Helen Smith and Fr. Jacques Monet display the 17th century veil Smith bought in an antique store in rural Ontario.

CATHOLIC REGISTER PHOTO | MICHAEL SWAN

Helen Smith and Fr. Jacques Monet display the 17th century veil Smith bought in an antique store in rural Ontario.

January 28, 2013
MICHAEL SWAN
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

A dirty, little cloth rolled up in a ball of dirt off in a corner winked at Helen Smith and her daughter four years ago. It had a secret to tell – the secret of Canada's Counter-Reformation history.

For a small sum, Smith bought the embroidered cloth from a country antique store near London, Ont. She cleaned it and discovered a beautifully embroidered chalice veil with gold and silver silk threads.

She immediately knew she had stumbled upon a fragment of Canadian history.

With the help of the Jesuits, Smith has traced its origins.

Various experts had trouble placing it, but the archivist for the Ursuline Sisters in Quebec immediately knew it was theirs.

In the 1630s the Ursulines ran a workshop in Quebec where the sisters taught Mohawk girls to sew and embroider. A careful inspection of the stitch work reveals the sisters started the intricate embroidery, but a student finished it.

At that point in time, Jesuits were almost the only priests in New France and the chalice veil was certainly destined for Jesuit use in the missions.

"We need to find more of these things. They need to be brought out," said Smith.

Smith had no second thoughts about her decision to give the rare find to the Jesuits.

The chalice veil is more than pretty and old, said Jesuit historian and archivist Father Jacques Monet. It represents the work of the first nuns in the history of the Catholic Church who were sent out of their cloister to work among the people.

The sisters were, like the Jesuits, on a mission to found a society in North America based on Christian ideals.

"It's meaningful, very much, for Jesuits," Monet said of the artifact. "It's also meaningful for the whole Church."