MEXICO — Retired nun Sister Bernadette Gautreau had a deep faith and close relationship to Jesus throughout her life, she said.
But following her graduation from Mexico High School in 1952, there was a time when she struggled with a decision about which path she should take in her life. Gautreau had landed a good-paying job at the Oxford paper mill and with the money she made she was able to buy a car and enjoy her independent life.
“The whole time that I (worked there) I was searching for what was I going to do for the rest of my life, (and) the Lord was (calling) me,” Gautreau said, describing the feeling that God was asking her to choose the life of a nun.
Gautreau knew some of the nuns who lived in the local convents and she didn’t think that their restricted lifestyle would suit her. “I didn’t feel like that was my kind of life; I like hunting and fishing and being out in nature,” she said.
A few years later, she helped the local nuns by chauffeuring them on their errands.
“One day when I was (driving for them), a couple of them said to me, ‘Oh, you’d be interested in this, we just opened a mission in Fox Lake Alberta (Canada) with the Native Americans, the Cree, and we could (imagine) you there.’”
During a later visit with the nuns to find out more about the sisters living at the mission in Fox Lake, she was more intrigued. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, that looks really interesting,’ but I was still ‘fighting’ with the Lord at that time because I didn’t really want to give up my independence,” she said.
Finally, after four years of working at the mill, she decided that she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life working there. She could feel her friend Jesus “tugging at her heartstrings” and telling her that she was wasting her life, she said.
She left for Quebec in September 1958 to begin her training with the Order of the Sisters of Sainte Chretienne. Upon entering, she told her superiors about her desire to work among the Cree of Fox Lake, and she was told the sisters were not sent on missions until they made their final vows in five years.
But within two years of her religious education, the sisters who lived in Fox Lake informed their mother superior that teachers were badly needed at the reservation school for the Cree children. Gautreau was asked by the provincial superior if she wanted to go.
“I never had any regrets,” Gautreau said. “If I had my life to live over again I’d do exactly the same thing. My life among the Native American people, the Cree, was to me a treasure that the Lord gave me. It started out as an adventure and it ended up as a ‘love affair’ with the people.”
Retired nun Sister Bernadette Gautreau spent 50 years teaching and ministering to the Native American Little Red River Cree people on two reservations in Northwest Canada. “My life among the Native American people, the Cree, was to me a treasure that the Lord gave me.” (Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times)