DORVAL, MARIE-LOUISE, dite Sainte-Élisabeth, superior of the Congregation of Notre-Dame and educator; b. 7 June 1794 at Sainte-Famille, Île d’Orléans, daughter of François Dorval and Élisabeth Godbout; d. 1 Aug. 1866 at Montreal.
The Congregation of Notre-Dame had had a mission on the Île d’Orléans since 1685. Marie-Louise Dorval was therefore in very early contact with the sisters, and decided while still young to join them. On 26 June 1815, after her parents’ death, she entered the noviciate, and two years later made her profession under the name of Sister Sainte-Élisabeth.
During the first 14 years of religious life, Sister Sainte-Élisabeth taught at the missions of Pointe-aux-Trembles (Neuville) and the lower town of Quebec, the boarding-school at Montreal, and the mission at Saint-François-de-la-Rivière-du-Sud (Saint-François-Montmagny). The tasks Sister Sainte-Élisabeth was subsequently given in her community are evidence of the quality of her work as a teacher. After being mistress of novices at Montreal from 1831 to 1837, she went as director to the boarding-school at Montreal, then to the one in the lower town of Quebec. Thus she supervised the transfer of the latter establishment to the faubourg Saint-Roch, where the parish priest Zéphirin Charest* requested the services of the sisters of the congregation. Sister Sainte-Élisabeth is therefore regarded as the founder of the convent of Saint-Roch, which was the extension of the first mission of the “Daughters of Mother Bourgeoys [Marguerite Bourgeoys*]” at Quebec. From 1844 to 1970 the convent of Saint-Roch was to have an influence on the history of Quebec by providing an education which took a variety of forms in response to the geographic and social changes in Quebec society.
From 1848 to 1855, Sister Sainte-Élisabeth carried out the most important duties in the community, first as assistant then from 1849 as superior. The life and work of the community, which in 1850 comprised 148 sisters and 27 missions, developed steadily. Five new missions were opened: Sainte-Croix de Lotbinière (1849), Saint-Eustache (1849), Sainte-Anne d’Yamachiche (1852), Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade (1855), and Villa-Maria at Montreal (1854).
While she was watching over this expansion of the congregation, Sister Sainte-Élisabeth preserved the unity of the community whose mother house was at Montreal. In 1854 the question of establishing a noviciate at Quebec was again raised. In 1702 Sister Marguerite Le Moyne* de Sainte-Marie had refused the request made by Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix*] for a noviciate at Quebec, thus following the position taken by Mother Bourgeoys herself. Sister Sainte-Élisabeth wanted to remain faithful to the spirit of the founder, and rejected a plan that implied the division of the community into two institutes. In 1855 it was decided that the congregation would not set up a noviciate at Quebec, but that it would send there missionary sisters proportionate in number to the novices from the Quebec diocese.
In 1856, a year after the end of her term as superior of the community, Sister Sainte-Élisabeth was invited to take part in the missionary endeavours of the congregation. On 2 June 1856 Bishop Colin Francis MacKinnon* of the diocese of Arichat, Nova Scotia, went to Montreal to ask the congregation to establish a first mission at Arichat on Île Madame. Despite her advanced age, Sister Sainte-Élisabeth accompanied the four sisters responsible for the mission. On their arrival the sisters, who did not speak English, were surprised to find a solely Anglophone population at Arichat and to have no other interpreter but the bishop, “whereas they had been promised something else.” Sister Sainte-Élisabeth stayed nearly three months at Arichat. When she left for Montreal, the work was well underway. The sisters had started classes on 26 June 1856 in a house given to them by the bishop, which became known as the Academy. By July the enrolment had risen to 100, and the missionaries had also agreed to take in boarders; they did this by rearranging the Academy and a second house which the bishop had made over to them for this purpose. The congregation worked at Arichat until 1900, when the council-general ruled that since the number of pupils was insufficient the mission should be closed.
On her return to Montreal Sister Sainte-Élisabeth had to retire to the infirmary, for her health no longer allowed her to take part in the community’s activities. She lived there for ten years, until her death in 1866.
Archives de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame (Montréal), Annales du couvent d’Arichat fondé en 1856 (2v.); Archives C.N.D.; Biographie des sœurs décédées depuis le 17 août 1855 jusqu’au 14 juin 1871, 99–107 (typescript); Correspondance de sœur Sainte-Élisabeth. Lemire-Marsolais et Lambert, Hist. de la CND de Montreal, VI-X.