Beginnings Early Education in BC

The Journey to the West

                In 1857 Bishop Modeste Demers travelled to Quebec from Victoria in order to request assistance from an Order to establish a school in the growing Fort.  The Bishop of the Order interviewed the women to decide if they would be a good candidate.  Their enthusiasm was so great he recommended to Bishop Demers that they would be an excellent choice.  Bishop Demers met with the Sisters for the first time on October 19 and related the education condition for the poorer children in Victoria.  His speech moved every single member of the order, including Mother Mary Ann, to volunteer for the mission.[1] 

                The four sisters chosen were Sisters Mary Alphonse, Mary of the Sacred Heart, Mary Angele and Miss Lane, soon to be Sister Mary Conception) and immediately started preparing for their journey.  Two of the sisters were sent to Hotel Dieu and Asile de la Providence to learn basic nursing skills.  Unfortunately Sister Mary Alphonse became sick and it was decided she would be unable to travel to Victoria.  She was replaced by Sister Mary Lumena and a lay helper was added to the group, Mary Mainville.[2] 

                This small group was to leave the convent at Saint Jacques on April 8, 1858 and the night before a special service was held for the religious committee to say good-bye.  The four sisters were recognized as some of the first missionaries of the Order.  After leaving the convent they were given time to spend with their families before leaving Montreal on April 14.  Along with Bishop Demers and the women were Reverend Father Pierre Rondeau, Father Charles Vary, Brother Joseph Michaud, and Brother Gideon Thibodeau. 

                The group travelled by train to New York, leaving on the ship the Philadelphia for Havana, Cuba then to the ship the Granada for the trip to Panama.  They crossed Panama by train in three hours but were then faced with another challenge.  The method of reaching their next ship, anchored in the Bay, was on the shoulders of hired African American men.  The idea was shocking to the four nuns who at first refused to be carried in that manner.  However, faced with no other alternative and having come this far, the nuns were carried out to the ship.  Sister Mary Angele had the distinction of costing twice as much to be carried due to her size leading to her being reminded throughout her time in Victoria that as it cost twice as much to get her to Victoria she was expected to do twice the work. 

                The sisters rested in San Francisco for two weeks with another order, the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul and also in Portland.  In Portland the members of the clergy and the congregation asked the sisters to leave their mission and join their convent.  They were faced with the decision of a rough Fort with unknown accommodations and a convent already established and a congregation already converted and seeking religious guidance.  However, they were not swayed and when the Bishop asked what they wished to do not one nun was hesitant in her desire to continue to Victoria. 

                The first Catholic Nuns in the Colony of British Columbia arrived on June 5, 1858 at three o’clock.[3]

[1] Sister Marie-Jean-de-Pathmos, S.S.A., A History of the Sisters of Saint Anne Volume One 1850-1900 (New York: Vantage Press, 1961), 134-135.

[2] Pathmos, A History of the Sisters, 137.

[3] Pathmos, A History of the Sisters, 137-138.