Your browser is not Javascript enable or you have turn it off. We recommend you to activate for better security reasonSainte Marguerite Bourgeoys, Teacher

Home > News > Story

Sainte Marguerite Bourgeoys, Teacher

Sr. Louise Côté, CND

In 1640, Marguerite, then 20 years old, decided to “give (herself) to the service of God.” She requested admission to the extern congregation run by the Canonesses of Saint Augustine (whose monastery was situated in Troyes where la Gendarmerie stands today). The nuns had established a number of “little schools” in the poorer areas of the city. They trained the congréganistes as teachers. Marguerite received lessons in pedagogy and committed herself to education.

In these “little schools,” young girls were formed as Christians and taught catechism, reading, writing, counting and sewing.

Sister Louise de Ste-Marie, directress of the extern congregation, was the sister of Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, founder of Ville-Marie (Montreal, Canada). When he came to Troyes in 1652, Sister Louise reminded her brother of the sisters’ desire to participate in the mission in New France. Monsieur de Maisonneuve explained that it was still impossible to establish a monastery of cloistered sisters in Ville-Marie. He stated that the colony needed secular teachers.

At their request, he accepted to take with him only one teacher, Marguerite Bourgeoys. The Governor of Ville-Marie’s narratives of the constant difficulties and hardships experienced in the colony inspired in Marguerite the passionate will to give of herself to the mission. She declared, “I offered to go and he accepted.”

In 1658, Monsieur de Maisonneuve ceded to her a stone stable in which she opened, on April 30, the first school in the settlement. The dove-cote was transformed into a loft to serve as the teachers’ dormitory. When night fell, they would remove the ladder for fear of the Iroquois, a native tribe which was hostile to the French. That year, the school welcomed eight of the settlers’ school age children. There were also five children in kindergarten. Soon after, children from native tribes were also received. “From its outset, in Sister Bourgeoys’s school, the education of the girls of the forest was similar to that of the French girls,” wrote one of her biographers.

At first, Marguerite counted on a young woman to help her with the small children. When the young woman married, recruiting new teachers for the establishment of the mission of education became urgent. Marguerite readily returned to Troyes to find new companions. Indeed, for that reason, she travelled to France three times. The shortest voyage lasted thirty-one days under conditions that can only be imagined.

The mission of education expanded very quickly. From 1676, several other schools were founded. At that time, parents were also requesting a boarding school for their daughters. Marguerite met their request.

Around 1678, Marguerite was finally able to make one of her dearest wishes come true: to open a school for native children. They were taught French and were given an education.

As the number of teachers increased, Marguerite communicated to them the methods of teaching of Saint Pierre Fourier which she had received in Troyes. She also conveyed to them her own acquired knowledge and experience. Something as important as providing education and instruction to children cannot be improvised.

Marguerite Bourgeoys did not think it was sufficient for her sisters to be prepared as teachers and to be able to communicate their knowledge. She felt that it was equally important that they be attentive to the human formation of the children entrusted to their care.

Marguerite also transmitted to her sisters her own deep respect for the dignity of all persons. Students were to be welcomed and treated “without distinction between the poor and the rich, between relatives and friends and strangers, between the pretty and the ugly, the gentler and the grumblers…”

In this way, the young teachers of Ville-Marie acquired further knowledge, became familiar with pedagogical principles and began their mission of education.

Marguerite Bourgeoys’s mission of education went beyond the schoolhouse. The woman known as the “Mother of the Colony” welcomed in her home young women destined to establish new families in order to populate the colony. These poor and orphaned girls who had been granted dowries by Louis XIV were known as Filles du roi  or King’s Wards. Marguerite prepared them for their future life in this rough country and offered what could be considered today “marriage preparation courses.”

In 1668, to respond to the needs of the colony, she organized and operated a farm. In 1676, she opened a house, the equivalent of a domestic science school, known as La Providence, where young women learned skills they needed at the time (This house is today’s Maison Saint-Gabriel in Montreal).

“Reading the signs of the times,” being attentive to the needs of others, and attempting to respond to them, is this not Marguerite putting all her creativity at the service of the mission?


Back to the news index All the news
© Tous droits réservés Congrégation de Notre-Dame, Montréal, Québec, Canada