SUREAU (Sureault), dit Blondin, ESTHER (Christine), named Mother Marie-Anne, founder of the Sisters of St Anne; b. 18 April 1809 at Terrebonne, Lower Canada, third child of Jean-Baptiste Sureau, dit Blondin, a farmer, and Marie-Rose Limoges; d. 2 Jan. 1890 at Lachine, Que.
Esther Sureau, dit Blondin, did not attend school as a child; in 1831 she was a boarder with the recently established Congregation of Notre-Dame at Terrebonne. Admitted the following year as a postulant, she soon became a novice in this community in Montreal. She was to adopt the name of Christine in memory of her stay at the noviciate. Because of poor health Esther returned home, but when she had recovered she was able to satisfy her desire to teach and accepted a post as teacher at Vaudreuil in 1833. She rapidly acquired an enviable reputation, and became headmistress of the parish school, which was known locally as the Blondin academy.
She was disturbed by the ignorance of rural children, and with the encouragement of her parish priest, Vicar General Paul-Loup Archambault*, and the permission of the bishop of Montreal, Ignace Bourget, Christine Blondin, as she was then called, decided in 1848 to lay the foundations of a new community devoted to education. In September 1850, along with four of her companions, she made her profession, under the name of Mother Marie-Anne. The community (known under various designations before it finally assumed the name of Sisters of St Anne) was so successful in its recruiting that in 1853 it had 34 members and was transferred from Vaudreuil to Saint-Jacques-de-l’Achigan (Saint-Jacques). In 1864 the mother-house was located permanently in Lachine.
Although Mother Marie-Anne’s career spanned four decades of religious life, she was to direct her community for only four of these years. A kind of moral drama began for her as soon as she arrived at Saint-Jacques-de-l’Achigan, with the appointment of Abbé Louis-Adolphe Maréchal as chaplain of the institute. According to him, the five-year-old community of the Sisters of St Anne had a tough challenge to meet in replacing the highly respected Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as teachers. Mother Marie-Anne and her colleagues were pushed along at a brisk pace by this domineering man who, in the opinion of the superior, exceeded his authority by meddling with the rules of the community. Since it had become impossible to maintain good relations between the founder of the Sisters of St Anne and their chaplain, one or other of them had to be sacrificed, to avoid deep rifts within the community. In August 1854 Bishop Bourget decided to depose Mother Marie-Anne and to appoint a new council. She was made superior of the Couvent de Sainte-Geneviève at Pierrefonds, which she herself had founded in 1851, and she went there at the beginning of November. Henceforth Mother Marie-Anne was kept at arm’s length from the direction of the community. In 1864 she followed the sisters to Lachine, where they took up residence in the new mother-house, but her appointments as local counsellor, local assistant, and general counsellor were purely nominal; the founder of the Sisters of St Anne was in fact restricted to the humblest tasks.
Esther Blondin showed strength of character in her exemplary docility towards her bishop, and in her unreserved forgiveness of Abbé Maréchal and of those of her daughters who seemed forgetful of the past. Others would later honour an unappreciated founder, but her reputation would be restored only slowly. Until she died at the age of 80 on 2 Jan. 1890, Mother Marie-Anne was a serene and silent observer of the progress of her work. In the year of her death several hundred of her daughters were active in 42 institutions throughout North America.
É-J [-A.] Auclair, Histoire des Soeurs de Sainte-Anne; les premiers cinquante ans, 1850–1900 (Montréal, 1922). Frédéric Langevin, Mère Marie-Anne, fondatrice de l’Institut des Sœurs de Sainte-Anne, 1809–1890; esquisse biographique (2e éd., Montréal. 1937). Sœur Marie-Jean de Pathmos [Laura Jean], Les Sœurs de Sainte-Anne; un siècle d’histoire (1v. to date, Lachine, Qué., 1950– ). Eugène Nadeau, Martyre du silence; mère Marie-Anne, fondatrice des Sœurs de Sainte-Anne (1809–1890) (Montréal et Lachine, ); trans. by Sister Mary Camilla as The life of Mother Mary Ann (1809–1890), foundress of the Sisters of Saint Ann (Lachine, 1965).