“I have an announcement to make. I am going to enter a convent and serve God. I have thought of it for a long time. I have prayed, and I have decided. I care nothing for the things of the world. I feel I belong in a convent. It is the only place where I can be happy.”
606: Marie Dionne
The Fifth and Final Born of the First Set of Quintuplets Known to Survive Infancy
Born: 28 May 1934, Callander, Ontario, Canada
Died: 27 February 1970, Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, Monteregie Region, Quebec, Canada
The quints were born two months premature; their parents having no idea Mrs. Dionne was pregnant with more than one child. At the time of their birth, combined, the five girls weighed thirteen pounds six ounces (though soon after they began to lose weight). Émilie and Marie were both born still inside their amniotic sacs, the smallest of the five.
The girls actually had six older siblings (one of whom died soon after birth) and then three younger siblings as well. The Dionne family was incredibly poor by today’s standards, and after the girls were born, Oliva and Elzire Dionne were terrified at the thought of suddenly having five more mouths to feed. The house they lived in had no electricity, which posed further challenges for charities and medical workers trying to bring in incubators to keep the girls alive. After their story made international headlines, the Red Cross sent in round-the-clock nursing care and breast milk was shipped in far and wide for the girls.
After four months with their parents, the girls were taken away by the Canadian government to become wards of the state. The government did this by passing the Dionne Quintuplets Guardianship Act of 1935. Unlike normal interference between government and private families today though, the quints were not given to foster families. Instead, they were simply moved to a new facility right across the street from their parents’ home.
The Ontario government turned a profit on the quints by making the girls a tourist attraction in a place called “Quintland” (where 6,000 people a day could observe them from galleries placed around the complex the girls were raised in. In fact, by 1937, Quintland was more popular than Niagara Falls). Quintland, as previously mentioned, was built very close to the Dionne home. The quints were raised by nurses, with their every wish and whim catered to them. The world was terrified that one of the girls would die, and so they received around the clock care. The girls also received a few visits with their birth family, but to say tension and pain erupted between the Dionne quintuplets and their parents and siblings during this time would be an understatement.
If Quintland wasn’t enough, the quints also ended up starring in three Hollywood films about a fictionalized version of their lives. They even appeared in numerous advertisements for brand names you would recognize today. The quints were famous worldwide, while their parents and siblings were scrutinized for every little thing.
The sisters rarely left Quintland; but one of the times they were allowed out, they met the King and Queen of the United Kingdom in Toronto. For that trip, the rest of the Dionne Family was also invited along, but the quints remained the stars of the entire show.
When the girls were nine years old, their parents regained custody of them. The girls moved back in with their parents and siblings; however, this situation wasn’t any better than living in Quintland (in fact, the quints themselves stated it was absolutely worse). When the quints returned home, one of their older sisters reportedly told them the reason there were two tables in the dining room was because one was for the quints and one was for the rest of the Dionnes; they were two separate families living in one home. The new nineteen-bedroom mansion the Dionne’s all lived in together was paid for by the quints’ trust fund (see more information below).
Soon after, the quints later revealed, their father also began to abuse them in various ways, including sexually assaulting them. Also, their mother screamed at and hit them at various times. The girls couldn’t escape from everything fast enough. Unbeknownst to them, each girl had a trust fund set up with money from the Quintland attraction. They would not be able to access these funds until their twenty-first birthday and had no idea they even existed when Émilie passed away at the age of twenty. Unfortunately, by the time they learned of the trust funds, most of the money was already gone. The money had paid for everything to keep Quintland up and running, from the construction of public bathrooms for the tourists to the meals doctors ate when coming to observe the girls.
After the quints moved back in with their parents, Quintland was turned into a private Catholic school for the quints and some other girls to attend. It was while attending this school that Annette told the chaplain of the school about her father abusing her, but the chaplain did nothing.
Also, around this time, Émilie started to suffer from seizures, which their parents and doctors covered up for fear of the stigma of epilepsy at the time. When they were fourteen, a newspaper chose to publish how much each girl weighed, proving that while media attention was slowly going away, it was still very prevalent in the girls’ lives.
Eventually, the girls all escaped their hellish homelife, and went on to write their own stories. When they were nineteen, Marie and Émilie were the first to escape, by joining different convents. When Émilie died two months later, media attention in the quintuplets dried up; after all, they were no longer quintuplets, but instead four sisters. As devastating as Émilie’s death was, it gave the others a chance to finally escape once and for all.
Enough about all the quints in general, let’s talk about Marie.
Marie was the only of the girls to not have a counterclockwise whorl in her hair.
Marie was the first to leave the others, entering Les Servants du Tres Saint Sacrement or The Servants of the Blessed Sacrament convent when she was nineteen. Instead of the normal workings one associates with nuns, like ministering to the poor, the members of Blessed Sacrament spent their days in perpetual adoration of the Eucharist. They prayed for three hour stretches in groups of two or three, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. When they weren’t praying, the nuns sewed alter clothes and made Communion bread. If Marie had stuck with it, she would have never been able to set foot outside the convent for the rest of her life. Visitors could only come for one hour a month and were separated from the nuns by a wooden lattice structure. Marie was only allowed to write two letters a month as well.
When Émilie died, Marie was the most profoundly affected. After the funeral, Marie’s mother and one of their sisters had to help her out of the church, and her sobs during the ceremony were witnessed by everyone there that day. At the burial site, cameras recorded Marie almost in a trance-like state.
After Émilie’s death, Marie attempted to return to the convent, but failed. Two months later, suffering from recurring anemia and chest pains, Annette moved her sister to the Hospital where Cecile and Yvonne worked. After Marie was discharged, she and Annette rented a two-bedroom apartment in Montreal.
Because her career as a nun had failed, Marie decided to be a florist instead. She spent two months learning everything there was to know about the floral industry, but when the time came for her to receive the money from her trust to open the shop, the guardians of her money denied her request. Finally, the sisters concocted a strategy to get the money, and Marie opened her store on Mother’s Day 1956, called Salon Émilie. And while the store opened to great fanfare, by the end of the night, Marie had already given away over $600 worth of flowers. After six months, Salon Émilie closed its doors for the final time.
Marie first met her future husband when working under a false name at another flower shop. They married in such secrecy that Annette, Cécile, and Yvonne did not attend the ceremony. Marie would suffer two miscarriages early in her marriage, before she finally had two girls, the first of whom was named Émilie. Eventually, Marie would leave her husband, who was controlling and authoritarian to put it lightly. Marie rented a small apartment in Montreal for her and her daughters to live. Around this time, Marie also began dating her doctor. Her friends worried about her. Marie would faint at times, and her emotions were all over the place. She started seeking more and more intense therapeutic treatments, eventually receiving electro-shock therapy. By 1969, Marie had turned to drinking as well, and placed her daughters, eight and six years old, in a foster home run by nuns.
Annette began calling Marie every day to check on her. One Monday in early 1970, Marie didn’t answer. Annette continued to call every day, but by Thursday she knew something was wrong. Annette’s husband and Marie’s boyfriend arrived at the apartment later that day. Marie was found dead in her bed, with several medication bottles located on her bedside.
While Marie’s cause of death was never officially determined, her ex-husband told the world she had died from a brain embolism. However, rumors continued to swirl, and people came to their own conclusions. She had been dead several days by the time her body was discovered, and so finding the true cause was impossible to determine. Marie was thirty-five years old.
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Located In My Personal Library:
The Miracle and Tragedy of the Dionne Quintuplets by Sarah Miller
The Miracle and Tragedy of the Dionne Quintuplets by Sarah Miller