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Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary

The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, (SNJM) in Manitoba embody the definition of “trailblazers.”

Eulalie Durocher, an ordinary woman who accomplished the extraordinary, founded this community of pioneer women in Quebec in 1843. She, and her two companions, Mélodie Dufresne and Henriette Céré dedicated their lives to educating young women deprived of taking their rightful place in society. Many of them were newcomers, trapped in poverty and surrounded by rampant alcohol abuse. The Sisters recognized their potential and launched a school that offered a well-rounded education, including the arts, grounded in faith and centred on justice. Within a brief time, this small band of women had quadrupled in numbers and had established six schools.

In 1869, the Grey Nuns of Manitoba, wanting to focus on healthcare, reached out to the SNJMs, knowing their love of teaching and capacity to effect change.

In August 1874, Sisters Jean-de-Dieu, Marie-Florentine, Electa-du-Sacre-Coeur and Marie-Elie arrived in the Red River Settlement to assume responsibility for Maison Ste Marie (St. Mary’s Academy). Their 59-day journey was long and treacherous, but they arrived strong as ever, with full hearts, ready to teach children in the Red River Settlement.

The Sisters were not only teachers but also housekeepers, cooks, infirmarians and laundresses. Despite their heavy workload, the dire poverty, and the freezing cold, they embraced the future with courage and hope because of the children and youth who led the way. As true educators, they constantly upgraded themselves by taking courses and attending conferences. They were committed to providing the best education possible to the students entrusted to their care.

From 1874 to 1970, the SNJMs founded 24 English and bilingual schools. During this time, they served over 200,000 students from pre-kindergarten to university in public and private schools throughout Winnipeg and in rural and northern Manitoba. Long before it was popular, the sisters initiated French Immersion classes at St. Joseph Academy in the 1930s. Later, in 1973, the Winnipeg School Division asked Sister Leonne Dumesnil to spearhead the first French Immersion School in Winnipeg, Sacre-Coeur School.

Apart from establishing numerous schools, the sisters and associates initiated several charities which focused on marginalized people: refugees, immigrants, homeless, inner-city youth, trafficked women and children, and impoverished families. Some examples are Rossbrook House (1976), a safe place that ensures “no child who does not want to be alone ever has to be”; Esther House (1997), a safe home that empowers women in recovery from addiction; Next Step (2001), a weekly program that supports newly released offenders; Holy Names House of Peace (2004), a home that empowers newcomer women to begin life anew; and Artbeat Studio (2004) that provides programs for mental health and healing through creative endeavours.

The SNJM are passionate leaders and advocates. They have touched and enriched the lives of so many people from all walks of life.



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