St. Marguerite Bourgeoys: Woman of Fortitude
January 12 is the feast of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, the founder of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame, a teaching order. She is the patron saint of poor people and those rejected by religious orders.
St. Marguerite Bourgeoys was a woman of aspirations and action, despite her fragile health. She was a woman of grace and fortitude, known for her obedience to God and for her perseverance in carrying out His desires despite the many obstacles and hardships she faced.
Born in Troyes, France in 1620 to devout parents, Marguerite was the sixth of twelve children. Her mother died when Marguerite was just nineteen and she became the surrogate mother to her siblings. The following year, through the inspiration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she consecrated her life to God and became a member of the Extern Congregation of Troy, a group of women who were dedicated to teaching the poor children of the town. It was during this time that she first sensed a call to missionary work.
In 1652, Monsieur de Maisonneuve, the founder and governor of Ville Marie (Canada), returned to France and asked Marguerite to volunteer to teach French and Indian children in the new settlement begun in New France. Our Lady told her, “Go, I will not forsake you” which confirmed Marguerite’s call. With this assurance, Marguerite gave away her parent’s inheritance to other family members, and, in 1653, sailed across the ocean to this new colony.
Her first action was to restore the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours (Our Lady of Good Help) Chapel, which had been destroyed by Indians, in order to restore the faith of the colonists. Next, she opened the first school in Montreal in an abandoned stable and soon realized that she must also teach domestic skills and educate the young mothers who were now part of this new society. She became their mother, social worker, counselor, and friend. She developed a practical curriculum for her young women that not only consisted of vocational skills, but also included teaching catechism and Christian values. Her curriculum included reading, writing, arithmetic, singing, and religion, while back in her native country of France, people continued to question the practicality of teaching women to write.
In the course of her adult life, she sailed across the ocean three times to France to obtain additional volunteer teachers. The group of teachers who joined her in her life of prayer, of poverty, and of service to others, bonded together as a religious group. Thus, in 1698, Marguerite founded the Congregation of Notre Dame – an active Order who would continue the missionary work she started.
Marguerite became ill and spent her last few years praying and writing her autobiography. In 1699, a young Sister in her Order lay dying and she heroically offered her own life to God in exchange for the return of the life of this Sister. Marguerite died in Montreal, Canada on January 12, 1700. Pope Pius XII beatified Marguerite Bourgeoys on November 12, 1950. Pope John Paul II canonized her on October 31, 1982, making her Canada’s first woman saint.
Quote: “Our Lady’s love is like a stream that has its source in the Eternal Fountains, quenches the thirst of all, can never be drained, and ever flows back to its Source.” — St. Marguerite Bourgeoys
Prayer to St. Marguerite Bourgeoys
O Mother Bourgeoys, you, whose compassionate power is ever increasing, show us your way of Truth, Faith and Holiness.
Make us humble enough to abandon ourselves to the Will of God, generous enough to find in the Cross the joy of the Loving Giver.
May your fidelity to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament lead us ever nearer to this source of light and peace. May your spirit of openness help us to be concerned for our brothers and sisters throughout the world.
Finally, may Our Lady of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, bring us to this unity of eternal grace to which God has called you for all eternity. Amen.