MELANSON, NATHALIE (Bourgeois), mystic; b. c. 1842 in Memramcook, N.B., daughter of François Melanson and Marie Le Blanc; m. 21 Jan. 1865 Denis L. Bourgeois, a farmer, in Saint-Anselme, N.B., and they had two sons and two daughters; d. 24 Sept. 1923 in Scoudouc, N.B.
Nathalie Melanson lived in the farming community of Scoudouc, where her parents, from nearby Memramcook, had settled. Founded in 1809, Scoudouc would not become a parish until 1907. It was therefore administered by priests from Memramcook, Saint-Anselme, or Shediac. The Holy Cross Fathers, who had founded the College of St Joseph in Memramcook in 1864 [see Camille Lefebvre*], had a profound effect on Melanson. Father Louis-Joseph-Octave Lecours, who was in charge of the Scoudouc mission for 24 years, until 1892, promoted the devotion to the rosary there, enrolling many of his flock in the Archconfraternity of the Holy Rosary. Melanson was a devout member of this organization, and of the Archconfraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, and she was also a member of the Société Saint-Joseph, an organization run by the Holy Cross Fathers. According to a history of the parish of Scoudouc, Melanson, who became known locally as Mother Nathalie, had great respect for Father Lecours, and served him dinner every Sunday after mass.
Melanson is remembered especially for her role in the supposed apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the local school at Scoudouc. When a group of children between the ages of seven and eleven reported seeing and hearing the Virgin in the fall of 1893, Melanson was one of the few adults who also claimed to have had supernatural visions. Her testimony regarding the apparitions makes up an important part of a book by Philéas-Frédéric Bourgeois* entitled L’école aux apparitions mystérieuses (1896). In this study Bourgeois presents the people of Scoudouc as being devout churchgoers who gathered each Sunday to recite the rosary, and who held frequent processions in honour of the Virgin Mary.
Nathalie Melanson was at the centre of religious life in her community and found herself in a delicate position at the time of the apparitions. Scoudouc had been tied to the parish of Shediac a year before the events began to unfold. The assistant priest there, Pierre-Paul Dufour, was sceptical about the apparitions and ordered that the children be kept away from school until their imaginations had calmed down. He also asked Melanson to stay away, and she was not permitted to return to the school for about a year and a half. When she did enter it again, the manifestations resumed. In 1896 she reported to P. F. Bourgeois that she was happy that her visions of the Virgin Mary and the Christ child would be written down in detail, she herself being illiterate.
During the time of the apparitions, the members of the church who strongly believed in them resented the negative attitude taken by the assistant priest and the curé at Shediac. They remained obedient to the religious authorities, however, P. F. Bourgeois also found himself in a difficult position, having published an inquiry into the apparitions without a mandate from the Church, and his book was banned in some New Brunswick parishes.
Nathalie Melanson remained true to her testimony until her death in 1923: a funeral notice in the newspaper L’Évangéline states that she died convinced she had seen the Virgin Mary. Her story provides an example of the complex role played by mysticism in French Canadian society. One of the most devout Catholics in her area, Melanson found herself in the middle of a controversy that led to her being reprimanded by the Church she served so faithfully.
Centre d’Études Acadiennes, Univ. de Moncton, N.-B., Fonds Alice Léger. L’Évangéline (Moncton), 11 oct. 1923: 8. P.-F. Bourgeois, L’école aux apparitions mystérieuses (Montréal, 1896). J.-A. L’Archevêque, Histoire de la paroisse St-Jacques-le-Majeur, Scoudouc, N.-B., diocèse de Saint-Jean (s.l., 1932). Ronald Labelle, “Philias-Frédéric Bourgeois: précurseur de l’ethnologie acadienne,” Francophonies d’Amérique (Ottawa), no.2 (1992): 5–11.