LEMOINE DESPINS, MARGUERITE-THÉRÈSE, superior of the Sisters of Charity (Grey Nuns) of the Hôpital Général of Montreal; b. 23 March 1722 at Boucherville, near Montreal (Que.), daughter of René-Alexandre Lemoine, dit Despins, and Marie-Renée Le Boulanger; d. 6 June 1792 in Montreal.
Marguerite-Thérèse Lemoine Despins received a careful upbringing. After her mother’s death, she was entrusted, at her own request, to the care of Madame d’Youville [Dufrost], who took her into the Grey Nuns’ house as a boarder on 2 July 1739. She thus observed from within the growth of both the community and the charitable work with which she would become associated 12 years later.
On 2 July 1751 she was admitted as the first regular novice of the Grey Nuns and the same day was entrusted with the office of mistress of novices. For 20 years she worked closely with her companions, sparing neither health nor fortune to establish securely the work to which she was devoted. It was, in fact, her inherited wealth that enabled the community to purchase the seigneury of Châteauguay during Madame d’Youville’s administration.
On 27 Dec. 177 l, a few days after the founder’s death, Sister Despins was chosen by the community as superior. The 30 years she had spent at Madame d’Youville’s side had prepared her well for this task: while still young she had been initiated into the spiritual practices dear to the founder, and perhaps more than anyone else she was aware of the spirit of charity which Madame d’Youville wanted to instil into her community. In addition for 20 years she had taken an active part in the community’s administration.
As soon as she had assumed office, Sister Despins entrusted responsibility for the temporal affairs, of the house to Thérèse-Geneviève Coutlée* as bursar; she devoted her own attention to bringing the projects left unfinished by Madame d’Youville to a successful conclusion. She resolved the problems raised by the Indians at Sault-Saint-Louis (Caughnawaga), who were claiming part of the seigneury of Châteauguay, by coming to an arrangement with the government whereby the community ceded to the Indians 16 arpents of land in return for the government’s cancellation of the droit de quint, which the nuns had not yet paid; she also had the manor house at Île Saint-Bernard rebuilt. In addition she took steps to ensure that the rules, constitutions, and dress of the community were laid down more precisely; in 1781 Étienne Montgolfier completed a draft collection of rules and constitutions. Under her administration the sisters continued their charitable assistance to the poor and the underprivileged, and they diversified their sources of income to ensure provision for their pensioners.
Sister Despins was known as the soul of gentleness and kindness and these qualities marked her administration. The peace of her final years was disturbed by pain and suffering; at the beginning of 1792 her illness worsened, and she died some months later.