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The 20 Years of Place Émilie-Gamelin

Here is the address of Sister Annette Noël, Provincial Superior of Émilie-Gamelin Province given at the opening of the week of activities commemorating the 20th anniversary of Place Émilie-Gamelin,  the birthplace of the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence in Montreal. Montreal, November 16, 2012


“How happy we are, as Sisters of Providence, to be here for the opening of the 'END OF NOVEMBER' event organized by ATSA (Socially Acceptable Terrorist Action or ‘when art takes constructive action’) and to recognize the twenty years of Place Émilie-Gamelin!  How happy we are to set our feet on this sacred ground!  Yes, we are on blessed land, doubly blessed with a rich history and a rich heritage.


More than 175 years ago, Émilie Tavernier-Gamelin, an extraordinary woman who had lost her husband and children, opted for alleviating the suffering of the people in her milieu instead of wallowing in self-pity over her widowhood. Thanks to her deep faith and great confidence in our Providence God, in whom she found relief from her own suffering, she becameProvidenceand a path of hope for those she met. This is why the people called her ‘theirProvidence’. Without hesitation, she walked this ground to find the neediest and those who lacked the essentials or lived in deep despair. The Yellow House is evidence that Émilie did provide shelter to elderly women, sick orphans and homeless people. It was first as a lay person that Émilie Gamelin responded quietly, effectively and concretely to the needs of her time. Remember that in her era there were no government programs. Compassion and generous hearts were the key elements and the only means to alleviate misery.  People helped people!


A number of Ladies of Charity supported Emilie Gamelin’s activities. It was a group of women of the educated upper class who volunteered their services to help charitable works.


The Yellow House was the third refuge that Emilie received from a wealthy merchant to help her support a larger number of persons. She carried out this compassionate ministry for fifteen years as a lay person.


The Asile of Providence was built on a block formed by St.Catherine, St.Hubert (formerly Lacroix), De Maisonneuve (formerly Mignonne) and Berri Streets. The work of Emilie developed so fast that it became necessary to extend the Asile of Providence shortly after its inauguration. It was at that time that the work of Emilie Gamelin definitely became a charitable institute.


In 1843, Ms. Gamelin became Sister Emilie Gamelin, and in 1844, she was the foundress of a new community: the ‘Daughters of Charity, Servants of the Poor’, known today as the Sisters of Providence. In 1866 the Asile of Providence became the first Mother House of the Congregation.


For more than a century, it was in the Asile of Providence that the Œuvre de la Soupe (soup kitchen) was carried out. The idea came to the Ladies of Charity during the cold winter of 1827-1828. In 1844, the work moved to the Asile of Providence and became one of its prominent works. It was one of the few organizations to operate without identification card or real accounting, and without discrimination of race or religion. All were fed at any time and upon request. Each person received a large bowl of hot soup and three big pieces of bread. Bowls were refilled for the asking. The soup ingredients were nourishing and healthy. Some guests suggested that the aroma and fine taste of the Providence soup was one of a kind. After 120 years, the Œuvre de la Soupe ended on August 14, 1963 as the construction of theMontreal subway required the demolition of the Asile of Providence.


I would like to speak a little more about the soup. Rich in vitamins and cooked in huge 90-gallon pots, it matched the best meals served in the restaurants of the city in terms of volume and calories. Day  by  day, the Oeuvre de la Soupe also included hundreds of substantial sandwiches to fill nameless empty stomachs. Distribution of clothing, footwear and even jobs to unemployed people willing to work were other services provided by the Oeuvre, which meant above all sympathy, comfort and a listening ear to those rejected or abandoned by society.


Emilie Gamelin lived only seven years as a religious. Her compassionate charism became contagious, and soon many young girls joined her. Even in those early days, she sent sisters to other areas ofQuebec,Canadaand theUnited States, and established other works for deaf-mute girls, the mentally ill, etc.


In Quebec we remember! At beautiful Place Emilie-Gamelin we can see a fine sculpture by artist Raoul Hunter, which represents Blessed Emilie Gamelin in action, holding a basket as a symbol of her constant generosity, and lending a charitable hand to the destitute. Doesn’t it symbolize a story of compassion and generosity of heart, the story of a heritage to be preserved today and for tomorrow?


Tonight we stand on holy ground, because from Emilie’s days until ours, homeless, hungry and despairing people, people suffering from mental illness and drug addictions, people who lack the essential to live their lives, people with stories of suffering, are still present at this Place Émilie-Gamelin. However we can find comfort in the fact that 175 years later, on the same site, the identical spirit of compassion is still lived out. It can only flow from deep faith, from hearts full of love for all persons and from a desire that all individuals regain their human dignity. How great your work is!  I am sure Emilie Gamelin is happy whenever people find hope, a meaning to their lives, and some comfort in their suffering.


Organizations such as ATSA, Présence Compassion, and many more come to this place, inspired by Emilie’s charism of compassion and generosity of heart, to help dry tears in the middle of the City ofMontreal.


On behalf of Blessed Emilie Gamelin, I thank you for not forgetting the heritage of compassion and love of the poor that she passed on to us on this holy ground.


I conclude my address with a key sentence of Blessed Emilie Gamelin: ‘Love the poor always’. And Jesus said that they will always be with us.”


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