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Henriette Céré - Biography

HenrietteCereHenriette Céré
Sister Marie-Madeleine

 Her childhood

 Henriette Céré was born in Longueuil on August 20, 1804, to François-Xavier Céré and Ursule Brun whose ancestor had survived the deportation of the Acadians. She was the third in a family of 17 children. Mr. Jean-Marie Cherrier, a future lawyer, provided her basic education. She then attended the convent of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame in Boucherville.

Her life as a young woman

At the age of 19, she was admitted to the “Hospitalières de l’Hôtel-Dieu” in Montreal. However, she contracted typhoid fever and had to return home. At age 22, she had become the appointed teacher to the whole family and to almost all the children on “Chemin de la Savane”, (a country road). She asked her father to build a small school on the family property. By 1838, her success was noted by Fr. Antoine Manseau, pastor in the village of Longueuil. He invited her to teach at the parish school where her skill and reputation as an educator continued to grow.

A foundation in Longueuil

Henriette had always dreamed of becoming a religious. On October 28, 1843, she welcomed two companions, Eulalie Durocher and Mélodie Dufresne, into her school. This would be the beginning of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. At age 39, it was a challenge for Henriette to adapt to the demands of communal life and religious obedience, her new calling gradually took shape.

As Mistress of the boarding school, Sister Madeleine took care of the older children. She also had responsibility for day pupils. Although a severe disciplinarian, she respected the children, who in turn appreciated her devotion and the attention they received. Drawing on her talent for story-telling, she always knew how to amuse and interest students creatively. She was an outstanding reading teacher. She was particularly partial to the poor, the orphans, the sick, and those with fewer financial or intellectual resources. The vast experience of this woman, so concerned about the scholastic success and moral formation of her pupils, reassured the parents. Her experience as a teacher proved a valuable example for young professed Sisters and novices.

The expansion of the congregation

On August 17, 1848, she participated in the foundation of the Saint-Timothée Convent with three companions. She organized the house and the classes, and saw to beautifying the expansive convent grounds. She also contributed to the expansion of the convents at Saint-Roch-de-l’Achigan and at Verchères, the birthplace of her mother.

Her final days

Henriette was periodically afflicted with inflammatory rheumatism. She continued to render various services after retirement in Longueuil. She liked to talk about her past, the pranks of her youth, and the beginnings of the Congregation. She died on January 9, 1885, at age 80.

In her memory

The Henriette Céré Nursing Home, a residence for the elderly on Chambly Street in Saint Hubert, commemorates the life of this compassionate woman. Its geographical location approximates the “Rang de la Savane” where Henriette once taught.

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