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Marguerite Bourgeoys: A Woman for her God, a Woman for Others

Sr. Louise Côté, CND

Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty. (Jn 15:5)

Sister Marie Morin, annalist of the Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal, described Marguerite in this way: “There is nothing Sister Bourgeoys cannot do. She succeeds in both spiritual and temporal matters because her actions and her intelligence are inspired by the Lord’s love.”

The driving force behind Marguerite Bourgeoys’ missionary commitment was her love of God. Before being a woman for others, she was first and foremost a woman for her God. Her greatest wish had always been to do the will of God, to whom she had vowed her love. In a prayer to Mary, she expressed herself in this way: “My good and most honored Mother, I ask of you neither riches, pleasures nor honors for the present life in this house, but I ask only that God may be loved here, served and obeyed.”

Addressing her “Lord, Savior most worthy of my love,” she requested the following for herself and her sisters, “…that we may never have any other joy than to live in You and with You.”

Toward the end of her life, she affirmed, “It is true that all I have ever desired most deeply and what I still most ardently wish is that the great precept of the love of God above all things and of the neighbor as oneself be written in every heart.”

Marguerite Bourgeoys’s love of God and neighbour was expressed in a commitment to the mission of education. She said to a sister whom she was preparing for this apostolate, “How happy a sister who is sent on mission will be if she thinks that she goes there at God’s command and in His company, if she thinks that in this work she can and ought to witness her gratitude to Him from whom she has received all things.”

Love is not something to be measured. The lyrics of a song say, “To love is to give everything, it is to give oneself.” This gift of one’s self for love characterized Marguerite Bourgeoys as she carried out her mission. This was true until the very end of her life.

Is there a greater way of showing one’s love than in giving one’s life, giving one’s life so that another can live and pursue her/his mission?

On the night of December 31, 1699, Marguerite Bourgeoys was enjoying good health while Sister Catherine Charly, mistress of the novices, was at death’s door. When Marguerite was informed of this, she declared, “My God, why do You not take me (…) rather than that poor sister who can still serve this little Community.”

God whom she loved heard her prayer and Catherine was soon better. Marguerite, however, died on the morning of January 12, 1700. Marguerite Lemoyne, then Superior of the Congregation announced the death of their foundress in these terms: “She died, my dear Sisters, as she had lived, loving God with all her heart and manifesting an ardent desire to be with her Creator.”

A clergyman in Canada wrote to one of his friends, “Sister Bourgeoys died yesterday morning. … Never were there so many priests and religious in the church of Montreal as there were this morning at the funeral of this saintly woman. … If the saints were canonized today as they were in olden times, tomorrow we would be saying the mass of Saint Marguerite of Canada.”

Another account was conveyed in the book by Moïse Blatrix, Sainte Marguerite Bourgeoys de Montréal et de Troyes. It was that of a girl who had been entrusted into Marguerite Bourgeoys’s care when she set off for Canada, and who later married:

“During these last weeks, both joy and sorrow have filled the heart of Marie Dumesnil. Catherine Charly was her daughter. She had seen her at death’s door and then come back to life whereas Marguerite Bourgeoys was nearing the end of her life.

On February 11, Marie Dumesnil returned to the church to attend the Mass of the Thirtieth Day. As Monsieur de Belmont praised Marguerite Bourgeoys, Marie Dumesnil listened carefully. When she exited the church, she said, “It is all well and good, but it is nothing compared to what I saw and what I know.”

What did she see? What did she know? She saw a daughter of God, Marguerite Bourgeoys, offering her life so that her daughter might live. Marguerite Bourgeoys was a servant of Life, like her, a mother to her daughter, and the mother of all the women of Ville-Marie.”

 

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