The Dionne quints were one of Ontario’s top tourist attractions. Photo from Flickr

The Register Archives: Dionne parents plead for ‘our babies’

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  • May 25, 2018

The world’s most famous quintuplets, the five Dionne girls, were born May 28, 1934 to poor Catholic parents Oliva and Elzire Dionne on their farm near Corbeil, Ont. They were the first quints to survive infancy and were instant global sensations. Fearing they would be exploited, the Ontario government made the girls wards of the province with special legislation (the Croll Bill). It prompted a fierce debate over parental rights, which played out in the pages of The Register. Later, a fierce custody battle resulted in the girls returning to their parents in 1943 after an early childhood that saw them put on public display in a specially-built hospital and nursery called Quintland. In 1998, three surviving sisters won a $2.8 million settlement from Ontario as a result of their exploitation. In the April 11, 1935 Register, the parents made their case against the Croll Bill in a letter to the editor:

Dear Sir.  I have watched your paper to see which side of the Quintuplet question you were on. Finding nothing, I decided to be bold enough to write. Are you also in favour of the Croll Bill? We object to it and will not rest while we still have a breath left to fight it.

Last May when the Quintuplets were born, the Catholic people rejoiced saying: “Here’s the answer to the birth control question.” To our minds the fact that they still live is worth a good sermon. How many hours have we sat and listened to exhortations on the duties of parents and the sanctity of the home!

Now a Bill has been passed which divides our family and takes away our parental rights. We appeal to the authorities.  They close their eyes and say: “As far as I can see, it is all for the best.” We implore for advice, for help. They wash their hands saying: “We can’t do anything, not our parish.”

In the papal encyclical we read: “The child is naturally something of the father ... so by natural right the child, before reaching the use of reason, is under the father’s care. Hence it would be contrary to natural justice if the child before the use of reason were to be removed from the care of its parents, or if  any disposition were made concerning him against the will of the parents. And as this duty on the part of the parents continues up to the time when the child is in a position to provide for itself, this same inviolable parental right of education also endures. ... The children are something of the father and to be perfectly accurate, they enter into and become part of civil society, not directly by themselves but through the family in which they were born. And therefore the father’s power is of such a nature that it cannot be destroyed or absorbed by the State, for it has the same origin as human life itself.”

 Are we to believe that the laws of the Church, under Pope Leo XIII, do not apply to our parish of Corbeil? Is that why this Bill was passed — being justified by “unusual circumstances.” Where are they who are supposed to enforce the laws of the Church? 

The Bill does not guarantee anything concerning the babies’ health, morals or property. Everyone else is fully protected.

They talk of building us a home. We would rather live in our old place with our children than in a palace of gold without them.

They say that we are imbeciles and cannot be satisfied. All we want is what God gave us — our babies. We were not aware that we needed our BA before we could bring up our family. Christ gave His Church in the care of St. Peter even though he wasn’t a MP. The press has always been more than anxious to print things against us. We wonder if you would be so charitable as to print one little word in our defence.

Very sincerely yours,

Mr. and Mrs. Oliva Dionne

(Ed. note: If Mr. And Mrs. Dionne had read The Catholic Register for Sept. 27th they would have seen a front page editorial entitled “By What Authority” which fully stated our attitude to the assumption by the government of the guardianship of five of the children of Mr. and Mrs. Dionne. Our last issue contained an article taken from our Saskatchewan Catholic contemporary, the Prairie Messenger, which stressed the reasonableness of the claim of the parents to give an equal chance to all their children and not to have them split into two families.)

(To explore more from The Catholic Register Archive, go to catholicregister.org/archive)

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