Sr. Marie Rivier, who founded 149 schools in her lifetime, was canonized May 15. Photo courtesy Sisters of the Presentation of Mary

Canadian sisters celebrate sainthood of St. Marie Rivier

  • May 22, 2022

In the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary’s estimation, Sr. Marie (Anne-Marie) Rivier’s canonization journey dates back 180 years to 1842, four years after the French Catholic nun passed away at age 69 in Bourg-Saint-Andéol, France.

Pope Pius IX declared the foundress of the Soeurs de la Présentation de Marie (Sisters of the Presentation of Mary) as Venerable on May 12, 1853. Pope John Paul II beatified Blessed Marie Rivier in Vatican City on May 23, 1982. And finally, on May 15, Pope Francis canonized St. Marie Rivier in St. Peter’s Square.

Sr. Michelle Blanchette, the treasurer for the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary’s Province of Prince Albert in Saskatchewan, hoped and prayed for Rivier to be canonized over many years.

“We have been waiting since the beatification for another miracle to be recognized, and finally on Dec. 13, (2021), we found out that the miracle of a healing of a baby in the Philippines that happened over six years ago was approved by Pope Francis,” said Blanchette.

Intercession to Rivier was credited for healing Angel Marie Vier Digamo of life-threatening hydrops fetalis, a dangerous buildup of fluids around the lungs and heart. 

Pope John Paul II recognized the first miracle accredited to Rivier, the healing of the little French girl Paulette Dubois. In December 1937, the seven-year-old was diagnosed with infantile acrodynia (pink disease), which is a disease that causes pain and discoloration in the hands and feet. The parents of Dubois, who passed away at age 90 in 2020, asked for family members and the sisters in Bourg St. Andéol to pray to Rivier. All physical and psychological traces of the illness vanished from Dubois instantly on Feb. 3, 1938.

Blanchette said Rivier’s life has powerfully imprinted her throughout her six decades as a sister. 

“Marie Rivier herself had a very deep interior life of loving God and that inspired the sisters around her and in her writing about prayer and being aware of God’s presence while at the same time being oriented towards ministry.”

Blanchette’s introduction to the sisters began even earlier than that and she is grateful that the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary sought out a Western Canada presence, beginning with Duck Lake, Sask., north of Saskatoon, in 1903. Blanchette was introduced to the sisters while attending Grade 8 in North Battleford, Sask., when the sisters began teaching in her school.

“These teachers really inspired me, and later when I discerned a call to the religious life, I felt called to join this order,” she said. “I’m going to be 80 next year and I will celebrate 60 years of religious vows. I wouldn’t have chosen another order.”

Rivier overcame tribulation from an early age to become an apostolic inspiration. In 1770, at age 16 months, a fall off a high bed fractured her hip and ankle. She was unable to walk. Several years of prayer and reflection at a shrine in Montpezat-sous-Bauzon was answered as Rivier discovered she could walk with crutches.

Health problems persisted throughout Rivier’s life, but her steadfast faith guided her to establish a school in Montpezat-sous-Bauzon (she would open 149 schools in her lifetime)and the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary on Nov. 21, 1796 alongside four other women. Communicating the teachings of Christ was far from a safe vocation at the time as the tumultuous winds of the French Revolution raged strongly. She vowed to live authentically as a Christian witness despite societal dissent against religious expression. Following the Concordat of 1801 between Napoleon Bonaparte and Pope Pius VII, religion was free to be practised once more and membership in the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary boomed in the years afterwards.

Rivier proved to be prophetic when she said, “my daughters will sail the oceans.” In 1853, the sisters voyaged to St. Hyacinthe, Que.

Fourteen emissaries from Province of Prince Albert journeyed to Rome to observe this long-awaited historical event, including five sisters and Prince Albert Bishop Stephen Hero,   

Nine other disciples, including French martyr Charles de Foucauld, Little Sisters of the Holy Family founder Maria Domenica Mantovani and India’s first layman Devasahayam Pillai, were canonized by Pope Franics .

The Pope said the canonized exemplified holiness by offering their lives in service to the Gospel and brothers and sisters without expecting earthly rewards.

“By embracing with enthusiasm their vocation — as a priest, as a consecrated woman, as a layperson — they devoted their lives to the Gospel. They discovered an incomparable joy and they became brilliant reflections of the Lord of history. For that is what a saint is: a luminous reflection of the Lord of history,” the Pope said.

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