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How St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, first female saint of Canada, discovered her vocation

Every Jan. 12 the Church celebrates St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, CND, a 17th-century French nun who worked as a missionary and teacher in Canada. She was the foundress of the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Montréal, a community that helped European settlers who came to Canada in the most difficult circumstances seeking a better future.

Bourgeoys worked tirelessly to spiritually assist and strengthen Catholics arriving in the new land and became, together with her religious sisters, the support of thousands of hungry, sick, and suffering people.

Gazing at Mary

Marguerite Bourgeoys was born in Troyes, France, on the banks of the Seine in 1620. At the age of 20, she had an encounter with God that would mark her forever.

On the feast day of the Virgin of the Rosary, as was customary, the image of the Mother of God was taken in procession through the streets. Shocked by the act of faith she witnessed, Bourgeoys contemplated the face of the Virgin for a long time.

She recounts in her memoirs: “We returned in front of the portal [of the abbey] of Notre Dame where there is a stone image [of the Virgin] above the door and looking at it I found it very beautiful and at the same time I found myself so touched and so changed that I no longer knew myself.”

Moved by the gaze of Mary’s image, she experienced God’s call, as if suddenly the conviction had appeared that she could not live in any other way than by consecrating herself to the Lord. On that day, everything in her life began to move toward becoming a religious and serving those most in need.

Ministering across the ocean

In 1653, Bourgeoys arrived in the city of Montreal. At that time, she joined the French colony of Ville-Marie. There she dedicated herself, together with a group of women, to give catechesis in various schools and to assist pastorally in nearby parishes.

In 1668, Bourgeoys opened the first elementary school in Montreal with a dozen pupils.

When she was able to return to France, she stayed from 1670 to 1672, obtaining the civil approval of King Louis XIV and the canonical permission of Blessed Francis de Laval to found the Congregation of Notre Dame.

In this way, Bourgeoys became the foundress of the first non-cloistered female congregation in the history of the Church — the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Montréal,

Caring for the whole human being

The burgeoning community succeeded in bringing together young French and North American women. At one point it was made up of 18 religious sisters, seven of whom were Canadian.

The sisters created and managed a farm where they produced enough food to help them weather the famine that struck the population of Ville-Marie. Not only that, they turned the place into an instructional center for farmers where people learned about animal husbandry and spice cultivation.

Read more at Catholic News Agency 

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