(Marie Elisa de Jésus)
Franciscan Missionary of Mary
Born in Saint-Félix de Kingsey, QC
September 28 1925
Entered the Institute in Quebec City, QC
September 14 1945
Died in Montreal, QC
June 23 2019
in her 94th year,
the 74th of her religious life
May she rest in the peace of Christ!
Sister Rita was born in Saint-Félix de Kingsey, Québec September 28, 1925. Her father, Donat Lebel, owned a big farm and her mother, Joséphine Cormier, looked after the education of the children. She was a musician who during the winter evenings accompanied on the piano her children who loved to sing together. Rita was the eleventh in a family of twelve children with ten brothers and an older sister who died at 11 years old. She completed her primary studies at the village school, and later did her teacher’s training in Nicolet, with the Sisters of the Assumption, where she obtained her certificate and then taught in her native parish for two years.
Her parents always gave the example of living a truly Christian faith. The Lord had already chosen two of her brothers to be in His service: Elphège, as a priest and Camille, as a Brother of the Sacred Heart in Granby, when Rita heard the call of the Lord: Come, you mean a lot to me, you are precious in my eyes and I love you. This refrain from Isaiah, she said, I always kept these words on my lips and in my heart, aspiring to give myself totally in religious life. She wanted to make an enlightened choice and looked for a community. Among the leaflets that the parish priest gave her, she was attracted by the one of the FMM with its Mission and Adoration aspects. However, she said, My great worry was to announce my intention to my parents. I was touched, after a very short talk with them, because their faith was strong; they let me go in spite of their great sorrow. I understood the suffering that my departure caused them, but I was happy to consecrate to God my fervour at the age of 20.
September 14, 1945, she entered the novitiate in Quebec to begin her religious formation. This was a time of happiness for her, which gave answer to her thirst for God, and where she immersed herself in the spirit of the Institute to be able to live it in the missions that were entrusted to her. After her first vows in 1948, she was chosen to teach the poorest children in the lower end of Quebec City at our primary school in Saint-Malo. She stayed there ten years. Her classes were very lively and the students learned their ABC while singing.
In 1958, she was sent to Madagascar. First, she spent a few months in Rome and then she went by boat to Ambohidratrimo where she was mistress of the pre-novices, taught high school French and looked after 110 boarders. She spent ten years in this marvelous country, learned the local language, and sang their hymns on all occasions. She wrote, I would never have thought that detachment from all that I loved and did in Canada would bring me so much happiness in my mission life. My relations are always good with my students and my Malagasy sisters. I gave them joy also by speaking their language.
In 1969, Sister Rita came back to Canada for her home visit and a year of rest, during which she followed some courses in psychology at Centre St-Pierre in Montreal. To her great surprise, her mission henceforth would be in Canada. From 1970, she was named successively superior in Saint-Laurent, Manitoba, pastoral animator in the small French mission in Georgetown, Ontario and parish secretary in Gatineau, Quebec. In 1986, after 15 years of dedicated service, she was delighted to have a time of renewal. She did it in Cap-de-la-Madeleine.
Full of enthusiasm, ready to give what she received, she left for Fort-Coulonge in the Pontiac County, a poor region with a population of 1600 inhabitants. There, her apostolate included secretary at the parish, choir director, director of the cursillo members and pastoral care for the seniors at Manoir Sacré-Cœur. Five years of full activity followed by a call to leave everything.
She was named superior of the fraternity at Chemin Gomin, Quebec City. At the news of this new mission, she wrote, A real bomb! More than once, I had to say my Ecce. As a true daughter of Mary of the Passion, I said yes, keeping serene and continuing to be a ray of sunshine for those around me. Really, we can say that Rita was always very welcoming and understanding for her sisters. Her good humour and her songs brought joy to all our communities. Then she came to live in Montréal. Sacristan, she kept immaculate the house of the Lord, prepared with particular care the altar for His coming; receptionist, she welcomed with dignity the persons who knocked at our door; choir director, she added joy to our liturgical celebrations. In 2014 as her strength was diminishing, she was admitted into the infirmary.
Rita always maintained her frank and vivacious personality. The last survivor in the family, having experienced the death of all her brothers, she developed with her nephews and nieces relationships which warmed her heart. She was proud of Robert with whom she loved to sing his hymns. In her personal notes she writes, O how I love to sing with Robert, Avec ta vie de chaque jour dans un peuple en marche, sème autour de toi l’amour que le monde sache que Dieu est vivant.
In the infirmary, she was a ray of sunshine rendering little services to the sisters in the other rooms. With fervor, she followed the religious services on TV, she loved to color drawings in her workbooks and meditating its corresponding word. She used to walk the corridors, even going to the big chapel to pay a visit to Jesus.
In the last months, bad blood circulation caused a wound on her ankle and made her more vulnerable. Little by little, she weakened, reducing her activities, and stopped eating. This was the sign of the coming of the Lord. With a clear mind to the very end, even singing Rien jamais ne nous séparera de l’amour, she fell into a coma the very next day. She was ready for the wedding feast of the Lamb. Peacefully, she died in the evening of the feast of Corpus Christi, surrounded by her niece, Marie-Paule, and her sisters whom she loved. Her departure on that date was very impressive. It brought to an end the life of a missionary adorer, the charism she lived with a great love. Rita, beloved sister, go, rest in peace.