Blessed Marie-Anne Blondin: Martyr of Silence

Bd. Marie-Anne Blondin (+1890), whose optional memorial falls today in our fair Dominion, the day of her birth in 1809, five decades before Canada was Canada. Most Canadians, alas, have likely never heard of her, but she was one of the founders of our once-glorious and envied educational system, before it fell apart due to government funding and cultural disintegration.

Marie Anne’s birth name was Esther, the daughter of poor rural farmers in Quebec. She tried to join the Congregation of Notre Dame – founded by Marguerite Bourgeoys – and the sisters taught her to read and write, but she was let go due to her poor health.

So, instead, she taught at a local parochial school, eventually inspired to found her own religious congregation of Sisters, the Daughters of Saint Anne, as so many children were illiterate. This was due to a local ecclesiastical law that forbade students being taught by members of the opposite sex. Since most teachers were women, that left many of the boys out in the cold.

To her credit, Bd. Marie-Anne persuaded the bishop, Ignace Bourget, to go out on a limb, and allow her fledgling congregation to teach both boys and girls – that is, co-education – which was a quasi-scandalous innovation in that milieu. But things went well, and the Order grew by leaps and bounds to fill the need. In the century and a half since, the Daughters of Saint Anne, along with a number of other teaching orders, dedicated their lives to teaching and forming the generations who built and shaped this country. Sure, they were disciplined and strict, but also virtuous and full of zeal, and students learned – as our recent post on the intellectual standard of previous eras attests.

But this was the fruit of great suffering: In 1853, the Sisters were moved to Vaudreil, and a conflict with the chaplain appointed by the bishop, one Abbe Louis-Adolphe Marechal, soon developed. Marechal seems to have arrogated power and authority well beyond his right (including forbidding the Sisters to go to confession to any priest but himself, in violation of canonical law). Sister Marie Anne was removed from leadership, her reputation ruined, and she was forbidden from accepting any position of authority in the Order she had founded. She suffered all this silently for decades, even, at some level we may presume, joyfully, spending nearly the last half of her life – 32 years! – in obscurity, performing menial tasks in one of her convents, often in the basement doing laundry and ironing. A supernatural Cinderella, who only met her prince and gained her kingdom in the next life – and all the better for it. She never complained, and before her death even asked pardon from Fr. Marechal. One can only imagine what that cost, signified in her collect for Mass:

Sister Marie Anne Blondin suffered trial, and died in obscurity in January 2nd, 1890, and it was not until well after she was gone – in 1917, that all the details of her unjust persecution emerged, and the Sisters, along with many others, realized they had had a saint ‘hidden’ in their midst (as many of us will realize someday). Her first published biography, by Eugène Nadeau, was aptly titled Martyr of Silence. Bd. Marie Anne Blondin was beatified by Pope John Paul II on April 29, 2001.

We need a radical reformation of our school system – back to the ‘roots’, which Blessed Marie Anne sowed. Education has most definitely not improved with the loss of religious teaching Sisters, and the development of our modern lavishly- funded bureaucracy, with their well-remunerated teachers, and all the accoutrements.

Ponder: Would you rather hire a high-school graduate from 2023, 1953…or 1853 for that matter?

There are signs of hope, like Wayside Academy (where the Sisters of Our Lady Immaculate are now teaching), Mary Mother of God, Pillar Academy, Maryvale, Chesterton, Divine Mercy, Saint John’s, and so many others, along with untold numbers of homeschooling cooperatives, doing what they can with limited means and lots of sacrifice to re-instantiate truly Catholic education.

May Blessed Marie Anne Blondin intercede for them, and for all of us. +

(source, in partibus: