Sisters opened door to education

Sisters of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin based in Edmonton include Srs. Herma Martin, left, Pearl Goudreau and Madeleine Prince. Sisters not in the picture are Thérèse Potvin, Marie-Paule Toupin and Yvette Hébert.


Sisters of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin based in Edmonton include Srs. Herma Martin, left, Pearl Goudreau and Madeleine Prince. Sisters not in the picture are Thérèse Potvin, Marie-Paule Toupin and Yvette Hébert.

August 31, 2015

When Sister Madeleine Prince was growing up in the hamlet of Delmas, Sask., the word "providence" came up often.

It was not easy on the farm. There was drought and hail. But her parents had a lot of faith God would protect and provide for them.

Prince first met the Sisters of Assumption as a student at their school in Delmas. She grew up in a Christian home where she learned to love Christ.

However, the government did not want religion or French taught. So she was fortunate her small rural town had a school where the sisters taught them religion.

To avoid detection, the sisters took off their habits and taught in lay clothes. The cross, of course, could not be put on the wall. So the sisters put a cross on each students' desk.

"We were brought up fighting for our rights," said Prince, 72.

Prince decided in high school she wanted to be a sister.

"I had learned about Christ at home and then at school," said Prince. "I got to know he loved us and we loved him. I wanted to continue in that life and to teach others about Christ."

Following the biblical mandate to "Go and teach all nations," the thrust and charism of the Sisters of Assumption has been education, especially to those who are underserved in society.

The French congregation was born out of this need when it was founded in 1853 in Saint Grégoire-le-Grand, Que.

At that time in Quebec, only boys were allowed to go to college after Grade 8. The only options for young women were to get married or stay in their family home.

Pastor Jean Harper asked various communities to teach the young women in his parish and provide equal opportunity for them to pursue their education. But to no avail.

Finally, he found four women - Léocadie Bourgeois, Mathilde Leduc, Hedwidge Buisson and Julie Héon - who became the foundresses of the Sisters of Assumption.

The majority of the foundresses and people in the village were Acadian immigrants who arrived after the Great Deportation of 1755.

The congregation was named Sisters of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin (SASV), after the patroness of the Acadians, by Bishop Thomas Cooke of Trois-Rivières.

The order's mission statement was "With Mary, stake all on God to reveal his love through education."

Sister Herma Martin, one of six Sisters of Assumption in Edmonton, said the congregation's devotion to Mary comes through Christ's devotion.


"He is the centre of our faith," she said.

The spirituality of the congregation is based on the mystery of the Assumption as a living example of the ultimate accomplishment to which God's providence leads humankind in and through Christ.

Today, the Sisters of Assumption number 376. They have moved their motherhouse from Saint Grégoire-le-Grand to Nicolet, Que. The order has also expanded across Canada and abroad to the United States, Japan, Brazil and Ecuador.

Responding to the needs of the Church, the sisters often preferred to serve in rural areas.

They have worked over the years in communities such as St. Albert, Onion Lake, Maskwacis (formerly Hobbema) and Wetaskiwin.

Martin, 79, was schooled by the sisters from Grade 2 to 11 in the rural town of Therien, Alta. There, the sisters made a great impact with their special gift for arts and music.


The sisters would put on plays and art displays, Christmas concerts in the small towns and square dancing in the classrooms.

"We would sing and act like there was no limit," said Martin. "The arts and music were just thrown at us and we just jumped in."

The sisters were first invited to Edmonton by Bishop Vital Grandin to establish an all-girls school Academie Assomption in 1926.

A boys' college was already established by the Jesuits. The Edmonton girls' school closed in 1972.


The sisters continued to teach across Edmonton. They also expanded their apostolate to careers in nursing, social work, adult education, elderly care and pastoral care.

These contributions are what the sisters are most known for, said Sister Pearl Goudreau of Edmonton.

"We weren't called to big things," said Goudreau, 68. "We answered the needs coming to our community. It was always done in simplicity, generosity and humility."

The sisters see that their mission of helping women and the underprivileged to receive education has largely been attained. The congregation now faces the reality of aging and reduced membership. But they believe their charism will be carried on by others.

"There will always be people that need help and there are other vocations that are sprouting up," said Martin. "A lot of them came through our schools.

"We will continue while we're still here. But our mission, our thrust, is continuing through different means."