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The Spirituality of Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys

Sr. Louise Côté, CND

Marguerite Bourgeoys’ spirituality is basically Marian. Our saint wished to follow in the footsteps of the Blessed Virgin, to imitate the course of her life in all things and to go to God through her for God sent his Son through her.

This Marian spirituality centers on two particular aspects of the gospel : the Mystery of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39 ff) and Mary in the midst of the Apostles, after the Resurrection of Jesus (Acts 1: 11-14; 2:1-4).

The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth

With regards to the Visitation, Marguerite writes: After the Blessed Virgin had spoken her consent to the angel she was made Mother of God by the power of the Spirit. In gratitude to the Eternal Father, she immediately offered herself to correspond with the graces of His divine majesty for the redemption of the human race. She immediately made her first visit to Elizabeth.

For Marguerite Bourgeoys then, the Visitation has an apostolic character. It is turning towards one’s neighbour; a going “in haste” as Luke describes this journey in his Gospel – an action that inspires immediate and impartial service to one’s neighbor.

“This going towards” in an apostolic (missionary) sense, characterizes the life and the spirituality of Marguerite. She never hesitated to cross the ocean in order that God be known, loved and served in New France. This apostolic goal led her to found a Congregation of non-cloistered sisters who could “be sent” to all areas of the country “to instruct young girls”.

The Visitation has another dimension besides this apostolic action. Elizabeth and Mary, each in turn, sing of the glory of God and their gratitude. The Mystery of the Visitation invites us then to a prayer of praise and gratitude before the wonders of God and the graces God gives to all whom He loves.

Marguerite never lost sight of this side of the Visitation: praise and gratitude rising from her heart finds expression in her prayer. Mindful of the gratuitous mercy of God, she speaks of her entire will being filled with gratitude. In her prayer, “My Lord, Savior most worthy of my love”, she recalls the special protection by which God has been pleased to preserve her Congregation and God’s fatherly kindness which she had so often experienced.

Mary’s Life in the Midst of the Apostles

Marguerite loved to reflect on the birth of the Church, to contemplate Mary, the Mother of Jesus, at the heart of the first Christian community and to imagine the role that she played in their midst. She enclosed herself with the Apostles in the Cenacle (Upper Room) to encourage them and to wait with them for the coming of the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus.

She seems to believe that Jesus wanted to offer the presence of his Mother to encourage the disciples in their faith and to help them carry out the mission that was confided to them… Marguerite presents Mary as the Mistress of Novices to all who embrace the doctrine of Jesus in order to help them recognize the designs of their Master, whose words she kept in her heart.

Love of God and Neighbor

For Marguerite, Mary, in the first Christian community, prolonged the presence of her Son and the richness of his teachings, in particular, that which concerned the great commandment of love. “The rule of charity is the one the Blessed Virgin prescribed to all those who had the honor of following her, even the first Christians, for the love of God and neighbor includes all the law.”

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

In a prayer, she asked for herself and her sisters “that we may never have any other joy than to live in You and with You”. She emphasized the importance of living always in the presence of God, as a mother who loves her child passionately does not lose him/her from her sight. Her spiritual director wrote: “It is this loving attention to the presence of God that was the source of grace for all her actions.”

Marguerite expressed the love that she cultivated for her God by her loving thoughtfulness towards her neighbor. She writes: “You will love your neighbor as yourself”, that is, to do nothing to your neighbor that you would not want done to you and to do all for your neighbor that you would wish done to you. Again she writes: “God is not satisfied if we preserve our neighbor in the love we ought to have for them, but that we preserve our neighbor in the love that they ought to have for us.

She invites us also to “allow God to be present” in our relationship with our neighbor, to proclaim also without words that God is love and says to everyone: “you are precious in my eyes and I love you”. In this way, Marguerite lived as Mary did: as the Virgin of the Visitation carrying the Incarnate Word who lived in her being to Elizabeth.


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