COMPAIN, MARIE-LOUISE, named Saint-Augustin, sister of the Congregation of Notre-Dame and superior of the community (superior general); b. 28 Jan. 1747 in Montreal (Que.), daughter of Pierre Compain, dit L’Espérance, a wig-maker and barber, and Françoise Vacher; d. there 2 May 1819.
Marie-Louise Compain belonged to a family which had five children who chose the religious life: her brother, Pierre-Joseph Compain, was a priest, two of her sisters became nuns at the Hôtel-Dieu in Montreal, and another followed her into the Congregation of Notre-Dame. Marie-Louise grew up next door to this community, on Rue Saint-Jean-Baptiste in Montreal, and attended its primary school. She entered the noviciate in 1764 and took her vows two years later under the name of Sister Saint-Augustin. In 1768 she began teaching in the mission at Saint-François-de-la-Rivière-du-Sud (Saint-François-de-Montmagny), and in 1774 she was appointed mistress of boarders. The following year she went to teach at Pointe-aux-Trembles (Neuville). She was recalled in 1783 and put in charge of setting up a mission at Saint-Denis on the Richelieu, where the parish priest, François Cherrier, had just finished building a convent. Sister Saint-Augustin became mistress of novices at the mother house in 1788, and the following year she was named assistant; she fulfilled this responsibility until she was elected superior in 1796. At the end of her six-year term of office she was re-elected, exceptionally, by a two-thirds majority; with the permission of vicar general Jean-Henri-Auguste Roux*, who was superior of both the Sulpician seminary and the Congregation of Notre-Dame, she retained her responsibilities until 1808.
During Sister Saint-Augustin’s 12 years as superior, the community was faced with problems related to development and income. There had been 70 sisters in the community in 1760 and 56 at the time of the fire in 1768 [see Marie-Josèphe Maugue-Garreau*]; in 1800 the Congregation of Notre-Dame had only 58 sisters, 30 of whom were serving as teachers in the 12 boarding and other schools. Among the 28 who were living in the mother house there were three classes: aged sisters; high-ranking officers and classroom-sisters who having retired from teaching now held various posts in the pharmacy, sacristy, or infirmary and carried out light manual tasks; and lastly the sisters who had been accepted to do the heavy tasks such as farm work, shoemaking, baking, and candle making. The drop and then stagnation in the community’s numbers after the conquest could be attributed to economic conditions in the colony rather than to the change of political régime: the dowry of 2,000 livres had become an obstacle to recruiting new members. To overcome this difficulty the coadjutor, Bishop Plessis*, advised Sister Saint-Augustin in 1805: “Do everything possible to increase the number of your members . . . be flexible about dowries . . . remember what I have told you, that the greatest wealth of a community is to have good members.”
But at that time the community could not give up any of its sources of income, since it had already lost the largest and most regular one, the annuities paid from France, which had been cut off by the French revolution. Although the first thing that Sister Saint-Augustin had done upon the signing of the Treaty of Amiens between Great Britain and France in 1802 was to write to the procurator of the Congregation of Notre-Dame in Paris, lawyer Jean-Louis Maury, to obtain payment of the arrears in the annuities, the community received only those for 1790 and 1791. Furthermore, the amount of these annuities was sharply reduced, since they had been drawn in the past in assignats (promissory notes issued by the French revolutionary government) and had depreciated when this currency dropped in value. As for the other annuities and arrears, the procurator was pessimistic as long as they were going to be treated like annuities belonging to French citizens. Since war had broken out again between France and Great Britain in 1803, no more annuities were received and, lacking income, the community was forced to sell some property.
In 1808 Sister Saint-Augustin became the assistant, and the next year the mistress of novices. She again assumed responsibility for both the spiritual and temporal affairs of the community in 1814. That year, with the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in France, the sisters of the congregation had been able to establish relations with Alexandre Maury, the son of their former French procurator. Sister Saint-Augustin learned with satisfaction that the French government would deal justly with the religious communities in Canada that produced documented claims. The Congregation of Notre-Dame was in a position to do this but the liquidation, which was entrusted to two commissions, a British one to receive the claims and a French one to examine them, was extremely slow. After working for two years the commissions declared themselves ineffectual and recommended that the two countries reach an agreement on the diplomatic level. Plenipotentiaries then estimated all the claims put forward by Great Britain, including capital and interest, at 60 million francs, a sum the French government was unable to pay. Consequently Britain assumed the obligations, on certain conditions that France accepted. Like the other Canadian communities the Congregation of Notre-Dame henceforth could apply to the British government for payment of its annuities and immediate reimbursement for arrears, with interest up to 22 March 1818.
With this hope Sister Saint-Augustin passed away on 2 May 1819. She had dominated 17 years of the history of the Congregation of Notre-Dame with her strong personality, at a period when financial problems kept apostolic ardour in check. It is clear that the sisters had held her in great esteem and that under her firm and intelligent direction they had felt sheltered from the difficulties of the time.
ANQ-M, CE1-51, 9 juin 1732, 29 janv. 1747. Arch. de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame (Montréal), Fichier général; Personnel, VI; Reg. général. Tanguay, Dictionnaire, 5:119. Gosselin, L’Église du Canada après la Conquête. Lemire-Marsolais et Lambert, Hist. de la CND de Montréal, 5: 129–30; 6. Trudel, L’Église canadienne, 2: 344–47.