PAQUET, MARIE-ANNE, named de Saint-Olivier, Ursuline and superior; b. 27 Sept. 1755 at Quebec, daughter of Jean-Baptiste Paquet, a blacksmith, and Élisabeth Choret (Chauret); d. 25 Jan. 1831 in Trois-Rivières, Lower Canada.
Marie-Anne Paquet entered the Ursulines’ noviciate at Trois-Rivières on 12 March 1772. The choice of this convent, rather than the one at Quebec, may have been influenced by the fact that an aunt on her father’s side had been a nun there since 1756. In 1789 Marie-Anne de Saint-Olivier held the post of depositary, and three years later that of zelatrice, the person responsible for the sisters in attendance at the turning box in the convent. Elected discreet (counsellor) in 1795, she became assistant to the superior three years later. In 1804 she was elected superior, and her first term was extended to 10 May 1811. She held the office again from 1814 until 1820, then from 1823 until 1829, and in between she was assigned to directing the novices.
Marie-Anne de Saint-Olivier deserves mention in the historical record not only for her personal qualities and the offices she held, but also because of the major event marking her early years as superior, the fire that completely destroyed the convent on the evening of 2 Oct. 1806. The flames spread swiftly from the chapel tower where the fire had started, and in less than three hours the building, which was more than a century old, collapsed. Of the 20 nuns living in it, 16 were taken into the Ursuline convent at Quebec. Marie-Anne de Saint-Olivier remained on the scene with three companions, living in the little building intended to serve as a bake-house, which the flames had not reached. Under the direction of vicar general François-Xavier Noiseux, who was parish priest of Trois-Rivières, and through the generosity of parishioners and clergy, the Ursuline convent was rebuilt by the spring of 1808. Bishop Joseph-Octave Plessis of Quebec also extended his benevolent protection to the nuns in their time of trial.
During her years as superior Marie-Anne de Saint-Olivier was faced with great problems caused by lack of resources, and she applied herself to finding remedies. But after the fire in 1806 she demonstrated more concern for re-establishing the spiritual foundations of the convent and restoring the discipline of the rule, particularly cloistering, a goal in which she was strongly supported by Abbé Jacques-Ladislas-Joseph de Calonne. In 1808 apostolic works resumed in the convent. The government entrusted the care of the insane to the sisters and six cells were allocated to their patients. The hospital, which had 12 beds, was opened again in January 1809. The main field of work, education, had not been interrupted, the day-school having been saved from the fire. The boarding-school re-opened on 20 November; 18 boarders and 4 day-boarders were added to the 60 day-pupils. In 1817 the noviciate, which was already flourishing, took in four Irish girls who after the completion of their training founded a convent in Boston. Five years later four Ursulines left Lower Canada for New Orleans.
As much because of her marked gifts for administration and spiritual direction as through her devotion and her composure under difficult circumstances, Marie-Anne de Saint-Olivier was able to win the favour of her companions, the confidence of her ecclesiastical superiors, and the support of the people of Trois-Rivières.
ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 27 sept. 1755. Arch. du monastère des ursulines (Trois-Rivières, Qué.), Adélina Bois de Saint-Ignace, “Chronique du monastère, 1830–1870”; Lettres des évêques aux ursulines, 1807–59; Liste des supérieurs, des confesseurs et des supérieures du monastère, 1835. Les ursulines des Trois-Rivières.