When Alice Fougère had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ in 1998, she had no idea God's plans included her founding a new religious order.
"I was living a very ordinary life and all of a sudden I truly experienced the Lord," she said.
Now in consecrated life with the religious name, Mother Mary Bernadette, she is the visionary leader of the Queenship of Mary Community, a new congregration in the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall.
A lifelong Catholic, Mother Mary Bernadette recalls a childhood devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she shared with her mother. A regular Mass attender, she said she lacked a personal relationship with Jesus. Consequently, "my faith would be on and off."
Trained in the business world, she was on a work-related trip to Montreal in 1998 when she slipped into the city's majestic Mary Queen of the World Cathedral where her encounter with God took place. In a profound experience of prayer, she "realized the Lord was very much alive and supposed to be the centre of my life," she said. She began attending Mass an extra day a week and reading spiritual writings.
Reading St. Thérèse of Lisieux's 'The Story of a Soul' launched her on "an intense spiritual journey." This journey led to much self-examination and a deepening prayer life. She also came across St. Teresa of Avila's writings.
These two Carmelite saints set the framework of the spirituality that would eventually inspire the Queenship of Mary Community, she said. St. Teresa of Avila is one of the new congregation's patron saints, along with good St. Joseph and St. Michael the Archangel.
Early on in the journey, her "life took a turn" where her circumstances became "really hard," and she "went through a period of a lot of suffering because of my faith."
At this low point, she decided to follow St. Louis de Montfort's program of prayer for a 33-day consecration to the Blessed Mother. In fact, she did the consecration three years in a row and each time she was able to conclude the journey at a Marian pilgrimage site in Europe.
At the time, she was working in the business department at Dalhousie University, creating and managing a Career and Alumni Centre to help Bachelor of Commerce and MBA graduates secure employment and successfully transition into the work world.
In 2003, she sensed God calling her to open a house in Halifax for young women, who were discerning a call on their life whether to marriage, religious life or consecrated single life. Queenship House attracted two young women the first year. She moved to a better location the second year and attracted four or five. The third year, they moved to a still larger house where the number of young women grew to eight.
At Fatima in 2005, while deep in prayer, Mother Mary Bernadette had the words "they are now to be consecrated" impressed upon her.
She chose Ottawa for her new community location. She visited Ottawa's Archbishop Marcel Gervais to tell him about how her Catholic women's house was developing into a religious community and asked permission to set it up in his diocese. He said yes.
Ottawa attracted her because of the Companions of the Cross, a community of priests founded by Father Bob Bedard, she said. "A lot was happening there spiritually," she said of the nation's capital.
A Companion's priest, Father Ben St. Croix, has been instrumental in supporting her vision for the new religious order.
Mother Mary Bernadette at first thought the new order would work closely with the Companions of the Cross, however, it was discovered that the community would be focusing on establishing as a religious institute as opposed to an apostolic society.
In 2007, Gervais retired and the pope named her Halifax archbishop, Terrence Prendergast, SJ, as his replacement. She saw this as Providential since Prendergast had been shepherding the Queenship House from its onset in Halifax.
She arrived in Ottawa in the summer of 2007, and within the first year began to work with a canon lawyer to create the constitution for the new order. In 2011, to meet the requirements of canon law, Prendergast asked them to find a well-established religious institute to take them into their novitiate program. The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary welcomed them.
On March 26, 2012, the date of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary that year, at Notre Dame Cathedral in Ottawa Prendergast blessed their habits and accepted their first vows and religious names. He recognized them as a 'private association of Christ’s faithful'. Soon after, they bought a former Anglican rectory in Metcalfe with money from an anonymous donor plus a bank loan.
Five months later, on the feast of the Queenship of Mary, the Archbishop led a Eucharistic Procession through the streets in Metcalfe to the convent where Jesus was reposed in their new chapel, she said.
About 200 people accompanied the procession with lit candles and knelt on the lawn as Prendergast performed the Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament before going inside to the chapel.
On the Solemnity of the Annunciation in 2015, the first group of founding sisters made their perpetual profession of vows. Since this time, the community has welcomed several young women to discern a religious vocation.
In 2016, the community acquired nearly 170 acres of land on the outskirts of Ottawa in Plantagenet, Ontario, where plans have begun for the construction of the motherhouse convent.
Mother Mary Bernadette hopes to establish perpetual adoration, as well as, a fully-enclosed contemplative community within the Queenship of Mary community at a future date.
"We're prayer warriors," said Mother.