Sister Catherine of the Sacred Heart
Daughter of Maxime Marquis and Flavie Côté, Soeur Catherine was born in St.Agatha, Maine, on August 2, 1898. She studied with the Daughters of Wisdom and obtained the credentials that allowed her to teach in Maine.
In 1920, she entered the novitiate of the Daughters of Wisdom in Ottawa and made her profession on July 16, 1921. She was asked to work in Edmundston where she taught from August 1, 1921 to September 1978 when her failing health compelled her to spend the winter months in Nicolet; there she could partake in the daily Eucharist without having to go out. Winter prolonged until her death eleven months later. Her funeral was held on August 8, 1979 in the Immaculate Conception Cathedral where numerous clergy and scores of citizens came to pay their last respects.
Soeur Catherine, we have already said, came to Edmundston in 1921 and remained until the end of her career. She was a great educator and an excellent parish collaborator. Religion and education were the two main areas of her career as a teacher.
At the beginning of her journey, a serious illness almost claimed her life. The Lord, it seems, allowed her to be with us to accomplish her productive work. This health problem influenced her future, because although she had the provincial teaching certificates, she would not pursue university studies, as did her counterparts. As a result and early on, Sister Catherine would become committed to teaching, and consequently become self-educated. She would take on the responsibility to cultivate, enrich, and adjust the sound notions she acquired in St. Agatha and in Edmundston, adapting them in exceptional ways to the pace of progress and development of the sciences of instruction and education, so that her pedagogical knowledge never became out of date. She always found a way to update her knowledge, familiarizing herself with new methodologies, combining them with the old and using the best of everything. Her leadership and inventive genius knew no lull: the school years as well as holidays were filled with activities that were constantly repeated, renewed, amplified and enriched. She used significant teaching materials for her students, which she either produced or purchased. She was resourceful (“faisait feu de tout bois”), and gratefully accepted donations from Fraser Papers, and “l’Imprimerie April” (April Printing). And if “Le Madawaska”, “Garneau” and “la Bonne Presse” bookstores could speak, they would have much to say about her purchases of supplies and educational books. If required, she went as far as ordering from Europe to build up her supply of diversified items (“des objets les plus hétéroclites”) which she constantly used to help deliver her teaching.
Parish collaborator was a vital role for her. She was entrusted with the preparation for First Communion, Confirmation and Solemn Communion (Profession of Faith) and, in the days of Catholic Action, the Eucharistic Crusade. This mandate, which lasted thirty-seven years made her responsible for the instruction of all baptized children of school age in the Immaculate Conception Parish. The choice of this teacher to teach new souls the truths of the faith and to introduce them to the Sacraments and Christian virtues was most appropriate, because she herself understood piety well. God was the beginning and end of her teaching, unencumbered by religiosity and childish practices (“enseignement dégagé de dévotions et de pratiques puériles”). It is throughout all of her teaching, that she would implicitly (“comme en filigrane”) bring in the beliefs of God, His greatness, His perfection, and His kindness to humankind. Admittedly, Soeur Catherine gave all the required and reasonable time to the transmission of Christian truths, training in piety, liturgical preparations and receiving the Sacraments. She also knew how to include in her religious program decorations for these feasts that helped impress the children and left them with pious memories. That being said, in these religious efforts she sought to emphasize the sacred celebrations rather than the folkloric aspect, which might be present. There is an allusion here to the feasts known as the Blessing of the Children, the Blessing of the Throats, Corpus Christi, the Presentation of Mary to the Temple, etc. It was important for her to protect children against a certain routine or coaching, against a phony sheep-like piety made of imitation, rather than of convictions. Soeur Catherine laboured to introduce young people to Catholic works, to love the poor, and to translate their Christian membership into Christian action.
She paid a special attention to the preparation for First Communion. She used tact and benevolence for this task. With much solicitude, she followed and studied the children to help them, enlighten them and, if necessary, stimulate them. The act of the first of Communions had much significance. Don’t all of us in our past have a centre from which radiates the most comforting memories? Is it not a special moment, one which will determine the future of each person’s religion?
However, Soeur Catherine’s zeal did not stop there. She knew that the children’s store of knowledge was minute at the end of the First Communion Catechism. Perseverance needed to be seen to and so she became the apostle of religious education to all young people from their primary grades to their Profession of Faith. It was then that her aides, other nuns and lay teachers, had recourse to her savoir-faire. In this way, Soeur Catherine evangelized ever so slowly, surely, and deeply.
It seems important to note her veneration for the Blessed Virgin Mary which she conveyed almost by osmosis to her students. Consequently, it was easy for teachers in the “higher grades” to present to their senior students the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin and its corollary, the Perfect Consecration.
Soeur Catherine, an excellent communicator, was also a highly-qualified “professor” of religion. I have barely touched a few elements of her religious action, her remarkable catechetical experience, and her simple unaffected piety.
Is it surprising to count among her students six priests, one brother, twenty-three nuns and countless others who, dispersed in Christian or less Christian homes, can admit openly or secretly that the spark of their courage, of their commitment, was due to the religious training offered by Soeur Catherine? And so ends the religious aspect of Soeur Catherine’s presence in parish life.
Educator is another facet of her presence in the city of Edmundston.
Educator, Soeur Catherine was one with every fibre of her being. If she had had to write a thesis, I am persuaded it would have dealt with the heart (formation du coeur) as she was convinced that "the value of the heart is the worth of the man" and what the heart is lacking, nothing can replace.
This awareness of the importance of emotions gave her a deep respect for the child, this man of might. Also,respecting children as free beings, loving them, helping them translate good feelings into actions, nullifying the bad, such was the teaching mission of Soeur Catherine.
To teach, she studied the situation before acting and varied her strategy depending on the nature of the child: gentle with the weak, more demanding with the most talented and most able. She treated each innocent soul with tact, while remembering that as the partners of parents, we do not raise our students for a day; we must provide them for an entire life. Preparing children for life - how well Soeur Catherine played her role! Discreet confidant of the great sorrows of childhood which she consoled, she was a good and intelligent teacher, knowing how to encourage good effort, recognize goodwill, stimulate new attempts, practice kindness and humility, virtues encompassing many others. It was in the teaching of various subjects that she found it appropriate to bring about moral and Christian behaviour without moralizing.
Teaching young children, those of “Grade One”, as it was called at that time, for forty years is quite an achievement and Soeur Catherine accomplished this.
Her religious and educational circles (and) her influence were great. Many called upon her competence and her experience at pedagogical sessions; many consulted her individually or in groups. She never tired of listening, helping, sharing, giving and starting all over again.
Soeur Catherine had a long career as the “Grade One Teacher”. Pursued by parents even to her convent, she could hardly refuse beginning students and their parents... to the point that some even tried to pass their children through the window to assure them a place in the classroom of the “Grade One Nun”. Fortunately, through religious education, she reached them all, these dear beginners.
Of simple appearance, easily and pleasantly acquainted, enthusiastic, very religious, convinced of her mission, Soeur Catherine with her drive and her beliefs has left an impression on hundreds of children from all strata of society.
Soeur Catherine was stubborn: stubborn with patience, faith, (and) perseverance that understand how to tread the difficult paths to launch and restart the project of religion and that of education, two inseparable and indivisible components in her thinking.
Soeur Catherine was patient, accommodating, apostolic... traits that continued to grow admirably when, retired, she would become the loveable gate-keeper we well remember.
Soeur Catherine, I did not have the good fortune of working with you, but I was your companion in the religious order in Edmundston. To my eyes, three sayings summarize your discipleship: “What do we believe? - What do we celebrate? - What do we live?”
Soeur Catherine, you were loyal, loyal to the Church, to your congregation, to society, and to the parents of your students.
We are grateful and honour you because we admire and love you.
In Madawaska, an educator has come through. Her memory continues in the hearts of hundreds of men and women. We call her “Soeur Catherine”.