This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
MONTREAL — When the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec was buffeted by a societywide revolt against its authority in the 1960s known as the Quiet Revolution, many nuns and priests abandoned it. But not Bertha Laforest, a music-loving nun who never wavered from her commitment.
Sister Laforest died on April 10 in the infirmary of the Soeurs Antoniennes-de-Marie, an order in a 115-year-old convent in Chicoutimi, in northeast Quebec. She was 94.
The cause was the novel coronavirus, according to Sister Ginette Laurendeau, the convent’s superior general.
“She had a quiet life, and the convent was her refuge,” Sister Laurendeau said, adding that she, too, had contracted the virus.
The order was shaken in late March when an employee of the convent’s infirmary contracted the virus. It quickly spread. At least 36 of the convent’s 47 sisters became infected, and four, including Sister Laforest, died. She was believed to be the first Canadian nun to die of the coronavirus.
Sister Laforest was born on Oct. 15, 1925, in St-Eugène-d’Argentenay, a farming village about 200 miles north of Quebec City. Her father was a farrier.
Sister Laforest came of age during a period in Quebec when the church held enormous sway, running schools and hospitals in the majority French-speaking province. The church urged women to procreate, and many died in childbirth. Her mother, a homemaker, had 10 children; she is survived by a brother and three sisters.
Sister Laforest entered the convent at 19 and during her 75 years in her community worked as a secretary, taught religion to children and assisted priests at seminaries.
“The church was her calling,” said Bishop René Guay of Chicoutimi, who worked with Sister Laforest in a parish when he was a young priest. “The church gave her life meaning, and she never gave up on it.”
Her cousin Sister Huguette Laforest, who is also a member of the convent, said Sister Laforest enjoyed listening to the radio, found television “boring,” regularly wrote witty letters to friends on their birthdays and took pride in wearing her religious garb.: “She felt chic in her habit.”
During her later years, even as she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, her cousin said she delighted in her role as the convent’s chorus director. She was always humming or singing as she walked its corridors.