Women without frontiers: A history of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, 1902-2007.
A history of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, 1902-2007
WRITTEN BY Chantal Gauthier, TRANSLATED BY Kathie Roche,
PUBLISHED BY Carte Blanche, 2008
ISBN: 978-2-89590-122-8, Softcover, pp. 498, $34.95 CND
Founded in Montreal in 1902 by Delia Tetreault (1865-1941), the history of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (MIC) reflects twentieth century Catholic history in Quebec and the entire world.
Like countless other ecclesiastical undertakings, the MIC grew in a completely different way from how contemporary capitalist corporations expand. Rather than based on money and networks of power, Tetreault relied on faith, prayer, and people. Her network included Montreal's Archbishop Bruchesi (1855-1939), who had the MIC approved by Pope Pius X, and numerous energetic priests who were as taken as she was by the missionary spirit.
Chantal Gauthier, the author of Women without frontiers, opens up Quebec's vibrant, diverse religious society at the turn of the last century. French Canada ranked with Ireland for numbers of missionaries sent into the world, and the MIC was only one manifestation of this. Tetreault and the MIC were products of their time.
In fact, right from the beginning money and recruitment proved headaches for Tetreault not because of religious apathy but because of the fierce competition among different Catholic organizations for resources. Marketing proved as important then for religious societies as it is now for business, and through talks, retreats, and a magazine, the MIC succeeded so well that by 1921, only two decades after their founding, they were firmly entrenched in French Canada.
The growth and development of the MIC reads like a family history because of the countless photos, with explanatory captions, that focus on people rather than the institution. Smiling Malawian students, Bolivian mothers with children, little Peruvian boys drinking hot chocolate, and Haitian sewing circles are always surrounded by the Sisters. The MIC really did evangelize to the four corners of the world.
The smiles and gentleness reflected in the photos show something of the foundress' "serene and glowing" spirituality, for whom "God was a God of love and tenderness."
Not surprisingly, the MIC shared the downs as well as the ups of the last troubled century, including "world war, economic crisis, and epidemics of all sorts." Taken hostage in Japanese-controlled Hong Kong and thrown out from communist China, the Sisters dearly relied on deep faith.
The MIC flourished when the times were toughest. This book, as much a reflection on Quebec and Western culture as it is on the MIC, deals with the slow but steady decline of the Sisters over the decades in terms of its numbers and its role in Quebec society.
As the Church became increasingly marginalized in Quebec, starting in the 1950s and culminating with the reforms of the state in the 1960s, the MIC began to look overseas for vocations. Up until the mid-1960s, the vast majority of vocations had come from within Quebec; the change was drastic, so that from 1961-70, the Congregation attracted 199 Canadian postulants, but only 7, 5, and 3 for each of the next three decades.
By keeping the focus on the people rather than on the institutional aspect of the Missionary Sisters, Gauthier doesn't make this into a funeral march, but turns instead to where new life was and is coming from, which includes the Philippines, China, Madagascar, Cuba, and Malawi.
The fact that life can come from such a diverse range of countries and cultures would probably astound Delia Tetreault. The Sisters are continuing their foundress' success by focusing not on money or worldly success so much as on faith, hope, and charity.