The following is a remarkable story about three brave young women and their extraordinary accomplishments.
After three months at sea, on August 1, 1639, three Augustinian sisters arrived in Quebec, Canada, to found the first hospital on the continent north of Mexico. At the request of the Duchess of Aiguillon, the sisters Marie Guenet de Saint-Ignace, Marie Forestier de Saint- Bonaventure and Anne Le Cointre de Saint-Bernard, left their monastery in Dieppe, France, to establish a hospital to care for the aboriginal people and the few European settlers in New France. This first hospital in Canada was named L’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec.
The Augustinian Sisters laid the foundations of Quebec’s healthcare system in founding 12 monastery-hospitals. They actively participated as owners and managers of the hospitals as well as nurses and pharmacists. They not only cared for the sick and welcomed immigrants upon arrival, but also took in abandoned children between 1800 and 1850. In doing so, they significantly contributed to the economic development of the regions where they settled and worked with great devotion.
The history of the Augustinian Sisters teaches us a lesson in humanity: behind their cloistered walls, these pioneering women’s values enriched society with compassion for suffering, respect for the individual, and a commitment to the healing powers of science and spirituality.
Today, all of the hospitals founded by the Augustinian Sisters have been integrated into Quebec’s public healthcare system and are still in operation. Six of the adjoining monasteries are still active.