Sister Thérèse Bélisle
“Do not be afraid, I am with you.” (Is 41:10)
On March 12, 2023, Sister Thérèse Belisle,
in religion Marie-Madeleine,
went home to God.
She was 99 years old, with 76 years of religious profession.
Born in Montreal, Quebec, she was the 11th of the 12 children
born to Adonias Bélisle and Alexina Lauzon.
March 12, 2023, the day of her death, marked the centenary of the opening of the first register of the new parish of Sainte-Marguerite-Marie-Alacoque, where she was baptized on March 12, 1923. This offshoot of Sacred Heart Parish was situated in the South-Central district of Montreal, near the Jacques-Cartier Bridge.
Therese’s father was an accomplished handyman and worked as head mechanic for the Murray Hill Taxi Company. At home he radiated a happy disposition and was interested in everything. He read the Bible daily and enjoyed doing crossword puzzles and fashioning furniture for the house and toys for the children. Her mother, gentle yet firm, was a woman of few words and very attentive to detail. She encouraged the children to take on responsibilities. She almost died at Thérèse’s birth. So, Gracia, one of the older girls, assumed responsibility for Thérèse and took care of her until she herself entered the convent when Thérèse was six years old. This was a great loss for the young Thérèse yet, at the same time, it was a first call to religious life.
The Bélisle family prayed at length every evening. After grade 10 at Madeleine-de-Verchères, School, Thérèse, then 17, talked about entering a religious community but her parents refused, saying “Wait until you are 21.” They decided to send her, as a boarder, to Jacques-Cartier Teachers’ College directed by the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame. Thérèse was very lonesome there. After receiving her teacher’s diploma, she helped her mother at home for a year. Then, one month before her 21st birthday, she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, following in the footsteps of her older sister, Sister Pierre-Amédée.
As a postulant, Thérèse was sent on mission to East Angus, to teach a grade 6 class. At the ceremony of reception of the Holy Habit, she received the name Sister Marie-Madeleine. During her 24 years of teaching grades 4 to10, Sister Marie-Madeleine ministered in 12 different schools. She loved teaching, noting that she was strict but fair. Being ambitious, she wanted even her weakest students to succeed. After four years of serving in many capacities in the SNJM community at Saint-Sauveur-des-Monts, Sister Thérèse was asked to work as assistant bursar in the finance office at the Motherhouse, where she devoted herself to a work she loved for twenty-five years. When the Motherhouse closed, Thérèse lived at Salaberry Residence for two years before being missioned to Maison Jésus-Marie as a librarian.
Throughout her life, Sister Thérèse maintained close ties with her family and was profoundly marked by their illnesses. The loss of her loved ones led her to focus on the idea that “our time on earth is merely a passing phase” and she looked forward to the time of her own death. Her long stay at the infirmary accentuated her deep longing for eternal life. At the age of 99, she was ready to go home to the heavenly dwelling that the Father had prepared for her.