HUOT, MARIE-CATHERINE, dite Sainte-Madeleine, superior of the Congregation of Notre-Dame; b. 30 April 1791 at L’Ange-Gardien, below Quebec, daughter of Jacques Huot, a farmer, and Catherine Plante; d. 7 Jan. 1869 at Montreal.
Catherine Huot was educated by her mother, who had studied under the sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame at Sainte-Famine, Île d’Orléans. As a young girl she learned about the sisters through her mother and formed the desire to join them. After making her profession on 28 Sept. 1809, Catherine Huot, now Sister Sainte-Madeleine, worked in the community at Montreal, then taught from 1812 to 1820 at the missions of Saint-Denis-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, and Rivière-Ouelle. She then returned to Montreal, where she soon was given the institution’s most important positions; she carried these responsibilities for 46 years, until her death.
Mother Sainte-Madeleine was superior from 1828 to 1840, 1843 to 1849, and 1855 to 1861; thus she presided over the destinies of the Congregation of Notre-Dame during a period of remarkable development which matched the rhythm of growth of the church at Montreal. The statistics of the community are testimony: in 1828 the congregation numbered only 80 sisters, this limit having been imposed by an episcopal decree of 1698; as a result of the cancelling of this restriction by Bishop Ignace Bourget* in 1843, it counted 459 in 1869. At Montreal, the congregation had only the boarding school of the mother house and the day school of Notre-Dame-des-Victoires in 1828; in 1869 it controlled two boarding schools (Villa-Maria and Mont Sainte-Marie) and four academies (Saint-Denis, Saint-Vincent, Sainte-Anne, and Saint-Patrice), as well as nine schools, which had been founded mainly by the Sulpicians for the children of workmen or Irish immigrants. These schools were originally free, and the sisters went to them “in the morning after mass, by carriage,” and returned “in the evening at five o’clock.” But the congregation’s expansion took it beyond Montreal as far as Rimouski and Baie-Saint-Paul on the shores of the St Lawrence, Sherbrooke in the Eastern Townships, and Huntingdon; 21 missions were thus founded.
Under Mother Sainte-Madeleine’s administration, the congregation prepared the ground for a great missionary advance, thus particularly meeting the needs of Irish Catholics. In 1828, in addition to the mother house, it had only 17 missions, all Francophone, whereas in 1869 there were 68, including five new ones in Ontario, eight in the Maritimes, and five in the United States. Anxious for integration into the communities which accepted them, the sisters agreed at that time to give instruction that was exclusively in English and this decision established the bilingual and bicultural character of the Congregation of Notre-Dame.
The extensive recruitment and rapid expansion of the congregation under Mother Sainte-Madeleine’s superiorship were accompanied by the adoption of a new direction in education. The history of the community seems to indicate that since the Conquest the congregation had been intellectually behind the times. The sisters had confined themselves “to watchfulness against the inroads of Protestantism, without seeking, for the glory of religion, to make the Catholic schools more distinctive.” They had early begun to teach English, but it was not until 1830 that they extended the programme of secondary studies to almost all branches of knowledge, from grammar, geography, arithmetic, history, chemistry, mineralogy, etcetera, to embroidery, drawing, and vocal and instrumental music, even to the guitar. And the quality of their teaching was noted, not only in the papers of the day, but also in the report of the superintendent of education for Lower Canada, which deplored the lack of preparation of teachers except for the sisters of the congregation.
During this era of educational progress and missionary expansion, the Congregation of Notre-Dame itself experienced the events that were to give a definitive form to its government and consolidate its existence in the church: the institution of the office of general in 1864, the approval of the congregation by Rome in 1876, and the sanction of its rules in 1889.
The evolution of the congregation on such a large scale in the 19th century did not depend solely on an environment that favoured initiative and generosity. It was due to the intelligence and idealism of religious women to whom society entrusted a great number of responsibilities. Seen in this perspective, Mother Sainte-Madeleine is a prototype, representative of a pivotal period in the social history of Montreal and the province.
Archives de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame (Montréal), Biographie des sœurs décédées depuis le 17 août 1855 jusqu’au 14 juin 1871 (typescript); Correspondence de Mère Sainte-Madeleine; Notices historiques, écoles de la Commission scolaire de Montréal. Can., prov. du, Assemblée législative, Journaux, 1856, II, app.16. Mélanges religieux, 10 sept. 1841, 5 avril 1842, 21 avril 1843. L.-P. Audet, Le système scolaire, IV, V. L.[-A.] Groulx, L’enseignement français au Canada (2v., Montréal, 1931–). Lemire-Marsolais et Lambert, Hist. de la CND de Montréal, VII, 145, 158. C. E. Phillips, The development of education in Canada (Toronto, 1957). Vie de la mère Sainte-Madeleine, supérieure de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame de Montréal, par un ancien supérieur de communauté (Montréal, 1876).