photo : J. Léveillé
Mother Marie Anne at the age of 60. In spite of being retouched, this photo offers a glimpse of the Foundress’ serenity.






March 2015
Congregation of Sisters of Saint Anne