Page 18, 19th December 2008

19th December 2008
Page 18
Page 18, 19th December 2008 — SAINT OF THE WEEK

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St Marguerite d'Youville (December 23)

arguerite d' You v ille (1701-1771) was a French Canadian whose charity extended to all those in distress, even if they happened to be English.

The order which she founded, the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, known as the Grey Nuns, expanded in the 19th and 20th centuries to Quebec, Ottawa and Philadelphia in the United States. The Sisters have served the poor as far afield as Alaska, South America, Japan, Central Africa, Haiti and New Guinea

The daughter of a French officer from Brittany, the foundress of the Grey Nuns was born Marie Marguerite de Lajernrnerais at Varennes, near Montreal, the eldest of six children. Her father died when she was seven. leaving the family in poverty.

Thanks to her great-grandfather, however, Marguerite was able to study for two years with the Ursulines in Quebec, after which she returned home to undertake the education of her brothers and her sisters. In 1722 she married Francois d'Youville, a fur trader. in the presence of the Governor-General. Francois, however, proved to be a rotter, who plied the Indians with alcohol so that, as one of them complained , "we drank up all our furs". Francois himself was no slouch with the bottle, as well as being an incorrigible gambler and adulterer.

They had six children, but only two boys reached adulthood. When Francois died in 1730, Marguerite was left in dire straits. To pay off her husband's debts and to provide for her sons, she opened a small shop, and, together with some friends, took in sewing jobs, specialising in military uniforms.

A good part of her earnings was dedicated to securing a Christian education for her boys, both of whom would become priests.

Still. though, Marguerite found time for charity, visiting prisoners, looking after the sick and helping the poor. Some friends joined her. and in 1737 they formed the Sisters of Charity.

Ten years later, after a fire had gutted their house, they were asked to take over the General Hospital of Montreal, which was in a dreadful state. Notwithstanding acute financial and practical difficulties the Grey Nuns greatly improved conditions, and in 1753 received recognition for their work from Louis XV.

During the war between French and English in Canada, Marguerite ministered to the prisoners and wounded on both sides. An English officer became an interpreter for hen and after another fire destroyed the hospital in 1765 the English contributed to the work of rebuilding.

Smallpox victims, native Indians, negro slaves and diseased prostitutes were all treated by the Grey Nuns_ "One is rich in God," Marguerite considered, "in the measure that one is poor in the love of worldy things." She was canonised in 1990 by Pope John Paul IL who called her ''the mother of universal charity".

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