Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

Jeanne Mance

In May of 1642 on the Île de Montréal, a medical missionary named Jeanne Mance founded a small wilderness hospital, the Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal.  That hospital, the second oldest in North America, went on to serve the people of Canada for 375 years, finally closing its doors in 2017.  The remarkable story of Mance and the Hôtel-Dieu are part of the great story of Montreal itself. Mance was honoured with the title Bâtisseuse de la Cité (a builder of the city) on March 8, 2011 and was officially recognized as a founder of Montreal as was Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve on May 17, 2012. This courageous woman, combining religious passion with tremendous administrative skill, established, expanded and preserved one of the first and most durable medical institutions in the North America, while enduring and overcoming incredible physical challenges and hardship.  Sometimes described as North America’s first secular nurse, Mance is also a model of indomitable will and perseverance.

Although never a nun, Mance was convinced of her vocation to serve as a missionary in Nouvelle-France.  With the secret help of her powerful and wealthy patroness Mme. Angélique Faure-de Bullion, Mance made the arduous Atlantic crossing, first to Quebec, and then on to Montreal (then known as Ville-Marie), at that time an uninhabited land.  Once the hospital was founded, Mance crossed the Atlantic three more times, once returning to France to recruit the first three nuns of the Religious Hospitallers of Saint Joseph to continue her work at the hospital. In the nascent and precarious colony, Mance was responsible for managing housing, property, finances, food, tools, and goods, and she also acted as bursar.  She built her hospital, and in building it, she also helped build the city it was to serve for several centuries. At a time of terrible violence and suffering both in France and in Canada, Mance created an enduring legacy of caring for the sick and the wounded, treating all peoples of Nouvelle-France without exclusions.

In the winter of 1657, returning from mass along an icy street, Jeanne Mance fell, breaking her right arm and dislocating her wrist.  The bone was set, but for a time, Mance lost the use of her arm.  Despite the injury, she set sail for France on her second recruitment mission for Montreal and the hospital, part of the trip carried in a stretcher.  Mance made her final trip to France in 1662, seeking to preserve the hospital and the city itself through disruptive changes in administration.  Mance managed to navigate the complexities of political and religious power in a time of often dangerous, always uncertain, intrigue and ambition.  She endured and prevailed and preserved her hospital as a legacy to the people of Montreal.  She died in 1673 and is buried in the crypt beneath the chapel of the hospital in the heart of the city she founded and served.  For her heroic virtues she was recognized by the Catholic Church as Venerable on November 7th, 2014.