SAINT MARGUERITE BOURGEOYS (1620-1700), religious and foundress – Patroness of the poor
Today, the Church honors Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys, a woman devoted to the needs of the poor and uneducated, from whom peoples of both European as well as Native-American descent in 17th century Canada benefited from her great zeal and unshakable trust in God’s Providence.
Marguerite was born of devout parents in Troyes, France, on Good Friday, April 17, 1620, and was the sixth of twelve children. When she was nineteen years old, her mother died. The following year she was inspired to consecrate herself to serving God.
She joined a lay group of young women dedicated to teaching poor children. The governor of Montreal, Canada, was in France looking for teachers for the New World. He invited Marguerite to come to Montreal to teach school and religion classes. She agreed and, upon her arrival in 1653, she began to teach the local French and Indian children.
Life in the colony was physically very difficult. Marguerite discovered that many children, due to disease or malnutrition, were not likely to survive to an age suitable for attending school. Nevertheless, she began to work with the nurse in charge of Montreal’s hospital and eventually established her first school in a stable.
Marguerite made three trips across the Atlantic, returning to France to recruit more teachers for her mission and fledgling Order, which was named the Congregation of Notre Dame (Our Lady). It was a unique Order in that the sisters were teachers and were not cloistered (living together in prayer). Mother Marguerite, as she was now known, fought to keep her mission independent from other Orders and to convince the bishop to let her sisters travel as teachers in the wild ranges of the Canadian wilderness.
Though the teaching sisters often lived in huts and suffered other hardships, the Order grew. They did not dedicate themselves to teaching solely children, but also set up schools wherein they taught new immigrants how to survive in their new environment.
As the Order expanded, which was formally approved by the Church in 1698, Mother Marguerite passed leadership on to one of the other sisters, and spent her last few years praying and writing her autobiography. On the last day of 1699, one of the young members of her congregation lay dying. Mother Marguerite asked the Lord to take her own life in exchange. By the morning of January 1, 1700, the young sister had recovered and Mother Marguerite had a raging fever.
She suffered for 12 days and on January 12, 1700, after 60 years of blessed labor for our Lord teaching and reaching out to the poor, God called her home. On October 31, 1982, she was canonized a saint by Pope St. John Paul II and became Canada’s first female saint.
We commemorate her feastday on January 12.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org and vatican.va/news_services)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Commons for Holy Women ~ ministering to the underprivileged)
“Lord God, You teach us that the Commandments of Heaven are summarized in love of You and love of our neighbor. By following the example of Saint Marguerite in practicing works of charity, may we be counted among the blessed in Your Kingdom.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”