Life of Emilie Tavernier Gamelin

This is a summary of Emilie Tavernier Gamelin’s life. For more information or any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Childhood and Youth

Emilie Tavernier was born in Montreal on February 19, 1800. She was the youngest of fifteen children. Her family lived on a plot of land called Terre Providence located in the city’s north end. Emilie admired her mother who, in spite of the family’s modest means, would never allow any beggar who knocked on their door to go away empty-handed.

Emilie’s childhood was punctuated with hard trials: nine of her brothers and sisters died at an early age. She lost her mother at the age of 4 and her father when she was 14. At the death of her mother, she was adopted by an aunt on her father’s side, who placed her in a boarding school operated by the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame. When she was 18 years old, her kind heart led her to help her widowed brother and eventually, a sick cousin in Quebec City before returning to Montreal.

Marriage and Family Life

At 23, Emilie married Jean-Baptiste Gamelin, owner of an apple orchard, who was 27 years her senior. The happy couple shared a common interest and love for the poor. Unfortunately, their happiness did not last long. Two of their three sons died three months after birth. After only four years of marriage, Emilie lost her husband to illness on October 1, 1827. Months later, in the summer of 1828, he was followed in death by their third son, at the age of 21 months. In less than five years, Emilie was alone.

Mourning and Devotion

These painful losses mark the beginning of Emilie’s vocation. Following the advice of a priest, she prayed with the image of Mary, Mother of Sorrows at the foot of the Cross. This meditation kindled a deep devotion that filled her with strength and courage: how could she possibly turn down any sacrifice after contemplating the sorrows of Mary and the sufferings of Jesus? She felt called to manifest trust in God’s Providence and, moved by the compassion of the Mother of Sorrows, to reach out to the most destitute. Charitable works consoled her in her sufferings and gave new meaning to her life.

Emilie still lived in the Saint-Antoine Street house she owned, with Dodais, an intellectually disabled teenager, and his mother, whom Mr. Gamelin had cared for since the day the boy had saved his life. Before he died, Mr. Gamelin asked Emilie to continue to care for Dodais and his mother in memory of their love for each other.

A Life Serving the Poor

From that day on, she dedicated her life and means to the service of the elderly, the sick, the children orphaned by the cholera epidemic of 1832, the prisoners of the 1837-1838 insurrection, and those alienated from society. Madame Gamelin, a historic figure of the 19th century Montreal, spent her time and energy organizing works of charity in the growing metropolis. Sometime later, she made the decision to become a servant of the poor and dedicated herself to God by private vows on February 2, 1842.

Foundation of the Congregation

Msgr Ignace Bourget, Bishop of Montreal, wished that the Sisters of Charity from France would come to continue the work of Madame Gamelin.  Following their refusal, Bishop Bourget and Emilie Tavernier Gamelin founded a community of Canadian sisters in 1843, and Emilie joined the group of novices in the autumn.  She was the first to make profession in the Congregation, then known as Daughters of Charity, Servants of the Poor, and affectionately called Sisters of Providence by the people. The following day, at the age of 44, Emilie became the first Superior of the Congregation. As a woman religious, she continued her mission to the poor up to the time of her death, which took place seven years later on September 23, 1851.

Her last words to her Sisters were: “Humility, simplicity, chari…” (ty). The poor, the vulnerable and the downtrodden, to whom she dedicated her life, are at the very heart of the apostolic Mission that the Sisters of Providence have inherited from her.

Street people affectionately named her Mother Gamelin, Providence of the Poor or Angel of the Prisoners; she truly belonged to them. She was the first woman of Montreal origin ever to be raised by the Church to the rank of Blessed, which occurred on October 7, 2001. The Office of the Cause is in charge of the process leading to her canonization.