The Holy See Search

Émilie Tavernier 


Émilie Tavernier was born in Montreal, Canada, the 19 of February 1800, of modest parents, who were hard working and virtuous. She is the last born of the 15 children of the marriage of Tavernier – Maurice. Both of her parents died young, but they left to their children a strong Christian education marked by the presence of Providence in their life.

From the age of four, Emilie's care was confided to a paternal aunt who early on recognized in the child a marked sensitivity towards the poor and unfortunate.

When her brother was widowed, Emilie who was 18 years old at the time went to help him out without any thought of remuneration, but with one condition, that they set a table that would always be available for the hungry people who came to the door. A table that she lovingly called: "The Table of the King".

In 1823, Émilie Tavernier married Jean-Baptiste Gamelin, an apple grower by profession, in whom she found a friend of the poor who equaled her own aspirations. Their home was blessed with three children, but the happiness was soon overshadowed by the deaths of these children who had been welcomed with such love and devotion.

During this same period, her husband, the one with whom she had lived so happily in faithfulness to the marriage vows that they had promised, died as well.

Though confronted with these numerous trials, Émilie did not turn in upon herself in sorrow, rather she found in Mary, Mother of Sorrows, the model that would orient her entire life!

Her personal prayer and the contemplation of the Blessed Mother at the foot of the cross awakened within her a sense of profound compassionate charity towards all those who are caught up in sorrow of any kind. These are the individuals who now become as it were, her husband and children.

A poor mentally handicapped child and his elderly mother were the first to benefit, not only from the resources left to her by her husband, but even more so by her time, her devotion, her well-being, her leisure and even her health. Emilie's home becomes their home, and the number of residences multiplies in order to receive the indigent. Elderly persons, orphans, prisoners, immigrants, unemployed people, deaf people, youth or couples in difficulty, people who are physically or mentally handicapped—all will come to know her home which they spontaneously call: "House of Providence" because she herself is a true providence.

At home or at the prison, with the sick or the well off, Emilie is welcomed because she brings comfort and help. She truly is the Gospel in action: "Whatsoever you do for the least of these little ones, so you do unto me".

Family and friends join in to support and help her. Others though, do not understand the work she is doing and in seeing her open yet another home they would say: "Mrs. Gamelin does not have enough sick people, she is gathering up even more".

During a period of fifteen years, she multiplied these "heroic acts of dedication", first under the watchful and grateful eyes of Bishop Jean-Jacques Lartigue, and then later under those of the second Bishop of Montreal, Bishop Ignace Bourget. Such valuable work for their flock cannot disappear without assuring its continuity somehow.

During a trip to Paris, in 1841 Bishop Bourget asks if the Daughters of Saint Vincent de Paul would send sisters for the work of Mrs. Gamelin, establishing thus the foundation of a religious community. Getting an affirmative response from the sisters, Montreal will see the construction of a new building, in order to receive them. But this was not to be, and at the last minute, they who were expected do not come and Providence unfolds other plans.

The work of Mrs. Gamelin will go on in spite of everything.

Bishop Bourget called upon the faithful of his own diocese and soon Canadian recruits were sent to Mrs. Gamelin. Emilie would form them in the work of compassionate charity that she carried out with such dedication, and in the mission of Providence that she proclaimed in acts that speak even louder than words.

So it is that, in the House of Providence, the Sisters of Providence are born in the Church of Montreal. Emilie Tavernier Gamelin will join this group of religious, first as a novice, and then as their Mother Superior and foundress. The first religious profession of vows took place on March 29, 1844.

And the needs of the poor, the sick, the immigrants and the elderly continued to grow in this city and society on its way to development.

The new religious community would know its difficult hours, however. This was especially so, when the deaths during the times of epidemics would decimate their numbers. Then Bishop Bourget will place in doubt, even the goodwill of Mother Gamelin, when he is influenced by the comments of an unhappy Sister. But the foundress will remain standing at the foot of the cross, following on the example of Our Mother of Sorrows, her model from the very first painful hours when she was widowed. Bishop Bourget himself will later acknowledge her greatness of spirit and her generosity carried to the point of heroism.

The new community will grow as well, in order to respond to the needs of the time. The Sisters of Providence had grown to fifty members, at the time when the foundress herself becomes ill and dies of cholera, in the epidemic of 1851. This is only eight years after the beginning of the Providence Community. The sisters will receive from her dying lips the words, "humility, simplicity, charity but above all charity" which is the last testament of Mother Gamelin.

From these modest beginnings, 6147 women will commit themselves over the years to the following of Emilie Tavernier Gamelin. Today the Sisters of Providence are found in Canada, the United States, Chile, Argentina, Haiti, Cameroon, Egypt, the Philippines and Salvador.

Pope John Paul II, on December 23, 1993, decreed that Emilie Tavernier Gamelin lived the virtues to an heroic degree and on December 18, 2000 gave official recognition to a miracle attributed to her intercession. The Holy Father will proclaim her among the blessed on October 7, 2001. Pope John Paul II presents Emilie Tavernier Gamelin to the people of God as a model of holiness, through a life completely dedicated to the service of the most needy persons in society. Her liturgical feast is set for September 23, which is the anniversary of her death in 1851.

Homily of John Paul II