Mother Marie-Rose Durocher: Sent to Cast Servant-Leadership Fire

Mother Marie-Rose Durocher(1811-1849)was a servant-leader who demonstrated a natural desire to serve which ultimately manifested itself in her commitment to education for young women. Best known as the first Canadian foundress of a teaching order in Canada, the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, Mother Marie-Rose surmounted many obstacles to realize the refuge to which she was called by God.  The impetus for studying her life is rooted in my own history as a student, teacher, and administrator in schools founded and originally run by Holy Names’ sisters. My recent journey to become an Associate of the Congregation has also sparked my interest in the charism of Mother Marie-Rose. Understanding her original mission provides a strong foundation for carrying the torch of what she began over 166 years ago. Her interior moral code, willingness to both be led and to lead, and spirit under fire is a source of inspiration in understanding servant-leadership. 

HISTORICAL CONTEXT 

The story of Mother Marie­ Rose is set in rural Quebec in the early to mid 1800s during a historically and politically contentious time. TheDurham Report recommended the assimilation of French Catholics both religiously and linguistically (Pelletir-Baillargeon, 1982), and the Charter of Education in Quebec created outrage against school taxes. French Canadian families did not want to send their children to school for fear of Anglicization, and parents reacted violently to the changes by withdrawing their children from school and going so far as to burn down numerous schools. By 1837, only three rural schools remained open in Lower Canada, a decrease of 96% over the previous seven years (Laberge, 1979); it is also estimated that 90% of the rural population in 1843 was illiterate (Pelletir-Baillargeon, 1982). This lack of education created intemperance, disorder, poverty, and low standards of morality (Duval, 1985). Only families with financial means could afford to educate their children by sending them to boarding schools in urban areas. Otherwise, education was left to the discretion of the family. 

My archival review of numerous biographical accounts, interviews, and excerpts from the letters of Mother Marie-Rose and a stay in the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary Congregational House in Quebec provided opportunities to experience primary sources and historically significant locations. This created a rich research experience from which to analyze, through the servant-leadership lens, the development of a remarkable young woman into a community leader within the context of the development of Catholic education in Canada. Marie Rose edified those around her less by teaching than by the most humble services which she delighted in rendering. 

SERVANT-LEADERSHIP   The concept of servant­ leadership was created by Robert Greenleaf, an AT&T employee who began his career in management research, development, and education. He generated a second career as a leadership consultant out of his quest to find a way to affirmatively build a more caring society (Spears, 1998). That journey led him to write his first ground-breaking essay, The Servant as Leader, in which he outlined a paradigm shift from a hierarchical style of leadership to one which emphasizes relationships and community building to influence change by transforming followers into leaders. The core values of servant-leadership are rooted in an unwavering belief in people and are defined by processes and relationships. Greenleaf ( 1970) defines servant-leadership as follows:

The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions … The leader­ first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature (p. 15). 

Mother Marie-Rose’s practice was strongly aligned with the attributes of a servant-leader which are derived from Greenleafs depiction of servant­ leadership: awareness, listening, empathy, conceptualization, stewardship, persuasion, commitment to growth, community building, healing, and foresight (Spears, 1998). The study of her demeanor, life circumstances, and tenacity reveals a progression in the development of these servant­ leadership attributes which led her to envision, lead, and sustain a community of service in education. Table 1 outlines the skills, values, and purposes indicated in Mother Marie-Rose’s thirty-eight year life journey that led her to consciously and humbly serve first and, in so doing, become recognized as a leader. The proposed stages progress in an ascending order and include more complex integration of the attributes from the previous stages. This biographical review of Mother Marie-Rose’s life, as reviewed and applied to these servant-leadership attributes, provides a comprehensive case from which to examine the profile and development of a servant­ leader.

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