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The Catholic Defender: Saint Marguerite Bourgeoy

We know that the historical Marguerite de Thibouville was the heiress of a venerable noble family of Normandy, was probably young when she became Carrouges' second wife, and was, after the fact, enriched by her husband's fame and fortune in his role as celebrated hero of the “last duel.” She had at least three children

“God closes a door and then opens a window,” people sometimes say when dealing with their own disappointment or someone else’s. That was certainly true in Marguerite’s case.

Besides chaperoning girls sent from France as brides for settlers (Filles du Roi), she recruited French and Canadian girls as teachers, organized a boarding school for girls in Montréal, a school for Indigenous girls on the Sulpician reserve of La Montagne, and a domestic arts school.

With the first settlers she shared the dangers and hardships, as well as the efforts and hopes that marked life in the early colony. Like them, she was vulnerable to the threats posed by the environment the enemy, and disease, as well as by sometimes hostile or incompetent authorities in both church and state. She consistently avoided and, whenever possible, refused all preferment or privilege that would remove her from the lot of ordinary people in New France, the poor and struggling settlers attempting to build a better life for themselves and their families in the New World.

Children from European as well as Native American backgrounds in 17th-century Canada benefited from her great zeal and unshakable trust in God’s providence.

Born the sixth of 12 children in Troyes, France, Marguerite at the age of 20 believed that she was called to religious life.

Her applications to the Carmelites and Poor Clares were unsuccessful. A priest friend suggested that perhaps God had other plans for her.

She directed the sodality to which Bourgeoys belonged. The governor invited Marguerite Bourgeoys to come to Canada and start a school in Ville-Marie (eventually the city of Montreal). Before February 1653, Bourgeoys accepted the assignment to set up a congregation and a mission in New France.

in 1653. The city that we now know as Montreal came into existence through the desire of a group of devout men and women in seventeenth-century France to share with the native people of the New World what they regarded as their most precious possession: their Christian faith.

They hoped to achieve this goal through the establishment of a settlement on the island of Montreal in the colony of New France. The foundation was intended to embody the Christian ideal described in the Acts of the Apostles in such a way as to attract the Amerindians just as the communities of early Christians had drawn their first converts in the Mediterranean world of the first century.

Marguerite had survived many threats in the twenty-six years she had been in wilderness of Canada. She had lived through Iroquois attacks, a fire that destroyed her small village, plagues on the ships that she took back and forth to France, but nothing threatened her dreams and hopes more than what her own bishop said to her in 1679. He told her that she had to join her Congregation of Notre Dame with its teaching sisters to a cloistered religious order of Ursulines.

In 1654, the governor of the French settlement in Canada visited his sister, an Augustinian canoness in Troyes. Marguerite belonged to a sodality connected to that convent.

The governor invited her to come to Canada and start a school in Ville-Marie (eventually the city of Montreal). When she arrived, the colony numbered 200 people with a hospital and a Jesuit mission chapel.

She also performed the task for which she had come to Montreal, opening the first school in an abandoned stable in the spring of 1658. To give permanence and stability to the work of educating children and women in New France, she founded a community of uncloistered women.

On the voyage between France and Canada, during which she had cared for the sick and consoled the dying, the prospective settlers with whom she journeyed had already begun to address her as “Sister.” From this beginning until her death in 1700, she was totally dedicated to the welfare of the people of Montreal.

The stories of hardships and dangers in Montreal that made other people shiver had awakened a call from God in her to serve the Native Americans and settlers who endured this adversity. She met with the governor of what was then called Ville Marie and convinced him she was the person he was looking for to help start a school for the children of Montreal.

Soon after starting a school, she realized her need for coworkers. Returning to Troyes, she recruited a friend, Catherine Crolo, and two other young women. In 1667, they added classes at their school for Indian children.

A second trip to France three years later resulted in six more young women and a letter from King Louis XIV, authorizing the school. The Congregation of Notre Dame was established in 1676 but its members did not make formal religious profession until 1698 when their Rule and constitutions were approved.

Marguerite established a school for Indian girls in Montreal. At the age of 69, she walked from Montreal to Quebec in response to the bishop’s request to establish a community of her sisters in that city.

Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys was canonized in 1982. She was a pioneer, who worked in an outpost of the French empire. She built houses, established a farm and opened schools for children of the colony. She was deterred by neither bishop nor king in the pursuit of her mission.

By the time she died, she was referred to as the “Mother of the Colony.” Marguerite was canonized in 1982.

Two miracles were recognized by the Church before her beatification in 1950 by Pope Pius XII. THE TWO MIRACLES: Through St.Marguerite's intercession, two men were saved from incurable ailments. Fifty-year-old Joseph Descoteaux, suffering from worsening gangrene, was facing amputation of his left foot.

God is not satisfied if we preserve the love we owe our neighbour; we must preserve our neighbour in the love he ought to have for us. It seems to me that we do not pay enough attention to prayer, for unless it arises from the heart which ought to be its centre, it is no more than a fruitless dream.

It is true that all I have ever desired most deeply and what I still most ardently wish is that the great precept of the love of God above all things and of the neighbour as oneself be written in every heart.

It seems to me that we do not pay enough attention to prayer, for unless it arises from the heart which ought to be its centre, it is no more than a fruitless dream. Prayer ought to carry over into our thoughts, our words and our actions.

Teaching is the work most suited to draw down the graces of God if it is done with purity of intention, without distinction between the poor and the rich, between relatives and friends and strangers, between the pretty and the ugly, the gentle and the grumblers, looking upon them all as drops of Our Lord’s blood.

It seems to me that we are charcoal ready to be kindled and that Holy Communion is entirely suited to set us on fire. But when this charcoal is kindled only on the surface, as soon as it is set aside, it is extinguished. On the contrary, that which is fired all the way to the centre is not extinguished, but is consumed.

When the heart is open to the sun of grace, we see flowers blossom in their fragrance; these are seen to have profited by the word of God.


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