Fittingly compared to the rose ruthlessly clipped on life’s summer morn was the primal bloom of Sr. M. Rita’s life in God’s garden – the religious state. For scarcely had this amiable young novice pledged her sacred vows to her Heavenly Bridegroom to labor among Christ’s suffering and distressed members, when, alas! To the intense lament of the Community, the voice of the Divine Reaper summoned her innocent soul and suddenly transplanted her from the miseries of earth to the glories of heaven.
The Catholic home of Simeon Cournoyier and Mary Goulah, Tweed, Ontario, was specially blessed on June 2, 1884 by the birth of a daughter who a few days later received in baptism the name of Catherine. This child of predilection early learned to hold the world and its pleasures in the utmost dread and harbored a desire to consecrate herself to God. When her family happened to be afflicted with sickness or other trial, she would promise to enter religion if Almighty God would remove the cross.
The visits of our Sisters at her home during their annual quests for the poor attracted Catherine to follow the vocation of a Sister of Charity. Her confessor taught her to pray for direction on the important matter of a choice of life and Divine Light illuminated the young petitioner. Assured of the destiny of the chosen soul, her confessor persuaded her to enter the Providence Novitiate. Deeming herself unworthy to be admitted into the Community she applied for entrance in the most humble manner and June 18, 1903 found her clothed in the Postulant’s dress. All her fear of the monastic life vanished; the house of God became to her a paradise.
Amiability, intelligence, and above all, piety and simplicity formed the dower of the generous Novice. Her gentleness in word and demeanor endeared her to her religious companions and she edified all who lived and worked with her. She gave entire satisfaction to her Superiors and officers under whom she was employed whether in the wards attending to the infirm and suffering, at the dispensary, Chapel or sewing department. Her Novitiate was one persevering endeavor to qualify herself for the duties of her vocation and by fidelity and docility she merited admission to holy profession on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross 1905, assuming the appropriate name of Sister M. Rita. With great soul she gave herself to God and worked for His glory. Not infrequently the agitated spirit or depressed heart of a junior Novice was suddenly restored to peace and raised to loftier pursuits by the impressive suggestion: “All for the glory of God, dear Sister,” and the same consoling balsam would be quickly applied to her own crushed spirit when humiliated. Her conscience was so sensitive that had Sister M. Rita not been extremely obedient, she might have been scrupulous.
Her first call of charity beyond the convent was to nurse a fever patient in Madoc and in company with Sr. M. Basil she left home the day after Christmas, 1905 and it was in the noble exercise of this mission of mercy that our gentle, lovable Rita contracted the disease, typhoid-pneumonia which terminated so promising a young life.
Acting on the advice of an experienced physician “Charity’s Little Victim” was taken to Kingston on Saturday, March 3rd and in the infirmary at the Mother House she received every attention her serious condition demanded. She was so pious, kind and thoughtful of others that she seemed to think little of self and wished to make no account of her illness, however, alarming symptoms urged a consultation of doctors who without hesitation pronounced recovery impossible. The last Sacraments were administered, prayerful and conscious the gentle child lingered on. Gladly would she have tarried in the holy state where she found solid peace and where her vocation admirably fitted her for its sacred duties, still she did not fear death and repeated most fervently acts of resignation to God’s will. Every imaginary consolation in the form of spiritual help was bestowed on the little sufferer, yet the Community bitterly regretted the absence of her aged father and other members of her affectionate family from her dying bedside, but no painful lament escaped the lips of Sister M. Rita, she left kind, childlike messages with her Novice Mistress and Sisters for her loved family and bade a fond farewell to all that was earthly, through the Sacred Heart of her Divine Spouse, and calmly maintained her union with God to the end. At 9:00 o’clock on Sunday evening the chaplain brought her Holy Communion, fervently joining in the thanksgiving acts recited for her benefit, renewing her holy vows and the oblation she made of her entire self less than three years ago, the humble spirit of our angelic Novice who valiantly sacrificed life in “Charity’s cause” burst its chains and sped to God, the Divine Lord and Master of her soul, whom she served with loving fidelity from childhood. A heart so youthful and generous was stilled forever!