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Marie-Marguerite d'Youville

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Saint Marie-Marguerite d'Youville
Painting of Marguerite d'Youville
Mother of Universal Charity


Born October 15, 1701, Varennes, Quebec
Died December 23, 1771
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified 1959 by Pope John XXIII
Canonized December 9, 1990, Vatican Basilica by Pope John Paul II
Feast October 16
Patronage widows, difficult marriages

Saint Marguerite d'Youville (October 15, 1701 – December 23, 1771) was a French Canadian widow who founded the religious order the Order of Sisters of Charity of Montreal, commonly known as the Grey Nuns of Montreal. She was canonized by Pope John-Paul II of the Roman Catholic Church in 1990.

Early life and marriage

She was born Marie-Marguerite Dufrost de Lajemmerais in 1701 at Varennes, Quebec, eldest daughter of Christophe du Frost, Sieur de la Gesmerays (1661-1708) and Marie-Renée Gaulthier de Varennes. (Pursuant to Quebec naming conventions, she would have always been known as Marguerite, not Marie.) Her father died when she was a young girl; despite her family's poverty, at age 11 she was able to attend the Ursuline convent in Quebec City for two years before returning home to teach her younger brothers and sisters. Marguerite's impending marriage to a scion of Varennes society was foiled by her mother's marriage below her class to Timothy Sullivan, an Irish doctor who was seen by the townspeople as a disreputable foreigner.[1] On 12 August 1722 at Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal, she married François d'Youville, a bootlegger who sold liquor illegally to Indians in exchange for furs and who frequently left home for long periods to parts unknown. Despite this, the couple eventually had six children before François died in 1730.[1] By age 30 she had suffered the loss of her father, husband and four of her six children. Marguerite experienced a religious renewal during and after her marriage; in the words of her Vatican biography:

In all these sufferings Marguerite grew in her belief of God's presence in her life and of His tender love for every human person. She, in turn, wanted to make known His compassionate love to all. She undertook many charitable works with complete trust in God, who she loved as a Father.[2]

Religious life

Sanctuaire Marguerite d'Youville

Marguerite d'Youville Sanctuary in Varennes

With her two surviving sons already in the priesthood, Marguerite and three other women founded in 1737 a religious association to provide a home for the poor in Montreal. At first the home only housed four or five members, but it grew as the women raised funds. As their actions went against the social conventions of the day, d'Youville and her colleagues were mocked by their friends and relatives and even by the poor they helped.[1] Some called them "les grises", which can mean "the grey women" but which also means "the drunken women",[3] in reference to d'Youville's late husband. By 1744 the association had become a religious order with a rule and a formal community. They were in 1747 granted a charter to operate the General Hospital of Montreal, which by that time was in ruins and heavily in debt. d'Youville and her fellow workers brought the hospital back into financial security,[4] but the hospital was destroyed by fire in 1765[2]. The order rebuilt the hospital soon after. By this time, the order was commonly known as the "Grey Nuns of Montreal" after the nickname given to the nuns in ridicule years earlier.[1] Years later, as the order expanded to other cities, the order became known simply as the "Grey Nuns".


Marguerite d'Youville died in 1771 at the General Hospital. In 1959, she was beatified by Pope John XXIII, who called her "Mother of Universal Charity", and was canonized in 1990 by Pope John Paul II. She is the first native-born Canadian to be elevated to sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church. Her feast day is October 16.[1]

A large number of Roman Catholic churches, schools, women's shelters, charity shops, and other institutions in Canada and worldwide are named after St. Marguerite d'Youville.

References and notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Biography of St. Marguerite d'Youville from the Grey Nuns of Montreal. Accessed 27 August 2008.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Vatican biography. Accessed 27 August 2008.
  3. Many references give the translation as a genteel "tipsy", but the actual phrase is much more blunt and would best be translated as "filthy drunk".
  4. University of Saskatchewan Herstory of Marguerite d'Youville. Accessed 27 August 2008.

This article incorporates text from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, a publication now in the public Marguerite d'Youville

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