- "Papa said once that a dragonfly is the perfect symbol of life, and indeed, of one's search for knowledge and understanding. When it is a nymph, it spends months in the darkness, deep under the water of a pond. Then one day it climbs a cattail stem and emerges into the air. Its back splits open. It is a great struggle, as life always is, but is prevails. Then it spreads its wings and soars into the sunshine of a new world."
Hélène St. Onge (August 18, 1652 – 1703) was the younger daughter of Louis and S. St. Onge. She had one elder sister, Catherine. In 1666, Hélène left her home in France to accompany her sister, a filles du roi, to New France.
Hélène was born on August 18, 1652, the feast day of Saint Helena, whom she was named after. Her parents were Louis and S. St. Onge, and her elder sister was Catherine. Hélène's mother passed when she was infant. She grew up in Le Cadeau, a large home with twenty rooms, located in Reignac, France.
During the winter of 1666, Hélène's nursed her father, who contracted smallpox and ultimately died of it. Her cousin, Pierre Demerse, became her and Catherine's guardian. Their father left behind a great deal of debt, which necessitated the selling of their home and belongings. Pierre offered to help the girls enter a convent, but they refused.
In May 1666, Catherine became a filles à marier, which meant the King would provide her dowry as long as she traveled to New France and married there. Hélène was allowed to accompany her, though not as a filles à marier. The following month, they boarded a ship called Le Chat Blanc. Catherine became ill and died in late July, before reaching their destination.
Following Catherine's death, Hélène was asked by Monsieur Deschamps to become a filles à marier in her sister's place. In the meantime, she grew close to Kateri, and Jean Aubry, Kateri's father. Hélène decided to become a filles à marier, shortly after reaching Québec in September. From Québec, Hélène traveled to Montréal via canoe. Hélène was then escorted by Jean to her aunt, Barbe Moitié.
Hélène moved in with Barbe and began working at her tavern. Kateri stayed with Hélène from late October to mid-December, while Jean was visiting Mohawk relatives. Following his visit, Jean became ill with smallpox. Hélène and Kateri barricaded themselves in the Aubry home and nursed Jean for a month. Afterwards, Jean asked Hélène for permission to court her. In April 1667, Jean proposed engagement, which she accepted after careful consideration. On August 18, 1667, they were married on her fifteenth birthday. She moved into Jean's house, but continued working for Barbe.
In December 1667, Hélène accompanied her husband and stepdaughter to meet Kateri's grandparents, Ákhsotha and Rakhsotha. They stayed at a mission, La Prairie, a days' walk from Québec. Kateri's grandparents were extremely welcoming to Hélène and accepted her into the family. Jean wanted to return home before Christmas, but stayed because Hélène was worried about Kateri's cousin's baby, Owira. She sent a note to Barbe, who quickly made her way to the mission. Owira was made well by Christmas thanks to Hélène. Before they left, Kateri's grandmother named Hélène Ionattokha ("She Is Wise").
The couple had their first child, Marc, in 1669, followed by Catherine, who was born prematurely, in 1673. They had two more children, Bernice and Louis, by 1679. The family later moved into a big house on Rue Notre-Dame. Hélène was able to publish her father's journal in 1682, thanks to Jean, who traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts to do it. She treasured both the printed version and the original, which are still kept by her descendants, along with Hélène's journals. In 1702, Jean passed away, followed by Hélène a year later.
Personality and traits
She was the opposite of her sister, Catherine, who always observed propriety and disliked people she found "coarse". Hélène, however, held no prejudices against others and befriended many people that her sister would have disapproved of. She was also said to have a "fiery" temper by her father. Hélène presumably went to great lengths to control it, since she rarely displayed it.
Hélène valued knowledge, thanks to her father, who told her "[she] must learn all [she] can in this life." One of her favorite places was the library in her childhood home, giving her a lifelong appreciation for books. She also enjoyed learning Mohawk words form Kateri.
|Barbe Moitié||Jules St. Onge||Louis St. Onge|
|S. St. Onge||Bernice Aubry||Ákhsotha||Rakhsotha|
|Catherine St. Onge|
|(2) Hélène St. Onge|
|Bernice Aubry||Louis Aubry||Kateri Aubry|
Behind the scenes
- Hélène is the main character of Alone in an Untamed Land by Maxine Trottier.
- Trottier wrote another story, titled "What a Blessing Is This Peace", about Hélène for A Season for Miracles.