A mother’s wish, and more, comes true

  • October 28, 2011

Growing up, Denyse Gervais Regan’s mother Marie Louise would always tell her children stories about her life.

Having been left by her mother in an orphanage at the tender age of four, and then going on to have 14 children of her own, what a story Marie Louise Gervais had to share.

“She’d always end by saying my life story would make a good book and I hope one of you kids one day writes that book for me,” Gervais Regan, 73, told The Catholic Register.

As the 13th child, Gervais Regan was the one to take up her mother’s challenge, first writing the play The Thirteenth One, which debuted at the Blyth Festival in 2005, followed by the book The Thirteenth One: A Prairie Family’s Adventures in Early 20th Century Canada in 2009. The play will be performed at the Manitoba Theatre during the 2012-2013 season.

The book, written after the play, is a 50-year collection of short stories about the French-Canadian family from Manitoba. The theme of the story is “love and joy from a large family,” she said.

“The struggling of a large family, I think, makes you closer,” she said. “I talk to three or four siblings every week so it’s just that feeling of love, warmth and eagerness to get together.”

And while she didn’t set out to write a religious book, the way each story played out, it’s evident that both her parents had a deep, spiritual love, she said.

Her mother had a “feisty relationship with God,” she said, recalling her mother saying, “What are you sending me another kid for? We can’t afford these, we can’t send them to school and here I am pregnant again,” she said with a laugh. At these times, her father Freddie would say, “Don’t worry, Marie Louise, the good Lord will take care of everything.”

“We, their kids, were their life and they worked as a team with the Lord and, you know, He did take care of everything,” said Gervais Regan.

Included are tales about her brother, retired Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais. The ninth of the 14 children, the young Marcel almost died five times, she recounts.

“Before he was born my mother had an accident, when he was a baby he was scalded and then he had polio,” she said. “He almost burned in a shack with six of us — we set fire to this little fishing hut — and then he had lockjaw when he sat on a rusty nail and we were way up in northern Manitoba.”

Born in Elie, Man., her family’s move to Ontario in 1945 was sparked by an advertisement in The Catholic Register.

The ad said: “Wanted: Ten large Catholic families to pick fruit and tobacco in Aylmer, Ont.,” she said. Her family took the opportunity as her mother wanted all of her children to get an education, which wasn’t possible in their hometown. Gervais Regan, took this education thing seriously as she became a schoolteacher and eventually moved to London, Ont.

Today, Gervais Regan and her husband Larry are active parishioners at Holy Family parish in London and her brothers and sisters are all churchgoers, she said.

“And when we get together, we always have a family Mass. We have a family reunion every Labour Day weekend and my kids alone have 75 first cousins.”

To purchase a copy of book, e-mail Gervais Regan at ldregan@sympatico.ca. Cost is $20.

For more information, see www.denysegervaisregan.com.

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