January 11, 2018

St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, Canada’s First Female Saint

Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys

On January 12th the Catholic Church in Canada celebrates the memorial of Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys, a 17th century French missionary who came to the New World in order to serve the poor. She founded the Congregation of Notre-Dame in Montreal dedicated to teaching, evangelization and works of charity, a hospital and schools. Beloved by Quebecois, she was called "the Mother of the Colony".

She was born on Good Friday 1620, in Troyes, France, the sixth of twelve children to Abraham Bourgeoys and Guillemette Gamier, and baptized the same day. Her middle-class family was deeply religious. Her father died when she was young. At 19, Marguerite’s mother died. The following year, on October 7, 1640, during a procession in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary, while looking at a statue of Mary, Marguerite had a divine vision that would change her life. She later recounted:

"We passed again in front of the portal of Notre-Dame, where there was a stone image [of our Lady] above the door, When I looked up and saw it I thought it was very beautiful, and at the same time I found myself so touched and so changed that I no longer knew myself, and on my return to the house everybody noticed the change." It was during this mystical encounter that Marguerite would receive Mary's call to abandon her life so to dedicate herself totally to the service of God.

In response, Marguerite entered a non-cloistered branch of the Congregation of Notre-Dame at Troyes, consisting of women working as teachers in conjunction with the order. For the next 12 years, she led this group, teaching children in the poor section of town. She sought admission to various religious orders including the Carmelites without success. In 1653, she volunteered for a missionary trip to the New World. After three-months at sea, she arrived in Montreal, Quebec.

Life in her port of call, the nascent city of Montreal, was difficult. Marguerite worked as a nurse in Montreal’s hospital, and in 1658, established her first school. She would travel back and fourth between Montreal and France a total of seven times, bring with her supplies and young women to help teach and minister to Montreal's growing population. Due to their affiliation with the French Congregation of Notre-Dame, these women were called the "Daughters of the Congregation." Finally, thanks to Marguerite's unceasing effort's, in 1698, they were granted papal recognition as an Order in their own right: the Congregation of Notre-Dame de Montreal. Living in poverty, the sisters forwent comfort and security to catechize and care for the poor and the marginalized of "New France."

During the last years of her life, St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, submitted to prayerful solitude. Her last act was to offer herself as a sacrifice of prayer for the return to health of a young sister. The young woman miraculously recovered. Sister Marguerite suffered for twelve days, dying on January 12, 1700. Pope Pius XII beatified her on November 12, 1950. Saint John Paul II canonizing her on October 31, 1982. Lord, who enkindled in the heart of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys the flame of ardent charity and a great desire to cooperate in the mission of the Church as a teacher, grant us that same active love, so that, in responding to the needs of the world today, we may lead others to the blessedness of eternal life.

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