COUTLÉE, THÉRÈSE-GENEVIÈVE, superior of the Sisters of Charity of the Hôpital Général of Montreal; b. 23 Nov. 1742 in Montreal, eldest daughter of Louis Coutlée (Coutelais), dit Marcheterre, a day labourer, and Geneviève Labrosse; d. there 17 July 1821 at the Hôpital Général.
At the time she entered the Hôpital Général of Montreal on 14 Oct. 1762, Thérèse-Geneviève Coutlée had an enviable education for a young girl of that era. Mme d’Youville [Dufrost*] quickly noted the intellectual abilities of this particularly gifted candidate. Consequently, immediately after she had made her profession on 24 Oct. 1764 Sister Coutlée was initiated into the business matters of the house by Mme d’Youville, who entrusted her with the office of assistant bursar. She was soon put to the test, for on 18 May 1765 a fire utterly devastated the hospital. The patients and nuns took shelter in the Hôtel-Dieu or on the farm at Pointe-Saint-Charles (Montreal). Providing for the needs of the poor, who were now scattered, and watching over the rebuilding of the house proved a challenge that she met to everyone’s satisfaction. On 9 June 1792, three days after the death of the superior, Marguerite-Thérèse Lemoine* Despins, Sister Coutlée was elected to succeed her; overwhelmed by the responsibility, she wept freely.
Mother Coutlée paid great attention to the needs of the poor, whose numbers were growing faster than were resources, and like her predecessor she endeavoured to collect the annuities that were held by the hospital in France and that were now devalued with disastrous consequences for Canadian religious communities. But the Hôpital Général was unable to obtain any revenues during her lifetime and so sustained heavy losses. To cope with insufficient income Mother Coutlée rented out part of the land adjoining the hospital on a long lease; then she developed or opened workshops to turn out embroidery, vestments, candles, wafers, wax products, book-binding, and gilding. She herself did some of this work, and artist Louis Dulongpré* chose to portray her with a piece of embroidery in her hands. Her participation was appreciated and helped keep the others in good spirits. During her term of office the nuns, who ate sparingly and had a great many other tasks to do, had to give up working in the fields.
The institution continued to be in an extremely precarious financial position, despite gifts from coadjutor bishop Pierre Denaut*, the gentlemen of the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice, and the nuns of the Congregation of Notre-Dame and the Hôtel-Dieu. In 1795 Mother Coutlée asked Bishop Jean-François Hubert* about the advisability of leasing out two properties, one at Pointe-Saint-Charles, the other adjoining Côte à Baron. She even contemplated selling the seigneury of Châteauguay “if these deals [could] be of advantage to the poor.” Bishop Hubert offered only one objection: the proposed rent was too low. Fortunately, in 1801 the House of Assembly agreed to provide an annual grant for the work with the insane and with foundlings. These sums helped put the finances of the hospital on a firmer basis, but Mother Coutlée’s worries were by no means at an end. Too many young nuns were dying, and there was a dearth of workers for the tasks at hand. To improve the situation, in 1804 she set up an infirmary where sick nuns thenceforth received better care.
In 1814, in the midst of stubborn struggles to defend the interests of the underprivileged, Mother Coutlée reached the 50th anniversary of her religious profession, a memorable occasion for it was the first time a golden jubilee had been celebrated in the community. However, it was but a pause between two battles. To the superior’s surprise, in 1818 the assembly voted £2,000 for the construction of accommodation for the insane on the Hôpital Général’s land. The nuns could scarcely sustain their existing level of work, but Joseph-Octave Plessis, the bishop of Quebec, advised them to accept the assembly’s grant so that they could meet the urgent financial needs of caring for foundlings and the insane [see George Selby]. That year the town of Montreal made plans to continue Rue Saint-Pierre to the St Lawrence, an extension that would have cut the nuns’ house in two. After clarifying the matter, the superior again benefited from episcopal counsel and support for the sisters’ defence of the unfortunate. Moreover, Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry, a member of the Legislative Council, considered it an honour to take up this cause. In the end those managing the Hôpital Général gave up the work with the insane in 1844 because they could no longer house the patients adequately.
On 17 July 1821 Thérèse-Geneviève Coutlée died, commending to her sisters the precept of charity which she had herself received at Mme d’Youville’s bedside.
Arch. des Sœurs Grises (Montréal), Aliénés, historique; Ancien journal, I; Dossier de sœur Thérèse-Geneviève Coutlée; Maison mère, historique; Musée; Mémoire de sœur Julie Casgrain-Baby; Reg. des baptêmes et sépultures de l’Hôpital Général de Montréal; Reg. des minutes du Conseil général; Reg. des recettes et dépenses de l’Hôpital Général de Montréal. Allaire, Dictionnaire, vol.1. Gérard Brassard, Armorial des évêques du Canada . . . (Montréal, 1940). Gauthier, Sulpitiana. [É.-M. Faillon], Vie de Mme d’Youville, fondatrice des Sœurs de la charité de Villemarie dans l’île de Montréal, en Canada (Villemarie [Montréal], 1852). [Albina Fauteux et Clémentine Drouin], L’Hôpital Général de Sœurs de la charité (Sœurs Grises) depuis sa fondation jusqu’à nos jours (3v. parus, Montréal, 1916– ).