Monday, January 23, 2012


St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, C.N.D.

Foundress of the Congregation of Notre Dame
Born 17 April 1620

Troyes, Champagne, France [1]
Died 12 January 1700 (aged 79)

 Ville-Marie (now Montreal) New France [1]
Honored in Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Church of Canada
Beatified 12 November 1950 by Pope Pius XII
Canonized 31 October 1982, Vatican City
Major shrine Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel in Montreal, Canada
Feast 12 January
Patronage against poverty; loss of parents; people rejected by religious orders

Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys (17 April 1620 – 12 January 1700, feast day: January 12), born in France, was the founder of the Congregation of Notre Dame in the colony of New France, now part of Canada.

Marguerite Bourgeoys was born in Troyes, France, on 17 April 1620, the sixth of twelve children of devout parents. After her mother died when Marguerite was aged 19, she took charge of her brothers and sisters. At age 20, she felt a religious calling, and applied to the Poor Clares and the Carmelites. Neither Order would accept her, due to her family responsibilities. Later her father, a candle maker, died when she was twenty-seven.

Several years later, in 1654, the Governor of Montreal, New France, the Chevalier Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve was in France looking for teachers for France's new colony there. He went to Troyes to visit his sister, who was an canoness regular of the Congregation of Notre Dame, an enclosed religious order dedicated to the free education of children. He proposed to his sister's community that they establish a monastery and school in Montreal. The canonesses, however, did not feel equipped for such an undertaking. Instead, they suggested to the governor that he speak to Bourgeoys, who was the leader of a lay sodality attached to the monastery whose members assisted the canonesses in their educational work.Maisonneuve met Bourgeoys, and invited her to come to Montreal to teach school and religion classes. She accepted the offer and traveled to New France in order to establish her own chapel and school. She is often considered to be one of the founders of Montreal, in New France. However, because she was a woman, this status is often ignored, especially due to the circumstances under which women were governed in the 16th and 17th Centuries.

Bourgeoys then gave away her share of the inheritance from her parents to other members of the family, and she sailed for New France that same year. On arriving, she initiated the construction of the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel in honor of Our Lady of Good Counsel, a traditional Augustinian devotion. She opened the first school established at Ville Marie (Montreal) in 1658, in a stable which the governor had granted her.She first worked with rich children, but soon started working with both the poor and rich. She returned to France the next year to recruit more teachers, convincing four to accompany her. In 1670, she went to France again, and brought back six more women. Having braved dangerous travel and pioneer conditions, these women became the first Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame.

Bourgeoys and her Sisters helped people in the colony survive when food was scarce, opened a vocational school, taught young people how to run a home and farm. Bourgeoys' congregation grew to 18 sisters, seven of them Canadian. They opened missions, and two sisters taught at the Native American school. Soon after, Bourgeoys received the first two Native American women into the congregation.

In 1693, Mother Marguerite handed over leadershiop of the congregation to her successor, Marie Barbier, the first Canadian to join the congregation. It's Rule and Constitutions were approved by the Holy See in 1698.

Marguerite spent her last few years praying and writing an autobiography. On 31 December 1699, as a young Sister lay dying, Mother Marguerite asked God to take her life in exchange. By the next morning of 1 January 1700, the young Sister was completely well, but Mother Marguerite had developed a raging fever, which she suffered for twelve days, until her death in Montreal on 12 January 1700.

In October 1888, her remains were moved from the church in which they had been interred to the new chapel of her congregation at Monklands, Montreal. Bishop Bourget took steps for her canonization. Her life has been written by several persons. Thomas D'Arcy McGee's poems include verses in her honour.

Marguerite Bourgeoys was declared venerable in 1878, beatified on 12 November 1950, and canonized by John Paul II on 31 October 1982. She is commemorated on the Calendar of Saints in both the Catholic Church and in the Anglican Church of Canada on 12 January. She was Canada's first female saint.

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