Émilie Tavernier was born on February 19, 1800 in Montreal. Having lost her father and mother at age 4, she was adopted by her aunt, Mrs. Perreault, and her uncle. She spent all her childhood and teenage years on Saint-Vincent Street in Montreal.
When she was 23, Émilie married Jean-Baptiste Gamelin, a 50-year-old middle-class pensioner. Her two children died in infancy, and she lost her husband in 1827. Her third child, born after her husband’s death, died the following year. He was survived by a mentally handicapped person and his mother, whom the couple had sheltered. Plunged into mourning, she found consolation in charity works.
Beginning of a great work
The young widow sold part of her estate to provide for the needs of the poor through almsgiving and works of charity. She opened a first shelter on Saint-Laurent Street, where she welcomed around 15 people over age 60. In 1831, she established a second one on Saint-Philippe Street. Then she created a society of nine ladies auxiliary, later known as the Ladies of Charity.
The cholera outbreak of 1832-1834 brought them many invalid women. The work expanded during the rebellion of 1837. Émilie hastened to visit the numerous political prisoners to console them. On September 18, 1841, the legislature granted civil incorporation to the institute under the name “Corporation de l’Asile des femmes âgées et infirmes de Montréal” (Corporation of the shelter for elderly and invalid women of Montreal).
The Sisters of Providence
Just at that time, seven young women asked to be consecrated to the service of the poor and the invalid. The investiture took place on March 25, 1843. When a novice left four months later, Émilie took her place. Bishop Bourget asked her, before admitting her, to visit the convents of Saint Vincent de Paul in the United States to obtain their constitutions and to observe this community’s way of life.
She then made her profession on March 29, 1844. The document canonically erecting the institution of the Sisters of Charity of Providence was read on that occasion. The next day, Sister Gamelin was elected Superior.
The charitable work of the young community expanded quickly through Montreal, as the needs were pressing. Mother Gamelin opened hospices, houses for the mentally ill, the deaf and mute, the orphans, elderly priests, the infirm, and even schools. The nuns also visited poor and sick people at home, and even prisoners.
Also, Irish immigration (1847-1848) brought to Montreal some 6,000 people, many of whom died of typhus. In 1849, cholera raged in the city, and, with the approval of Mayor Raymond Fabre, the Superior opened the Hôpital Saint-Camille for a few months.
Mother Gamelin died in the Asile de la Providence, a victim of cholera, aged 51, on September 23, 1851.
Since May 2000, her statue has stood at the Berri-UQAM metro station, on the square that bears her name, as a tribute to her great work of charity in Montreal.
Émilie Gamelin was beatified on October 7, 2001.