In focus

A diligent correspondent

In Canada, Élisabeth Bruyère is one of the most prolific writers of all nineteenth-century religious community founders. More than 1,600 of her letters, addressed to various people between 1839 and 1876, are kept in the General Archives of the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa.

The diligent practice of writing is an outward inclination, a way to cope with geographical isolation in Bytown and with the pain of separation from the Montréal motherhouse. These letters also testify to Mother Bruyère’s dedication, her spirit of charity, the many challenges involved in establishing a community in Anglo-Protestant Ontario and her unwavering Christian faith in the Providence of God. The letters offer a privileged glimpse into aspects of the daily life of the Ottawa Grey Nuns of the Cross and the truly human dimension of their adventure, which was not without pain or sacrifice.

Of all the letters written by Mother Bruyère, the most memorable are those sent to the Reverend Mother McMullen, superior of the General Hospital of the Grey Nuns of Montréal, in the first days after arriving in Bytown. Two letters dated Thursday, February 20, 1845, report on the journey of the missionary nuns from Montréal. Leaving Montréal on the morning of February 19, 1845, they travel by dogsled on the ice of the Ottawa River. After a brief stop at the seigneury of La Petite-Nation, they continue on foot and arrive in the afternoon of the next day, welcomed a few kilometres from the city by a group of dignitaries and numerous Catholics and Protestants. Temporarily housed in the presbytery provided by the Oblate fathers, Mother Bruyère grasps the extent of the task she faces in her new life. On the day after her arrival, she visits the future convent where she and her companions will lodge, and provides first aid to a few patients.