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Marguerite Naseau

Marguerite Naseau by Julie Lonneman

Artist Narrative:

At the age of 20, Marguerite Naseau, the eldest of nine children and a poor, uneducated shepherdess, decided to teach children to read. But first she had to conquer her own illiteracy. She asked her parish priest to teach her the alphabet, four letters at a time. Marguerite studied while tending sheep. After instructing girls from her own village of Suresnes, France, this audacious young woman and several companions went from village to village to teach other girls how to read. It was in Villepreux that Marguerite met St. Vincent DePaul, who recognized and encouraged her desire to serve the poor. He brought her to Paris where he placed her under the care of St. Louise de Marillac, co-founder of the Daughters of Charity. Eventually, Marguerite learned how to administer medicines and nurse the sick. Marguerite caught the plague from a girl whom she had nursed and died “her heart filled with joy and conformity to God’s will.”

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Marguerite Naseau 1594 (Suresnes, France) – 24 February 1633.

Baptized 6 July 1594, Marguerite was the eldest of nine children. She met Vincent de Paul at Villepreux in 1617.

What is known about Marguerite is from a manuscript of Vincent's written in 1642. According to Vincent, Marguerite was a poor, uneducated shepherdess. At about 20 years of age, she had the idea to teach children to read and obtained an alphabet. She asked the parish priest or curate to tell her the first four letters of the alphabet, later asking about the next four, and so on. She also asked those she met on the roads about letters and words. She studied while she tended sheep.

Marguerite taught herself to read and began to teach other girls in her village. She decided to take with her two or three girls whom she had taught and with them go from village to village teaching children to read. Her goal was for girls of all ages to learn to read.

Marguerite had become interested in the Confraternity of Charity at Villepreux. When he was at Villepreux for a mission, Marguerite went to Vincent for confession and told him of her wish to serve the poor. Vincent brought her to Paris. There he placed her under the care of Louise de Marillac. At that time the first confraternity in Paris at Saint Savior was composed of women of rank who were looking for a maid to carry soup to the sick.

Louise met with Marguerite and asked her what she knew, where she had come from, and if she was willing to serve poor persons. Marguerite readily expressed her desire to serve in the Confraternity. After Louise had interviewed Marguerite, she placed her in the parish of Saint Savior where she served effectively as a servant of the poor for the Ladies of Charity. She was sent to the confraternity in the parish of Saint Savior where Dr. Levesque, of the faculty of Paris, taught her how to administer medicines and render whatever nursing services were necessary.

Next Louise sent her to the Confraternity at Saint Nicholas-du-Chardonnet (also located in Paris). Marguerite worked there with the Ladies in the Confraternities for about three years. Marguerite caught the plague from a girl whom she had nursed. She went to the Hospital of Saint Louis on the outskirts of Paris and died there “her heart filled with joy and conformity to God's will.”

—Excerpts from Marguerite Naseau, The World Wide Vincenitan Family.