During an era when unwed mothers were rejected by society, she took them into her home
Rosalie Cadron was born on January 27, 1794, in Quebec, Canada. She was the oldest of two daughters born to a farmer by the name of Antoine Cadron and his wife, Rosalie Roy, who was a midwife in their town. Shortly after her birth, Rosalie was baptized in the local church. She would receive her First Holy Communion when she twelve.
Rosalie’s early life consisted mostly of work. She attended a boarding convent that was nearby but was so lonely that she returned home after only two weeks. She never learned to read until later in life and never was taught how to write. Instead, she was instructed in housekeeping, sewing, and craftwork, and worked at the farm and in her home.
When Rosalie was 17, she married Jean-Marie Jette. They had 11 children, some of whom died very young. They moved to Montreal and settled there in 1827. Sadly, in 1832, Jean-Marie died from cholera. Rosalie began looking after unwed mothers. This was quite the undertaking because at the time, unwed mothers and those that helped and associated with them, were despised and most of the citizenry viewed them with contempt.
Rosalie did this quietly in her home for the next five years. She possessed a broad-mindedness that was extremely rare for that period in time and also was filled with a spirit that respected all people, no matter their station or plight in life. It was Bishop Ignace Bourget, who first heard about the Catholic widow who reached out to the unwed mothers in his diocese. He met her, talked to her, and became her spiritual director. Now it was time to seek her help.
Bishop Bourget was socially aware of the rapidly growing population of Montreal and the growing need to help the unwed mothers who were held in such contempt by the society of the day. He believed that the church was responsible for reaching out to all peoples and that maybe it was time to create new religious communities that were free of rigid rules and could meet the unique needs of society.
Rosalie Cadron-Jette was foremost in the bishop’s mind as the woman to approach with his plan. He believed she would be perfect to begin the task of leading women who would be devoted to extending the temporal and spiritual works of mercy to the unwed mothers in the diocese and beyond.
Starting in 1840, he began to seek our Rosalie’s help in caring for unmarried mothers who had come to him for help. This was all done in secret because most of the women who had come to the bishop had done so in the confessional. Since their “sin” was socially repugnant and placed the women in danger of physical harm, the bishop wanted a “kind and prayerful woman” to take charge of this work.
Between 1840 and 1845, Rosalie helped 25 women during their pregnancy, childbirth, and recovery. She often placed the newborns with her own children, who were now grown. After each birth, Rosalie would take the mom and the newborn to Montreal’s Notre Dame Church and stand as Godmother as the child was baptized.
On May 1, 1845, with the support of Bishop Bourget, Rosalie Jette, along with a “penitent” (unwed mothers were called penitents), moved into a small house given to them by one of Bishop Bourget’s supporters. It was the start of a new religious community. The fledgling community grew and on January 16, 1848, the founder, Rosalie Cadron-Jette, and her followers took their vows from Bishop Bourget. From that time on Rosalie would be known as Sister Marie of the Nativity.
Sister Marie of the Nativity refused to accept any position of authority in the new order. However, working in the background, she shared in all the activities of the order which was called the Congregation of the Sisters of Misericorde aka Misericordia Sisters. The Misericordia Sisters (Sisters of Mercy) took the traditional vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience and also took a fourth vow, that “they would assist in their labour fallen girls and women.”
Sister Marie of the Nativity passed away on April 5, 1864. Bishop Ignace Bourget had administered Last Rites a few hours earlier on April 4. Pope Francis has declared Sister Marie a woman of “heroic virtue” and she has been declared Venerable.
The Misericordia Sisters are still active in several countries and multiple continents around the world including the United States and Canada.
Venerable Marie of the Nativity, pray for us.
copyright©Larry Peterson 2020