Born at Troyes, France, in 1620, Marguerite was twenty years old when she felt the call to consecrate herself to the service of God. Having joined a group of pious women dedicated to good works, she immigrated to the settlement at Montreal, Canada, in 1652, to tutor the children of the French garrison.
In 1655, Marguerite rallied the people of Montreal to help her construct a chapel that would serve as a place of prayer and pilgrimage outside of the settlement; the stone chapel of Notre-Dame-de Bon-Secours was finally completed twenty years later. To help the children of the colony, Marguerite opened a school in a converted stable in 1658. Here she began teaching the basics of the faith, as well as the rudimentaries of reading and math; older girls were trained in household skills that would enable them to be successful wives and mothers. Her small school began a system of education and service that soon extended across the whole region, gaining Marguerite the title “Mother of the Colony” and “Co-foundress of the Church in Canada.”
Marguerite’s vision and personal holiness attracted other women (from both France and from among the Canadian settlers) who wished to follow her life of prayer, poverty, and service. This soon led to the formation of the Congregation of Sisters of Notre Dame of Montreal, which received canonical approval from the bishop of Quebec, Saint François Laval, in 1676. Mission-schools were also established to serve the Native American communities around Montreal and two Iroquois women sought entrance into the young congregation in 1679.
Having dedicated the remainder of her life to governing her community and working to secure its rights, Marguerite died in 1700. Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys was canonized in 1982, becoming the first Canadian saint. The commemoration of Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys is celebrated on January 12.
Marguerite Bourgeoys was a pioneer woman of the New World who dedicated her life to the education of children. Her sole motivation was to form these children, especially young women, in a life of discipleship. Her non-traditional approach to religious life brought her into conflict with Church and government officials, but she was undeterred, confident that she was doing God’s work. C.W. Colby, an historian and biographer would later write, “when the biographer has finished his sketch of… Marguerite Bourgeoys, he had best remain content with his plain narrative. Women like [her] do not ask for eulogy. Their best praise is the record of their deeds, written without comment in the impressive simplicity of truth.”
As we enter the first span of the Season of Ordinary Time, the life and witness of Saint Marguerite stands out as a powerful example of what Pope Francis intends when he encourages every believer to go to the “peripheries” and to seek out new mission fields: “An authentic faith—which is never comfortable or completely personal—always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it" (The Joy of the Gospel, 183). How is God inviting you to live out your faith in these “ordinary” days in extra-ordinary ways?A Prayer in Honor of Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys +
|Shrine of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys|
in Montreal's Basilica of Notre Dame
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 Bourgeoys 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 and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Liturgy of the Hours: Common of Those Who Worked With the Underpriveleged)
This reflection was originally written for Mayslake Ministries and posted on their website on January 12, 2015.