When a religious nun or priest passed away, it was the custom of the day in the early 1900s for a member of their religious order to write their religious obituary. The person chosen was usually the one member closest to the deceased.
It is the opinion of this author that these obituaries served multiple purposes:
- As a recruitment tool to encourage new blood into the order.
- To commemorate the life of the religious person in the eyes of their family.
- For encouraging donations to the religious order.
- To bring glory to the name of God.
Here is the religious obituary for Florence Poulin – Sister Saint-Florentin of the Sisters of Mercy of Quebec – a gray nun:
SISTER SAINT-FLORENTIN, Aux. — Florence Poulin
Sisters of Charity of Quebec
Deceased September 13, 1939
at 70 years of age; in religious life 35 years
|Vol. VIII No. 21|
Two phrases, equal in length, would describe the life of our much-loved Sister Saint-Florentin; two missions, later only one, always the same, marked this existence resplendent with charity.
She had in effect, much before entering our religious family, an intimate component of a Sister of Charity: that of desire. She accomplished our goals before qualifying to share in the advantages offered by our Congregation.
At her paternal home, her brothers had nicknamed her “Angle-Dust” because she was good hearted and generous. Later on, those who in the large family of poor benefited from her toil and those same who only saw her in passing, called her the “Sister Saint!”
One word resounds which describes her life: she was “good”! We could almost say she was too good!
A virtuous life was innately natural to her. It was the same with her vocation; and perhaps she longed for goodness so much and so long, her life just fell into it. God had his designs for her; designs always commensurate with goodness and devotion.
Born on August 24, 1869 at St. Joseph de Beauce, she became the first heavenly blessing in the home of her parents, Mr. Evariste Poulin and Mrs. Elisabeth Vachon.
At a Poulin family celebration commemorating 3 generations in Canada, she counted more than 300 religious men, priests, and women in her genealogy. We can then agree that our dear Sister inherited a magnificent moral character. She even admitted it. One day she requested that family members pray for the spiritual welfare of two of her brothers gold-mining in the Yukon. “They cannot be lost” (made a wrong route) she concluded with love and pride, “their blood is too generous” (these men have such generous hearts)! The broadside (about mining gold in the Yukon) was addressed to these two interested men, but from the mouth of the one who spoke little and with wisdom [probably Romeo Poulin], “this longing (to mine gold) was long-carried.”
All girl (no tomboy tendencies), Florence aspired to becoming a nun: her good qualities attested to this vocation. She liked studying and learned without difficulty. More than once her parents dreamed of boarding the girl in the local convent; but how could they deprive her mother, with very frail health, of all the help and assistance she would give. There’s lots of work in running a home, and tasks increase with the number of children, which culminated with the nice total of 14. Florence followed the primary studies (elementary school) at the little school at Grand’ Montagne at the same time fulfilling the role of second mother of the house. She quite school at 13 years old, devoting herself completely to family duties. What a help, and what an angel this child was, that she could be called 20 times, 100 times, without exhausting her patience.
Would it be too late for Florence to return to the role of student, or could another sibling with the same personality traits supply her with the schoolwork while at home? Would she be courageous enough, at 18 years old, to renew her studies and become a boarder in school? Why doubt it. Wasn’t entering boarding school her life desire? She would endure home-sickness for her mother and her siblings, she was lonely; but she would have to leave home to become a nun. Leave she did.
Her goal was crushed [air was stopped dead]. Marked by gentleness unlike any other boarder, she plunged herself into this new life, and in 2 years (at age 20), achieved a short teaching assignment with “distinction.” Her companions, all younger than herself, treated Florence as their leader. They sought Florence for counsel, guidance and they loved her. The head sister, Sister Saint-Honoré, also regarded Florence with the highest confidence and was not surprised one day to receive Florence’s request to formally join the Congregation as soon as possible (become a Postulant).
This was a good thing. Florence returned to her paternal home to rest and prepare for the next undertaking, formally entering the Congregation as a Noviciat [Fr. spelling], with just enough time for family good-byes.
This is what she thought. But the plans of the Master are not always the same as your own. Another departure occurred. It was mother (Elisabeth Poulin) whom God came to get; and God again wanted Florence to be a second mother to nine orphans, when only yesterday Florence was a Postulant (regarded as a fiancee to God).
Florence had committed herself exclusively to God, far from the material world, without a thought that could charm her from religious life, far indeed from being under any man’s roof.
She endured sacrifices, rejection, prayer and charity. Her desire to serve God endured, and she remained accepting of whatever role God presented her. The authorities guaranteed her future acceptance into the Convent and reinstatement in the religious life without delay or prejudice and so she left to fulfill secular duties.
She did not forget these former goals, but accepted this new assignment. Her father (Evariste Poulin) was staying with her, not far from his own home. The children missed their mother less and the home life was preserved under Florence’s gentle direction.
She proved to each and everyone around her with this separation, without her mother, that she was, above all, embracing the task (stain) that the heavens assigned to her.
With a supernatural assistance (from God), this courageous young woman applied herself. To see how she survived, here is a quote from one of her brothers, Arthur Poulin: “Our sister, Florence, was gentile, active, courageous and kind, particularly very pious. Even in the most minute tasks, she saw the will of God and she resigned herself with grace, while singing. She was everywhere there was work to be done. Always the first to exhibit cheerfulness, she was also the first to engage in work. But she would focus on (serve) herself last.
Thin from loneliness and a hard life, she never became angry. We always found her so kind, we nicknamed her “Angel-Dust.” When we were rough or misbehaved, she would choose only to cry. Her tears were stronger than any argument, and everyone would behave: We loved her so much!
Florence took care of our maternal grandmother (Elisabeth Poulin’s mother), paralyzed and unconscious for 9 years. Always joyful, she would not back down from any inconvenience (sacrifice) imposed for the welfare of the well-loved invalid. At night, to be the only one awakened, she would attach a cord (string) to the invalid’s bell and at the least movement, responded.
The poor received a generous hospitality from her. Their clothes were washed, their pantry stocked with provisions. When the siblings left home, they were the “poor of God.” For a long time, we all prayed together (as a family) for a local sinner, that he would have the good fortune to return to his Christian duties (become more God-like in his actions). Each night, when the bells of the priest’s chapel signaled, we would add new prayers, inspired by the generosity of our sister.
She had no other longing in life than to be a nun, even when her other sisters made enough money to replace her. Florence prayed even harder (multiplied her Novenas to the Blessed Virgin), asking if it was time to realize her lifelong dream. Each time she asked for guidance in prayer, the reply from above was the same: She became close to blind. Feeling it was the will of God manifesting itself in her condition, she resigned to this near-blindness without a fight. And this is how she survived, continuing to care for each of us. After the marriage of our youngest sister, Florence recently started showing symptoms of an illness never seen before. She had become more aged than her 35 years. In a short time, she had not opened a book and it was no longer easy to start over her studies. She would not be able to teach; but perhaps she could live out the balance of her life as a religious nun, it was all she wanted.
Our well-loved sister, which we now called Sister Saint-Florentin, had always told us she was happiest at the convent, happier than all of us out in the world. During her illness, she became very pampered. She always set aside her own heart’s desires to focus on our interests, and our troubles. And we all counted on her prayers, on her encouragement, on her guidance as if she was our own mother. Our father was very lonely after Elisabeth died, but he resigned to God’s will (and abandoned the heavy hand of Providence). He lived another 24 years and died comforted by visits from his daughter who died a saint’s death.
After this testimony from a brotherly voice on the life of Sister Saint-Florentin at our family homestead, we remember the beautiful examples of virtue, the generosity with which this religious life manifested itself.
At the anniversary of our venerated father’s death, our dear Sister had already given a enormous amount of devotion to the religious community. The Noviciat, with her ordinary beliefs, had been gentle and easy to get along with. Wasn’t she trained at the school of suffering? And wasn’t God the prodigy of her graces, by preserving her from the world and temporal attractions!
Taking her final vows in 1906, she joyously completed her work as a cook at our Caçouna Convent, and at the Orphanage of Saint-Sauveur until 1925. Her health was not very strong, but she was fit enough for journal-writing tasks, she had volumes to write.
One day, our dear Sister found herself under the surgeons’ knife. Her convalescence of several months followed with reduced tasks, and even these simpler tasks proved too challenging for her frail health. She accepted obedience rather than resisting, and became a caregiver for elder patients at Lévis Hospice. It is at this good hospital that she spoke her last word, ______. She was engrossed in her job, without distractions. “I do not have the same strong, loving feelings for these elderly that I had for my much-loved grandmother”, she admitted. “I will apply myself to the spirit of Our Savior, which I see in these poor suffering people, and little by little, I will discover that my heart will grow”. Because we would easily focus on our troubles, we must put ourselves behind others to serve God. If we always believe in doing too much, we will restrain ourselves from asking for too much in our prayers.
These words and similar others were part of the makeup of many young Sisters who loved to speak with Florence, to be instructed by listening And this is how Florence became an expert in the art of living a good life, and never rejecting the art of dying well. The elders, public benefactors of her maternal nurturing, would often share their confidence with her. Next, parents and friends in a state of sadness, perhaps counting their troubles or pains, were counseled by “our Sister Florentin”, and they would say: “Go and see her, she will not just tell you that “it is God’s will.” No, she has words that will reach the bottom of your heart, words that will instill you with courage and joy.”
Helping the dying, day and night, she could not be more humbled. Her entire life had passed in the service of God and in reaching towards God. After feeling joy and happiness, giving and taking; after giving comfort and being strengthened by her words, she would wrap herself in solitude, she would not let the least opportunity pass at the last minute. Oh, no. Her tenderness for the departed often inspired her while she performed her “Way of the Cross” prayers at the crypt of the hospice for the comfort of the souls in Purgatory. She loved repeating, one could never calculate how often, a special ejaculation (prayer) the most rich in indulgences: “Jésus, Marie, Joseph!”
At one point, Florence realized she was approaching the end of her active service as a nun. She wished to continue her devotions to the hospitalized, but her superiors realized that she was worn out, and they assigned her a duty that her feet and strength could manage. When the announcement of her changed duties reached the hospice, the elders there were heart-broken. A delegation embarked on the road to the Motherhouse of the good sisters to plead a community case against the authorities. Sister Florence stayed at her post. She would not leave until the Doctor in charge, Doctor Fortin, expressing his regret, said “I believe that the superiors are obliged to say their “Veni Creator” before they declare you “Saint Florentin.” She had not expected this honor, she believed simply that in leaving the hospice, this would be a new reason to diminish her devotion and charity, and more and more, she envisioned a final crowning effort for her life works.
To achieve more merit in the eyes of God, she did not change any of her usual work routine, giving assistance to the invalids: even creating suitable concoctions (herbal teas, remedies) for so many illnesses, even tendencies toward gaiety, even relying on prayer devoid of confidence, even encouragement which filled the spirits and fortified hearts of generous people.
Why then, one day, at the edge of a road, did the good Sister start to cry? She could not again attend the elders that she heard coughing in the next ward. “Accomplish more than I did”, she said to a companion, “I still sew their socks, these poor old people. That’s all the comfort that is left for me to deliver. I sense their suffering. What is hard is not to be able to work any longer.” Yes, she had to be convinced that elders must conserve their strength, especially those who had lost their vitality!
Later, she would quite working at the hospice forever. After having worked 14 years, she would leave humbly and willingly, repeating a saying entitled Advice for the Imagination: “When you have done all that you can, says to yourself, I can do more [I’m a pretty useless servant].”
She was no less joyful even when seeking meekness [to be humble she did not rest any less joyfully]. Her infirmary bedroom radiated her genuine joyfulness, which would gently stir like the confidence of a child who, later, would throw herself in the arms of her parents.
Yes, of her parents: isn’t God the first father, the one that loved her and that she lived for? What joy to see him soon. If he would permit her to suffer physically, she would have all eternity to feel joy. She even found that he already had goodness for her, that he bathed her in joy. What would the celestial encounter be like?
Our dear Lord multiplies her Eucharist visits (she received communion over and over). The 2nd of September, by the grace of administration, .___- _____
Marie, our dear Mother, it is she who receives the last Hail Mary’s and sustains our last efforts on the road of exile. Her good father, Saint Joseph, would help to refresh any doubts. At times when she was in doubt, receive in heaven her parents _______ nature. What exchanges of gratitude. Our dear beloved Sister Saint-Florentin could reveal her gentleness to us.
Saturday, the 16th, Mr. Turgeon, the embalmer, blessed her tomb.
Two brothers, one sister and gentle people of other parents came to pay their last respects.
This religious obituary was not translated from the French, but interpreted by the author so modern day readers could identify and understand the level of commitment and love religious sisters had for their chose life.
Read the Comments from this author as well as the phases of religious life in the order of the Sisters of Charity of Quebec, the gray nuns.