Ursulines and Augustinians: Educating and Healing Canada Since 1639

Over the past 375 years the Ursuline and Augustinian nuns of Quebec have played a significant role in the history of Quebec City and Canada. Their contributions have been highlighted with commemoration activities.

Written by Mathieu Drouin

Posted July 23, 2014
Colour painting

In April of 1639, the sailing vessel St.-Joseph departed from Dieppe, Normandy, and began its journey towards New France. On board were the crew, six Jesuit priests, three Ursuline nuns and three Augustinian nuns. Over the next three months, the travellers slipped past enemy British ships and pirate ships, went through severe storms, grazed an iceberg "as big as a city" and survived infectious diseases. They arrived safely and in good health in Quebec on August 1, 1639, and were given a cheerful welcome. Though small in number, the nuns were bringing much needed help and moral support for the young colony’s development.

The two cloistered communities began their missions without delay, for there was much work to do. The Augustinian nuns founded the first hospital north of Mexico. Soon after its establishment, the ill and wounded — French or Native — arrived in great numbers. Financially sustained by the Duchess of Aiguillon, the nursing nuns had, and still have, an excellent reputation for healing and wound care. The Ursuline nuns, financed by Madame of La Peltrie, began their education and mission work the day after their arrival. The School of the Ursulines became one of the most prestigious girls' schools on the continent, and today is the oldest school for girls still running in North America.

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The religious orders occasionally combined their resources. On two occasions, the Ursulines monastery was destroyed by fire. Both times, the Ursulines found refuge within the Augustinian convent. The Augustinians also welcomed the Ursulines when their convent was threatened by bombardments from the British army during the Seven Years War.

In 2014, they celebrated the 375th anniversary of the Ursuline and Augustinian nuns arrival in New France, and the two orders once again collaborated, this time to present a wide range of commemorative activities. A historical reenactment of their arrival at Quebec City took place August 2, 2014.

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