Tuesday, January 12, 2010

St. Marguerite Bourgeoys: a woman of grace and courage

Today is the feast of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, one of my favorite saints. She is the founder of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame, who were my teachers in both elementary and high school, when I was growing up in the 50's and 60's. I remember viewing a film on her life and praying for her canonization. She sailed from France to Canada about the same time my French ancestors did, so I feel as if I share a special bond with her.

St. Marguerite Bourgeoys has been described as a woman of dreams and action, despite her frail health. She was a woman of grace and courage, known for her obedience to God and for her perseverance in carrying out His desires despite the many obstacles and hardships she faced.

Born in Troyes, France in 1620 to devout parents, Marguerite was the sixth of twelve children. Her mother died when Marguerite was just 19 and she became the surrogate mother to her siblings. The following year, through the inspiration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she consecrated her life to God and became a member of the Extern Congregation of Troy, a group of women who were dedicated to teaching the poor children of the town. It was during this time that she first sensed a call to missionary work.

In 1652, Monsieur de Maisonneuve, the founder and governor of Ville Marie (Canada), returned to France and asked Marguerite to volunteer to teach French and Indian children in the new settlement begun in New France. Our Lady told her, "Go, I will not forsake you" which confirmed Marguerite’s call. With this assurance, Marguerite gave away her parent's inheritance to other family members, and, in 1653, sailed across the ocean to this new colony.

Her first action was to restore the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours chapel, which had been destroyed by Indians, in order to restore the faith of the colonists. Next, she opened the first school in Montreal in an abandoned stable and soon realized that she must also teach domestic skills and educate the young mothers who were now part of this new society. She became their mother, social worker, counselor, and friend. She developed a practical curriculum for her young women that not only consisted of vocational skills, but also included teaching catechism and Christian values. Her curriculum included reading, writing, arithmetic, singing, and religion, while back in her native country of France, people continued to question the practicality of teaching women to write.


In the course of her adult life, she sailed across the ocean three times to France to obtain additional volunteer teachers. The group of teachers who joined her in her life of prayer, of poverty, and of service to others, bonded together as a religious group. Thus, in 1698, Marguerite founded the Congregation of Notre Dame – an active Order who would continue the missionary work she started.

Marguerite became ill and spent her last few years praying and writing her autobiography. In 1699, a young Sister in her Order lay dying and she generously offered her own life to God in exchange for the return of the life of this Sister. Marguerite died in Montreal, Canada on January 12, 1700. Pope Pius XII beatified Marguerite Burgeoys on November 12, 1950. Pope John Paul II canonized her on October 31, 1982, making her Canada’s first woman saint.

Quote: Our Lady's love is like a stream that has its source in the Eternal Fountains, quenches the thirst of all, can never be drained, and ever flows back to its Source.
~ St. Marguerite Bourgeoys

St. Marguerite Bourgeoys is the patron saint of poor people and those rejected by religious orders.

~ copyright 2010 Jean M. Heimann

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