La Mère Marie’s influence has always remained inspiringly alive ; and the tradition of her service has been greatly strengthened by many personal links between the passing centuries. Only three nuns had died during the first Ursuline generation ; and some of the twenty-five on the roll in 1675 lived long enough to connect Frontenac’s first administration with the first capture of Louisbourg in 1745.
Indian converts were as eagerly sought for as ever. Frontenac used to bring back the brightest Iroquois girls he could find whenever he went to Kataraqui, where Kingston is now. The Algonquins, Abenakis and Hurons were in still closer touch with the convent. The books of the “Séminaire,” as the Indian classes were always called, contain many entries like these : ” On the 15th of July, 1682, Marie Durand left the seminary after having been provided with board and clothing for a year.” ” La Petite Barbe, of the Mohawk tribe, who has been six years in the seminary, has returned to her parents at Ancienne Lorette.” In 1686 an Indian girl called Marie Rose laid the foundation stone of a new wing ; she was ” dressed in white and represented the Infant Jesus.” An Abenaki called Agnes Wes-k-wes even found the call of the cloister more compelling than the call of the woods. Only death prevented her from taking the veil ; and the fame of her piety drew every Christian Indian near Quebec to her funeral.
Within four months of the day the corner stone for this extension was put in position the convent was burnt again. A brave lay sister, Marie Montmesnil, nearly lost her life in rescuing the precious relics. The Hospitalières again offered shelter in their cloisters, where the Ursulines intoned a Laudate and sang a Memorare to their perpetual superior, the Blessed Virgin, in token of resignation and thanksgiving. The Hospitaliéres greatly cheered the homeless Ursulines by remembering to make a special celebration of the feast of St. Ursula the following day. As before, everyone in Quebec showed the greatest kindness ; and a return visit of acknowledgment was headed by the Mother Superior, who called on the Marquis de Denonville at the Château St. Louis and on the Intendant at his palace. After going to see the eight sisters who had remained on guard in an outbuilding of the burnt convent the little deputation re-entered the Hôtel-Dieu, and their records state that ” the peace of the cloister was delightful after a day of such fatigue and dissipation.” In November they all went into Madame de la Peltrie’s house, near which a barn was converted into a temporary chapel, “not”as their annalist quaintly says-“in the style of the Renaissance, but in that of the Naissance.” The makeshift cloister and chapel were all that was most uncomfortable. “I see everything here to make you suffer,” said the kindly bishop. The nuns, however, rejoiced at re-union under any circumstances : Ecce quam bonum et quam jucundum habitare fratres in unum.
1689 was a year big with the fate of empires. The Great Imperial War between France and England had just begun. It was to be renewed at intervals for more than a century, to culminate in both the Old World and the New in 1759, and to continue till Trafalgar had confirmed the British command of the sea for more than another hundred years. In Canada Frontenac began by a bold swift stroke at New England. In the British colonies Peter Schuyler was formulating the original ” Glorious, Enterprize ” of conquering New France that Pitt found the means of carrying out seventy years later.
In the midst of these wars and rumours of war the Ursulines completed their present convent and celebrated their first jubilee. All of the original three were dead ; but a nun who came out in 1640, and so was in her fiftieth year of service, took part in all the proceedings. Longevity has always been distinctive of this community. At every succeeding jubilee there have been nuns who had already assisted at a previous one. And the senior nun in 1908, the tercentennial year of Quebec, was not the junior in 1839, the bicentennial year of the convent. The Indians were already receding before civilization in 1689 ; and there were fewer at the jubilee feast than there used to be round the hospitable tables of La Mère Marie. The nearby friendly tribes had begun to wither at the touch of the town ; the hostile warpaths stopped farther and farther west. The massacre of Lachine sent a shudder of apprehension through the whole colony. But no Indians ever again threatened the safety of Quebec. Frontenac, on the contrary, carried the war into the Iroquois country. And the Ursulines, who had drawn the sword at need in 1660, did so again for the common good in 1696, by equipping a tiny though efficient contingent of two men. But their favourite weapon was and remained conversion.
In 1690 New England made her counterstroke. On the 7th of October the vanguard of the American fleet was sighted below Murray Bay. Quebec stood aghast, defenceless; for Frontenac was much further off inland than Phips was by the St. Lawrence. The Ursulines were instant in prayer, “seeking in every way to appease the divine judgment and obtain the favour of God for their country.” And the towns-folk thought these intercessions had been accepted when contrary winds so delayed Phips that Frontenac arrived first and flung back defiance at the summons to surrender : “I have no answer to give, except from the mouth of my cannon.” Phips at once began his bombardment, and the convent received its baptism of fire. “The first day a cannon ball burst through a shutter and finally lodged at the bedside of one of our boarders another cut a piece of her apron off one of our sisters. Others fell in the garden and courtyard.
Our house was crowded with women and children, so that we could hardly pass to and fro, but had to take our food standing and in haste, like the Israelites when they ate the Paschal Lamb.
We lent our picture of the Holy Trinity to be hung on the steeple of the cathedral, to show under whose protection we were fighting.” On the 21stTrafalgar daythe festival of St. Ursula was duly observed. Father de la Colombiére seized the opportunity to extol the heroism of the virgin martyrs as worthy of present imitation. And Bishop St. Valier had just intoned, with vibrant solemnity, Maria Mater gratiae . . . Et mortis hora when the hush that followed the benediction was suddenly rent by the crash of artillery. But, this time, Phips was only covering his retreat ; and Quebec went wild with exultant joy. Frontenac became a hero of the people, and has remained so ever since. The church built beside the St. Lawrence, on the site of Champlain’s Abitation, became Notre Dame de la Victoire. And, three thousand miles away, in famous France, Le Roi Soleil, in the heyday of his European renown, commanded a special medal to be struck in commemoration of this Canadian feat of armsKebeca liberata, MDCXC, Francia in nova orbe victrix.
The eighteenth century opened with famine, pestilence and war. Fever and smallpox carried off a fourth of the population of Quebec. Funeral knells became so frequent and so depressing to the spirits of the living that they were forbidden altogether. Five epidemics in eleven years scourged the town and turned the convent into a hospital. The last was in 1711, the year Sir Hovenden Walker’s armada made its disastrous attempt against New France. The convent resounded with the noise of warlike preparations, close beside the cloisters. The nuns again prayed fervently for the French arms. And the British expedition, ill found and badly led, retired discomfited and alarmed by the many shipwrecks it suffered far down the river. Notre Dame de la Victoire was henceforth called Notre Dame des Victoires. Two years later the Treaty of Utrecht freed Bishop St. Valier from the Tower of London, where he had been nine years prisoner of war. This time the cannon roared in greeting, and every bell in Quebec was rung as the bishop landed amid the acclamations of the people, who all went down to the water-side to bid him welcome home. The convent annals of the 18th of August, 1713, record his first visit to the Ursulines since his captivity. “In the course of the afternoon we had the pleasure of seeing our good bishop and hearing him express his joy. For our part, great is our gratitude to the God of all goodness, who has vouchsafed to grant us such consolation after our long and heavy trials.”
In 1708 a very different prisoner of war had appeared at the convent. This was Esther Wheel wright, the twelve-year-old great-granddaughter of John Wheelwright, one of the most honoured of New England Puritan ministers. The child had been carried off in the raid against the little village of Wells, five years before. The Abenaki chief who took her had adopted her and she had almost forgotten her English when Father Bigot came into the camp on a missionary tour. It was no easy matter to rescue her. An Indian chief thought paleface prisoners were trophies of war, quite as much as objects of ransom. And it was only after long diplomacy and many seductive presents that Esther was given up to the Great Captain of the French, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, father of Mont-calm’s Vaudreuil, who sent her to school at the Ursulines’ with his own daughter. Was it the contrast between the savage restlessness of the forest, as well as the civilized restlessness of French society at the Château St. Louis, on the one hand, and, on the other, the calm of the convent, that revived her childish memories of home and school and the happy orchard beside which she was torn away that midsummer morning, more than half her life ago ? Who knows ? But when the peace that restored the bishop to his diocese had let he] family write for her return to them, she had learn a second separating language, had found a new home and a new faith, and had taken the white veil among the Ursulines as Sister Esther of the Infant Jesus. She petitioned the Governor, as her adopted father, to allow her to make her final vows. The bishop approved ; and Father Bigot preached the sermon at her admission. Letters were ex-changed with the family, and the portrait then painted for them in her nun’s dress is now in the possession of the seventh generation from the one to whose members it was sent.
But Esther was not the only, nor even the first of the Puritan Ursulines. Mary Davis, carried off from Salem in 1686, entered the novitiate in 1698. And, twenty-four years later than this, Mary Dorothea Jordan also found her happiest earthly home in the a House of Jesus,” which the French missionaries had so often described to the three little_ captives among the Indians as the great sanctuary of the a paleface virgins ” in Quebec.
Forty-two years of comparative peace followed the return of the bishop from the Tower. The life of cloister, school and chapel went on with little disturbance from the outside world. Indeed, the outside world of Quebec was more moved by convent interests in 1739 than the convent was disturbed by worldly intrusions. A whole year had been devoted within the cloisters to preparing a fête worthy of the centennial year of the Ursuline order in Canada. The community now consisted of fifty-three nuns. Exactly fifty-three had died during the century. And their annalist rejoiced to think there was an evenly divided number to make an antiphon of praise in earth and Heaven. All pious observances were prolonged ; all relaxations were shortened ; silver plate was melted down to make a sanctuary lamp ; and a general “retreat” heralded the approach of the famous first of August. The canons of the cathedral celebrated ; the Jesuit Fathers preached ; the Bishop constantly attended ; and Pope Innocent X granted an Indulgence to all who took partclergy, nuns and laity alike. The Indians were not forgotten. A special High Mass was celebrated for them, at which they sang the Kyrie and Credo. A feast of such abundance as to recall the best of those given to their predecessors by La Mère Marie brought their part of the ceremonies to a triumphant close, It was their last great entertainment at the Ursulines’. They had receded much further since the jubilee of 1689. At the time of the next jubilee the world was going very differently, far and near. The French Revolution had begun a British sovereign had held the allegiance of Canada for thirty years ; and the Indians were only at home beyond the ever-expanding frontiers of that Western Country, which was, in its turn, to be succeeded by a still farther-off Far West before the bicentennial year had come.
The second quarter of the 18th century was the halcyon day of the old régime at Quebec. The kindly Marquis de Beauharnois governed the colony for fifteen years. A great “Father in God was then bishop, Count Henri de Pontbriand. The seigneurs lived in homely affluence among their censitaires. One of them enjoyed the manor and vast domains of the baronies of Portneuf and Bécancour. His house and chapel bore the insignia of nobility. Royal letters patent gave him ” the right of arms, heraldic honours, rank and precedence, like the other barons of the kingdom of France.” His daughter Anne had all the colony could give her in the way of social amenities and distractions. Yet three years of society disgusted her with what she called the “gay follies” of “bowing and courtseying in the middle of an illuminated hall.” She became contented only when she took the veil, and could summon the community to its daily duties by ringing the bell at four o’clock in the morningan office she per-formed without a break for forty years. Another nun of this period, who came from the most comfortable home the colony then had, was Geneviève de Boucherville, whose father’s notebook contains the significant entry “The land being mine, I think it my duty to settle there as a means of being useful to society.” This anti-absentee landlord, Pierre Boucher de Boucherville, was the father, grandfather and great-grandfather of Ursuline nuns ; for, besides Geneviève, three of the next and four of the following generation took the veil. His piety was proverbial, and its memory was kept alive for many years by the custom his descendants had of meeting to hear his “spiritual will” read aloud on the anniversary of his death. They were a long-lived family. Pierre Boucher was born during the lifetime of Shakespeare ; yet his Ursuline daughter did not die till the lifetime of the Duke of Wellington I.
The other classes of society shared the novel pleasure of this time of peace and comparative plenty. From the convent windows the nuns could see the snug little whitewashed cottages strung along the Côte de Beaupré–that well-named “shore of the beautiful meadow,” which rose two hundred feet or more in one bold bluff from the St. Lawrence, and then, in evenly rising uplands, swept back to the Laurentians, fifteen miles away. Or they could look out to the left of this, across the valley of the St. Charles, over a still greater natural glacis, sloping up and up to the blue ramparts of the same Laurentian mountains further west. Here the cottages were clustering round the churches into little straggling villages, which tamed the wild woodlands with fruitful spots of greenery. Or they could see the harbour, in the right foreground of the Côte de Beaupré, with, beyond, the rich Island of Orleans, bearing at first such native produce that the early settlers chose it as the garden of Quebec, and afterwards bearing such crops that every traveller’s eye was taken with the scene of bright fertility at this seaward gate of Canada.
The very troubles of that time were those inflicted by prosperity. Church and State cried out against the increase of luxury. There were laments over the good old times of more frugality, when the habitants stayed on their farms, instead of crowding the wharves and warehouses to spend their savings whenever a ship came in from France with a cargo of men’s and women’s frippery. Young men of more stirring natures turned to the wilds for profit and adventure.. The paternal Government was horrified to see hundreds of coureurs des bois “absent without leave.” And the Church was more justifiably grieved to find how many of them were active as “the devil’s mis missionaries” in the brandy trade among the Indians.
An education at the Ursulines’ offered the acknowledged corrective to social excesses and the best preparation for the future mothers of the colony. Civil and ecclesiastical dignitaries were always willing to lend their countenance to such a school fête as the one recorded in the annals for the 23rd of August, 1752. Geneviève de Boucher-ville, now nearing her eightieth year, receives the distinguished guests with all the grace of the salon without any of its empty compliments. Duquesne, the last great Governor, and the Bishop and Intendant, with their suites, are there, surrounded by everyone whom the society papers would have mentioned next day, had there been any papers then. At the end of the reception room is a grove, from which the nymphs and shepherdesses issue in procession to greet the Governor-General with a triumphal ode, comparing his services for the king in Canada to those performed by his ancestors for the kings in France. There was no lack of poetastic incense ; but Duquesne had won the right of patriotic homage, as had the bishop, who was addressed next. This good prelate’s visitations into the further wilderness were duly chronicled in glowing verse. “All Olympus’ faded hierarchy” was pressed into unwonted fellowship whenever the occasion seemed to warrant it, and some very quaint “conceits” were the result. When the Quebec Ursulines heard what yeoman service the bishop had done after their Three Rivers sisters were burnt out they gave him a place among the gods of Greece, quite in the effusive spirit of the fashionable pastorals of the day. The translation made for a later generation of English-speaking pupils is even quainter than the original.
Among the gods, if poets’ lays are true, Deeds most surprising were not rare to view! And all Olympus did the feat admire, When bright Apollo cast aside his lyre, Forbore to sing and seized the heavy spade, Or with the mason’s trowel mortar laid. Like him, my Lord, you put the apron on, And soften hearts, while you are laying stone.
But very different days were coming ; days when the heart of New France was failing it for fear ; when the land was eaten up with corruption and gaunt with famine.
Before the middle of the century there came a new Intendant, a man at once so consummate and so outrageous in all dishonesty that even the last hundred and fifty years of public life in the United States and Canada have failed to produce his superior in villainy. This was Bigot, whose sinister influence is seen, even inside the convent, in the letter he wrote the Superior, forbidding her to sell or give away any food during the famine, except through him. A few years later the younger Vaudreuil became Governor-General, and gave the plausible and insinuating Bigot a free hand, while spitefully thwarting the great and incorruptible Montcalm at every turn. No former miseries had been so bad as these ; for New France now had worse false friends at home than open enemies abroad.
In 1755 the Ursulines saw their sisters in the General Hospital burnt out, with loss of life. Messages were instantly sent offering a return of the kindness shown to the homeless Ursulines in the previous century ; and presently the Hospitalières arrived. One of their number had been burnt alive ; another was dying. She was nursed with all possible care in the infirmary, and when she died the Ursulines buried her in their own vault,” in order,” as their annals say, a that her ashes, mingling with ours, may serve to make still more enduring that union which has ever bound us together.”
The next three years were years of ever-in creasing apprehension. The French arms were often victorious ; but victory became more and more barren. Braddock’s defeat at the Monongahela was the last real check to the British advance. Montcalm’s battles were desperate rearguard actions, in which his skill snatched victory for the time being from forces whose reserves were always closing up the ranks of his enemies and pushing the lines of converging invasion one step further into the doomed colony. The Ursulines were devotedly patriotic, and looked upon race and religion as almost one and the same. The contrast between New France and the English-speaking people was, indeed, a striking one. Not a heretic was to be found in Canada ; while Roman Catholic disabilities were a stern reality in England, and the Bostonnais were the straitest Protestants in the world. But, even apart from religion, French priests and nuns have always been French of the French abroad ; so much so, indeed, that their services to French influence were freely used by atheists like Paul Bert and Gambetta, who agreed that “Anti-clericalism is not an article of export.” Montcalm, a frank and unswerving believer, looked upon the final struggle as somewhat of an Armageddon, though he was man-of-the-world enough to know that the British side was not in the service of an Anti-Christ. His Ticonderoga letter to the Superior of the Ursulines shows the bond of sympathy between the cloister and the sword in that great crisis. ” Continués, madame, â m’accorder vos prières et celles de votre sainte communauté.
Je me flatte que celui qui a pris Chouagen saura repousser â Carrillon les ennemis de la religion. C’est Dieu qui a fait un vrai prodige dans cette occasion. Je ai voulu Le servir, je Lui raporte tout, et je reçois avec reconnaissance votre compliment et celui de votre Illustre Communauté.”
Day by day new stories of British preparations against Quebec were told through the grille at the convent. The fall of Louisbourg left New France shrunken, starved and isolated in the grip of a hostile sea. Three hundred French ships were taken on the Atlantic that year. No mail came out from France for eight silent months of disappointment. And when Bougainville arrived in the spring of 1759 the convent historian significantly praises his skill and bravery in having “penetrated the enemy’s lines.” Even the scanty fare usual in the refectory had to be reduced to four ounces of bread a day. Clothes, books, household necessities everythingwere lacking. Montcalm had only a little horseflesh at his dinners ; his army was on half rations, the habitants often on less. Only Bigot and Vaudreuil fared sumptuously and gnawed the people to the bone.
On the 26th of June the British fleet appeared in the South Channel of Orleans ; and the Ursuline annalist that evening closed her entry with the words ” The colony is lost 1 ” From the convent there was a full view of Montcalm’s six miles of entrenchments along the Beauport shore, from the mouth of the St. Charles to the Falls of Montmorency. The British men-of-war could be seen feeling their way into the harbour ; Wolfe’s soldiers landing in detachments at the Island of Orleans, and afterwards, in great strength, just beyond the Falls. At nine o’clock on the night of the 12th of July the bombardment from the Levis batteries, across the St. Lawrence, suddenly began ; and ” at the first discharge from the English batteries the convent was struck in many places. We passed the night before the Blessed Sacrament, in such terrors as may be imagined.” The next morning the Superior, La Mère Migeon de la Nativité, headed a sorrowful procession to the General Hospital, each nun carrying all she took with her in a little bundle. Ten volunteers remained to safeguard the convent, as best they could, under the brave Mère Davanne, with the assistance of their chaplain, Father Resche, and two of his friends.
The General Hospital had already become a sanctuary for 800 people, including the nuns of the Hôtel-Dieu, who, like the Ursulines, immediately took the harassing duty of nursing the sick and wounded in overcrowded wards and with hardly any proper hospital appliances. Wolfe’s unsuccessful assault on the heights of Montmorency sent in many patients. Among them was Captain Ochterloney, of the Royal Americans, who had been wounded in a duel the day before; had left hospital to take part in the battle, saying he could never let a private quarrel stand between him and his public duty had been shot through the lungs while leading his company of Grenadiers, had refused to leave the field after such a defeat, and had been rescued from a scalping party by a French soldier of the Regiment of Guienne. Two days later a messenger came out, under a flag of truce, for Ochterloney’s effects, which Wolfe sent in, with twenty guineas for the soldier who had saved him. But Vaudreuil theatrically refused to allow any money to be given for this gallant deed. So Wolfe’ replied, thanking Vaudreuil, and promising Madame de Ramesay, directress of the hospital, that he would grant her special protection if victory should crown the British arms. This promise soon became known, and the hospital was more crowded with refugees than ever. Towards the end of August Ochterloney died, having been tenderly nursed by the good sisters to the last. Both sides then ceased firing for two hours, while Captain de St. Laurent came out of Quebec to announce his death and return his effects.
In September hopes began to revive. It was thought the Canadian autumn would compel the British fleet to raise the siege. `Volfe’s restless energy had to be reckoned with. But Montcalm’s skill was depended on to keep him at arm’s length. And so it might have, though ultimate conquest was only a question of time, if Vaudreuil’s meddling counter-orders had not thwarted Montcalm’s foresight. Suddenly, on the morning of the 13th, Quebec gasped at the desperate news that the red wall of the British army was on the Plains of Abraham, cutting off the town from the west as the British fleet cut it off from the east. Within four hours the French army had marched up from its entrenchments, formed line of battle, attacked, and been broken in defeat. The Ursulines in the General Hospital saw the fugitives flying for their lives down the Côte d’Abraham and across the valley of the St. Charles. By midday the over-crowded hospital had to receive hundreds more of their wounded friends. At midnight a detachment of wild-looking Highlanders took possession and guaranteed protection. The next morning the British wounded were brought in, and every nook and corner in the hospital and all its outbuildings was filled with friend and foe, now drawn together by the sympathy of common suffering, and become but man and man once more under the ministering hands of the good nuns.
While the Ursulines in the General Hospital were busily struggling to do this service in the thickest of all the crowding horrors of war, the little garrison left behind in the convent was racked by still further suspense. The dire news that Wolfe was on the Plains had reached them early in the morning. Their straining ears had heard the sharp, knelling clap of volley after volley from that steadfast British line ; then the confused noise of hand-to-hand fighting, yells that might have come from Iroquois, followed immediately by loud, exultant British cheers, and, as they strained their eyes to see if their ears deceived them, the fore-boded truth struck them to the heart when a mob of white and blue and grey fugitives fled in mad haste for the bridge of boats leading back to the French entrenchments. Even as they watched they heard of another disaster from the street beside them. Montcalm had just ridden through St. Louis Gate, mortally woundedand this news touched the quick of anguish. Some terrified women, seeing him pass by between two Grenadiers, who supported him in the saddle, had shrieked out : “Oh, Mon Dieu–le Marquis est tué !” And he had tried to reassure them by replying : “Ce n’est rien ! Ne vous affligez pas pour moi, mes bonnes amies ! ” The surgeon told him he had only a few hours to live. “So much the better. I shall not live to see the surrender of Quebec.” But he attended to the last details of his public duty before he let his memory turn to his beloved family circle among the happy olive groves of his home at Candiac. He sent a fare-well message to every member ; and then, as his life was ebbing fast away, he made his final peace with God. Often, in that dreadful night, he was heard praying and rendering thanks for the consolations of the Catholic faith. Just as the dreary day was breaking he breathed his last.
What desolation met the eyes of the nuns that morning ! The long six miles of French defences stretched as usual along the Beauport shore to the heights of Montmorency. But no one manned them. The guns were dumb and deserted. There was no stir of life about the empty tents. Nothing moved along the road which had so lately bristled with ten thousand bayonets. The houses were as desolate as the camp. Death had struck peace as well as war.
Bad news kept coming in all day long. All the other French generals had fallen in the battle, with no one knew how many officers whose daughters were pupils of the convent. In the afternoon the death of two Ursulines was reported from the General Hospital. One was La Mère Charlotte de Muy de Ste. Hélène, daughter of a Governor of Louisiana. She was the convent annalist who lived just long enough to see the fulfilment of her foreboding entry for the 26th of June : “The colony is lost.” By a strange coincidence the other was Mary Jordan, a Puritan, whose former compatriots were represented by the American Rangers in Wolfe’s triumphant army. But she was “La Mère de St. Joseph,” heart and soul, when the battle was joined the day before, and she died, just after Montcalm, as French, as patriotic, and more intensely Roman Catholic than he.
The day wore on, and the nuns in the convent had more time than those in the hospital to realize what a desperate pass the colony had come to. A homeless and despairing people, a broken and fugitive army, and the last half-mile of the rock of Quebec, close beset by victorious forces on land and sea :and this was all that was left of the Canada they knew !
That night a funeral procession stumbled its way through the encumbered street to the convent, bearing the great and unfortunate Montcalm to his last resting place in the chapel of the Saints. The town had been in such confusion all day that no one could be found to make a coffin, except an old servant of the Ursulines, “le bonhomme Michel,” who wept bitterly as he worked at his makeshift of a few rough boards. At nine o’clock the mourners entered by the fitful glare of torchlight. De Rame-say and every man in the garrison that could be spared from duty were there, with many civilians and women and children. One little girl, who held her father’s hand as she felt the awestruck silence when that rude coffin was lowered into the shell-torn ground, afterwards became La Mère Dubé de St. Ignace, and used to tell the story of that memorable night to successive nuns and pupils, down to the Ursulines’ bicentennial year of 1839 ; and one of her most attentive listeners, both as pupil and nun, is still alive to repeat the tale in Quebec’s tercentennial year of 1908. Libera me, Domine, chanted Father Resche and his two companions ; while the little choir of siege-worn nuns replied from behind the screen. It was one more fulfilment of the family tradition : La Guerre est le Tombeau des Montcalm.
On the 18th Quebec capitulated. Three days later the Ursulines returned to their shattered home. On the 27th an Anglican memorial service was held for Wolfe, in the same chapel where Mont calm lay buried, and the funeral sermon was preached by the Rev. Eli Dawson, chaplain to H.M.S. Stirling Castle. The style of this oration is too inflated ; but the preacher was right in his estimate of the immense importance of the victory. ” Ye Heralds of fame already upon the wing, stretch your flight and swell your Trumpets with the Glory of a military exploit through distant worlds ! An Exploit which for the fitness of Address in Stratagem, the Daringness of the attempt, and the Spirit of its execution shall take rank with the choicest Pieces of ancient or modern Story in the Temple of Fame, where it remains immortal.”
The Mothers winced at the unwelcome necessity of having to yield up their altars to what they thought unhallowed rites. And the conquerors had the usual Protestant predisposition to take the mass for superstitious mummery. But personal experience and many amenities on both sides made each more tolerant after that long, hard winter. General Murray, now in command of the British army of occupation, quickly won golden opinions by his justice and generosity. He and his men cheerfully gave up a whole day’s rations every week for the benefit of the poor, and always paid religious processions of all kinds a the compliment of the hat.” And it soon became known that, before leaving for England, Townshend, though obliged to borrow money from the fleet for the needs of the army, had yet sent Bougainville enough to help the French sick and wounded.
Murray established his headquarters in the con-vent, which was also used as an officers’ hospital and had a guard of Highlanders. The sanctity of the cloisters was religiously observed, and not a single complaint was ever made against the British garrison. On the contrary, the officers and men did all they could for the nuns, shovelling the snow for them, seeing they got the best food that could be had, and generally making them as happy as possible under the circumstances. As the winter began to set in the annalist records that the Highlanders, “exposed by the peculiarities of their costume to suffer severely from the climate, became objects of compassion to the nuns, who set to work to knit long thick stockings to cover the legs of the poor strangers.” Captain Knox, of the 43rd, records another pleasant amenity in his journal for the 30th of November. ” The nuns of the Ursuline convent having presented the Governor and other Officers with a set of crosses of St. Andrew, curiously worked, they were displayed in compliment to this day : in the corner of the field of each cross was wrought an emblematical heart expressive of that attachment and affection which every good man naturally bears to his native country.”
Thus passed the terrible 1759. How different from 1659, when La Mère Marie de l’Incarnation was writing home to France her patriotic congratulations on the Peace of the Pyrenees and the rising glories of His Most Christian Majesty, Le Grand Monarque and Roi Soleil !
French hopes began to revive with the spring of 1760. The gallant de Lévis was gathering his forces at Montreal ; his army was to be joined by all the able-bodied manhood of the country as he came down and the Fleur de Lys was to float from the Citadel again. On the 2Ist of April Murray ordered all the inhabitants, except the nuns, to leave Quebec. All private property left behind was stored in the Récollet church, on the site of the present Anglican cathedral, watched by two delegates chosen by the townsfolk, and placed under a strong guard. On the 23rd the ice moved down and navigation opened. On the 25th Lévis’ vessels began to arrive at Pointe-aux-Trembles ; and a desperate struggle was seen to be imminent. On the 28th every British soldier that could be spared from actually manning the walls marched out to prevent Lévis from closing in to the commanding heights at decisive ranges. A desperate fight ensued ; far bloodier than the first battle of the Plains ; and in a few hours the little British army staggered in, beaten back to its walls, with the loss of more than a third of its numbers. The French army had lost even more men ; and the convent was presently filled with the wounded of both sides. Lévis opened his batteries : all the dangers of a siege began again, and at much closer quarters than the year before. The vanguard of a fleet was reported coming up stream under a press of sail. It rounded into harbour after dark ; and a French officer on the Beauport shore sent off a message to Lévis to say the French reinforcements had arrived at last ! The rumour flew round and fired the be siegers to instant action. But just as they were about to carry the town by assault they found they were mistaken, and that the whole British fleet was coming to relieve Quebec and cut off their own retreat. They at once raised the siege, retired in all haste on Montreal ; and there, brought to bay by irresistible forces on land and water, they laid down their arms forever. Three years later the convent annals record the momentous change of sovereignty in these few and simple words :” On the 24th of May, 1763, a treaty of peace was signed between the Kings of France and England. Canada is left to the English. God grant religion may continue to flourish there ! ”
This devout wish seemed at first destined to dis-appointment, in the sense desired by the annalist. The good and great Bishop de Pontbriand died before the final surrender, and the Canadian branch of the Church was bereft of its ordinary head at the very time that the State was wrested from its Mere-Patrie. For eight years, from 1758 to 1766, not a novice joined the thinning ranks; and the novitiate, consequently, soon ceased to exist. ” To add to our difficulties, all commerce with France is forbidden : yet what credit could the Canadian merchants, even if not already ruined, hope for in London ? And how many articles of prime necessity, especially for the Church and altar, and for the apparel of persons living in religious communities, are no longer to be found on the list of English manufactures, since their proscription by the law of the land ! ”
However, the nuns faced every privation with undaunted courage. They did Indian bark work, which they sold to the British officers’ families. Perhaps they were taught by Esther Wheelwright, who was elected Superior in 1761, and who might still have retained the art she learnt in her five years’ wanderings in the forest, between her Puritan home and the convent. They earned a little money from their own people by embroidery and gilding and other work useful in restoring religious service in the ruined churches. They were poorer than they had ever been, even in the worst days of a hundred years ago. The present of a Iittle seed grain is thankfully recorded as likely to enable them to tide over the next winter without losing their pupils.
In 1761, there were thirty-seven boarders, and English names appear for the first time. Some years later the annals say :” It has been a great consolation to us, n the midst of so many difficulties and trials, to see our classes always well filled, there being often as many as sixty boarders, French and English. The latter are naturally very gentle and docile ; but it is sad not to be allowed to bring them up in our Holy Faith.” There are very few Anglo-Canadian families, of any social standing during the first century of British rule, whose daughters did not get at least some of their education from the Ursulines. And was not St. Ursula herself the daughter of a Prince of Britain ?
1766 was a turning point in Ursuline history. The novitiate was reopened; Monseigneur Briand, the Vicar-General, arrived out after being consecrated as fourth Bishop of Quebec ; and the foundress of their Order was beatified as St. Angela of Merici. “The happy event was celebrated with as many outward demonstrations of joy as if the whole country had still been under Catholic rule.” The breach between French and French-Canadian public life was already widening. In 1767 La Mère Marchand de St. Etienne writes to the Ursulines in Paris : “The news we have had from France this year grieves us profoundly. Al-though expatriated by the fate of war our hearts are as French as ever, and this makes us doubly sensitive to the decline of that dear motherland. I cannot help saying that it is as well to be in Canada, where we enjoy the greatest tranquillity. We are not in the least molested on the score of religion. We have a Governor, who, by his modera tion and benignity, is the delight of every one, and a bishop who is the joy and consolation of his flock.” This juxtaposition of British commanderin-chief and French-Canadian bishop speaks for itself. A little later on La Mère de St. Louis de Gonzague writes ” Religion is perfectly free. People say it is not the same in Paris, where religious communities suffer persecution. We are told that you were even obliged to celebrate the beatification of our Blessed Mother Angela in secret. We have no such difficulties here under British rule.”
In 1773 the Jesuits, hereditary friends of the Ursulines, were suppressed in France. In 1774 the British Parliament passed the Quebec Act, favouring French-Canadian rights and privileges. In 1775, an army of American Revolutionists invaded Canada and besieged Quebec. Bishop, clergy and nuns all saw the peril of intolerant assimilation staring them grimly in the face ; and all stood as firmly British as they did against the third American invasion, in the war of 1812. And in 1799, when Monseigneur Plessis preached a sermon in the Basilica to celebrate Nelson’s victory at the Nile, no church in Canada responded with heartier alacrity than the Ursuline chapel to the Bishop’s mandement ordaining a general thanksgiving for the blessings ensured to the French-Canadians by the just laws and protecting arms of the British Crown. And this appreciation of British right and prowess was not wrung from any assemblage of mere frightened women, cowering for protection beneath the first strong hand ; but sprang spontaneous from the well-proved heroines of four sieges and five battles.