In 1974 Sister Jean Ell began to work in Psychiatry at the St. Boniface Hospital. In the spring of 1977, Sister Ell was approached by the Board of Directors to set up a program to address the "Revolving Door Syndrome" experience in the Psychiatric Department. In mid-October of the same year Sister Ell and Lorraine Vadeboncouer, her secretary, began preliminary work in temporary offices. Thus was the birth of Sara Riel Inc.

How the name was chosen

In 1977 the founding members of the board chose the name Sara Riel, after the first Métis Religious in the west. Sara, along with her brother Louis, attended the Grey Nuns School. At the age of 18 Sara joined the Grey Nun congregation and later taught in both Saskatchewan and Manitoba.Her name was chosen to reflect the spirit of a true Manitobain, and the spirit of the Grey Nuns, which was evident in her dedicated work as a teacher and missionary.

Saint Marguerite d'Youville

Marie Marguerite was born on October 15, 1701 at Varennes, Quebec. She was the first child of Christophe Dufrost de Lajemmerais and Marie Renée Gaultier de Varennes. Five other children, two girls and three boys, were born into this happy family.

Marguerite's childhood was tragically disrupted by the death of her father when she was seven. She learned very early how to be a caregiver as she helped her mother provide for her suddenly destitute family.

When Marguerite was 11 years old she went to school at the Ursuline Convent in Quebec. There she received a good education and absorbed the prevailing French spirituality which taught her to go to the Father through Jesus and to go out to others in service. Two years later she returned home and began to teach her brothers and sisters. Once again she became an invaluable support for her mother.

Several years after her family had moved to Montreal, Marguerite met François d'Youville and fell in love. She was married on August 12, 1722 in Notre Dame Church in Montreal at the age of 20.

After having moved in with François and his mother, Marguerite soon discovered that François was insensitive and selfish. He was interested only in making money as he engaged in illicit trading of liquor for the furs of the Indians. Marguerite had no idea of the true nature of her husband's business. He was gone for long periods of time and was even absent at the birth of their first child. Anxiety and grief became a constant part of her married life. Three of her children died in infancy, and she was pregnant with their sixth child when François became seriously ill. She cared for him until his death, about eight years after their marriage.

A little over a year later, her baby also died. By age 30 she had suffered the loss of her father, husband and four of her six children. Marguerite now had to care for her two surviving sons and pay off the enormous debts left by her husband. In addition she wanted money to help those in greater need than herself.

To accomplish these goals she opened a store on the first floor of her home where she sold her own handiwork and various household items. The powerful insight which had transformed her life when she was 26 years old was expanding to a mission to the poor. Anybody in need of food, clothing, shelter or love struck a responsive chord in her generous heart. Seeing Marguerite selflessly caring for the poor inspired three women who felt called to share in her mission.

On December 31, 1737, Louise Thamour la Source, Catherine Cusson and Catherine Demers joined Marguerite. They consecrated themselves to God to serve the poor. To the outside world nothing seemed to change, but within the hearts of these four selfless women God's grace was at work.

This would one day be considered the founding date of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, "Grey Nuns".

Quick Facts:

  • Sara Riel established and incorporated June 6, 1977
  • Sister Jean Ell, Executive Director (1977 to 1995)
  • The first client was admitted October 17, 1978
  • 10 clients were admitted within six weeks to join the Community Rehabilitation Program in October 1978 (funded by a grant from Manitoba Health)
  • August 27, 1990, the Work Placement Force was launched.(funded by a grant from Human Resources Development Canada). This program now receives funding from Competitiveness, Training and Trade.
  • May 17, 1993 Non-denominational Spiritual Care Services offered.
  • 1994 - purchase of Marion Street Apartment block for Supportive Housing Services program.
  • March 28, 2000 Sara Riel Foundation Inc. was incorporated.
  • December 2007 - enhanced funding provided from Family Services and Housing under Rewarding Work allows for services to be provided to an additional 45 participants, as well as to provide for a number of enhancements to the Work Placement.