PAYEN DE NOYAN, MARIE-CATHERINE, named de Saint-Alexis, hospital nun of the Hôpital Général of Quebec and superior; b. c. 1730 in Montreal (Que.), daughter of Pierre-Jacques Payen* de Noyan et de Chavoy and Louise-Catherine d’Ailleboust de Manthet (married in 1731); d. 9 Nov. 1818 at Quebec.
Marie-Catherine Payen de Noyan was placed in the care of the hospital nuns of the Hôpital Général of Quebec when she was 18 months old; this was a rather unusual step since the sisters did not normally take in such young boarders. Growing up in the shadow of the convent, she left the nuns only for brief visits with her family. When she was 14 she expressed her desire to enter the noviciate, but she had to persist in order to obtain her parents’ consent. On 11 April 1745 she left the classrooms for the noviciate. Since her family had difficulty in paying the dowry, her profession was delayed by nine months; as a result it was not until 24 Aug. 1747 that Marie-Catherine Payen de Noyan became Sister Saint-Alexis.
During her first 14 years of religious life Marie-Catherine de Saint-Alexis devoted herself to the boarders at the Hôpital Général. Subsequently she was entrusted with increasingly heavy responsibilities. In 1761 she was elected first hospitaller; in 1763 she became mistress of novices, and then, three years later, depositary (bursar). She held the latter post at a time when the Hôpital Général was in quite serious financial difficulties, since the community was recovering only slowly from the losses incurred during and after the Seven Years’ War. The nuns were making every effort to satisfy their creditors: they sewed vestments, did gilding, and even had to sell some of their land.
The community was still in difficulties when Marie-Catherine de Saint-Alexis was elected superior for her first three-year term in 1772. The new superior tried to obtain help from the king of France to put the finances of the Hôpital Général on a sound footing. The nuns received no reply to inspire any hope, and once again they had to face a state of war. In 1775 some of the American troops at the gates of Quebec decided to set up their winter quarters in the Hôpital Général. Marie-Catherine de Saint-Alexis was able to keep the section of the convent reserved for the nuns untouched by the occupation, and through her conciliatory manner she won the American generals’ respect. The nuns lavished on the wounded and sick soldiers the care they needed, but the occupation added to their financial problems. Thus her second term of office began on a disheartening note. She succeeded to some degree, however, in straightening out the situation in the following years by severely restricting expenditures.
Marie-Catherine de Saint-Alexis gave up the superiorship in 1779. She served as assistant until 1785, when the nuns chose her as superior, as they did again in 1788. From 1791 to 1797 she acted as discreet (counsellor) and then once more held the office of superior from 1797 to 1803. Enjoying robust health, she continued to carry out her duties as discreet until the 60th anniversary of her vows. On this occasion Bishop Plessis* attended the celebration held by the nuns. Even when she was over 80 she was always on time for services. On the 70th anniversary of her profession the community held only the simplest of gatherings, in keeping with her express desire.
Marie-Catherine Payen de Noyan died on 9 Nov. 1818, having spent 71 years in religion and more than 86 in the Hôpital Général of Quebec.
Arch. de l’Hôpital Général de Québec, Communauté, Journal; Reg. des entrées et des dots. [Helena O’Reilly, dite de Saint-Félix], Monseigneur de Saint-Vallier et l’Hôpital Général de Québec: histoire du monastère de Notre-Dame des Anges . . . (Québec, 1882).