Blessed Emilie Gamelin - Foundress Sisters of Providence

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.

Under the disapproving eyes of her friends who frowned on the differences in their ages, Emilie married John Baptiste Gamelin when she was 23, he 50. A prominent, wealthy member of Montreal society, he supported her charitable works so she was able to spend her spare time and resources reaching out to the poor. The couple had three sons, but only one survived infancy. In 1827, Emilie lost not only her beloved husband but her last child as well.  Overcoming grief by helping others she immersed herself even more in her charitable endeavors, particularly the work of Montreal's Ladies of Charity. Soon her heart was taken with the plight of abandoned and neglected elderly women. Selling some of her property, she used the proceeds to purchase a residence for some of these women. Her first guest was 102 years old. She went on to fill the house with 15 others.

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

As Emilie's works mushroomed, the Montreal Bishop saw the long-term need for a community of Sisters, rather than volunteer lay women, to carry on Emilie's work. When his efforts to interest an established community of Sisters failed, the bishop decided to establish a religious community of his own. Seven women already working with Emilie formed the nucleus and on March 25, 1843, they became novices of the new community, named the Sisters of Providence. When one of that number returned to her home, Emilie received the Bishop's permission to take her place. A year later, these very first Sisters of Providence pronounced their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and Emilie became their first Superior.
Less than ten years later, on September 23, 1851, Emilie woke one of her Sisters with the news that she had contracted the most recent outbreak of cholera and was going to die. Her last words were to urge her Sisters to practice the virtues of "humility . . . simplicity . . . char " She lapsed in unconsciousness before completing her last word and died soon after. She was only 51.  In 2001 she was beatified by Pope John Paul II.

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