Skip to main content

Sister Louise Charbonneau on Sister Bruyère and Mother McMullen.

Interior shot. Woman with short grey hair wearing glasses, a light brown vest, and a white shirt with a patterned collar speaking to camera. To her right is a large painted portrait with a gold frame of a woman in a black nun’s habit and brown robe wearing a large silver Cross.

Good afternoon. My name is Sister Louise Charbonneau. I am a Sister of Charity of Ottawa. I am speaking to you today from the Mother House of the Sisters of Charity here in Ottawa.

The Sisters of Charity were founded by Sister Élisabeth Bruyère almost one hundred and seventy five years ago, on the twentieth of February, 1845. Élisabeth responded to an invitation that was sent to the Grey Sisters of Montreal to come and assist the Oblates here in Ottawa.

The Ottawa area, which was called Bytown in those days, was very much in need of social services, such as health care, orphanages, and care for the elderly. So Élisabeth responded to that invitation.

When the congregation was still very young, having been founded in 1845, the typhus epidemic was in full outbreak. The Grey Sisters of Montreal were asked to provide services to the thousands of immigrants that were coming from Ireland. And so the young congregation in Ottawa was pleased to accept the invitation.

However, Élisabeth Bruyère in her compassion and her courage still experienced a little bit of fear about how she was going to provide these services.

She wanted to be brave, and with Mother McMullen being the person who asked her [to go to Ottawa], and she was very respectful of Mother McMullen’s wishes on the congregation, as it was founded in Ottawa – she wanted to respond to the invitation, but was a little bit fearful because the congregation was still young, and the numbers were still very small.

And so in February, when the invitation did come to the congregation in Ottawa, Mother Bruyère accepted. When the first group of immigrants arrived in June, 1847, Mother Bruyère started to feel the fear she had been experiencing over the months anticipating the arrival of the immigrants.

She wanted to be the generous, compassionate missionary that she knew she was called to be in Bytown, but she was afraid of this contagious disease that the immigrants were bearing.

However, the Sisters and the Novices at the time showed courage and they were valiant in their effort to provide services. They shared their beds, their rooms, and the Sisters were able to respond to the needs of the population.

Luckily, the Sisters were not affected by the illness in terms of deaths. A few sisters did contract the illness, but there were no deaths among the sisters.

Many of the Sisters were involved in providing care, such as Sister Rodrigues who was a pharmacist and who provided medication to the immigrants in their care.

So the young congregation, even though the numbers were small, were able to pursue their mission of compassion, the care and compassion, they had brought from Montreal, and that Mother Bruyère was trying so valiantly to instil in Bytown, which was a rather rough environment at that time.

And when we re-read Mother Bruyère’s letters to Mother McMullen – and there are many – you see that Mother Bruyère wanted to be faithful to Mother McMullen’s wishes and her vision of the congregation, and frequently invited her to come to Bytown. However, that was to come a few years later.

But the relationship was one of great confidence and great respect between Mother Bruyère and Mother McMullen. And the confidence and respect was put to a test during the typhus epidemic in 1847.

I think Mother Bruyère can be, in retrospect, very proud of the way she provided services to the Irish immigrants during the typhus epidemic in 1847.

Final image of water with onscreen Ireland Park Foundation logo. Celtic style music playing.