First Canadian-born saint, and a very fitting woman to recognize on Canada Day.
Like many women, she defied conventions of her culture by reaching out to and serving the poor. Beyond the confines of a cloister chapel.
There are many commonalities with other women saints and Marie-Marguerite.
- She lived in poverty as a child–her father having died when she was seven years old.
- She was dependent on benefactors for education.
- She married young and experienced a deepening sense of religion and spirituality.
- Her faith deepened after the death of her husband.
Her husband François was a bootlegger and fur trader. None of the biographies I read cast him in a favorable light. When he died in 1730, he left a widow and two sons. Marie-Marguerite’s life of saintly heroism intensified.
She provided for the education of her sons, both of whom served the Church as priests. She took a blind woman into her home. Other women were attracted to her model of charity and loving outreach. Most neighbors held the small community in contempt, referring to them as “filthy drunks,” possibly a reference to Marie-Marguerite’s dead husband.
In 1737, the women consecrated themselves and their work to God. Seven years later, they were a religious order, the Sisters of Charity of Montreal. In 1747, their founder offered to take over the Hospital General of Montreal, including its large debt. Hard work, astute management, and the grace of God allowed them to lift the enterprise out of debt, adding services for military veterans, the elderly, orphans, the mentally ill, those suffering from venereal diseases, and women escaping from prostitution. She and her sisters received into their care patients other facilities considered too contagious. During the French and Indian War, she also accepted wounded British soldiers into her hospital.
By the time of Marie-Marguerite’s death, the epithet, “les grises” had been embraced by the women then known as the “Grey Nuns.”
Some links of interest with brief biographies: