Religious necrologies

Sister Annunciation of the Sisters of Providence. Providence Archives, Montréal

In extending my research on the Trottier family (Cousins of St. Casimir), I discovered in a genealogy of St. Casimir families that Marie Trottier’s eldest sister, Athanaïs, became a Sister of Providence, an order of nuns founded in Montréal. The genealogy provided no other details on her subsequent life. Seeking to learn more information, I wrote to the Archivist of the Sisters of Providence with the certainty they would possess her necrology, an account of the sister’s life written after her death. These documents are more akin to a spiritual profile than facts recounted in an obituary. What I received—a photograph, a list of her dates and places of service, as well as the necrology—exceeded my expectations.

Following through with every member of the family, whether they married or not, completes a genealogical study. Catholic families held priests and nuns in high esteem. Even when living at great distances, they remained an important part of the family unit. Athanaïs was almost 27 when she entered the convent in 1877. She took the name Soeur L’Annonciation, “Sister Annunciation.” She spent her first four years serving the poor and sick within Montréal. From 1881 onward until her death, she served as a nurse and pharmacist in hospitals the Sisters of Providence established in greater Vancouver, Washington.

Catholic families held priests and nuns in high esteem. Even when living at great distances, they remained an important part of the family unit.

It’s doubtful that once she left for the Pacific coast the former Athanaïs Trottier would have seen her family, nor would they have had the money to travel to see her. They certainly would have kept in touch by letters. Were it not for the information in the Sisters’ archives, Sister Annunciation would have virtually disappeared from traditional genealogical sources. In the 1900 census of Vancouver, Washington, the House of Providence was counted in its own enumeration district (257), but Sister Annunciation is not listed among the names.[1]

Courtesy of

Written in an effusive and deeply spiritual style, Sister Annunciation’s necrology was never meant to be a public document, but within the context of the religious order, she would be remembered by her fellow sisters, particularly on the anniversary of her death each year. Likely to have been composed by a religious superior, excerpts of Sister Annunciation’s necrology have been translated from French:

On 28 April 1901, our dear Sister Annunciation, second of the name, born Marie-Athanaïs Trottier, exchanged this valley of tears for the Kingdom of Heaven at the age of 50 years, 8 months, and 28 days… Her vocation led her superiors to send her to foreign missions. During the twenty-one years, she worked among the sick in the hospital, [where] she distinguished herself by her religious spirit and tender compassion for those afflicted. She was not deterred in her service to the ungrateful… Our dear sister suffered for a number of years from heart disease, but she did not stop difficult work. Right until the end, she forgot herself and died in full force… May she rest in peace, and may she pray for us.

She was buried in Vancouver’s Catholic Cemetery, renamed in 2008 for Mother Joseph, a Sister of Providence, who also left rural Québec for arduous work in the frontier territory of Washington at a time when anti-Catholic hostility made caring for the sick difficult. Sister Annunciation’s gravestone simultaneously reflects the simplicity of her life and the fusion of two worlds, secular and religious, as it combines her name in religion and the surname of her family.


[1] At four pages, this census district looks suspiciously short and does not include staff or patients at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Vancouver.

Michael Dwyer

About Michael Dwyer

Michael F. Dwyer first joined NEHGS on a student membership. A Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, he edits Vermont Genealogy. His articles have been published in the Register, American Ancestors, The American Genealogist, The Maine Genealogist, and Rhode Island Roots, among others. The Vermont Department of Education's 2004 Teacher of the Year, Michael retired in June 2018 after 35 years of teaching subjects he loves—English and history.View all posts by Michael Dwyer