Jeanne Mance

The early history of French Canada has always fasinated me. The spirit of the explorers of what is now Canada and the United States, Champlain, Jacques Marquette, Louis Jolliet, and de La Salle are all familure to me from my Catholic school days. These men were my heros, alas now they are only remembered by street names in Chicago, a lake in New York, a college and a prison city. Not many except historians know about the Huguenots (French Protestants) who explored Florida, the Carolinas and eastern seaboard and fought at Fort Caroline....and not only men were instumental in the colony of New France, but women also. Lay women, sisters and nuns came to the new world inspired by the thought of establishing a colony and converting the "Sauvages"* to the true faith. One such and the most famous was...

Jeanne Mance
She was the foundress of the Montreal Hôtel-Dieu, a hospital to care for the colony and the surrounding indians and one of the first women settlers in Canada, she was born at Nogent-le-Roi, Champagne, 1606; and died at Montreal, 19 June,1673.

Born of a family who belonged to the magistracy, she lived with her father, Pierre Mance, procureur du roi (king's attorney) until his death in 1640. In this year she met M. de la Dauversiere, who, with Olier, was actively interested in the foundation of Montreal. For the first time Mlle Mance heard of New France (Canada) and of the women who were going there to consecrate themselves to the spreading of the Faith. She embarked at La Rochelle in June, 1641, with Pere Laplace, a dozen men, and a pious young Dieppe woman. The following (probably 24) August she reached Quebec, and devoted herself during the entire winter to the care of the settlers. They wished to retain her at Quebec, but on 8 May, 1642, she went up the river with M. de Maisonneuve and her early companions, and reached Ville Ste Marie (Montreal) on 17 May. It was she who decorated the altar on which the first Mass was said in Montreal (18 May, 1642). The same year she founded a hospital in her own home, a very humble one, into which she received the sick, settlers or natives. Two years later (1644) she opened a hospital in Rue St-Paul, which cost 6000 francs — a gift of Mme de Bullion to Jeanne on her departure for Canada — and stood for fifty years. For seventeen years she had sole care of this hospital.

In 1650 she visited France in the interests of the colony, and brought back 22,000 livres of the 60,000 set apart by Mme de Bullion for the foundation of the hospital. On her return to Montreal, finding that without reinforcements the colonists must succumb under the attacks of the Iroquois and the many hardships of their position, she lent the hospital money to M. de Maisonneuve, who proceeded to France and organized a band of one hundred men for the defense of the colony. In 1659 Jeanne made a second trip to France to secure religious to assist her in her work. She had for twenty months been suffering from a fractured wrist and was badly reduced, but in Paris, while praying at Saint-Sulpice where M. Olier's heart was preserved, she was suddenly cured (2 Feb., 1659) She was so fortunate as to secure three Hospital Sisters of St. Joseph from the convent of La Fleche in Anjou, Judith Moreau de Bresoles, Catherine Mace, and Marie Maillet. They had a rough passage and the plague broke out on board. On their arrival Mgr. de Laval vainly tried to retain the three sisters at Quebec in the community of the Hospital Sisters of St. Augustine. Every obstacle having been overcome they reached Montreal on 17 or 18 October. Jeanne's good work being now fully established, she lived henceforth a more retired life. On her death after a long and painful illness, she was buried in the church of the Hôtel-Dieu, the burning of which in 1696 destroyed at once the remains of the noble woman and the house that she had built. Her work, however, was continued, and two centuries later the hospital was transferred to the foot of Mount Royal, on the slope which overlooks the city and the river.

It was on this day 18 June 1673 that Jeanne was taken to Heaven.

Vive Le Roi!


Note: The word sauvage (savage) was meant to denote someone or a group who had not reached the point of civilzation or religion as Europeans. This term was also used by the English colonists in Virginia and new England. It was not meant to be derogitory at this time in any sense.

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