Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Sara Riel 1848-1883

"Sarah Riel the sister of Métis leader Louis Riel was born October 11, 1848 in St. Boniface, Manitoba. She joined the Grey Nuns as a novice in 1865 and in 1868 became the first Métis Grey Nun from Red River. She could speak English, French, Cree and Michif and in 1871  was sent to Île-à-la-Crosse where her father Jean-Louis Riel was born. She served in the school and the hospital of the mission until her death of tuberculosis December 27, 1883. She took the name Sister Marguerite-Marie in 1872 and is buried under that name at the cemetery in Île-à-la-Crosse. Her headstone in French reads: Ici Repose Rév. Soeur Marguerite Marie (Riel) Decédée 27 Decembre, 1883, Agée 34 ans, R.I.P.  She and her brother Louis Riel wrote to each other while she was alive and letters remain describing their relationship and her life in Île-à-la-Crosse."
Ile a la Crosse is built on a peninsula (aerial view) 

Convent life was difficult. On January 8, 1872 Sara wrote to her younger brothers Charles, Joseph and Alexandre from the hospital in Île-à-la-Crosse; "My dear little brothers. Happy New Year! each of you I give a sweet kiss and it is one that is almost frozen because it is cold in this country, I assure you that until today I have woken up freezing, passed the days freezing and went to bed every night freezing. You might all say:  will Sister Riel ever warm up this winter......"  (my translation)

The nuns taught school, took care of the sick, worked on the farm and in the gardens and prepared meals from filleting fish to baking bread. The short summers were spent getting ready for the long cold winters. If you couldn't work you were a burden.

The following lines are from the Ile a la Crosse history book "Sakitawak" .

"Hours were spent in her duties at the mission. Summer came and went. In late November of 1872, tragedy struck this young woman. Her lungs hemorrhaged while teaching some children singing. Death hovered over Sister Sara. The last Sacrament was given to her and Sara seemed almost happy at approaching death. However, her pastor, Father Legeard, sought to have his patron saint intercede and affect a cure on this young woman. Prayers, and a promise to the saint, created a miracle. At that very moment, Sara rose from her death-bed a cured person. She dressed and went to the chapel, then prayed. Life then started anew, with Sara resuming her Mission duties to the fullest. Sara writes of the miracle to her mother:
"Beloved Mama, how glad you would have been to see your child rise up from the dead. The good Lord has been generous...Let us requite love with His love for our family, for having chosen me as first Metis missionary,"
     That night of the miracle, Sara adopted the name of her benefactoress and was called from that time, Sister Marguerite Marie.
     Throughout the long years that came to pass, Louis and sister Marguerite Marie continued to write of their trials and tribulations. Sister Marguerite Marie often talked of her wish that Louis would take to the priesthhood. Then, in April of 1881, Louis married Marguerite Monet, a young Metis girl. The news of this marriage reached Ile-A-La-Crosse and his missionary sister. Sister Marguerite Marie's hopes for his eventual priesthood were shattered. Her letters at this time tell of her deteriorating health and her premonition of approaching death. Then, on the 27th of December, 1883, she died."  (from Sakitawak a history of Ile a la Crosse)

When the Green Lake Post was looted in 1885 during the North-West Rebellion led by Louis Riel the Grey Nuns of  Île-à-la-Crosse were terrified that Riel who had accused them of letting his younger sister Sister Marguerite-Marie (Sara Riel) die in misery would seek revenge. (see Flight from Île-à-la-Crosse 1885)

"On April 27, 1885 during the North-West Rebellion most of the personnel and dependants of the Hudson's Bay Company Post and the Roman Catholic Mission of Île-à-la-Crosse alarmed at the looting of the Green Lake Post the previous day fled to a small wooded island north of Patuanak and were helped by the Denesuline of the area.  On May 24 the exiles erected a large cross on their island of refuge (now known as Cross Island and returned to Île-à-la-Crosse on May 29" .,_Saskatchewan

Ile a la Crosse in 1885 had a population of about 300 people.
The mission of Ile a la Crosse in 1860.

Isle a la Crosse had a population of 357 people in 61 families in 1906 including 49 student boarders at the residential school 8 nuns, 2 priests, 2 brothers and 2 others at the mission. The Hudson's Bay Company post had 20 employees and their families and Revillon Freres had 3 employees. La Loche 1906 Census
School girls in Ile a la Crosse 1913-1914

Grey nuns preparing a meal on a barge en route from Beauval to Ile a la Crosse circa 1940s.

When in 1905 the Grey Nun's "were replaced by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyons France (the black nuns). They stayed only a year because they were unaccustomed to daily hardships: "filletting fish, working on the farm, in the gardens, and taking care of the sick." (reference link)               

Other Biographies

 Biography of Sara Riel

RIEL, SARA (1848–83)

Sara Riel was one of the first Métis women in the Red River region to join the Grey Nuns (Sisters of Charity); she did missionary work for over a decade at Ile-à-la-Crosse in what is now Saskatchewan. Born on October 11, 1848, in St. Boniface, she was the daughter of Jean-LOUIS RIEL and Julie Lagimodière, and the sister of Métis leader Louis Riel; she and her brother were known to have a close relationship and to share religious beliefs. Sara Riel joined the Grey Nuns in the latter 1860s; she relocated in June 1871 to Ile-à-la-Crosse, her father’s birthplace and the family’s ancestral home, and the site of a major missionary effort. She served in the community’s mission, including its school and hospital. Between 1876 and 1880 she became godmother to several of the community’s children. Earlier, in 1872, Sara Riel had suffered from a severe case of pneumonia and was believed to be dying. After being given the Last Sacrament, she experienced a seemingly miraculous full recovery, and later obtained permission to change her name to Sister Marguerite-Marie, in honour of the saint who had been invoked in prayers. Throughout her life, Sara Riel and her brother corresponded; letters remain which speak of their relationship and of her time spent at Ile-à-la-Crosse. She died of tuberculosis on December 27, 1883. (written by Cheryl Troupe)