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 Findagrave.com

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.

Note

[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.

11 thoughts on “Religious necrologies

  1. Very interesting and a photo too. I am glad to see this–thank you. Religious sisters–nuns as most of us call them–contributed so much to our country’s history. I have tried to include all those in my family in my family tree, many I knew nothing about before starting genealogy. All the orders I contacted had archives with more or less info but all so interesting and valuable to our family story and the nation’s history.

    I have also researched the priests who married and baptized my ancestors. There are often details of their lives that add color and interest to my family history tho they are not relatives. Descriptions of parish life and events, the interior of the churches where my ancestors worshipped. Well worth researching on many levels.

    1. Thank you for your response, Virginia. I agree also about the parish priests. An interesting fact is that my father’s grandparents, Irish immigrants, met and married in this country. Though one set was married in Fall River, MA, and the other in Newport, RI, they were married by priests who were brothers since Fall River was part of the Diocese of Providence at that time.

  2. Dear Mr. Dwyer,
    Thank you for writing this interesting article. I now realize I can do research on three women in my lineage who were nuns, it had never occurred to me before!
    Sincerely,
    Robin B Schoch

  3. I loved reading this! And what a great tip for family historians who discover aunts, uncles, and cousins of various degrees who entered religious orders. While this hasn’t been a discovery I’ve made, it was neat to read about your relative being part of an order whose institutions were all around me growing up, and who provided health insurance for my family for a few years. If you haven’t found this resource already, here is a timeline of the order’s work in the West. Perhaps you can find your relative in the 1900 census at one of the other hospitals operated by the order.

    http://sistersofprovidence.net/providence-in-the-west-a-timeline-1856-1902/

  4. Dear Michael,

    Thank you for your words on Sister Annunciation. I enjoyed it very much! Most of my genealogical research centers on my father’s very Yankee family. There are no Catholics in this crowd. Frankly, for this crowd, being an Anglican would have been altogether too popish never mind a Roman Catholic. Much to my surprise, and almost lost to my family, I discovered a first cousin twice removed who became a Catholic priest some years ago. I asked around the family and a few of the older cousins remembered him. Well, to make a long story short, I, like you, tracked down where my cousin lived and ministered and it turned out he spent the last twenty years of his life ministering to a group of nuns in New York. I wrote to them, and a lovely Sister wrote back with a tender letter detailing the deep affection the Sisters in the community had for my cousin and the sanctity of his life as their chaplain. The Sister also sent along some pictures and articles on my distant cousin. Like you, it was such a joy and thrill to have this information about a member of my family. Once again, thank you for sharing your thoughts on Sister Annunciation!

    1. Dear Andrew,
      Thanks for your response on this post. One never which ones will have an impact. These stories and ministries add depth to our family studies. It’s well worth the effort, as you know, to seek them out.

  5. Mr. Dwyer, what a moving tribute to your family member! That said, I also had to chuckle at being reminded that near as I’ve been able to determine, it was an order of “aggressive” French nuns setting up shop a stone’s throw from a Protestant ancestor’s recently-established farm in Indiana that drove him to uproot his young family and relocate two states away. I suspect there’s quite a story in the details if only I could locate them!

    1. I encourage you too seek out those details, all from an era when there was a sometimes violent response to America’s growing number of Catholics, Catholic schools, and institutions. A good place to start may be the reference department of the library of that community in Indiana.

  6. Thank you for the interesting article. I was able to obtain many details of my great great aunt and namesake’s life when I contacted the Diocese where her son had been a priest.
    In addition, my father worked for a hospital in Montana that was originally founded by the Sisters of Charity of Providence from Montreal–they changed the official name of the order to the Sisters of Providence sometime between 1965 and 1979, I believe.

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