On April 23, 1989, France and Quebec had the joy of seeing Marie Catherine of Saint Augustine (Catherine of Longpré) raised to the altar, the Augustinian Hospitaller Sister of the Mercy of Jesus of the "Hotel Dieu" in Quebec City. She was nicknamed "co-foundress of the Catholic Church in Canada." A French flower that blossomed in Canada, she was declared "blessed" in Rome by His Holiness Pope John Paul II.
Catherine of Longpré was born on May 3, 1632, at St. Sauveur le Vicomte in Normandy, France. Catherine was baptized in her parish church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, future patron of French Canadians.
Catherine’s parents had several children, for that reason her maternal grandmother took her home and took care of her education. In her grandparent’s home they received the poor, the disinherited, and the sick. Catherine grew up amidst this charitable school. Barely three and a half years of age, the child already burned with an ardent desire to accomplish the Will of God in all things. She did nothing without asking permission from a picture of the Blessed Virgin and she reveals in her journal that this Good Mother answered her prayers, and that she played with the Child Jesus.
At ten years of age she signed in blood, her total consecration to the Blessed Virgin, an act she composed herself. In 1643, Saint John Eudes came to preach a mission at Saint Sauveur and predicted to Catherine that she would be a religious.
On October 7, 1644, our young heroine and her sister, knocked at the door of the "Hotel Dieu" in Bayeux with the intention of consecrating themselves totally to God and to His works in the Institute of the Augustinian Hospitaller Sisters of the Mercy of Jesus. On October 24, 1646, she took the religious habit, at the same time as her grandmother who, having been widowed, went to join her in the monastery. She took the name of Sister Marie Catherine of St. Augustine.
It was the time of the great Canadian Epic. Sister Marie Catherine hears about it and she nurtures the idea of joining these pioneers in this savage country. She signs her engagement to go to Canada on April 12, 1648.
The ship "The Cardinal" that carries our heroine sails on May 31, 1648. The crossing is dangerous and long, it lasted 3 months. Illness causes many deaths. Sister Marie Catherine herself falls ill to the incurable disease. She was going to die; she saw a horrible dragon attacking her. However, God wants her in Canada, He watches over her and the Blessed Virgin cures her so the dragon flees.
"The Cardinal" anchors in Quebec City on August 19, 1648. All the tribes, except the Iroquois, are friendly with the French.
There are eleven Ursulines who are teaching the French and Indian girls. And the Hospitaller Sisters, who number five when Sister Marie Catherine arrived, take care of the sick. They had to endure the rigors of the Canadian winters, bad food, lack of necessities, continuous fear of the Iroquois and total isolation from civilization across the ocean.
Having arrived in QuebecCity, Sister Marie Catherine courageously goes to work, sharing the hard work of the forefathers and learning the Indian languages. She quickly manifests good nursing qualities and shows a remarkable common sense, and all love her. She acts in the bosom of the Community as economist, mistress of novices and director general of the hospital, being entirely devoted to the sick and the dispossessed. The Superior, Mother Saint Bonaventure rejoiced to have Sister Marie Catherine, she was such a dependable person of such high perfection.
On March 16, 1649, Father Jean de Brebeuf is martyred by the Iroquois. He is 56 years old. His only wish was to pour out his blood for Jesus Christ. Sister Marie Catherine is guided in her ascension towards sanctity by Father Paul Raguenau, superior of the "Hotel Dieu" and one of the greatest apostles of New France; and also by Father Jean de Brebeuf who appears to her frequently.
Because of her grace and charity, our young hospitaller nun swiftly wins the friendship of the Indians. She teaches them the catechism. She even faces death with courage. In 1651, she writes admirable letters to the vicar-general of Bayeux: "We are between life and death. No one is sure of being guaranteed escape from the fury of the barbarians. All this, I assure you, does not frighten me. I feel my heart disposed towards suffering for all that will please my Good Master to send me…"
In 1652, Sister Marie Catherine is assailed by two temptations: impurity and returning to France. She valiantly fights the first by prayer, fasting, discipline, sleeping on a hard bed, etc. As for the temptation to leave Canada, she responds by a perpetual vow to remain in her adopted country.
Sister Marie Catherine is blessed with many ecstasies and visions: visions of the Blessed Virgin at Her Assumption, beautiful visions of the Marian City in Paradise, frequent visions of Our Lord, of Saint Michael, Saint Joseph, and Father de Brebeuf, whom God Himself gives her as spiritual director. She also receives visions of the souls in Purgatory that she saved; visions of consciences and of persons who died in France whose deaths she announces in Canada before the news can arrive by boat.
Bishop de Laval is appointed apostolic vicar of Canada on June 24, 1658 (Feast of Saint John the Baptist), and consecrated bishop on December 8, (Feast of the Immaculate Conception). He arrives in Quebec City on June 9, 1659.
On August 24, (Feast of Saint Bartholomew) of the same year, he administers the sacrament of Confirmation to Sister Marie Catherine and 100 Indians. At this time, Sister Marie Catherine sees the heavens unfold in a scene of the sacrament of Confirmation, in a mystical way.
Bishop de Laval already understands the holy treasure that the "Hotel Dieu" has in the person of Sister Marie Catherine; he consults her often and recommends to her prayers the most important affairs of the diocese.
In 1660, one possessed by the devil was given into the good care of Sister Marie Catherine. The devils, enraged against the holy religious, appeared to her and beat her terribly. They gave her an awful aversion to Communion. And when she prayed for sinners, God permitted that she be like a prison where the devils are forced to live, thereby they could do no evil to others.
The firewater trade erupted like a plague on New France. Bishop de Laval decided to return to France to have recourse to the authority of the King.
Sister Marie Catherine saw Our Lord very angry, so she prayed for the conversion of the guilty parties and increased her penances.
On February 5, 1663, there began the amazing earthquake across all of Canada that lasted seven long months. God granted Sister Marie Catherine the vision of the earthquake in Canada before it took place, in order to incite her to pray and to offer herself as a holocaust for the sins of the people. During the earthquake, she offered herself as a holocaust, so finally God allowed Himself to be touched and permitted all the people to convert and despite violent quakes of 6.9, there was no loss of life.
Sister Marie Catherine saw Our Lord scourged and covered with blood. The hate the devils inspire in her against God changes into love so strong and so tender that she is completely transformed by it and she conceives a very strong horror of sin.
She also offers her sufferings for the souls in Purgatory and delivers many of them.
Sister Marie Catherine obtains through her prayers and her sufferings the conversion of the governor of New France, Mr. de Mésy, who gave free reign to the firewater trade. Would that she also obtained the conversion of our ministers and deputies today!
Model of the hospitaller sister at the bedside of the sick, even as she gave them every care for the body, she was a thousand times more preoccupied with the salvation of their souls. She asked God to obtain the favor that no one from her hospital would die without being in the state of grace.
April 20, 1668, she begins to spit blood. She died on May 8, 1668, Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel. The beautiful soul of Sister Marie Catherine flew to Heaven at the "Hotel Dieu" in Quebec at the age of 36. The body of the holy hospitaller sister was exposed in the chapel of the "Hotel Dieu". "Her countenance, says the ‘Relation des Jesuites’ stayed like that of a person who was in contemplation." All the people of Quebec City who visited the body of the saint testified to this marvel.
For having offered her life for the Church and the salvation of New France, Marie Catherine of Saint Augustine is considered the cofounder of the Church in Canada. Pope John Paul II proclaimed her "blessed" on April 23, 1989.
Yes, our country was founded by the blood of martyrs, the holocaust of the saints and the sweat of our settlers. Those who took possession of it did so in the name of Christ.
We can say the same for New France as Cardinal Pie said for France:
"Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of our country, the summary of our history, Jesus Christ, is all our future…"
Source: Documents from the Catherine de Saint-Augustin Center, 32 Charlevoix, Quebec, QC, G1R 3R9 – Tel. 418-692-2492