St. Marguerite Bourgeoys (1620-1700)
foundress of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame
MARGUERITE BOURGEOYS was born in Troyes, in the province of Champagne (France), on Good Friday, April 17, 1620. She was baptized on the same day in the church of Saint-Jean, a church that was located near her home. Marguerite was the sixth child in a family of twelve. Her parents were Abraham Bourgeoys and Guillemette Gamier, and she was privileged to grow up in a milieu that was middle class and thoroughly Christian.
On three occasions, Marguerite Bourgeoys made a trip to France to obtain help. As of 1658, the group of teachers who associated themselves with her in her life of prayer, of heroic poverty, and of untiring devotedness to the service of others, presented the image of a religious institute. The group was inspired by the "vie voyagere" of Our Lady, and desired to remain uncloistered, the concept of an uncloistered community being an innovation at that time. Such a foundation occasioned much suffering and the one who took the initiative was not spared. But the work progressed. The Congregation de Notre-Dame received its civil charter from Louis XIV in 1671, and canonical approbation by decree of the Bishop of Quebec in 1676. The Constitutions of the Community were approved in 1698.
The foundation having been assured, Sister Bourgeoys could leave the work to others. She died in Montreal on January 12, 1700, acknowledged for her holiness of life. Her last generous act was to offer herself as a sacrifice of prayer for the return to health of a young Sister. Forty members of the Congregation de Notre-Dame were there to continue her work.
The educative and apostolic efforts of Marguerite Bourgeoys continue through the commitment of the members of the community that she founded. More than 2,600 Sisters of the Congregation de Notre-Dame work in fields of action according to the needs of time and place - from school to college or university, in the promotion of family, parish and diocesan endeavours. They are on mission in Canada, in the United States, in Japan, in Latin America, in Cameroon, and most recently they have established a house in France.
On November 12, 1950 Pope Pius XII beatified Marguerite Bourgeoys. Canonizing her on October 31, 1982, Pope John Paul II gives the Canadian Church its first woman saint.