Ordinary life turns extraordinary

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  • October 5, 2013

OTTAWA - When Alice Fougère, 62, experienced a personal encounter with Jesus Christ in 1998 she had no inkling that God’s plan included her founding a new religious order.

“I was living a very ordinary life and all of a sudden I truly experienced the Lord,” said Fougère.

Now in consecrated life with a new name, Mother Mary Bernadette is the visionary leader of the Queenship of Mary, a new order in the Ottawa archdiocese.

A lifelong Catholic, Mother Mary Bernadette recalls a childhood devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she shared with her mother. But she lacked the personal relationship with Jesus Christ that is stressed in the New Evangelization. Consequently, “my faith would be on and off.”

Trained in the business world, she was on a work-related trip to Montreal in 1998 when she slipped into the city’s majestic Mary Queen of the World Cathedral where that encounter with God took place. In a profound experience of prayer, she “realized the Lord was very much alive and supposed to be the centre of my life.” She began attending Mass an extra day a week and reading spiritual writings. She discovered St. Therese of Lisieux’s The Story of a Soul that launched her on “an intense spiritual journey,” which led to much self-examination and a deepening prayer life. She also came across St. Theresa of Avila’s writings around this time.

These two Carmelite saints set the framework of the spirituality that would eventually inspire the Queenship of Mary, and Theresa of Avila is the order’s patron saint.

Early on in the journey, Mother Mary Bernadette’s “life took a turn” where her circumstances became “really hard,” and she said she “went through a period of a lot of suffering because of my faith.”

“My life turned upside down,” she said. “I gave God the consent. I constantly had to pray for grace. It’s not easy; it’s through the cross. It’s not that everything’s going to go smoothly.”

At this low point, she decided to follow St. Louis de Monfort’s program of prayer for a 33-day consecration to the Blessed Mother. In fact, she did consecration three years in a row and each time she was able to conclude the journey at a Marian pilgrimage site. The first year, in 2003, Mother Mary Bernadette went to Banneux, Belgium, a site where apparitions of the Virgin Mary had appeared in 1933, revealing herself as Our Lady of the Poor. At Banneux, she gave a “full ‘Yes’ to the Lord, that I would do whatever He would ask.”

The next year, she went to Lourdes, entered the waters and emerged with a painful degenerative disc in her back healed. Her spiritual director had been along for the pilgrimage and told her he believed her faith had healed her and “God was going to call me to be an instrument of God to found a new community of sisters that would be full of joy.”

In 2005, Mother Mary Bernadette wrapped up her 33-day consecration in Fatima on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

In 2003, she sensed God calling her to open a home in Halifax to young women who were discerning a call on their life whether to be married, go into religious life or into consecrated single life. At the time, she was working at Dalhousie University’s business school.

After obtaining permission from then-Halifax Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, she opened her home and named it Queenship House. The first year attracted two young ladies. She moved to a better location the second year and attracted four or five. The third year, they moved to the big house owned by the Newman Centre that also housed Catholic Christian Outreach and other ministries. They ran it for two years.

Mother Mary Bernadette chose Ottawa for her new community. She visited then-Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais to tell him about how her Catholic women’s house was developing into a religious community and asked permission to set it up in his diocese. He said yes. However, Prendergast asked her to stay an additional year to ensure someone else would be able to take over the running of Queenship House.

Ottawa attracted her because of the Companions of the Cross, a community of priests founded by Fr. Bob Bedard, she said.

“A lot was happening there spiritually,” she said of the nation’s capital.

In 2007, Gervais retired and Prendergast replaced him.

In order to meet the requirements of canon law, Mother Mary Bernadette and four others had to enroll in an official novitiate program. Prendergast asked them to find a well-established religious institute community to take them into their program. The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary allowed the five to join their three novices in their formation program. They lived with them, yet also continued working on their constitution so the Queenship of Mary would not be lost, she said.

On March 26, 2012, the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary that year, Prendergast blessed their habits, accepted their first vows and presented them with a decree of the Church as a private association of Christ’s faithful.

On Annunciation in 2014, they will make their third profession of vows; on March 25, 2015 they will be “perpetually professed,” she said. Then they hope to move into being a public association.

“Our charism is to pray for priests, to support them in the New Evangelization, to grow in personal holiness by living our vows and by extending ourselves generously to everyone by love.”

The community of five founding members hopes to eventually acquire 40 hectares somewhere in the Ottawa archdiocese and build a first motherhouse with a chapel and a retreat centre, “providing a safe haven for those desperate to know the Lord, with a separate section for priests.”

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