Bl. Emilie Tavernier Gamelin

Foundress of the Sisters of Providence

Memorial : 23 September 

Emilie Tavernier was born in Montreal on February 19, 1800. She was the youngest of fifteen children. Her family lived on a plot of land called Terre Providence located in the city’s north end. Emilie admired her mother who, in spite of the family’s modest means, would never allow any beggar who knocked on their door to go away empty-handed. 

Emilie’s childhood was punctuated with hard trials: nine of her brothers and sisters died at an early age. She lost her mother at the age of 4 and her father when she was 14. At the death of her mother, she was adopted by an aunt on her father’s side, who placed her in a boarding school operated by the Sisters of Congregation de Notre-Dame. When she was 18 years old, her kind heart led her to help her widowed brother and eventually a sick cousin in Quebec city. Later, she returned to live with her cousin Agathe Perrault-Nowlan in Montreal.

At 23, Emilie married Jean-Baptiste Gamelin, owner of an apple orchard, who was 27 years her senior. The happy couple shared a common interest and love for the poor.

Unfortunately, their happiness did not last long. Two of their three sons died three months after birth. After only four years of marriage, Emilie lost her husband to illness on October 1, 1827. Months later, in the summer of 1828, he was followed in death by their third son, at the age of 21 months. In less than five years, Emilie was now alone.

/ 1827
Offered to Mrs. Gamelin by Mr. Bréguier,
dit Saint-Pierre, p.s.s., her spiritual director
These painful losses mark the beginning of Emilie’s vocation. Following the advice of Sulpician priest, Father Breguier St. Pierre, she prayed with the image of Mary, Mother of Sorrows, at the foot of the Cross. This meditation kindled a deep devotion that filled her with strength and courage: how could she possibly turn down any sacrifice after contemplating the sorrows of Mary and the sufferings of Jesus? She felt called to manifest confidence in God’s Providence and, moved by the compassion of the Mother of Sorrows, to reach out to the most destitute of persons. Charitable works consoled her in her sufferings and gave new meaning to her life and service.

Emilie still lived in the Saint-Antoine St. home she owned, with Dodais, an intellectually handicapped teenager, and his mother, whom Mr. Gamelin had cared for since the day the boy had saved his life. Before he died, Mr. Gamelin asked Emilie to continue to care for Dodais and his mother in memory of their love for each other.

From that day on, she dedicated her life and means to the service of the elderly, the sick, the children orphaned by the cholera epidemic of 1832, the prisoners of the 1837-1838 insurrection and those alienated from society.. Madame Gamelin, an historic figure of the 19th century Montreal, spent her time and energy organising works of charity in the growing metropolis.

Some time later, she made the decision to become a servant of the poor and dedicated herself to God by private vows on February 2, 1842.

Msgr Ignace Bourget, Bishop of Montreal, wished to establish a community of Canadian Sisters in his diocese. In 1843, with the bishop, Emilie Tavernier-Gamelin founded the Community of the Sisters of Providence, then called Daughters of Charity, Servants of the Poor. The following year, at the age of 44, Emilie became the first Superior of the Congregation. As a woman religious, she continued her mission to the poor up to the time of her death, which took place seven years later on September 23, 1851.

Her last words to her Sisters were: “ Humility, simplicity, chari…” (ty). The poor, the vulnerable and the downtrodden, to whom she dedicated her life, are at the very heart of the apostolic Mission that the Sisters of Providence have inherited from her.

Street people affectionately named her Mother Gamelin, Providence of the Poor or Angel of the Prisoners; she truly belonged to them. She was the first woman of Montreal origin ever to be raised by the Church to the rank of Blessed.  Her Beatification by the Catholic Church took place in Rome on October 7, 2001. The process leading to her canonization is presently underway.

Canonical Stages :

Here are the canonical stages that a person must go through before she or he is officially declared a saint by the Catholic Church:

In the service of God : the person is called Servant of God as soon as his or her process of canonization is opened by the Holy Father.

Historical research began in 1960 in order to develop the file required by Rome to begin this process. On May 31, 1981 – twenty-one years later – the cause of Emilie Gamelin was officially introduced in the Archdiocese of Montreal in her former parish, Notre Dame Church.

Venerability : if, once the file submitted to Rome has been duly studied and the heroic virtues (or martyrdom) of the person is authenticated, she or he is declared venerable. 

In 1983, the historical commission completed the study of the documents. A diocesan tribunal heard the witnesses and submitted the documents to Rome expressing their desire that the holiness of the life of the Servant of God be recognized.

In 1989 a large amount of evidence regarding the recognized holiness of the life and virtues of Emilie, who dedicated herself to the cause of the poor and the destitute, was presented to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. This file is called a ” Positio”.

Historians and theologians in Rome studied the file and asked Pope John Paul II to recognize the heroic virtues of Emilie Tavernier-Gamelin. The Holy Father proclaimed her Venerable on December 23, 1993. 

Beatification : once the person’s life is regarded as exemplary and after studying a miracle attributed to her or his intercession, she or he can be proclaimed blessed. 

In 1983, God’s loving power was manifested and a miracle happened: 13-year-old Yannick Fréchette was cured from leukemia thanks to the intercession of Mother Gamelin! Emilie transmitted to God the trustful prayers addressed to her for Yannick’s recovery.

In 1997, the medical file was submitted to the doctors in Rome who, in 1999, unanimously issued a positive judgement on the case, which medical science considered inexplicable.

On December 18, 2000, Pope John Paul II recognized the virtue and intercession of Emilie Tavernier-Gamelin and the authenticity of the miracle. He presented her to the Christian People as blessed in St. Peter Square, on October 7, 2001, thus permitting public devotion according to circumstances.

Canonization : finally, following the recognition of a second miracle, the person declared blessed can be granted the status of saint and the devotion then becomes universal. 

Blessed Emilie Gamelin is presented as a model of compassionate charity and heroic practice of Christian virtues. She is recognized for her works of charity as a layperson and as the foundress of a religious-apostolic congregation, the Sisters of Providence.

In the last stage toward canonization, the personnel of the Office of the Cause continue, as they have for the past forty-eight years, to make Emilie Tavernier-Gamelin known and to promote her devotion by spreading the public recognition of her merits.

primary source : sisters of providence

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