Le 18 Janvier M. De Vaudreuil nous a donné une petite Angloise nommée Esther pour être a Nre pensionnaire elle payera sa pension sur a pied de 40 Ecus.
Translation: “January 18th M. de Vaudreuil brought us a young English girl named Esther. She paid 40 ecus for her board.”
Today is the 300th anniversary of Esther Wheelwright’s matriculation at the Ursuline school for girls in Quebec. She was twelve years old. She had been taken from her natal family more than five years earlier at the age of 7 in an Abenaki raid on Wells, Maine in August of 1703. Her admission to the school signified the loss of her Abenaki family and kin, who had adopted her, as well as her lifelong alienation from the Protestantism she was born into. “M. Vaudreuil” refers to Madame Vaudreuil (despite the masculine-appearing title abbreviation “M.”), the wife of the Governor of New France, who enrolled her own daughter at the school later that year as well as paid the expenses for other girls who appear to have been English captives. In the decades surrounding the turn of the century, the school served Indian, English-born, and French students alike. Although the Marquise de Vaudreuil was an enthusiastic patron, other Quebecois in the local community also paid the fees on behalf of several English captive girls.
The Ursulines were a counter-reformation women’s order who are comparable to the Jesuits both in their zeal for founding New World missions and their dedication to educating young people for the preservation and spread of Roman Catholicism. The school in Quebec taught reading, writing, and arithmetic, but the core of the experience was religious education. The first day of school is a significant and usually memorable day in the lives of all children, but Esther could not have known in 1709 the role this school would play in her life. Esther must have excelled as a student in spite of the fact that French was her third language, because she declared her intention to become a religieuse as a young teenager. Except for a short time at the Ursuline convent school in Trois Rivieres, she remained at the convent for the rest of her life as a teacher in the first school she ever attended.
We can’t know what her feelings were on the first day of classes three hundred years ago, but I am certain that in retrospect, the adult Esther looked upon her entrance in the convent school as providential, perhaps moreso than the day she was taken captive, or the day she arrived at the Abenaki village. Although both of those days were steps along the path toward fulfilling God’s plan for her, Esther’s first day of school was the beginning of her life as an Ursuline nun, so she may have seen it as the first day in which she understood her calling as an Ursuline and as an educator.
How many of you felt so at home on your first day of school that you ended up wanting to return to the classroom again and again as a teacher?