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The Catholic Defender: Saint Marguerite d’Youville


We learn compassion from allowing our lives to be influenced by compassionate people, by seeing life from their perspectives, and reconsidering our own values.


Born in Varennes, Canada, Marie Marguerite Dufrost de Lajemmerais had to interrupt her schooling at the age of 12 to help her widowed mother.


She married François d'Youville in 1722 and the young couple made their home with his mother who made life miserable for her daughter-in-law. She soon came to realize that her husband had no interest in making a home life.


Eight years later she married François d’Youville; they had six children, four of whom died young. Despite the fact that her husband gambled, sold liquor illegally to Native Americans, and treated her indifferently, she cared for him compassionately until his death in 1730.


Even though she was caring for two small children and running a store to help pay off her husband’s debts, Marguerite still helped the poor. Once her children were grown, she and several companions rescued a Quebec hospital that was in danger of failing.


By age 30 she had suffered the loss of her father, husband and four of her six children, who died in infancy. Marguerite experienced a religious renewal during her marriage. "In all these sufferings Marguerite grew in her belief of God's presence in her life and His tender love for every human person. She, in turn, wanted to make known His compassionate love to all. She undertook many charitable works with complete trust in God, whom she loved as a Father.


D'Youville was the founder of the Sisters of Charity of the Hôpital Général de Montréal, also known as the Grey Nuns. She was the first Canadian-born saint, canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1990. St Marguerite d'Youville, the foundress of the Sisters of Charity, was the first candidate for sainthood born in Canada.


She called her community the Institute of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal; the people called them the “Grey Nuns” because of the color of their habits. In time, a proverb arose among the poor people of Montreal, “Go to the Grey Nuns; they never refuse to serve.” In time, five other religious communities traced their roots to the Grey Nuns.


The general population resented the change and mocked the sisters as "les sœurs grises," which translated as "grey nuns," or “tipsy women” in reference to d'Youville's late husband who was a bootlegger. (The word “gris” in French could mean either grey or drunk.)


The General Hospital in Montreal became known as the Hôtel Dieu (House of God) and set a standard for medical care and Christian compassion. When the hospital was destroyed by fire in 1766, Mère Marguerite knelt in the ashes, led the Te Deum—a hymn to God’s providence in all circumstancesand began the rebuilding process. She fought the attempts of government officials to restrain her charity, and established the first foundling home in North America.


Marguerite d'Youville died in 1771 at the General Hospital. In 1959, she was beatified by Pope John XXIII, who called her "Mother of Universal Charity", and was canonized in 1990 by Pope John Paul II. She is the first native-born Canadian to be elevated to sainthood Her feast day is October 16. In 1961, a shrine was built in her birthplace of Varennes. Today, it is the site of a permanent exhibit about the life and works of Marguerite.[8] The review process included a medically inexplicable cure of acute myeloid leukemia after relapse. The woman is the only known long-term survivor in the world, having lived more than 40 years from a condition that typically kills people in 18 months.


She is significant for developing one of the first uncloistered religious communities in the Catholic Church. Declared "venerable" by the pope in 1878, she was canonized in 1982 as the first female saint of Canada.


Pope Saint John XXIII, who beatified Mère Marguerite in 1959, called her the “Mother of Universal Charity.” She was canonized in 1990, and her liturgical feast is celebrated on October 16.


Marguerite was the first Canadian female saint, canonized (named a saint) by Pope John Paul II, in 1982. She is the patron saint of; poverty, loss of parents and people rejected by religious orders.

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