Marguerite Bourgeoys, born in 1620 in Troyes, France, was a woman whose life embodied the saying, “When one door closes, another opens.” As the sixth child in a family of twelve, Marguerite at 20 years old felt a calling to religious life. However, her attempts to join the Carmelites and Poor Clares were unsuccessful. It was a priest who suggested that perhaps a different path was intended for her by divine design.

In 1654, her life took a pivotal turn when the governor of a French settlement in Canada, visiting his sister in Troyes, extended an invitation to Marguerite. He asked her to come to Ville-Marie (now Montreal) to start a school. On her arrival in Canada, she found a small but growing community of 200 people, already equipped with a hospital and Jesuit mission chapel.

Marguerite’s initial focus was on establishing a school, but she soon recognized the need for assistance. She returned to Troyes and enlisted the help of Catherine Crolo and two other women. By 1667, they expanded their educational efforts to include Native American children. A second recruitment trip to France in 1670 was even more successful, bringing back six more volunteers and obtaining royal endorsement from King Louis XIV.

The Congregation of Notre Dame, founded by Marguerite in 1676, was a pivotal institution in the region. The members, however, only took formal religious vows in 1698 following the approval of their Rule and constitutions. Demonstrating her lifelong commitment to education and service, Marguerite even established a school for Native American girls in Montreal. At 69, she undertook a significant journey on foot from Montreal to Quebec to set up a new community of her congregation, following a request from the bishop.

Marguerite Bourgeoys passed away as a revered figure, fondly known as the “Mother of the Colony.” Her legacy continued well beyond her lifetime, culminating in her canonization in 1982, affirming her enduring impact on the educational and spiritual landscape of Canada.

Photo credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

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