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Our Rich History

Fanny Allen Hospital, Hotel Dieu

In 1879, Mary Fletcher Hospital admitted its first patients and medicine in Vermont leapt ahead. As hospital care became more attractive to people, the demand increased. Bishop Louis DeGoesbriand, Vermont’s first Catholic bishop, thought of health care as a matter of social justice and realized that there was a special need to care for the sick and poor. His dream of a Catholic hospital faced the reality of a financially strapped diocese. Bishop DeGoesbriand’s predecessor, Bishop Michaud, was able to carry out this vision with a donation of the Dunbar Hotel from Michael Kelly, a former employee of Mary Fletcher, located on the farmstead of Jabez Penniman, Fanny Allen’s stepfather.


The old Dunbar Hotel in 1917. It later became the Fanny Allen Hospital. St. Michael’s College Archives, Courtesy of The Religious Hospitallers Of St. Joseph

The Religious Hospitallers of Saint Joseph (R.H.S.J.), known for founding one of the finest hospitals in Canada, the Hotel Dieu in Montreal, were called upon to help found Fanny Allen Hospital. In May 1894, Mother Bonneau, Sister Renaud, Sister Franchere, Sr. Joseph and Sister Campbell came to Vermont and transformed the Dunbar hotel into a place of healing. Fanny Allen Hospital, Hotel Dieu was inspired by the memory of a member of the R.H.S.J., Frances “Fanny” Margaret Allen, the daughter of Vermont’s legendary hero Ethan Allen. In October 1894, Fanny Allen Hospital, Hotel Dieu opened its doors with a special mission to care for those that did not have access to medical care.

Rooted in Faith

The history of Fanny Allen can be traced to the mid-seventeenth century and the founding of the R.H.S.J. in 1636, in La Fleche, France, by Jerome Le Royer de la Dauversier, a devout Catholic and father of five. Jerome saw his mission in life in simple terms: to serve in imitation of Christ in La Fleche, France. He dedicated himself to Saint Joseph and the Holy Family and saw Christ in the poor, the sick, and the aged.

“Fulfill my mission, my grace is sufficient for you,” Jerome was reassured by God when inspired on the Feast of Purification, February 2, 1630, and founded the congregation of R.H.S.J., open a hospital in La Fleche, France, and establish a hospital in Montreal, Canada. With the help of Marie de la Ferre, a single woman who had served the sick and poor for 30 years, he founded the R.H.S.J. and Marie became the first Superior of the community in 1644.

Meanwhile, Jeanne Mance, a nurse dedicated to God from a young age, received financial support from Mrs. Angelique de Bullion to build a hospital in a place of her choice. Jerome shared his vision of building a hospital in Canada and she agreed to establish Hotel-Dieu, the first hospital in Montreal in 1642. Jeanne was its administrator until the arrival of the first three R.H.S.J. in 1659, at which time they governed and administered this hospital. Today, the Hotel Dieu has become part of the University of Montreal Medical Center.

Sister Frances “Fanny” Margaret Allen, R.H.S.J.

Born in Sunderland, Vermont, on November 13, 1784, Frances “Fanny” Margaret Allen was the daughter of Ethan Allen, the Revolutionary War hero and Vermont’s most famous patriot. She was raised in a home which did not practice organized religion. When she was 19, Fanny became a pupil in the convent boarding school of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame in Montreal and was almost kicked-out for her irreverence of Catholic forms and ceremonies until she had a sudden change of heart. On the Feast of the Nativity, September 9, 1807, upon seeing the painting of St. Joseph and the Holy Family at Hotel Dieu, Fanny asked to join the order of R.H.S.J. Her family brought her back to Vermont in hopes of changing her mind, but Fanny was as determined in her new faith as she had previously been in her disbelief. Fanny Allen became the first Catholic nun from New England and a beacon to many former Vermont skeptics who converted to Catholicism. Fanny was a model of prayerful service as she nursed wounded soldiers in Montreal amid great poverty and imminent threat of disease during the War of 1812. Fanny died of tuberculosis on December 10, 1819, and is buried in the crypt beneath the chapel of Hotel Dieu. For more history on the Life of Sister Fanny Allen, RHSJ, by David Bryan, view this download.

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