ARNAUD, MARIE-MARGUERITE-DANIEL, dite Saint-Arsène (incorrectly called Saint-Arnaud, the name of another family), nun of the Congregation of Notre-Dame; b. 15 Jan. 1699 in Montreal, daughter of Jean Arnaud, originally from Bordeaux, France, and Marie Truteau; d. 5 July 1764 in La Rochelle, France.
After having been a student in the Congregation of Notre-Dame in Montreal, Marie-Marguerite-Daniel Arnaud entered the noviciate on 31 Oct. 1717 and made her profession two years later under the name of Sister Saint-Arsène. She took part in the activities of her community in Montreal until 1733, when she was chosen to accompany Sister Saint-Joseph [Marguerite Trottier] to Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island). The idea was to give a fresh start to the distant mission on Île Royale, which after five years of existence was proving to be a failure, attributed to the poor administration of the founder, Sister de la Conception [Marguerite Roy]. At Louisbourg Sister Saint-Arsène shared with her companions a life of hard work and continual deprivation. After Sister Saint-Joseph’s departure in the autumn of 1744, she became superior of the mission.
The fall of Louisbourg in 1745 marked the beginning of a second period in the religious life of Sister Saint-Arsène and her three companions. “After losing their little house there and all their belongings,” as Sister Saint-Arsène stated to the minister of Marine, Maurepas, on 18 March 1746, the nuns were deported with their boarders to the Rochefort coast. From there they went to live at the Hôpital Saint-Étienne in La Rochelle. Because the hospital was very poor, the nuns undertook to pay their own board and that of their students and to provide for all their needs. They were counting on their annual gratuity of 1,500 livres from the king [see Marguerite Roy]. But from 1743 to November 1748 they received only 1,040 of an expected 7,500 livres. They were able to cover their expenses of 4,085 livres between 24 Aug. 1745 and 26 Nov. 1748 but only because between 1743 and 1748 they received the equivalent of two years’ allowance, at 1,600 livres per year, from the estate of Isaac-Louis de Forant* [see Marguerite Trottier]. When Île Royale was restored to France in 1748, the nuns were so poor that they could not contemplate returning there. In a report to Maurepas in November 1748 they said that they were “completely destitute” and asked the minister to note particularly that at Louisbourg “they would need allowances for six nuns and two servant girls whom they could not do without.” The report received no reply until the following spring, when Maurepas, urged on by Abbé de L’Isle-Dieu, granted the nuns the price of their return voyage, plus 600 livres for their preparations, and promised that the gratuity they had always received at Louisbourg would again be granted them by the king.
Upon their return to Louisbourg Sister Saint-Arsène and her companions experienced only another series of deprivation, trial, and suffering. Financially incapable of rebuilding their convent, the nuns resigned themselves to renting a house, but it was so small that they could not assemble the children there to continue their teaching. Despite many entreaties and the pressing need in which they found themselves, they received no aid from the court for five years. Intent upon resuming their work, they decided in 1754 to rebuild their house at their own expense and to reopen their classes to boarders and day pupils, to the great satisfaction of the inhabitants of the colony. In doing so, however, they placed themselves in a difficult financial position from which they were never able to extricate themselves. In 1757, no longer able to support themselves, they requested permission to return to Canada. The following year the commandant, Jean-Baptiste-Louis Le Prévost Duquesnel, who wanted to keep them in Louisbourg, finally obtained a royal gratuity for them from the minister of Marine, Claude-Louis de Massiac.
In June 1758 the second siege of Louisbourg began; Sister Saint-Arsène wrote: “Never has there been so cruel a siege as that which we have undergone; I cannot think of it without still being frightened to death.” After the fall of the fortress Sister Saint-Arsène was again deported to France with her companions. This time she was never again to see New France or her community in Montreal. She returned to the Hôpital Saint-Étienne in La Rochelle. During the six years she lived there she attended to the teaching of the few boarders whom she had brought with her from Louisbourg, which has led certain historians to say that she founded a convent in France. The sisters were able to subsist in their exile thanks to an annual pension of 250 livres per boarder which the court granted them and to M. de Forant’s annuity.
Sister Saint-Arsène was still wanting to return to Montreal, or if not to Canada to the island of Miquelon, when death overtook her on 5 July 1764. In a letter on 9 June 1766 informing the superior of the Congregation of Notre-Dame in Montreal of the death of Sister Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, one of Sister Saint-Arsène’s companions, Abbé de L’Isle-Dieu rendered this fine tribute to the last two sisters “of the little community in Louisbourg”: “You have lost two good and excellent nuns in a short space of time; I regret them more than I can say, since both gave me all the satisfaction, contentment, and edification I could expect from them through their conduct until their final moments in the community where they had retired and whose esteem, veneration, and regrets they have taken with them.”
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. ANQ-M, Registre d’état civil, Notre-Dame de Montréal, 1699. Lemire-Marsolais et Lambert, Histoire de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame, II, 53; III, 281, 393–97; IV, 6, 29–35, 52, 90–101, 124–29, 141–57, 266–75, 277, 348, 354, 357, 361, 368–78, 408; V, 15, 17, 20, 87–98; VI, 23, 25. Tanguay, Dictionnaire.