Sister Rita St-Onge
“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” (Ps. 22, 1)
February 22, 2018, Sister Rita St-Onge,
in religion Marie-Louis-Émile,
went home to God.
She was 98 years old and had been professed for 77 years.
Born in Ville des Laurentides (St-Lin), Quebec, she was the 4th of 5 children
of Louis St-Onge and Marie-Louise Pichette.
Sister Rita’s parents were deeply Christian and, in the eyes of their daughter, they were saints. They lost three of their children at a very young age. Since her mother’s health was very frail, Rita, from the time she was 3½-4 years old, was placed in the orphanage at the Sisters of Providence, where her father worked. It was there that she began her schooling, and later continued it with the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary at the boarding school in St-Lin, until she was 18 years old.
Every night, Rita went home for supper, allowing her to develop a good relationship with her older brother, Paul-Émile, who introduced her to tennis, checkers, chess and even “baseball”. Before returning to the convent for bedtime, Rita recited evening prayer and the rosary with her family.
When she was 18, Rita entered the SNJM Novitiate. “There was such a great desire within me that I wanted to make an effort. Nothing could stop me from moving forward, as I had decided to dedicate myself wholeheartedly. It was said that I was tenacious and resourceful and I believed it.”
Throughout her life as a teacher, spanning nearly 30 years, Sister Louis-Émile devoted herself to boys and girls at the Grade One level. Occasionally she taught in the second and third grades. She was also re-sponsible for the choir and the sacristy. And her greatest joy was “to prepare the little ones for the sacraments of Penance, Eucharist and Confirmation”.
Outside of school, Sister Louis-Émile responded to the needs of her Sister companions: repairing small objects, sewing, ironing, taking care of the heating, accompanying the staff members and learning from them. St-Josaphat, Boucher-de-la-Bruere, St-Jean-de-Matha, L’Épiphanie, Charlemagne, Valois, and Howick were all places that benefitted from her work. “Wherever I went, I worked a lot outside the classroom, especially at Charlemagne, where I lived for 11 years. I gave of myself in service to the Lord, without counting the cost.” This was the leitmotif that motivated Sister Rita.
In 1967, Sister Rita arrived at the Motherhouse where she devoted thirty-eight years as a driver and was responsible for coordination of drivers and destinations (appointments etc. for the Sisters). Availability, competency and meticulousness characterized her. In her free time, she loved to knit for the children and for the poor. The image of the sheep being carried by the Good Shepherd nurtured her relationship with God, whose tenderness she savored. When the Motherhouse closed, Sister Rita enriched the staff at Résidence Marie-Rose-Durocher: she fitted easily into the community group, discreetly witnessing to the authenticity of her gift to the Lord: knitting, reading, prayer time, card games and distributing the mail … At the age of 94, and still with a very clear mind, she was welcomed into the infirmary in Longueuil.
“It takes the practice of abandonment to be able, at the last moment, to peacefully surrender your spirit into the Father’s hands. Abandonment is not to be taken lightly: it crowns a life of self-giving. It is through repeated acts of trust that this steadfast virtue, which enables our lives to flow into God’s, takes root within our hearts.” Sister Rita went home to God at the age of 98.