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A congregation founded in the parish of St. Damien, Bellechasse, P.Q., Canada, 28 August, 1892, by Abbé J.O. Brousseau. The institute devotes itself to the following works: the instruction of children, particularly in country and city parochial schools ; the education of orphans and the maintenance of agricultural orphanages in which, together with religious instruction and a good education, children may be given a taste for farming; the care of the aged and infirm of both sexes.
Abbé J.O. Brousseau laboured earnestly to secure funds for the new foundation and to overcome the obstacles to its progress. The pastors of a number of parishes in the Diocese of Quebec authorized him to seek pecuniary aid, on condition that he would admit some of their aged poor and orphans to his institutions. Among those who coöperated with him was Mlle Virginie Fournier, born at St. Joseph de Lévis but a resident of Fall River, Massachusetts, a woman of experience and courage. She became the first superior of the little community which as Mère St. Bernard she governed for six years, with great success. From the first year of the community's existence, the sisters have conducted the principal schools of the parish of St. Damien. The demand for these religious educators increased and, in 1907, having no more disengaged subjects, they were obliged to refuse the direction of seventeen municipal schools. The first profession occurred on 27 March, 1897, when fifteen sisters pronounced the three vows of religion for a year, renewing them annually until the taking of their perpetual vows on 10 July, 1908. The congregation recruits its members from all classes of society, poverty being no obstacle. None are received save those of upright intention, sound judgment, a well-disposed will, and sufficiently robust health. To accept subjects under fifteen years of age and over thirty, widows or persons having already taken either temporary or perpetual vows in another religious community, it is necessary to have the permission of the Holy See. The dower is fixed at a hundred dollars; in default of this the aspirant must promise to give instead what will later revert to her by right of inheritance, bequest, or in any other legitimate way. The period of postulantship lasts six months, that of noviceship eighteen months, and after six years, permanent vows are taken.
The institute has so far confined its activities to the Diocese of Quebec. In 1907-08, the constitutions were recast and made conformable to the observations in the "Guide canonique" by Mgr Battandier, the superior-general and her councilors being directed in this work by the Rev. Charles Gonthier, S.J., of Montreal. At present the congregation conducts 21 schools in the Province of Quebec, with 2532 pupils, 1 hospital with 44 inmates, and 35 sisters, and has charge of 50 orphans. The order numbers (1911) 112 professed sisters, 8 novices, and 12 postulants.
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