Mother Marie Anne (Esther) Blondin was born in Terrebonne, Quebec, Canada, on April 18, 1809, to a poor family of deeply Christian farmers. Still illiterate at the age of 22, Esther worked as a domestic in the Convent of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame that had recently been opened in her village. A year later, she registered as a boarder in order to learn to read and write. She then became a novice in the Congregation, but had to leave due to ill health. In 1833, Esther became a teacher in the parochial school of Vaudreuil.
Little by little, she discovered that one of the causes of illiteracy was due to a certain Church ruling that forbade girls to be taught by men, and that boys were not to be taught by women. Unable to finance two schools, many parish priests chose to have none. In 1848, under an irresistible call of the Spirit, Esther presented to the Bishop of Montreal, Ignace Bourget (1799-1885), a plan to found a religious congregation “for the education of poor country children, both girls and boys in the same schools”. A rather new project for the time!
The “Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Anne” was founded in Vaudreuil on September 8, 1850. Esther, now named “Mother Marie Anne”, became its first superior. The rapid growth of this young Community soon required larger quarters. In 1854, due to differences between her and some unjust ecclesiastical authorities, Bishop Bourget asked her “to resign”. The reason for this was the new chaplain, Father Louis Adolphe Marechal (1824-1892), later on vicar General of Montreal. He had interfered in an abusive way in many private matters of the sister´s community life. Mother Marie Anne obeyed her Bishop and resigned. She wrote: “As for me, my Lord, I bless Divine Providence a thousand times for the maternal care she shows me in making me walk the way of tribulations and crosses”. Between 1854 and 1858, Mother Marie Anne served as Directress at Saint Genevieve Convent. Even there she became the target of attacks from the Motherhouse authorities, influenced by Father Marechal. Accused of mismanagement, she was recalled to the Motherhouse in 1858, and was prohibited, for her remaining 32 years, from exercising any administrative position. The sisters were ordered not to refer to her as “Mother”. Elected several times as superior of the Congregation, she was forbidden to accept, and never tried. Her humility and resignation paid off, as the Congregation continued to grow, and universal education became the norm.
From 1858 until her death in 1890, Mother Marie Anne was kept away from administrative responsibilities. Assigned to mostly hidden work in the laundry and ironing room, she led a life of total self-denial. In the Motherhouse basement laundry room in Lachine, the foundress, without legal authority, gave generations of novices a true example of obedience and humility, imbued with authentic relationships which ensure true fraternal charity. To a novice who asked her one day why she, the Foundress, was kept aside in such lowly work, she simply replied with kindness: “The deeper a tree sinks its roots into the soil, the greater are its chances of growing and producing fruit”. She was forced to renounce juridical authority, but she did not renounce her mission as spiritual mother of her community.
As she felt the end approaching, Mother Marie Anne left to her daughters her spiritual testament in these words which are a summary of her whole life: “May the Holy Eucharist and perfect abandonment to God’s will be your heaven on earth”. She passed away at the Motherhouse in Lachine, on January 2, 1890.