Early Montreal Bahá'ís

Although the history of the Bahá’í Faith in Canada is closely linked with Montreal, fewer than fifteen French Canadians were known to have joined the Bahá’í Faith between 1897 and 1963. Almost all the early believers from Quebec learned about the Faith in other parts of the world outside the province and only in 1969 seven French Canadians became Bahá’ís.  Lucille Sanche Maloney (1924-1993) who discovered the Bahá’í Faith in 1967 was one of those early believers in Montreal. Throughout her life she longed to understand the “big questions” and, as the mother of three children, she was particularly concerned about how and what she could teach her children about life and values, feeling entirely inadequate and unprepared given her own childhood. 

Lucille had an excellent and exceptional education for a woman growing up in the 20s, 30s and 40s in Quebec, and to later become an active member of the Bahá’í Faith was an occurrence unheard of among her elders and her peers. As the daughter of a prominent doctor in Montreal, it was the convention that she and her seven brothers and sisters be sent to a convent or college for their education. For Lucille, it meant that she lived for most of her early life (5 to 18 years old) in French Catholic boarding schools. From those early years until she had her own children, Lucille felt deeply deprived of family or community life. Despite these circumstances, being intelligent, independent, creative and resourceful, she endured. Whenever she was able to do so, she made important choices in her life, which have left an important legacy for members of her family, friends and community.

Lucille first worked as her father’s medical secretary and studied fine arts at École des Beaux-Arts at a time of great social and religious unrest among young artists and intellectuals in Montreal was burgeoning. In 1947, she travelled to post WWII Europe where she witnessed the devastation that racism and nationalism had left in their wake. She subsequently decided to become a nurse despite her family’s displeasure. Graduating from the Université de Montréal in 1951, she joined the Red Cross to work in an outpost on the Gaspé Peninsula.  She quickly learned how to cope in far more rustic settings than a city hospital and also learned to speak English. In 1953, she married her Irish-Canadian husband, Alban. In 1962, seeing little future for her three children, then between the ages of 6 and 9, in this setting, the family moved to suburban Montreal.

In 1967, Lucille first heard about the Bahá’í Faith through an article in a popular American magazine.  Impressed with the teachings of this Faith, she wanted to know more. She was only able to find a telephone number for the Bahá’í Shrineon Pine Avenue West, in the telephone directory (this was decades before the existence of the Web). The caretakers sent her an information brochure that regrettably contained no more information than the article she had first read.

For about a year Lucille did not know that there even was a Bahá’í community in Montreal. Working as a real estate agent at that time, one day a couple came into her office looking for an agent to help them find a house. When they set off to visit some houses, she asked them if they wished to be near public schools that were then either Catholic or Protestant. They promptly replied that they were Bahá’ís and did not care which denomination the schools happened to be. Lucille was overjoyed to finally meet Bahá’ís and, after finding them a house, the couple and other Bahá’ís who lived in the region, helped her study and ask questions at firesides or discussion evenings about the Bahá’í Faith. She then attended a winter school near Rawdon, Québec, for several days and in January 1968, she promptly informed her family she had become a Bahá’í.

Now in her early 40s Lucille decided to live her life accordingly, educate and care for her children, and contribute to her community.  Since there is no clergy and community participation is an integral part of practicing one’s faith, Lucille helped establish the first Local Spiritual Assembly of Pointe-Claire in western Montreal; served as secretary and later as treasurer, and served on various regional bodies, was a delegate to several annual national conventions to consult with and elect the members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada, and served as an assistant to the Auxiliary Board.

Since social action was always dear to her heart, Lucille joined various like-minded community organizations such as an inter-faith group, and another group that visited prison inmates. Once her children were older, in the late 1970s, Lucille was able to go on pilgrimage and participate in some international teaching activities, travel teaching to Martinique. Once her husband retired, they moved to the country for several years and enjoyed the visits of her children and then of her six dearly-loved grandchildren who cherish memories of their dear “Grandmaman Lulu”.

In 1992 Lucille calmly informed the members of her family she had cancer and then moved back to Montreal to be nearer to hospitals and family. Soon after her return, Lucille was hospitalized for several months. Many friends visited to say goodbye and many more conveyed their loving thoughts and prayers. When Lucille died in October 1993, one friend wrote that:

Our hearts go out to you when we learned of the death of …’s mother. She was indeed one of the earliest of the new generation of French Canadian Bahá’ís in the 1960s, and had a great influence on many Bahá’ís like myself, by opening up our eyes to that wonderful spirit of dedication and gentleness of character that she brought into the Faith.  

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