Mother Marie Elisabeth Turgeon was beatified April 26 in Rimouski, Quebec. A second miracle is still needed before she can be made a saint. Photo by Alan Hustak

Quebec nun Mother Elisabeth Turgeon the latest Canadian to be beatified

By  Alan Hustak, Catholic Register Special
  • April 27, 2015

RIMOUSKI, QUE. - A  teacher from Quebec's Lower St. Lawrence region who believed that "schools were the vestibules to the Church" was beatified April 26 by Cardinal Angelo Amato, the papal legate who came from Rome to Rimouski to proclaim her Blessed.

Elisabeth Turgeon, a sickly but highly motivated and intelligent woman, founded a teaching order of nuns in 1878 originally called the Sisters of Elementary Schools, (Les Soeurs des Petites-Ecoles) to educate underprivileged children in isolated poverty stricken villages in the Lower St. Lawrence region.

Although Turgeon lived in another century and was of a different mindset, Cardinal Gerald Cyprian Lacroix said the Church still needs teachers like her.  

"God doesn't choose people to do His work because they are capable, He makes those who choose Him capable," the archbishop of Quebec said in a homily.

"Elisabeth Turgeon was no exception. The needs that she saw all around her when she founded her congregation are still present: religious instruction of children, and the need to instruct people who can carry out this mission to educate youngsters. The work she started is still undertaken today not only by her order, but by lay people associated with it."

Twenty bishops, local politicians and crowds bussed into the area, including a number of children, to pack the church for the celebration. An 80-voice choir was present and applause rang through the building as the portrait of Blessed Mother Elisabeth was unveiled in the sanctuary. It was a significant occasion because it marked the first time the Vatican has dispatched an envoy to a Canadian parish to conduct the rite. Beatification used to take place in Rome. But Pope Benedict changed the rules to allow the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to conduct the ritual in the parish where the candidate lived.

Turgeon was named venerable in 2013.

A miracle attributed to her made her eligible to be called "blessed" — the third of four steps on the road to sainthood. During the ceremony, Michel Boucher, the 60-year-old father of three from Trois Pistoles, Que., who survived a diagnosis of terminal cancer through the intercession of Blessed Mother Marie-Elisabeth, was present for the beatification. Boucher said he was not especially devout, but has become more spiritual since his cancer has gone into remission. Asked point blank whether he believes in miracles, he replied, "I do now. I accept that because of her I am still around. My condition has been verified by several doctors in Quebec and by cancer specialists in Montreal. How do you explain it? It is good. It is all good."

A second miracle will be required before she can be made a saint.

Born in Beaumont, Que., in 1840  Turgeon was the fifth in a family of nine children in a farmer's family. Her father died when she was 15 years old. Although she was frail she was a determined youngster who displayed an unusual degree of confidence.

Turgeon received her teaching certificate in 1862 and taught at St. Romuald, Quebec City and at Ste. Anne de Beaupre. In 1874 she accepted an invitation from Bishop Jean Langevin to open a normal school in the archdiocese of Rimouski. Four years later she began her religious order with 12 women. Today it is known in English as the Sisters of Our Lady of The Rosary. She wrote a number of textbooks filled with pithy but instructive aphorisms for the classroom, sayings such as "With Christ's protection a spider's web can be stronger than a brick wall; without His protection, a brick wall can be as flimsy as a spider's web."

Mother Marie-Elisabeth was 41 when she died in 1881. She is interred in the motherhouse in Rimouski. The Superior General of the order she founded, Marie-Alma Dube, says the nuns are still involved in adult instruction in a number of parishes including several in Newfoundland and Labrador, and has missions in Honduras, Peru, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Lebanon.  

Apostolic Nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving in the chapel of the Congregation's motherhouse April 27.

(Hustak is a contributing editor at

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.