Marguerite Bourgeoys

Homage to Marguerite Bourgeoys

Call it jingoism but I have a fondness for North American saints. The first Canadian woman canonized as a saint, Marguerite Bourgeoys is no exception.

I first encountered Marguerite Bourgeoys in fourth grade, my first year at Catholic school. My experiences at St. Cecilia’s were not the best as for three years I was the frequent target of ceaseless teasing and bullying. But I do have a few good memories. One is in October of 1982 when we celebrated the canonization of Marguerite Bourgeoys with a special Mass. The sisters who taught at the school were particularly excited both because Marguerite was a North American and — if I remember correctly — she was the founder of their order (my memory may actually correct here as Marguerite Bourgeouys founded the Congrégation de Notre-Dame and I recall the sisters religious at St. Cecilia’s were Sisters of Notre Dame).

As part of the celebration we were all given buttons with an image of Margueritte Bourgeouys and the date of her canonization. During recess, another boy and I were playing with the buttons, pretending they were CB radios. Another boy who oftened bullied me admonished us. “Stop playing with that button as a toy. It was blessed in the church.” For once the bully was right. I suppose Catholics can be guilty of too often idolizing relics, but in this case it was a good point to show some respect to St. Marguerite’s button on her special day.

Seventeen years later, I visited Canada for the first time spending a weekend in Montreal. On my last day there, I awoke ridiculously early and could not full asleep. I needed to get out of the hostel but of nothing was open at the crack of dawn on Sunday so I decided to follow my guide book’s walking tour of the city’s oldest quarter Vieux-Montréal. Along the tour by the Vieux Palais de Justice (Old Court House) there is a magnificent sculpture of a young woman, her face full of joy, playing a circle with several children. I completed my tour with Mass at Basilique Notre-Dame where I again encountered Marguerite Bourgeoys in the statuary and a chapel of the beautiful church (as well as experiencing the universality of the Catholic church by celebrating the Mass in French). I felt intrigued by this saint who was so obviously a heroine in Canada.

It was not until recently that I made the connection between these two stories of my life as relating to the same woman. I’ve learned a little bit about her life. Born in Troyes, France in 1620 she felt a missionary calling and at the age of 33 ventured off to the wilderness of New France. Marguerite’s accomplishments in the small village that would become Montreal include founding the first school in Quebec, where she taught orphans and Native American children among others, and founded a congregation of sisters dedicated to teaching. I have a fondness for teachers and he impresses me as a feisty woman willing to take on the challenge of education in a new world. The sculpture of her dancing with the children for me captures a joyous joining a love of children with the filling of the Spirit.

More biographical information about Marguerite Bourgeoys is available from the Vatican, Catholic Online, and the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.