Sister Gertrude Charlebois
“I will satisfy her with long life to enjoy the fullness of my salvation.” Ps. 91:16)
On March 8, 2021, Sister Gertrude Charlebois,
in religion M.-Marguerite-de-l’Enfant-Jésus,
went home to God
She was103 years old, with 82 years of religious profession.
Born in Vaudreuil-Dorion, Québec, she was the older of the two children
born to Édouard Charlebois and Marguerite Laurin.
Gertrude was only 18 months old when her mother died, at the age of 21. Her father remarried and eventually 12 more children were added to the family, including six who died very young. At the age of five, Gertrude was placed in the Grey Nuns’ orphanage (St. Benoit Boarding School), and remained there until the age of 11. She then became a boarder with the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary in Valleyfield. She appreciated the education she received there and was very fond of her teachers, especially Sister Marie-Salvator. At home, Gertrude did not feel loved by her step-mother, something that left its mark on her throughout her life. Her memories were of parents who were deeply pious, strict, and respectful of priests and nuns.
When she was 19, Gertrude entered the SNJM novitiate and, at her ceremony of reception of the holy habit, she received the name of her mother, Marguerite, to which was added “of the Child Jesus.” The young religious loved learning and enthusiastically pursued her university education, wanting to improve her skills but also to compensate for the psychological and affective wounds resulting from the loss of her mother,
Successive nominations missioned her to 26 convents of the congregation throughout Quebec, where she taught various levels from grade 1 in elementary school up to grade 11 in high school. With the younger children she was responsible for singing and the Eucharistic Crusade. With the older students she specialized in teaching Religion and French. Gertrude wanted to educate young women so that they would be a good influence on society. She gave special attention to the disadvantaged – “something I inherited from my good father who was dedicated to this class of society,” she confided.
During all those years, Sister Gertrude revealed her many interests. She delighted in taking various trips within Quebec, but also to Europe and the Canadian West. Her favourite prayers were found in the Liturgy of the Hours. She loved to read; biographies, history, and spirituality enriched her mission as an educator. As well, she enjoyed handicrafts and had a gift for writing.
After 33 years of ministry in schools, Sister Gertrude served, for four years, as a catechist for adults and as a pastoral minister to the elderly. “My desire was that the elderly of South-Central Montreal, where I worked, would welcome eternal life with ever greater peace and confidence.” While living at Sainte-Émélie (for 34 years) and assuming her part in community services, Sr. Gertrude volunteered at Saint-Vincent-de-Paul Parish and at l’Escale Notre-Dame. Every morning she guaranteed a presence to men in the process of reinsertion into society. These men lived in the Saint-Clément presbytery. Gertrude loved them and they loved her, so much so that they told her superior, “Don’t take that woman away from us; don’t change her for anyone else.” Sister Gertrude had a direct way of speaking to the men. She was also a good seamstress and mended their clothes. Writing of her time spent in this ministry she noted, “The poor are evangelized. That is my apostolic goal. With Jean XXIII, I am contributing to the process of rejuvenating our Holy Mother Church.”
At 93 years of age, Sr. Gertrude was welcomed into the infirmary at Maison Jésus-Marie. Assuming the ministry of prayer, she was grateful for the gift of her vocation, lived out for so long. God would give her 10 more years to be transformed by love and then call her to Himself at the age of 103.