Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys
Bourgeoys was born in Troyes, France in 1620 and died in Montreal in
1700. She is renowned for her work, her spirituality and her impact on
society and the Church in North America.
As one of the older girls of a Catholic, middle class family,
Marguerite had to assume the responsibility for the household when her
mother died. At the age of twenty she had a conversion experience
during a religious procession that profoundly influenced her future
mission and focused her values. She felt singled out by the Blessed
Virgin. In response she joined a local group of women who gathered to
do charitable work as an extension of a cloister in Troyes. Marguerite
served as leader of this extern group and as her service taught the
children in the poor section of town. In 1653 Paul de Maisonneuve,
founder of Montreal, passed through Troyes and invited Marguerite to
join him in Ville Marie as a lay teacher, to instruct the children of
the colonists and of the Native Americans. In June 1653, she sailed
from Nantes on a three month voyage to the New World.
Marguerite’s humanitarian and Christian work in Canada was principally
as educator and founder. The wilderness was so hard on the colonists
that she had to wait for five years before children survived until
school age. In the interim, she instructed the Indian children. In 1658
she opened her first school in a stone stable given her by the town
leaders. Marguerite had a broad concept of education. She saw the
school as a vehicle of religious and social development. Unique to her
time she provided education for all, giving special attention to girls,
the poor and the natives. Education in Marguerite’s schools consisted
in the basics of literacy, religious instruction, home economics and
Beyond the classroom, she worked with families, assisted in faith
formation in the parish, and addressed the social service needs of the
colonists. Noteworthy among her contributions to the colony are the
special vocational schools she established to provide the domestic
skills a young woman would need to run a home in the wilderness.
She became the official guardian to the “filles du roi”, young orphan
girls sent by the monarch to establish new families. She lodged them in
her own home, served as a matchmaker, and prepared them for their new
life as pioneers. Her signature appears as a witness on many of the
early marriage contracts in Montreal. As a result of these activities
she was affectionately referred to as “the Mother of the Colony”.
Marguerite made three trips back to France to recruit other women to
join her in her work of education and to obtain civil approbation from
Marguerite’s apostolic zeal was a special gift to the Church. She was a
woman of action inserted into her time as is attested to by the mark
she left on the history of Montreal and education in Canada. She was a
woman of faith, deeply committed to the service of the Gospels. She was
personally motivated by Mary's service to her cousin, Elizabeth, and
desired to form a group of uncloistered women who would imitate Mary in
this mystery of the Visitation.
Marguerite had an exceptional and practical love of God and neighbor.
She had a great desire to serve the Church in its most local form, the
Her Congregation received Church approbation in 1698 and at that time
pronounced vows as uncloistered religious. Today the Congregation de
Notre Dame numbers 2600 sisters in North America, Japan, Latin America
and the Cameroons.