St. Marguerite Bourgeoys

Sotce: wikipedia

Saint John Paul II reminded the Canadian bishops in 1999 of the need in our culture for a new surge of the same energy that brought the Church to birth in this country. He was referring to the courageous ministry of people such as Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys, the seventeenth century founder of the Congregation of Notre Dame.

The Pope drew a link between the wilderness of New France and the frontier of our climate. Canonized by John Paul on October 31, 1982, Marguerite was the first woman in Canada to be declared a saint.

Marguerite Bourgeoys was born and baptized in Troyes, France on April 17, 1620, one of twelve children born to devout parents. She was nineteen years of age when she lost her mother and took over the care of her brothers and sisters.

Not long after, through the inspiration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she consecrated her life to God and joined a group of women who were dedicated to teaching poor children of the town. This work increased her desire to be a missionary and she pursued the specific way she would serve God. She was motivated by the realization that, “I must do everything for the greater love of God.”

In the fall of 1653, she arrived in New France, having accepted the invitation of the governor of Montreal, who travelled to France looking for volunteer teachers for the French and Indigenous children in the colony of New France.

Marguerite felt confirmed in her call by Our Lady’s promise: “Go, I will not forsake you.” She started working in the Hotel Dieu Hospital with Jeanne Mance, a nurse and one of the founders of Montreal. They worked hard to promote the religious life of the colony.

A few years later, Marguerite opened the first school in Montreal. It was built in an abandoned stable. She was convinced of the importance of the family in building the new country. Thus, she saw the need to teach young women both domestic skills and catechetical values, in addition to areas such as reading, writing, and arithmetic.

She became mother, friend and social worker to those she served. She initiated a school system and a network of social services that eventually extended through the whole country. Marguerite was unselfish in her preoccupation with the concerns of others.

On three occasions, she returned to France in search of other teachers to follow her to the challenges of the New World: poverty, cold, hunger, and the perennial threat of war. The women who responded favourably to the life of prayer, heroic poverty and untiring devotedness to the service of others started to act increasingly as a religious institute. They desired to remain uncloistered, not the normal path for women’s communities at that time.

They eventually branched out from schools to care for the poor and hungry, started a vocational school, taught young people how to farm, and taught at a school for Indigenous peoples. The congregation grew and within a few years was attracting women born in New France. They became the first Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame. The Church finally approved their Constitutions in 1698, commissioning the community to continue their missionary work. The CNDs were the first unenclosed foreign-missionary community for women in the Church.

Mother Marguerite spent her final years continuing to serve, praying and writing her autobiography. The “Mother of the Colony” died on January 12, 1700, just short of her 80th birthday. She was already canonized in the hearts of all those who knew her. They recognized her as a woman of holiness, courage and perseverance in carrying out God’s desires despite the obstacles and hardships she faced.

By the time of her death, there were forty sisters. The ministry of the CNDs continues today in nine countries on four continents. The sisters are engaged in active social justice, emulating Marguerite’s reminder to be “little, simple and poor. I want at all costs to love my neighbour.”

St. Marguerite Bourgeoys is celebrated on January 12. The major shrine to St. Marguerite is at Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, in Montreal, the church restored by Marguerite when she first arrived in Montreal. Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys, pray for us.

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

  • Paul Desmarais
    Posted at 01:23h, 13 January Reply

    Very moving, Phil. Thank you.

  • Dallas McQuarrie
    Posted at 06:05h, 13 January Reply

    I would encourage anyone who has not done so to do some reading on the life St. Marguerite Bourgeoys. Notable is the opposition Bourgeoys encountered from her superiors in the Church, and internally in the Congregation, during her struggle to establish the Congregation of Notre Dame (CND) as a non-cloistered order! One of the great gifts of Bourgeoys and the CND to the Church and the world is ‘Visitation Spirituality,’ that is, going out to meet and minister to people where they live, particularly those living as outcasts on the margins of society. It is a spirituality of proclaiming the good news in word and deed, and glorifying God with one’s life. The CND’s Spirituality of Visitation is particularly appropriate in our time when there is so much division, conflict and attempts to demonize ‘the other’ who lives on the margins of society. In the Gospel of Matthew (25:31-46), Jesus reminds us that he comes to us in the person of the poor, the refugee and immigrant, the homeless and sick, and so on. In its Visitation Spirituality, the CND goes out to serve Christ among those rejected and trampled underfoot by mainstream society.. As another Saint who devoted her life to going out to serve Christ in others, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, noted “We need the eyes of deep faith to see Christ in the broken body and dirty clothes under which the most beautiful one among us hides.  We shall need the hands of Christ to touch these bodies wounded by pain and suffering.” St. Marguerite Bourgeoys – pray for us!

  • John Montague
    Posted at 07:39h, 13 January Reply

    When I attended St.Dunstan’s grade school in the 1950’s every first Friday we had a procession in the morning. We prayed the rosary, while walking through the corridors and at the end we said a prayer for the canonization of Marguerite Bourgeoys.

  • John Meehan
    Posted at 08:51h, 13 January Reply

    Thank you, Philip, for this interesting and inspiring reflection. The insight from Saint John Paul II puts this into a context that is relevant to us all.

  • Sylvia Lee
    Posted at 10:44h, 13 January Reply

    Thank you for your detailed sharing on St. Marguerite, Fr. Philip.

    God bless you.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 20:04h, 13 January Reply

    Thank you Philip!

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