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St. Marguerite d'Youville

St. Marguerite d'Youville by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

Artist Narrative:

Marie Marguerite Dufrost de Lajemmerais was born at Varennes, Quebec on October 15, 1701. Marguerite was no stranger to suffering starting with the death of her beloved father when she was only seven. More suffering came her way when her husband Francoise d’Youville, turned out to be a gambler and bootlegger. Four of Marguerite’s six children died in infancy and at the age of 28, she became burdened with her husband’s debts. She saw to the education of her two sons who became priests. A deep and abiding faith in Divine Providence marked her life as she devoted all of her time and energy to caring for the poor and destitute of Montreal. In 1737 she founded the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity, known as the "Grey Nuns." Her vision continues today through the many works of charity carried on throughout the world by the members of the six Grey Nun congregations and through the many laywomen and laymen who work in organizations founded by the Sisters of Charity. Pope John XXIII named her the Mother of Universal Charity and she was canonized in 1990, the first Canadian-born saint. This icon of St. Marguerite d’Youville was commissioned by the Sisters of Charity Health System in Lewiston, Maine for its nursing facility, St. Marguerite d’Youville Pavilion.

Her feast day is October 16.

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Marguerite was the foundress of the Gray Nuns, or Sisters of Charity. She was born at Varennes, near Montreal, 15 October, 1701, to Christophe-D. de L. and Renee de Varennes. She was the sister of Laverendrye, the discoverer of the Rocky Mountains. Marguerite died on 23 December, 1771. After studying two years with the Ursulines at Quebec, she shared, at the age of twelve, in the housework of her widowed mother. She married M. d'Youville in 1722, who treated her with indifference, and eight years later left her a widow with two children and a heavy debt. She was forced to carry on a small trade in order to meet her obligations. The only two of her sons who reached manhood became priests. Out of her own poverty, she helped the needy.

Mother d'Youville conceived an ardent devotion to the Eternal Father, which was to be the keynote of her life. Providence destined her to rescue from debt and ruin the hospital, founded in 1694 by M. Charon, and hitherto managed by a brotherhood bearing his name. This undertaking which was to be the cradle and groundwork of a new religious institute, the Grey Nuns, or Sisters of Charity, was destined to flourish under the wise and zealous direction of Mother d'Youville. When, in 1747, the General Hospital was entrusted to her, she had already, with a few companions living under a provisional rule, practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

She opened the hospital to disabled soldiers, the aged of either sex, the insane, the incurable, foundlings, and orphans. When, to save the General Hospital of Quebec, the intendant Bigot, with Bishop Pontbriand's assent, decided to transfer to the former institution the property of the Montreal Hospital, Mother d'Youville submitted. The intervention of the Sulpician superior, Cousturier, maintained her rights.

In 1755, Mgr. Pontbriand confirmed the rule of the institute drawn up by Father Normant. Mother d'Youville assumed the entire debt, 49,000 livres, and to meet the expense of restoring, rebuilding, and harboring numerous inmates, increased by the admission of epileptics, lepers, and contagious patients excluded from the Hôtel-Dieu, she made clothing for the king's stores and for the traders of the upper country, which constituted her chief revenue.

During the Seven Years War so many English soldiers were treated at the hospital, that one of its wards was called "la salle des Anglais". Mother d'Youville ransomed from the Indians, at a great price, an English prisoner destined to torture, and saved from their fury several fugitives, one of whom, through gratitude, later prevented the bombardment of the fortress-like hospital. Owing to the exorbitant cost of necessaries of life, due to unscrupulous corruption, the hospital was heavily indebted at the time of the conquest. A credit of 100,000 livres, due by the French Government, was redeemed with interest only under Louis XVIII, and the sum applied to the work begun by the foundress.

Despite her poverty, Mother d'Youville undertook to rescue all foundlings thrown upon her charity. When, in 1766, the General Hospital was destroyed by fire, fully resigned to her loss, she knelt with her sisters and recited the "Te Deum". Her institute has spread throughout Canada and even to some of the neighboring states. The Decree introducing the cause of her beatification, and entitling her to be called Venerable, was signed on 28 April, 1890.

Born: October 15, 1701 at Varennes, Quebec, Canada

Died: December 23, 1771 of natural causes

Venerable: April 28, 1890

Beatified: 1959 by Pope John XXIII

Canonized: 1990 by Pope John Paul II