The Ursuline Nuns Sacrifice Themselves to Succor the Plague-Stricken Quebec Indians

September 22, 2022

Photograph of the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec.

The nuns of the Hôtel-Dieu soon after took up their abode at Sillery, whence they removed to a house built for them at Quebec by their foundress, the Duchesse d’Aiguillon. The Ursulines, in the absence of better quarters, were lodged at first in a small wooden tenement under the rock of Quebec, at the brink of the river. Here they were soon beset with such a host of children that the floor of their wretched tenement was covered with beds, and their toil had no respite. Then came the smallpox, carrying death and terror among the neighboring Indians.

Portrait of the Duchesse d’Aiguillon, Marie Madeleine de Vignerot Philippe de Champaigne.

These thronged to Quebec in misery and desperation, begging succor from the French. The labors both of the Ursulines and of the hospital nuns were prodigious. In the infected air of their miserable hovels, where sick and dying savages covered the floor, and were packed one above another in berths—amid all that is most distressing and revolting, with little food and less sleep, these women passed the rough beginning of their new life. Several of them fell ill. But the excess of the evil at length brought relief; for so many of the Indians died in these pest-houses that the survivors shunned them in horror.

Francis Parkman, The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1897, 1:276–77.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 847

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