In 1877, Blessed Mary of the Passion founded the Institute of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Ootacamund, Tamil Nadu, India, with 20 sisters who left with her after several misunderstandings with the congregation of the Sisters of Mary Reparatrix founded in France.  As Paul Claudel states, “God writes straight with curved lines”.  Sometimes, this is quite true and often confirmed in our lives. What in those days appeared to be an injustice, a misunderstanding, a cause of intense suffering for both sides, has become a “blessing”, a “meeting place” for dialogue within both congregations… a place from where life begins…a life of abundance!

The Institute of the FMM

From the very beginning, in writing about this foundation, the foundress stated, “The Institute of the FMM shall be universal or it will not be!” One hundred and forty years later, we now cannot say “mission accomplished”, but certainly “mission to be continued” day by day, wherever we are, always willing to go toward new horizons, when there is a call for missionary work. “The special purpose of the Institute resided in missionary action.” Mary of the Passion wrote, “In accordance with the wishes of the Holy See, they will establish houses in even the most perilous and remote foreign missions.”  [1]

 

At the request of Father Ambroise Fafard, pastor of Baie-Saint-Paul, Mary of the Passion agrees to send four of her sisters to help the foundation of the Little Franciscans of Mary. The sisters arrived on May 20, 1892, fifteen years after the foundation of the Institute.  We will be forever indebted to the Little Franciscans of Mary who opened the doors of Canada for us. 

 

Mary of the Passion was convinced that this new foundation on the American continent would bear many fruits. She writes, “This foundation seems to me to be full of hope for the future. I think I shall have many daughters in Canada. This people and the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary seem to be made for each other.” [2] In addition, this was so! Ever since our arrival in Canada 125 years ago, more than one thousand Canadian sisters have been missionaries not only in Canada but also on all continents.

 

Sainte-Anne Convent,

Grande-Allée, Quebec, QC

The Foundations

The foundations in Canada have multiplied in rhythm with the requests from different bishops. As we read in the book, In Silence and Action, the story of the installation of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Canada is the stuff of epics. Like many accounts of the foundations of religious institutes, it has its share of heroism and of intervention by Divine Providence. We cannot deny that God has preceded us in this country, which is ours! He has accompanied us over the years and He continues to guide our steps in spite of the decline of vocations and the aging of our members.

 

The first foundation was in Quebec in 1892 on Grande-Allée with the novitiate and from where would depart a multitude of missionaries. Quebec also became the 24-hour Perpetual Adoration Centre manned by an association of laity, as well as the FMM sisters. Blessed Frédéric Janssoone, ofm was one of its greatest promoters, who contributed to the growth and fruition of these difficult but promising new beginnings. The superior of Quebec writes, “There are already between forty and fifty, so that, aside from us, there will always be a number of people to adore the Most Blessed Sacrament.” [3] In 1898, our chapel became the seat of perpetual adoration for all of Canada. This was a great blessing for our Institute in the beginning of our Canadian foundation. In 1894, we opened a mission in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré that would last for more than a hundred years!

In 1897, at the request of Bishop Adélard Langevin, they landed in Saint-Laurent, a Métis village on the shore of the vast Lake Manitoba. The following year, they advanced even farther north to the Pine Creek Ojibway reservation [4].  The mission continued to develop quickly and continued to grow at various speeds.  The need for other missions became more and more urgent.  

Still today, we continue our mission in accordance with our capabilities and possibilities taking into account our age and the number of FMM sisters in Canada.    We presently have missions in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and Nunavut.

Sr Dorica Sever, Nunavut 2016

In 1990, at the request of Bishop Reynald Rouleau, the sisters arrived at Repulse Bay in the Northwest Territories. Today the mission in Nunavut in the diocese of Churchill-Hudson Bay continues to thrive thanks to the support of the Sisters of the Assumption of Nicolet who generously collaborate with us in this mission. We were challenged and motivated by Pope Francis’ invitation in one of his writings.  Both congregations have chosen to put it into practice, instead of closing a mission so important for the Inuit due to a lack of priests.  

“I also hope for a growth in communion between the members of different Institutes. Might this Year be an occasion for us to step out more courageously from the confines of our respective Institutes and to work together, at the local and global levels, on projects involving formation, evangelization, and social action? This would make for a more effective prophetic witness. Communion and the encounter between different charisms and vocations can open up a path of hope. No one contributes to the future in isolation, by his or her efforts alone, but by seeing himself or herself as part of a true communion, which is constantly open to encounter, dialogue, attentive listening and mutual assistance. Such a communion inoculates us from the disease of self-absorption.” [5]

The Missions

Our two sisters, one Franciscan Missionary of Mary and one Sister of the Assumption from Nicolet, have been working together for the past six years in this mission. It has allowed us to keep this mission and to ensure a significant presence in the midst of the people of Nunavut.

Responding to their charism, the sisters take charge primarily of works destined to most vulnerable groups write the authors of In Silence and Action. It will be sufficient to name a few. Barely, 5 years after our arrival in Canada, the sisters become pilgrim assistants during the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré pilgrimages as they have welcomed and fed thousands of pilgrims. In 1962, silent retreats attracted more than 2000 participants in our convent of Montreal. Our retreat house in Ottawa became equally popular.    

 

As for our services in the education field, they are numerous. In Saint-Malo, Quebec, a poor and disadvantaged district, the Sisters started a day-care center.  As our numbers diminished, we continued to be present among the people as witnesses of hope in a primary school where meals were also offered to those in need.  In Montreal and Ottawa, the sisters also welcomed children in a day-care. Let us not forget the schools in Saint-Laurent, Manitoba and in Rigaud where hundreds of children were educated. Throughout the years, the FMM have invested in different ministries of welcoming, education, and formation.  

Sr Béatrice Lestage in the infirmary

Bible class with the Kachin children in Toronto 2016

There were also summer camps at Ile d’Orléans and Sainte-Julienne where hundreds of children were welcomed annually. Through handcrafts and the printing press in Quebec as well as hospitality and retreat houses in Ottawa or Montreal among others, people appreciated our numerous works. In Montreal, we still have a residence for women and welcome three other congregations. Despite our dwindling numbers, we wish to continue to be among the people as witnesses of peace.

In this Jubilee year, the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary contemplate the past with awe and thanksgiving. We continue to live in the present with our hearts full of hope. We look to the future knowing that the seeds humbly planted and patiently nurtured for more than a hundred years will continue to bear fruit thanks to Canadians. We wish to thank all those who have welcomed and supported us throughout our history.

 

Our history book, In Silence and Action, published in 2014 ends with this statement:

“In addition to all of these sisters who work tirelessly in the world, the last FMM hive of activity on Rue Laurier in Montreal is still quietly abuzz. A number of sisters are still busy, as they are able, with the tasks required by a large house. And, as they have for more than 120 years, the Franciscan sisters in Canada continue to renew their faith at the foot of the Blessed Sacrament, in the contemplative silence of their community chapel.” [6]

Franciscans, we desire to go to everyone, imitating Christ with a humble heart, ready to learn and receive as much as to give, in the same attitude of respect, acceptance, openness and service.  

 

It is with this spirit that the FMM before us have lived in Canada and everywhere in the world.  It is in that same spirit of openness, welcome, and service that we want to continue to live this mission, encouraged and supported by all our sisters in mission throughout the whole world. 

Simone Bastien, fmm