Emilie was the 14th child of Antoine and Josephite Tavernier. Her affinity and compassion for the poor was evident from the time she was three. At first, Emilie's life seems nothing but a progression of sorrows, yet from her sorrow sprang the joy that comes from living a life in which her compassion for the poor was matched by her work on their behalf. Her mother died when she was only four, and an aunt raised her. In the years that followed she also lost her father and a sister. At 18 she took charge of her widowed brother's household, using one of the rooms in the home as a dining room for the poor.
Despite criticism of friends who questioned the value of such a young attractive woman devoting herself to this type of work, she purchased two other houses giving her the ability to quarter up to 30 women. She alone carried the burden of all expenses incurred and when her resources were depleted she relied heavily and totally on the help of our provident God. Time after time, that trust was rewarded. Whenever she prayed for Divine intervention, whatever she needed soon came her way.
In time she was able to purchase a large building known as the Yellow House. This house was so roomy the elderly guests were able to work on projects that brought in revenue to help with expenses. In 1833, when an epidemic of cholera ravaged Montreal, Emilie began visiting the sick and dying in their homes. Her work with orphans began when she brought six children whose parents succumbed from the sickness to live with the elderly guests at the Yellow House.
Though they initially questioned the wisdom of her work, many of her wealthy friends were won over by her example and stepped forward to help ease the financial burdens. Her work made her a familiar and welcome figure in all of Montreal. Following the political insurrection of 1837, she gained easy access to the city's prisoners facing death or deportation. Every day "The Angel of the Prisons," as she was called, brought the prisoners food and messages and gifts from their loved ones. One of her most difficult tasks was assisting at the farewells between the condemned and their families.
Beginning with her care of Dodais, a mentally afflicted child befriended by her husband, Emilie also put great energy into the care of the mentally ill. Her strong interest in this population resulted in the establishment of many institutions to care for them.
Forming a religious community