TEYSSÈDRE, ALEXANDRINE, named Marie-Saint-David, member of the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary, school administrator, and superior of her order for North America; b. 9 July 1842 in Millau, France, the youngest of the five children of Guillaume Teyssèdre, a locksmith, and Marianne Galibert; d. 1 Jan. 1921 in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., and was buried in the community’s cemetery.
Alexandrine Teyssèdre’s father died when she was a child and her mother placed her with the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary in her village when she was about six years old. At the conclusion of her schooling, she became a postulant in this teaching order. Having taken her vows in 1861, she was immediately assigned various duties as a teacher. She came to the attention of her superiors and in 1874 was chosen for their house in Lausanne, Switzerland. Recalled to France two years later, she was immediately selected to go to North America and was sent to Saint-Hyacinthe, where a group of nuns had settled in 1858 after spending two years in Sainte-Marie-de-Monnoir (Marieville) and three in Saint-Hugues.
Soon after her arrival in the summer of 1876, Sister Marie-Saint-David was appointed principal of the community’s new boarding school, which had some 80 pupils enrolled that year. The curriculum was based on the one used by the order’s schools in France; in addition to reading and writing, the girls studied both sacred and Canadian history, the catechism, French, arithmetic, and geography. In 1879 she was given the position of mistress of novices, which she was to combine with that of assistant to the superior. From 1888, as a result of the rapid growth in the number of sisters in the community and in its activities, she had to confine herself to her duties as assistant. Not long afterwards, both her knees were paralysed by arthritis and, despite the best treatment then available, she was reduced to using crutches. However, the confidence of her community led her to make a pilgrimage to Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré from which she returned cured on 26 July 1897.
In January 1898 Marie-Saint-David became the fifth superior of the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary for Canada and the United States, assuming the title of mother. She had 20 houses in Quebec and six in the United States under her jurisdiction. A period of expansion commenced which greatly extended the work initiated in 1853 by her predecessors in Quebec and New England. The arrival of some 50 nuns from France provided fresh impetus; they came after the enactment in 1901 of a law requiring unauthorized religious congregations to apply for legal recognition in order to be able to carry on their work in France. Touched by the appeals that the Oblates of Mary Immaculate had been making since the time when Alexandre-Antonin Taché* was consecrated bishop, Mother Marie-Saint-David sent 12 of the sisters to Duck Lake (Sask.) in 1903 to teach in the so-called industrial school run by Father Ovide Charlebois*. It was a favourite project of the mother superior and she visited it five times. She also authorized the founding of two other houses in this part of the country. Between 1900 and 1917, 28 houses were opened, with ten in Quebec, three in Saskatchewan, one in Ontario, and 14 in New England.
From her earliest days in Canada, Marie-Saint-David had studied the school curricula being used in Quebec and had endeavoured to integrate the pedagogical tradition of her order in France with practices in the province. In 1899 she produced an important synthesizing document for her order’s schools. At the request of Bishop Alexis-Xyste Bernard of Sainte-Hyacinthe, she undertook to organize and build a normal school adjoining the mother house, which opened in September 1912. However, her health, undermined by this arduous task, began to deteriorate.
Weakened by age and illness, Mother Marie-Saint-David was relieved of her duties by the superior general of France on 25 March 1917, after 19 years as superior. She retired to the infirmary of the community and there, in the house to whose influence in Canada and New England she had contributed for nearly 45 years, she died on 1 Jan. 1921. Her keen intelligence and fine personal qualities had won her the esteem of bishops and clergy, as well as of the secular authorities.
[The archives at the mother house of the Sœurs de la Présentation de Marie in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., were lost in the fire of 7 April 1992 that destroyed the building. Despite attempts to reconstruct the records, it is apparent that most of the documents for Mother Saint-David’s tenure as superior have disappeared. It therefore proved necessary to resort to published documents in the preparation of this biography. m.-p.r.lab.]
Arch. Départementales, Aveyron (Rodez, France), État civil, Millau, 11 juill. 1842. Arch. des Sœurs de la Présentation de Marie, P8.3.2 (mère Saint-David), Doc. pédagogique, 27 mars 1899; “A jubilee story, 1903–1978” (typescript, Duck Lake, Sask., n.d.), 3–4. Le Courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe, 8 janv. 1921. [Sœur Sainte-Calixte Bourque], Sœur Marie Saint-Guibert, 1832–1925: la fondation et les soixante-dix premières années de la Présentation-de-Marie en Amérique (Saint-Hyacinthe, 1928). Canada ecclésiastique, 1898, 1917. M.-J. Ducharme, “Ou nos écoles et le salut . . . ,” in Les Franco-Américains et leurs institutions scolaires, sous la direction de Claire Quintal (Worcester, Mass., 1990), 82–105. Guy Laperrière, Les congrégations religieuses: de la France au Québec, 1880–1914 (2v. parus, Sainte-Foy, Qué., 1996– ), 1: 32–33; “‘Persécution et exil’: la venue au Québec des congrégations françaises, 1900–1914,” RHAF, 36 (1982–83): 389–411. Sœur Marie-Aimée de Jésus [Éliza Saint-Jacques], L’enseignement à l’institut de la-Présentation-de-Marie (Saint-Hyacinthe, 1939). “Notre album de famille: mère Marie Saint-David,” La Rev. présentine (Saint-Hyacinthe), 8 (1933): 211–14; 9 (1934): 5–8, 81–85, 141–45. Trois présentines modèles: biographie de vénérée sœur Saint-David (Avignon, France, 1922).