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Gender and mission : the founding generations of the Sisters of Saint Ann and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in British Columbia, 1858-1914 Gresko, Jacqueline

Abstract

Most scholars who have researched on missionaries in British Columbia have not taken gender into account. This dissertation narrates and analyzes the biographies of the two founding generations of the Sisters of Saint Ann and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. It compares their origins in Quebec and Europe, their life histories, their experiences teaching school, and their formation of the next generation of their religious communities in British Columbia. The role of gender in shaping these individuals' lives and identities can be seen in each aspect of the comparison. Both the Oblates and the Sisters experienced the asymmetry of the female and male organizations within the larger church. Over time two Roman Catholic missionary systems evolved in British Columbia: the Sisters' system of educative and caring institutions for the peoples of the province and the Oblates modified reduction system for Aboriginal peoples, known in academic literature as the Durieu system. School teaching, particularly work in residential schools for Aboriginal children, linked the two systems. The French Oblate leaders aimed to masculinize the missions and feminize school teaching. The Canadian Sisters of Saint Ann, however, set most of the educational policies within both their own institutions and those they ran at Oblate Aboriginal missions. Case studies of Oblate brothers and Sisters of Saint Ann work as teachers in 1881 show that the nuns, as members of a separate religious congregation, could negotiate with the patriarchs of the Roman Catholic church, whereas the Oblate brothers could not. Such factors affected generational continuity. The Canadian sisterhood reproduced itself in the region as a local family 'dynasty,' whereas the French Oblate order did not. Taking gender into account in a study of pioneer missionaries in British Columbia does not simply reverse the standard history where the Oblates, as men, appear central, and the Sisters of Saint Ann, as women, appear on the margins. Rather the evidence of gender widens the range of discussion and increases awareness of the complexity of the province's social and educational history.

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