In 1640 during a Marian procession through her city, Marguerite experienced "a touch of grace' that led her to a deeper spiritual commitment. To this end, she joined a group of young women associated with a cloistered community of teaching nuns who gathered them for prayer and prepared them to teach in the poorer sections of Troyes. Sister Louise, who moderated this extern group, was the sister of Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, who founded the colony of Ville Marie (now Montreal) ten years earlier. On a trip back to France, de Maisonneuve visited with Sister Louise and spoke of his desire for a lay woman to teach the children of the settlers and the Native Peoples. The nuns recommended Marguerite and arranged for them to meet. Paul invited her to join the Ville Marie project. After much consultation and discernment, Marguerite accepted the invitation. After a three month voyage across the Atlantic, Marguerite arrived in Ville Marie in mid-November 1653.
While waiting for a sufficient number of children to reach school age, Marguerite kept house for the governor and taught young women to read and develop domestic skills for survival in the fragile environment of the colony. In 1655, she initiated the construction of a chapel outside the fort. (Today the pilgrimage site, the Chapel of Notre Dame de Bon-Secours, flourishes at this same location.)
In 1658, de Maisonneuve gave Marguerite a stone stable to establish Montreal's first school. A dove cove under the roof, accessible by an outside ladder, provided a dormitory for Marguerite and future companions. As her educational work expanded, in 1659 she took her first of three voyages back to France to recruit women to assist her in educating the youth. Four women came back with her. Her 1672 trip was very fruitful. She returned with six companions and a civil charter, signed by Louis XIV, which recognized the "Secular Women of the Congregation de Notre Dame" (CND). The dual purpose of her third trip, in 1580, was to protect the uncloistered character of her community and to seek additional members. While she achieved her first goal, her second goal was thwarted by the Bishop of Canada. He forbade her bringing back any recruits. Providentially, the entrance of Canadian women assured the survival of her work.
Marguerite was called "the Mother of the Colony". She welcomed and received into her house "Fille de Roi", young women sent by the King as potential wives of the settlers. She prepared them for pioneer life, protected them until their marriage, and formed them to be wives and mothers. She collaborated with the Sulpician Fathers in forming strong parish life. For Marguerite and her companions, their parish church was their chapel.
Marguerite died at age 80 on January 12, 1700. She was canonized in 1982.
Les Sœurs de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the birth of Marguerite Bourgeoys throughout 2020: click here for information.
Did you know that the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame have been an integral part of the Saint Columba community for many years? Click here to find out how.