Marguerite Bourgeoys: The Story of a Teacher, Sister and Saint

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Marguerite Bourgeoys: The Story of a Teacher, Sister and Saint
Marguerite Bourgeoys: The Story of a Teacher, Sister and Saint
Photo:  © ndoduc, CC BY-SA 4.0

The crisis of Faith among Canadian Catholics was readily apparent, as the results from the 2021 census recently revealed: In just ten years, nearly 2 million Canadian Catholics left the Church. That’s a decline from 12.8 million Catholics in 2011 to 10.9 Catholics in 2021.1

While these statics are tragic, it underscores the urgent need for missionaries who can once again spread the Faith with renewed zeal in this neo-pagan wilderness. We can look to the examples of great Catholic saints and heroes from our past to inspire us in this endeavor.

One of these saints who had a great zeal for the Holy Catholic Church was Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys.

Born in Troyes, France, in 1620 to a family of 12 children, the future missionary first heard the voice of God calling her at the age of 20. While participating in a Rosary procession, Marguerite received an extraordinary grace as she passed a statue of the Blessed Virgin. Marguerite said, “When I looked up and saw it, I thought it was very beautiful, and at the same time, I found myself so touched and so changed that I no longer knew myself, and on my return to the house, everybody noticed the change.”2

This grace led Marguerite to the Congregation of Notre Dame, a religious order dedicated to the education of girls. The congregation had a cloistered group and a group dedicated to external apostolate. Marguerite chose to be part of the external congregation to reach the poorer girls in society.

On a Mission to the New World

This courageous pioneer took a ship to New France in 1653 and arrived at Quebec City, where she began serving as a nurse. Eventually, her dream to teach girls took shape after she acquired a stone stable which she turned into a girls’ school.

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Afire with the love of God and thirst for souls, Marguerite returned to France to find more young women to help her. She returned with four volunteers. These women, known as the “Daughters of the Congregation,” lived the life of a religious community with periods of work and prayer inspired by how Our Lady spent her earthly life.

Seeking the King’s Approval

Support for Marguerite’s mission came from another Canadian saint, the bishop of Quebec, François de Laval. However, she still needed confirmation from the king of France. For this purpose, she took a ship back to France, arriving with no assistance or money, but led on by trust in God. King Louis XIV received her and graciously provided the necessary royal documents approving her mission.

The king wrote in appreciation: “Not only has she performed the office of schoolmistress by giving free instruction to the young girls in all the occupations that make them capable of earning their livelihood but, far from being a liability to the country, she has built permanent buildings, cleared land-concessions, set up a farm…”3

The approval of her work by Church officials took longer, and it was not until 1698 that her Congregation de Notre Dame de Montreal received an official constitution.

An Expanding Frontier

In New France, Sister Marguerite continued expanding her apostolic activities to educate poor girls. She sent her companions to found schools further away from Quebec City in small villages such as Lachine, Pointe-aux-Trembles, and Champlain. Following in the footsteps of the North American Martyrs, these intrepid women also went out to the native villages and began teaching the girls there.

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Even in her late 70s, Sister Marguerite continued her work. Selfless to the very end, Sister Marguerite offered her life in exchange for another young sister who was dying with the words: “Oh God, why do you not take me instead, I who am useless and good for naught!”4

Soon after, Sister Marguerite became ill, and several days later, on January 12, 1700, she entered into eternity. She was raised to the altar as Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys on October 31, 1982.


Looking at the life of Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys, we see an incredible example of zeal and perseverance against great obstacles. Her story is inspiring, whether braving the hardships of pioneer life, traveling back and forth to France, or simply teaching her girls about the Faith. Most of all, her life encourages us to forge ahead in bringing souls to the Faith, no matter how difficult it may be.



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