Marguerite Bourgeoys bigraphy, stories - French colonist and foundress

Marguerite Bourgeoys : biography

17 April 1620 - 12 January 1700

Portrait by [[Antoine Plamondon, probably painted in the 1840s]]

Marguerite Bourgeoys, C.N.D., was the French foundress of the Congregation of Notre Dame of Montreal in the colony of New France, now part of Canada. She lived in Fort Ville-Marie (now Montreal) as of 1653, educating young girls, the poor, and natives until her death at the turn of the 18th century. She is also significant for developing one of the first uncloistered religious communities in the Catholic Church.Simpson, Patricia. "Marguerite Bougeoys and Montreal, 1640-1665", (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press), p.6 She has been declared a saint by the Catholic Church.


"It is true that all I have ever desired most deeply and what I still most ardently wish is that the great precept of the love of God above all things and of the neighbour as oneself be written in every heart." The Writings of Marguerite Bourgeoys, p. 187

"God is not satisfied if we preserve the love we owe our neighbour; we must preserve our neighbour in the love he ought to have for us." The Writings of Marguerite Bourgeoys, p. 170

"It seems to me that we do not pay enough attention to prayer, for unless it arises from the heart which ought to be its centre, it is no more than a fruitless dream. Prayer ought to carry over into our thoughts, our words and our actions." The Writings of Marguerite Bourgeoys, p. 169

"Teaching is the work most suited to draw down the graces of God if it is done with purity of intention, without distinction between the poor and the rich, between relatives and friends and strangers, between the pretty and the ugly, the gentle and the grumblers, looking upon them all as drops of Our Lord’s blood." The Writings of Marguerite Bourgeoys, p. 201

"It seems to me that we are charcoal ready to be kindled and that Holy Communion is entirely suited to set us on fire. But when this charcoal is kindled only on the surface, as soon as it is set aside, it is extinguished. On the contrary, that which is fired all the way to the centre is not extinguished, but is consumed." The Writings of Marguerite Bourgeoys, p. 204

"When the heart is open to the sun of grace, we see flowers blossom in their fragrance; these are seen to have profited by the word of God." The Writings of Marguerite Bourgeoys, p. 205

Life in the colony

Upon her arrival in the port of Quebec City on the following 22 September, Bourgeoys was offered hospitality with the Ursuline nuns there while transportation to Ville-Marie was arranged. She declined the offer and spent her stay in Quebec living alongside poor settlers.Simpson, Patricia. "Marguerite Bourgeoys and Montreal: 1640-1665" , (Montreal: McGill-Queens Press, 1997) p. 105) This hints at her character and the future character of her congregation in Montreal - a secular and practical approach to spreading God's will. She arrived in Ville-Marie on 16 November.

Though this period of Bourgeoys' life in New France pales in comparison to her later years in terms of expansionary scope and influence, it is often seen as much more intimate. Bourgeoys would have known practically everyone in the colony.Simpson, Patricia. "Marguerite Bourgeoys and Montreal: 1640-1665", (Montreal: McGill-Queens Press, 1997) p. 8 However, she also faced difficult struggles during her first years there. There were no children to teach due to the high levels of infant mortality, which frustrated her plan to provide education. Despite this, she took it upon herself to help the community in any way she could, often working alongside the settlers.

During these early years, Bourgeoys did manage to make some significant initiatives. In 1657 she persuaded a work party to form in order to build Ville-Marie's first permanent church - the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Counsel ()."Marguerite Bourgeoys," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. She was provided with a vacant stone stable by de Maisonneuve in April 1658 to serve as a schoolhouse for her students. This was the beginning of public schooling in Montreal, established only five years after Marguerite's arrival.Simpson, Patricia. "Marguerite Bourgeoys and Montreal: 1640-1665", (Montreal: McGill-Queens Press, 1997) p.117 Today a commemorative plaque marks the site of the stable school in Old Montreal. It can be found on a wall just below the southwest corner of Saint-Dizier and Saint-Paul Streets.

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