The Sisters of St. Ann
Esther Blondin, the Foundress of the Sisters of St. Anne was born in Terrebonne, Quebec on April 18, 1809. At the age of 20, Esther began learning to read under the direction of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame. She decided to enter their Community but was forced to leave due to poor health.
Esther was determined to become a teacher and in May 1833, she began working at a parish school in Vaudreuil, Quebec. She wanted to help the children who would have otherwise had a difficult time obtaining an education.
In June 1839, she assumed full responsibility of the school which was known locally as the Blondin Academy; a well-respected village school. Eventually, after much prayer and with guidance from Archbishop Ignace Bourget and her pastor, Esther was able to found a new religious community based on the needs she observed around her. On September 8, 1850, along with four other Sisters they made their first profession of religious vows as Sisters of St. Anne. This marked the beginning of a religious community dedicated to the education of rural boys and girls during a time of rampant illiteracy among the Catholic population in Quebec. Esther received the religious name of Sister Marie-Anne.
The Sisters who taught in the village faced many difficulties due to poor relations with the chaplain. Sister Marie Anne was instructed to step down as Superior of the Convent. In spite of these obstacles, the Sisters continued to dedicate themselves to educating the poor and attending to the needy with St. Anne acting as their inspiration.
The Sisters of St. Ann, Victoria
In 1857, Bishop Modeste Demers left from Victoria on Vancouver’s Island for Quebec in search of teachers amongst the numerous religious communities in the area. The Bishop sought those willing to accompany him to Victoria to educate the Aboriginal and French-Canadian fur traders’ children. Shortly upon arrival the Bishop met with the Sisters of St. Anne. All 44 of them volunteered their services, although only four Sisters were chosen. This in itself, displays the courageous spirit and benevolent nature of the Sisters. As the West was not part of Canada until 1867, it was the equivalent of enduring a long and tiresome journey to foreign lands with little or no expectation of ever returning.
The two-month journey took them from Montreal to the Isthmus of Panama, across the Isthmus by train, then by boat to San Francisco, and on to Victoria. When they arrived in Victoria, they were shown a log cabin; their new home, that had few facilities. However, this did not deter their enthusiasm to teach and serve the people. On June 7, 1858, just two days after their arrival, classes began. By the end of the first year, 56 pupils of diverse backgrounds had enrolled.