Élisabeth’s First Years
Élisabeth Bruyère was born on March 19, 1818 in the village of L`Assomption, just a few kilometers from Montreal. Her father already has four children at the time of his marriage to a young woman from Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré. Three children are born from this marriage, one of whom is Élisabeth, the eldest child of the second marriage. At the young age of six years, Élisabeth experiences the deeply painful loss of her dearly beloved father. She experiences the poverty and the sacrifices which result from this loss. She must leave the paternal home to take up residence in Montreal with her mother who courageously accepts to become a domestic to provide for her family.
Élisabeth attends the school that is run by the Congregation of Notre-Dame, located in proximity to the Our Lady of Bon Secours Chapel. Élisabeth will make her first communion in this chapel at age twelve.
Father Jean-François Caron, Elisabeth’s mother’s cousin, offers hospitality to the young orphan. He also provides such an excellent education and formation that the young woman is able to pursue a teaching career; already she makes a preferential option for the poor.
A New Step
In 1839, Élisabeth enters the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, founded by Mother Marguerite d`Youville and she makes her first profession on May 31, 1841, at the age of twenty-three. At this time, the General Superior, Mother McMullen is asked to found a community in Bytown (known as Ottawa today). Father Telmon cannot believe that he will receive a negative response to his request. If Mother McMullen refuses, he wants her to know that it is the Grey Nuns who are wanted and who are being asked first. On November 16, 1844, the Council of Twelve decides that some Sisters will be made available for this mission.
Founder in Bytown
Sister Élisabeth Bruyère, who was professed only four years previously, is designated to assume responsibility for this foundation. Taken by surprise by this nomination, she confides: « If I accept, it is to be of service to my community […] but I do not feel any calling. If my superiors do not find any good reasons to refuse, I leave the decision up to their prudence; for myself, I reserve nothing but obedience.» Three days later, she signs the act of acceptance of her election. Élisabeth will maintain this attitude throughout her life. What strength is required by such obedience!
Canonical Erection of the Community
On February 20, the founders are in Bytown. His Excellency Bishop Phelan, Bishop of Kingston, takes advantage of his pastoral visit to establish an understanding with Father Telmon, o.m.i. and Mother Bruyère related to the steps to be followed to ensure the canonical erection of the small community.
Filled with the charism of Mother d’Youville, Mother Bruyère and her sisters are intent on continuing the ministry with the poor and the care of the neediest. There is great need in which to exercise their profound zeal: children to educate, sick to care for, destitute individuals to visit and assist.
The education ministry is the most pressing. Mother Bruyère had been well prepared for the designs of Providence. However, a clause restricts their teaching activities to « small schools ». Mother Bruyère appeals to her superiors and to Bishop Bourget to broaden the scope of this clause. Mother Bruyère continues to direct her community toward the various ministries of mercy while she sustains the efforts to develop the competencies of the sisters who are committed to the education ministry, which competencies will allow the sisters to address future needs, yet to be confirmed.
Bytown is pleased to welcome the benefits of education. The boarding school is not harmful neither to the work of the parochial schools nor to the ministry with the poor and the destitute nor with the orphans. Mother Bruyère widely opens her heart to the elderly and to the disabled. The care of the sick is not neglected either. To tell the truth, all the ministries offered in Montreal resonate in Mother Bruyère’s soul. Only the education provided in the boarding schools is added to respond to the specific needs of Bytown.
Death of Mother Bruyère
Mother Bruyère did her very best. In June 1875, hypertrophy of the heart is diagnosed. Our venerated founder entered into the eternal rest of the Father on April 5, 1876, at the age of fifty eight.
The congregation which she directed for thirty one years then had ninety eight members. Her last words « my beloved Jesus », convey her abandon and summarize her whole life. The body of our venerated Founder is preserved in an oratory at the Mother House.