The Tree Planted in 1732 still Grows

Society of Jesus (Jesuits)

The beginnings of Christianity in the Rainy River district goes back to the year 1732 when the first Catholic priests appeared in the region. These first priests were members of the Society of Jesus established by Saint Ignatius Loyola in France in 1540. Jesuits first arrived in New France (now Quebec) in 1611. Jesuit missionaries accompanied French explorers and traders on their many journeys west and established small mission outposts along the way, including in our own district. These pioneer missionaries were replaced by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate who established a permanent mission in Fort Frances.

Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate

This Congregation of priests and brothers dedicated to spreading the Gospel in mission areas was founded in 1816 in France by Saint Eugene de Mazenod. They first arrived in Canada in 1841 and seven years later were asked to establish a permanent mission on the shores of Rainy Lake. The Oblates Fathers provided continuous spiritual care as parish priests for 154 years before leaving Fort Frances and Couchiching First Nation in 2002.

Sisters of Charity of Montréal (Grey Nuns)

The Sisters of Charity of Montréal or the “Grey Nuns” as they are more commonly known, were founded in New France (now Montréal) in 1737 by Saint Marguerite d’Youville out of a desire to serve the poor with love, respect and compassion. The original mandate of the Sisters were to establish and staff hospitals.

In 1905 Archbishop Langevin invited a group of Grey Nuns from Montréal to operate a school for Native children on Couchiching First Nation. This school became known as the St. Marguerite Residential School which was formally closed in 1974.

Grey Nuns from St. Boniface arrived in Fort Frances in 1941. The Sisters built and operated La Verendrye Hospital. The total cost of this project was $120,000. While the Sisters entered into partnerships with the Province and the Town of Fort Frances, the majority of the cost was covered by the Sisters themselves. In 1955, the Sisters began offering a nursing assistant course. The Grey Nuns left Fort Frances in 2000 returning to Manitoba.

Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions

Officially known as Religieuses de Notre-Dame des Missions, the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions were founded in Lyons, France, in 1861 by Euphrasie Barbier. From France, women who joined Barbier went as missionaries all over the world including Canada in 1898.

In 1914, the Sisters opened a convent in Fort Frances. The founding members of the convent were M. St Ildegerge Barry, M. St Reine Pagé and M. St Marcel Loiselle. Their primary work was education, and within weeks of their arrival, the Sisters opened St. Mary’s School. The Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions left Fort Frances in 1999.