ROY, MARGUERITE, dite de la Conception (incorrectly called Le Roy), nun of the Congregation of Notre-Dame of Montreal; b. 4 July 1674 at Prairie-de-la-Madeleine (Laprairie, Qué.), daughter of Pierre Roy and Catherine Ducharme; d. 13 Dec. 1749 in Montreal.
The sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame did not establish a convent at Prairie-de-la-Madeleine until 1705. But during the 17th century they usually conducted itinerant missions there, and it was undoubtedly on these occasions that Marguerite Roy made the acquaintance of the nuns. At the age of 15 she joined the community in Montreal. She was one of the sisters who on 25 June 1698 officially accepted the rules prescribed by Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix*], took the three simple vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and the vow to teach girls, and on 1 July made their perpetual profession.
Sister Marguerite Roy de la Conception was employed in several missions, but it seems that she was the cause of numerous difficulties. She was therefore quickly recalled to the community in Montreal. She was there when Bishop Saint-Vallier, feeling his end draw near, decided to realize a part of the dream that he had had since 1685: the establishment of teaching houses in the farthest reaches of his immense diocese, in Louisiana and Acadia. In 1724 he had made an official request to the superior of the community, Sister Saint-Joseph [Marguerite Trottier], to send some nuns on a mission to Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), but the superior asked him to find the means of providing for the nuns’ subsistence. Moreover, the rule of the community required spiritual direction by a secular priest, and there were only Recollets at Louisbourg. The bishop thought to obviate these difficulties by asking the court to assume support of the foundation. But the court replied that it could not “grant new favours to the religious communities.”
In 1727, after a dispute with the confessor of the community, who did not attach much importance to her visions, Sister de la Conception put herself under the spiritual direction of the bishop himself. Since she could not find in the nuns’ activities in Montreal work corresponding to her high aspirations and her excessive inclination towards the miraculous, she offered her services to the bishop to realize his desire for an institution in Louisbourg. The bishop accepted, despite the opposition of the officials of the community who maintained that the congregation had neither the means nor the personnel necessary for such an institution. Sister de la Conception was therefore obliged to bring two lay sisters into the undertaking. In these exceptional circumstances and with Bishop Saint-Vallier’s blessing, she left Quebec in May 1727, to the great relief, it seems, of her community. In 1733 Dosquet*, the bishop of Quebec, wrote that in 1727 the community “had been very pleased to be rid of her because she caused trouble when she lived there and no priest wanted her in his parish.”
Bishop Saint-Vallier had to act with great dexterity in dealing with the civil authorities of Île Royale, who were aware of the court’s opposition to the project in question. In a letter to the governor, Saint-Ovide [Monbeton], and the financial commissary at Louisbourg, Jacques-Ange Le Normant de Mézy, he did not hesitate to introduce the founder as “the most capable [nun] in her community.” In addition he stated that her mission was “to become acquainted with the place and its condition and to consider the advisability of the proposed work.” It may be confidently stated that the establishment of the Louisbourg mission was due both to Bishop Saint-Vallier’s authoritarianism and to the intemperate zeal of the woman under his direction.
According to her obituary notice the founder of the Louisbourg mission was “endowed with a quick and penetrating mind, and a rare talent and skill in teaching pupils.” She was consequently much appreciated as an educator and won general esteem. In its first year the mission had 22 boarders and “in a short while the number of its pupils became so great that it was unable to cope with everything.” In the spring of 1728 Saint-Ovide and Mézy asked the minister of Marine, Maurepas, for a gratuity for the mission. In April 1730 the king authorized an allowance of 1,500 livres for the upkeep of the three nuns who were employed there.
To cope with their task, and above all to meet the king’s requirements, Sister de la Conception asked her community in Montreal for reinforcements. But the circumstances surrounding her departure for Louisbourg had already created a rift between her and her community. In addition, the Louisbourg mission was in a difficult financial situation: the founder, who had no aptitude for temporal matters and was much inclined to extravagance, had bought for the mission, under very onerous conditions of payment (1,000 livres a year), a piece of land and a house that were not worth the 15,000 livres that Josué Dubois Berthelot de Beaucours had demanded for them. The officials of the community were therefore hesitant to send nuns to heal the rift at Louisbourg. They decided to do so in the summer of 1732, but Bishop Dosquet did not give his permission for the departure of Sister Saint-Joseph and her two companions until the autumn of 1733, when he was sure that the founder would return immediately to Montreal, as he had ordered.
Back in Montreal, Sister de la Conception followed from afar what was called “the re-establishment of the Louisbourg mission.” Physically spent, morally exhausted by the numerous accusations brought against her and by the consciousness that she was considered a useless burden to her community, she lived until her death in humility, obscurity, and silence. In the Histoire de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame de Montréal Sister de la Conception appears as an unique case. To her obituary notice is appended a long appeal in her defence: “Coup d’œil sur les accusations portées contre Sœur de la Conception avec objections.” The author seems to have wanted to refute Bishop Dosquet, who wrote, for example, to Abbé de L’Isle-Dieu on 25 March 1733 these surprisingly harsh and slanderous words: “She is the most deceitful, the most scheming nun, and the one most filled with illusions that I know.” This defence would lead us to conclude that if Sister de la Conception, a person who was very free in her aspirations and actions, was an outsider in her community, she was also, with the backing if not the irresistible stimulus of Bishop Saint-Vallier, the tenacious and courageous woman who started the work of the Congregation of Notre-Dame on Île Royale.
ACND, La Congrégation de Notre-Dame: son personnel, 1653–1768; Fichier général des sœurs de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame; Plans des lieux de sépulture depuis 1681-CND; Registre des sépultures des sœurs de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame; Registre général des sœurs de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame de Montréal. AN, Col., B, 54, ff.433–34. ANQ-M, Registre d’état civil, Laprairie, 1674. PAC Report, 1904, app.K, 49. Lemire-Marsolais et Lambert, Histoire de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame, II, 115; III, 166, 348–55, 393–97; IV, 6, 14–16, 29–35, 124–26, 201–11, 241. Tanguay, Dictionnaire.