Born in Jail
It was a cold fall day. The year was 1849. A distinguished-looking gentleman walked into the women's quarters of the Quebec City jail. Shame. Debauchery. Despair.
Mistrusting eyes stared curiously from haggard faces. There was a hush. The distinguished-looking gentleman slowed his pace. He had seen her before—the one with a scar on her right cheek. "Didn’t you promise not to return here?" "I did," bounced the reply, all the while avoiding the piercing questioning look. "And..." volleyed the active member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. "I can't help it. No one gives a damn about us. Anyway, who wants to hire an ex-jail bird. Ha!" The harsh laugh was wrenched out, then more somberly. "Even if we could change, who’d take us in?" The challenge dropped with a thud—like heavy lead. Dead silence! The renowned lawyer paused a little longer. There was an embarrassed shuffling of feet in the group. He was absorbing each weary-worn face. He then passed on.
"Who'd take us in?"
George Manly Muir tossed and turned. It was 2 a.m.—a sleepless night. Who'd take us in? The haunting words, the haunting faces whirled. In the dead of night they had a nightmarish quality. Couldn’t something be done? If they had a home to go to—someone there who cared. Perhaps the St. Vincent de Paul Society could help. That's it! The Society!
An idea was born.
Now, it had to be tested and to be accepted.
"No!" snorted the self-righteous: The scum of society! Let them expiate their sin." "They’re hopeless anyway." "Witches! Wenches! Whores! What a preposterous idea!" "It wouldn’t work," rejoined the St. Vincent de Paul Society members to the arguments of George Manly Muir, its president. As a last plea, however, he begged them to at least think it over.
A lawyer is a lawyer. He knew how to handle his case. The reaction was understandable! Days passed. And all the while the idea was growing—breaking through ivory-tower notions; cutting through sophisticated prejudices; blasting better-than-thou attitudes. It was working powerfully.
"All right. We'll give it a try!"
These were the words George Manly Muir, a lawyer by profession and Clerk of the House at the Quebec Legislative Assembly, had hoped to hear at the next St. Vincent de Paul Society meeting. He did!
A Daring Plan!"
Mr. Muir encounters more resistance from Msgr. Charles Francois Baillargeon, pastor of the Quebec Cathedral.
Still another problem remained! Who would take charge of this house of refuge? Where find the woman strong of character and generous of heart who would undertake such a difficult mission? Bishop Pierre Flavien Turgeon, Archbishop of Quebec, found a happy solution. He knew of a pious widow who may perhaps accept.
Marie Fitzbach Roy
A compassionate, kind, humble, and pious widow, Marie Fitzbach Roy, was called upon to be the director of the refuge for “fallen women”.
At the foot of the cross, Marie Fitzbach says her "fiat". That "yes" to the Lord on December 31, 1849 would kindle a succession of other willing consents to the call of the Good Shepherd.
A house was rented on Richelieu Street. Nothing fancy, mind you. But it would do. The Society gambled $2.50 a week and 16 cords of kindling wood for 6 months. It was the beginning of the "Refuge of St. Magdalen." That seemed like an appropriate name for the cradle of the Good Shepherd!
The idea born in jail grew.
And it came through in a big way. From it developed a religious order—Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary—Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec.
January 11, 1850
Marie Fitzbach Roy and Mary Keough, her companion, brave the hissing winds and the blinding snowstorm as they plod their way to the Refuge.
January 12, 1850
The first resounding KNOCK is heard. Two teenage girls appear at the door. One seeks refuge for the other, her wayward sister. A note, thrust in Mrs. Roy’s hand, reads: "The Divine Shepherd sends you His first sheep." Signed—Fr. Louis Sache, S.J.
January 13, and so forth
Insistent knocks—pleading, grating knocks—ALL RESOUNDING! They are a summons to kindness, to tenderness, to compassion. The MISSION of MERCY grows.
February 2, 1856
Mrs. Roy pronounces her first VOWS and becomes Mother Mary of the Sacred Heart, the first superior of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary—Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec.
She loved the poor and helped them in their distress.
From her, the little ones received knowledge of the ways of God.
She traced a ray of light for lost souls and applied a saving balm to their wounds.
She paved the way for so many others to say "Yes" to the Good Shepherd!