Much of the beginnings and continuity of the Sisters of Providence of Montreal can be attributed to Our Mother of Sorrows whose feast we celebrate this September 15th. When our foundress, Blessed Emilie Tavernier Gamelin, lost all three of her young sons, one after another, and her husband Jean Baptiste Gamelin, she found refuge and consolation in the mother of Jesus at the foot of the Cross. Widowed at the age of 27, Mother Gamelin’s last straw of happiness disappeared when her last surviving son died. She found herself alone at the age of 28.
Mourning the loss of her loved ones, she received from Father Breguier St-Pierre, curate at Notre Dame Church, an image of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows (also known as Our Mother of Sorrows). From then on, Mother Gamelin began a deep devotion to Mary. Mother Gamelin understood the pain of Mary as a mother who lost her Son. They shared the same pain and in many ways Mother Gamelin drew strength from the strength of Mary as she stood courageously at the foot of the Cross. Our Mother of Sorrows wasn't just a spiritual figure represented in an image that Mother Gamelin received from her spiritual director. She was as real as Mother Gamelin’s companion and protectress. So much so that when the Congregation was established, Mother Gamelin asked that her daughters cultivate and observe devotion to Our Mother of Sorrows by invoking her help when they go to their ministries and especially in fostering their spiritual growth. During the time of typhus fever and cholera epidemic in Montreal around the 1840s, the Sisters sought the help and protection of our Blessed Mother fir the Sisters and for the people they ministered to.
During a retreat this past July with Fr. Ron Rolheiser, he beautifully made connection between how Mary “pondered” when the angel appeared to her and announced her conception of Jesus and when she was standing at the foot of the Cross. Two important accounts in the Bible on the life of Mother Mary. Fr. Rolheiser said that in Hebrew, pondering means “to hold, carry, and transform tension so as not to give it back in kind.” Mary’s pondering was absorbing what was happening at the time and transcending that experience within so that it is given back positively to others around her. Hence, it is important to note that Our Mother of Sorrows was “standing” at the foot of the Cross (Stabat Mater) despite her heart being pierced with a sword. Her Son was tortured and killed on the Cross but instead of her harboring hatred and negatively reacting to everyone and everything that was happening around her at the time, she understood that God was in charge and she stood resolutely there, taking it all in and calmly accepting that Jesus’ suffering is part of an overarching plan of salvation for all mankind. This experience of Mary resonated with Mother Gamelin. Upon contemplating Our Blessed Mother’s sorrows, she found the strength and faith she needed to transform her mourning into charitable acts and eventually into a Congregation that would perpetuate the mission and devotion of our Mother of Sorrows. Today, may we learn to ponder as Mary did so that we can also experience its transforming power from sorrows to new life.
Written by Rezebeth Noceja, SP
With inspiration from Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI