Congregations of religious sisters are
examples of how early settlement communities in the region were connected to
large historic events and far away places. The Sisters d'Evron were founded in
1682 by a French woman named Perrine Thulard. Thulard was encouraged by a parish
priest to educate the young and care for the sick and destitute. The vocation,
or charism, of this congregation Society was to attend to the spiritual
and material well-being of the poor through teaching and nursing. When Madame
Thulard's died in 1735, she had founded forty convents in France.
The French Revolution was a difficult period for religious congregations such
as the Sisters. The property of the order was confiscated the Sisters were
forbidden to carry on their charitable work. Many of the Sisters returned to
their families and some were imprisoned and executed because they tended to the
sick and wounded without bias for a particular political cause. After the
revolutionary period, the Sisters were reunited in a former Benedictine
Monastery at Evron, which remains the 'Mother House' of the congregation.
In the early 1900s, new regulations in France reinforced a secular,
non-religious approach to education and the Sisters discontinued their schools.
At this time, Mother Superior Marie Cousin looked to other countries for the
order to continue its work. At the request of Bishop Legal and Father Lacombe,
the possibility of a mission in western Canada was explored.
Mother Marie-Louise Recton
As a religious sister, Marie-Louise Recton first came to Trochu in
February 1909 with Fr. Lemanceau and Mother Marie Cousin to explore the
possibility of a Canadian mission for the Sisters de Charité de Notre Dame
d'Evron. Able to speak some English, she served as a translator for her
travelling companions. With this experience, she was chosen to lead the
mission that would arrive in the Trochu Valley in August 1909.
Mother Superior Cousin and Sister Marie-Louise Recton arrived in Alberta,
accompanied by Fr. Alphonse Lemanceau arrived in Alberta in February 1909 and
Trochu would be the site of their new mission to Canada. In July
1909 eight sisters left France for Canada, arriving in Quebec by ship and by
railway to Calgary on August 15th. Met by Armand Trochu and Fr. Leduc, they
travelled to Olds by train and by horse and democrat to Trochu, arriving the
evening of the following day. They were warmly welcomed by the Butruille, Trochu,
Eckenfelder and de Beaudrap families.
Under the direction of Sister Marie-Louise Recton, a granary was cleaned up
and transformed into a hospital room with one bed. A week later, the first
patient was admitted, the victim of a harvesting accident. By the end of the
year, sixteen patients had been cared for, the Sisters working with Dr. Milne.
By the middle of September, a small chapel had been created for prayer and
devotion. In the following year, Sister Marie-Louise had prepared a
construction plan for a three-storey hospital, to be built above the St.
Anne's Ranch coulee. In September 1911, the new hospital was opened and in
1912 the Government of Alberta recognized the hospital and provided some
Over the next thirty-five years, the Sisters attended to the work of the
hospital as well as teaching the children of the community. Renovation and
reconstruction of the hospital occurred in the 1950s and further expansion in the
1970s. By the 1979, the Sisters had turned over administrative control for the
facility to a lay person. This event, among others, marked changes in the order.
Vast changes within the Roman Catholic Church and the general societal view of
religious life resulted in fewer young women joining the orders. Increasingly
the Sisters were aging and coming to an age of retirement. Increasingly, the
administration of the Sisters d'Evron was centred in Edmonton. In 1982, the
Sisters celebrated 300 years of service as religious congregation, dating back
to 1682. In 1999, the Sisters bid farewell to Trochu, having served the
community for 90 years.
Besides Trochu, the Sisters served hospitals and schools in Edmonton,
Vegreville, Bonnyville, St. Paul and in locations in the Province of
Saskatchewan. The correspondence between missions such as those at Trochu and
the Mother House at Evron on France provides excellent insight on the early
community and missions. Through the work of Lorene Frere, this record of the
early community has been collected and provides an important documentation of
life and experience in the region after the turn of the 20th century.