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Marguerite Bourgeoys and Respect for Creation

Louise Côté, CND

Marguerite Bourgeoys and Respect for Creation

In the Bible, the Book of Genesis, it is written that on the sixth day of creation God saw all he had made, and indeed, it was very good (Gn 1:31).

We can also say that, indeed, it was, and still is, very good. Astronaut Edgar Mitchell spoke about seeing Earth from space in this way:

Suddenly, from behind the rim of the moon, in long, slow-motion moments of immense majesty, there emerges a sparkling blue and white jewel, a light, delicate sky-blue sphere laced with slowly swirling veils of white, rising gradually like a small pearl in a thick sea of black mystery. It takes more than a moment to fully realize this is Earth … home.

In the second creation narrative in the Book of Genesis we read: God took the man and settled him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and take care of it (Gn 2:15). In his March 19, 2013 homily, Pope Francis reflected: The vocation of being a protector [involves] everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us (…). It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live.

Through its harmony and balance, Creation, which has been entrusted to human beings for its protection, has itself much to teach us: Harmony of colours and shapes, of light and shadow; balance in the sequence of days and seasons; rhythm of plants that grow and of animals that are born; the procreation of human beings.

Humanity, Protector of Creation

In faith, our planet Earth is looked upon as the Garden of God. Human beings are its gardeners and are accountable to God. A true gardener loves his garden and is constantly striving to improve it. (…) The rule of the Creator to protect His garden involves all of humanity throughout all of history.

In faith, our planet Earth is looked upon as the Garden of God.

God entrusts Creation to human beings in trust; not to destroy or abuse it, but so that we may have food, clothing and shelter. Gradually, biblical scholars developed the idea of stewardship. We are pilgrims and stewards on this earth. All that has been created is not the property of human beings. Rather, Creation has been created for our use; it has been meant to be shared.

In turn, this stewardship ethic has evolved. Today, while it has not lost any of its value or of its truth, this notion is considered inadequate, especially when it concerns environmental problems. A more precise way of looking at this reality is to see ourselves as called participants in Creation, as members of a transforming community rather than as managers of products to consume.

This point of view is found in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Laborem exercens (September 1981):

Man, created in the image of God, shares by his work in the activity of the Creator and, in a sense, within the limits of his own human capabilities, continues to develop that activity, and perfects it (No. 25).

This notion of continuing participation in Creation fosters respect and should protect against abuse. All that has been created is at our disposal to meet our needs, not to indiscriminately satisfy all our desires.

We are aware that human beings have not always had the wisdom to respect the finite nature of the planet’s natural resources and the pattern of production. We have begun to live off nature’s capital rather than from its profits. In fact, we are reducing this capital. Our abuses can have grave and, at times, disastrous consequences.

What of Marguerite?

In the 16th century, how likely was it that Marguerite Bourgeoys was aware of such environmental considerations or concerned with the integrity of creation? Quite unlikely. So why would we dwell on this topic? Because the first point, the way she looked at nature, prompts us to do so. Her relationship to Creation and to her Creator can inspire us and encourage us to respect what God has entrusted human beings to protect. Did Saint Francis of Assisi, this admirer of nature who lived five centuries before her, not become the patron saint of ecologists? He who wrote the Canticle of Brother Son:

Praise be You, my Lord, through all your creatures, 
especially through my lord Brother Sun.
Praise be You my Lord, through Sister Moon and the Stars.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind, Sister Water and Brother Fire.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth, 
who sustains us and produces varied fruits,
colored flowers and herbs.

As much as he admired nature and its richness, Francis lived in profound detachment. He was known as “poverello” or the poor man. He can show us how to live in freedom in the midst of our consumer society.

In the same way, Marguerite Bourgeoys’s belief in simplicity of life can offer options on how to live in our modern society. She speaks of a life which is not austere, not [lived] in the desert, but a [simple,] little life. She invites us to be detached from all the little comforts which our nature ordinarily seeks. She believed that if we succumb, we must make great efforts to return to the little life. For it is easy for us to consider whatever pleases us as necessary.”

Following this path does not mean that we are free of invasive advertising which aims at constantly creating new – and often artificial – needs and exploiting the desire for unlimited possessions in order to promote consumerism.

We previously spoke of planet Earth as the Garden of God. The theme of the garden is often referred to by Marguerite Bourgeoys. She wrote:

For all Christendom is a great garden created by God and all the communities are as so many plots in this large garden.

I compare this community to a square in a large garden. For all Christendom is a great garden created by God and all the communities are as so many plots in this large garden. Ours, as small as it is, does not fail to be one of those little squares the Gardener has kept for Himself to set out a number of plants and flowers. In this little garden, they are all different in colour, in savour, in fragrance.

She sees the Word of God as a seed and she says to us:

When the heart is open to the sun of grace, we see flowers blossom in their fragrance; these are seen to have profited by the word of God.

When she spoke about communion, she used charcoal as an example:

It seems to me that we are charcoal ready to be kindled and that Holy Communion is entirely suited to set us on fire. But when this charcoal is kindled only on the surface, as soon as it is set aside, it is extinguished. On the contrary, that which is fired all the way to the center is not extinguished, but is consumed.

Marguerite seems to enjoy finding comparisons in nature: she compared the life of the Blessed Virgin to living water, crystal clear, and refreshing all who come to it. She mentioned a snowflake which falls in the shape of a star.

Marguerite Bourgeoys also teaches us another way leading to respect for Creation: the contemplative vision she had of the universe. To our saint, nature spoke of its Creator. In contemplating God’s Creation, her spirit was one with the Maker. She wrote:

All creatures, angels, men, animals, inanimate objects, will say each in their own tongue: ‘It is not we who have made ourselves.’ The sun proclaims the truth, that unless its Creator sustained it, it would fall back into nothingness. The rocks tell that they receive their firmness and strength from God. The smallest creatures repeat the same in a language which is mute to men, but heard by their Creator.

With the author of the Psalms, she undoubtedly would affirm:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
The vault of heaven proclaims his handiwork,
Day discourses of it to day,
Night to night hands on the knowledge. (Ps 19)

It may not be evident to everyone that nature sings the glory of God. However, a contemplative glance towards Creation, will help make believers and non-believers more aware of the obligation to respect planet Earth, which is in peril because of human action.

Marguerite Bourgeoys and Her Relationship with Others

Respect for Creation does not only concern respect for planet Earth. Pope Francis reminded us in his March 19 homily:

It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live.

Saint Francis encourages communion among all creatures as they are all worthy of equal love and each according to its order.

Hence, respect for Creation, respect for all creatures also includes respect for human beings, for all our brothers and sisters in humanity.

On this topic, Marguerite Bourgeoys tells us:

We were created and put into the world to love God and give Him glory. God wishes to be loved in spirit and in truth. She also understood that the commandment of love also included love of the other. In her view, to love her brothers and sisters meant:

           To do nothing to your neighbour that you would not want done to you.

She went on:

God is not satisfied if we preserve the love we owe our neighbour; we must preserve our neighbour in the love he ought to have for us.

Toward the end of her life, she confided:

It is true that all I have ever desired most deeply and what I still most ardently wish is that the great precept of love of God above all things and of the neighbour as oneself be written in every heart.

Marguerite truly believed in human dignity and in equal dignity for all persons. Each person is loved by God; for each person Jesus shed his blood. When she sent her sisters “on mission,” she said to them in the language of her time:

Respect for Creation, respect for all creatures also includes respect for human beings, for all our brothers and sisters in humanity.

“Consider, dear, that when you go on mission, you go to gather up the drops of the blood of Jesus Christ which are being lost.”

Inspired by this conviction, her actions were without distinction of persons. She could easily have made Saint Paul’s words to the Galatians her own:

All of you are the children of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus, since very one of you that has been baptised has been clothed in Christ. There can be neither Jews nor Greeks, there can be neither slave nor freeman, there can be neither male nor female – for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

A passage in her Writings echoes the Apostle’s words:

[Teaching] is the work [most] suited to draw down the graces of God if it is done with purity of intention, without distinction between the poor and the rich, between relatives and friends and strangers, between the pretty and the ugly, the gentle and the grumblers, looking upon them all as drops of Our Lord's blood.

She also wanted to imitate the Blessed Virgin who received kings and shepherds [in Bethlehem] with the same love.

When she selecteds candidates for religious life in her Congregation, she said:

I notice that there ae sisters who show more esteem for a girl who has social rank than for one who might be more virtuous.

The dowry was not necessary for admission:

When girls are truly called and suited for this Community, they bear their dowry with them and draw the graces of God upon the house.”

In her Writings we find that one of concerns was equality among sisters:

All the women who will live here ought to be equal, so that the superior, after her demission, can be employed in all the tasks of the house according to her capabilities.

Marguerite wished that in her Congregation the Superior ought not to be too reticent in informing the sisters about the Community and that she be closely united to her assistants. She should therefore inform, dialogue and not govern alone.

During an analysis of Marguerite Bourgeoys’s handwriting, an expert graphologist recognized a great deal of consideration for the opinions of others and a total openness to dialogue.

She also explained: What is essential is seen, said and executed. However, the share and the freedom of each person is fully respected. Conviction is a contagious zeal, it is neither authoritarianism nor pressure.

Regarding leadership Marguerite wrote:

In all matters of general concern, the superior ought to act in harmony [with the sisters].

Tradition reports that, from the beginning of the congregation, the sisters gathered each month “in Chapter” to discuss issues of common interest (matters of general concern).

Marguerite Bourgeoys and the Creator of all Things

This concludes the section on Marguerite’s relationship with her neighbour. She also understood that true respect for Creation was not separate it from its Creator.

What she truly desired was the love of union with God. Here again, to describe this union, she invoked an element in nature, oil in the sanctuary lamp: If the oil is well purified, as soon as it is lighted it makes the fire luminous as it is consumed. If the Holy Spirit finds our soul prepared, he sets it afire and creates a love of union with God. In a prayer for herself and her sisters, she asked her “Lord and gracious Savior:”

              That we may never have any other joy than to live in You and with You.

As was mentioned above, she tells us: We were created and put into the world to love God and give Him glory. She truly lived from this love of her Creator. This radiance did not go unnoticed. When the Congregation Superior, Sister Marguerite Lemoyne, announced Marguerite’s death, she said:

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.

The Relationship between Each One of Us and Creation

In his already mentioned homily of March 19, 2013, Pope Francis recalled:

Men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.

Similarly, the life of Marguerite Bourgeoys follows along the same path. In my view, she invites us to create new ties with nature, with our brothers and sisters and with God.


Lord, it sometimes happens
That I do not respect nature.
I will break a plant,
Cause damage for no good reason,
Empty the trash
In the woods or by the side of the road.
Teach me
To live in harmony with the earth.

It sometimes happens
That I do not respect my neighbour.
I will make fun of him,
And even reject him.
I will look at him and treat him with superiority.
Teach me
To live in harmony with my neighbour.

And finally, it sometimes happens
That I do not respect You.
I will act like You did not exist,
You for my own personal interest.
Teach me
To live in harmony with You.



Translated from the French Réflexions et prières pour les jours du Carême by Jules Beaulac. 1995, Novalis, Canada p. 7

Explanatory Note: During a retreat attended by a sister of the Congregation de Notre-Dame, the preacher, a Carmelite priest described the holy nature of Saint John of the Cross as identified in a study by a handwriting expert. From there came the idea to undertake the same kind of study on Marguerite Bourgeoys’s handwriting. Ms. A. J. Roque performed the analysis from twelve autographed documents spanning forty-four years (1651 – 1695).



Article published by A. J. Roque, Director, International Psycho-Service, Paris. Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française, Vol. XX, no. 1, 1965. pp. 75 – 107

Planète vie, planète mort, à l’heure des choix. Under the direction of Bishop Marc Stenger. Les éditions du cerf, 2005, pp. 263 – 264

The Writings of Marguerite Bourgeoys


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