Feast Day : January 19
Patronage: against poverty; impoverishment; loss of parents; people rejected by religious orders
Also known as: Margaret Bourgeoys, Marguerite Bourgeous, Marguerite Bourjeoys
Marguerite Bourgeoys was born in Troyes, France, on April 17, 1620, the sixth of 12 children of devout Catholic parents. Her mother died when she was 19, her father when she was 27. Marguerite applied for admission to the Carmelites and Poor Clares, but was refused entry by both orders. She joined an uncloistered community, but was not happy with this decision. Then in 1652 when the governor of Ville-Marie, New France (now Montreal, Canada), came to Troyes to recruit teachers, she decided to go with him. Marguerite arrived in Ville-Marie for the first time in 1653 and set about teaching children and caring for the sick. In 1658, she helped to organize the first school in the community, and was appointed headmistress. She went back to France in 1659 and returned the following year with four new assistants; in 1670 she went to France again. Upon her return to Ville-Marie in 1672, Marguerite decided to found a religious congregation, called the Sisters of Notre Dame, and after some discussion, was given approval by her bishop in 1676. Before the new order was approved by the Vatican in 1688, it had established missions to the Indians and admitted 18 sisters, seven of them French Canadian and two Native American. Marguerite passed the role of superior on to her successor—Marie Barbier, the first Canadian to join the order—in 1693. The Sisters of Notre Dame obtained the right from King Louis XIV of France to teach throughout Canada, and the apostolate increased in spite of the difficulties the sisters encountered, such as fires and massacres by the Iroquois to the south. Marguerite established schools for Indian children as well as schools for the French at Quebec and Trois Rivières. When the King sent untrained orphans to Canada as colonists, she set up a school for the women to teach them how to survive in the new, harsh environment. In 1889, the congregation received papal approval to spread into the United States. Today Marguerite’s congregation has 200 convents. Marguerite spent her last years praying and writing her autobiography. On December 31, 1699, she asked the Lord to take her life in exchange for a young sister who was then near death. By the morning of January 1, the sister was completely well, but Marguerite had a raging fever. She suffered another 12 days, then died, on January 12, 1700, at the age of 79.