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Saint Marguerite d'Youville "The Mother of universal charity"

on Friday, 01 January 1999. Posted in Roman Catholic Church, Saints & Blessed

About the picture on the front page

The painting of the Eternal Father on the front page of this present issue of "Michael" was made upon the request of Mother Marguerite d'Youville (the first Canadian-born saint), according to a promise she had made following the healing of Mr. Louis Normant de Faradont, a Sulpician priest, Superior of the Great Seminary of Montreal, and spiritual director of Mother d'Youville.

This painting of the Eternal Father is attributed to the French painter Charles-Michel-Ange Challe (1718-1778), who was born and died in Paris. He obtained, in 1741, the first grand prize of Rome for his work "The healing of Tobiah". The painting of the Eternal Father was made the same year, 1741. During the fire of the hospital of Pointe-à-Callière (Montreal) on May 18, 1765, the painting was saved by Mr. Jean-François Féligonde, a Sulpician priest, with the help of a nun. The original painting is kept in the motherhouse of the Grey Nuns, 1190 Guy Street, Montreal, H3H 2L4, where one can get pictures of this painting.

1999 has been dedicated by Pope John Paul to the Eternal Father, and he also called 1999 the "year of charity". The first Canadian-born saint, Marguerite d'Youville, had a very special devotion to the Eternal Father, and Pope John XXIII, upon her beatification in 1959, referred to her as the "Mother of universal charity" because she founded all kinds of homes to help every type of human misery; the poor, the disabled, the sick, the orphans, abandoned children, unmarried mothers, etc.

Her great devotion to the Eternal Father brought her to have an altar built in His honor, in the chapel of the community she founded (the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, or "Grey Nuns").

"Through her life of dedication for the poor, she made visible, in a way, the caring love of God the Father for all. With her filial trust and total abandonment to God the Father, she taught men the response they must give to so much love." (Father Léon Pouliot, S.J.)

This is why, to live well this year that is dedicated to the Eternal Father, the year of charity, we could not offer a more beautiful model to be followed than the life of the first Canadian-born saint, Mother Marguerite d'Youville. She is an example to follow, with her love and unlimited trust in the Eternal Father, and her incomparable charity towards the poor. May Saint Marguerite d'Youville help us by lending us her heart!

It is to be noticed that the feast of Saint Marguerite d'Youville in the liturgical calendar falls on October 16, the same day John Paul II was elected Pope. And it is John Paul II who declared her a saint.

Thérèse Tardif

Here are excerpts from the homily given by John Paul II on the occasion of the canonization of Marguerite d'Youville, on December 9, 1990 (Taken from the December 10, 1990 issue of L'Osservatore Romano, weekly edition in English):

by Pope John Paul II

"Marguerite d'Youville appears to us as a woman who heard the Lord say to her, "Give comfort to My people', make ready My way by going in search of the poorest, those whose lives have been one long, endless trail of suffering'.

"We see her seized by the brilliant light of the Father's love. She gathers together some companions who commit themselves to placing everything in common in order to give that love to the poor and lowly. With their 'Mother of universal charity', the 'Grey Nuns' recognized Jesus Christ in the person of the poor'. The Sisters have all possible deference for them and serve them with joy'. (Rule of the Grey Nuns).

"Kindness and truth shall meet, justice and peace shall kiss.' (Ps 84:11). Saint Marguerite d'Youville, in the Advent of the Church, with all the saints you give us an image of the new world in which Kindness, Truth, Justice and Peace reign. Saint Peter says: What we await are new heavens, and a new earth where, according to His promise, the justice of God will reside (II Pt 3:13). In her daily devotion, Marguerite brought a little of that newness to the neediest: a community of love where the lowly are respected because the Lord is near them, because He is present within their hearts. For the saint whom we are honouring, it is the daily concrete acts of charity which make God's justice triumph, and which reveal the presence of the new world: 'Near indeed is His salvation to those who fear Him, glory dwelling in our land' (Ps 84:10).

"Marguerite placed her life completely in the hands of God the Creator. Day after day, in a spirit of deep trust, she sought 'to offer herself with Jesus to our heavenly Father'... In God, Marguerite saw the Father who 'loved the world so much that He gave His only Son' (Jn 3:16). In union with Our Lady of Providence, as she called the Mother of the Saviour, she would prayerfully contemplate the mystery of God's universal fatherhood; she came to understand that all men and women are truly brothers and sisters, that their heavenly Father would never fail to be close to them, and that His love called them to an active life of service to others.

"We thank God for the figure which He sets before our eyes this morning. Yes, we give Him thanks. For the first time in history, a woman of Canadian birth is inscribed among the saints whom the Church has raised to the glory of the altars."

John Paul II

The life of Saint Marguerite d'Youville

Now, here are a few paragraphs on the life of Saint Marguerite d'Youville (taken in part from the above-mentioned issue of L'Osservatore Romano):


Mother Marie Marguerite Dufrost de Lajemmerais was born in Varennes, Quebec, on October 15, 1701, the eldest of the six children of Christophe Dufrost and his wife Marie-Renée Gauthier. Her father died when she was only seven years of age. Destitution replaced poverty in the fatherless household. Thanks to the kindness of relatives and friends, Marguerite enjoyed two years of schooling at the Ursuline Convent in Quebec, then returned to Varennes. She was described as intelligent, endowed with sound judgement and a real sense of responsibility, and she worked to help her mother earn the livelihood of the family. Her mother remarried, and Marguerite moved with them to Montreal, where she met Francois d'Youville, and married him in 1722.

The couple made their home with François' mother, who made life miserable for her daughter-in-law. Marguerite soon came to realize that her husband was flighty and indifferent, had no interest in home life, and spent most of his time trading furs for firewater with the Indians. Her husband's conduct caused her much anxiety and humiliation. On July 4, 1730, Francois d'Youville died after a very short illness, during which time Marguerite cared for him with kindness and love.

Of their five children, only two sons survived. When Francois died, Marguerite was pregnant with their sixth child, who lived only a few months. Great was her joy to see both of her sons become priests. She worked to earn her livelihood and send her two sons to the seminary in Quebec. With complete trust in God's Providence, Marguerite opened a small store to pay her husband's debts and provide for the necessities of life.

Marguerite knew poverty from childhood. She recognized it readily in her surroundings, and her compassionate heart responded to alleviate it. Her kindness for the needy and her tenderness for children prompted her to find ways to help the poor without prejudice to her family. She devoted her free time to visit the prisoners, the sick and the poor at home, and to encourage and help the elderly men at the General Hospital by mending their clothes.

On November 21, 1737, Marguerite welcomed in her home Françoise Auzon, a blind woman whose husband had found a home in the General Hospital. The news spread rapidly, and the increasing number of poor women forced Marguerite to seek a more spacious abode. It was not long, however, before she realized that she would need help in this work. On December 31, 1737, Marguerite and three other women consecrated themselves unreservedly to God to serve the poor for the rest of their lives. This was the real beginning of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal.

The population viewed this society with a critical eye. Madame d'Youville and her companions were assailed in the street, taunted and accused of continuing the illicit trafficking started by Francois. Some men, infuriated by their unassailable peace, picked up stones and savagely hurled them, striking the gentle women as they passed by. They charged Marguerite d'Youville and her companions with deliberate drunkenness giving them the nickname "tipsy nuns" — Soeurs Grises (Grey Nuns). Despite such defamation, they continued their work with courage and dedication. In solidarity with the poor, and endeavouring to care for them, she voluntarily accepted undertakings which entailed hard and exacting work.

In 1737, at the request of civil and religious authorities of the colony, Marguerite accepted the administration of the dilapidated General Hospital. Through industry, creativity and charity, she successfully operated the house. Elderly women were welcomed, in addition to aged men; the mentally handicapped found refuge; abandoned children were sheltered with tenderness; French soldiers and English prisoners were ministered to, and Indians could expect to be cared for during an epidemic of smallpox. With confidence in Divine Providence, she shaped new ministries for every unmet need. Finding an abandoned baby in the snow one day, she knew immediately that she would open a home for abandoned children, the first foundling home, in North America.

Not content with helping the poor, she became their advocate and defender. Many of her contemporaries were shocked by her behavior; actually living with the poor, they thought, was too degrading for a woman religious. Finding her strength and support in prayer, Marguerite always saw God as Father and Providence in Whom she had absolute confidence. "Every day I admire Divine Providence, which deigns to make use of such weak creatures to do some little good," she said, thus revealing the true perspective in which she saw her life and work. She wrote that "Providence is admirable. It has inconceivable means for relieving the suffering members of Jesus Christ. It provides for everything! In it I place all my trust!"

Marguerite d'Youville died peacefully on December 23, 1771, at the age of 70. At the moment of her death, a notable saw a luminous spot of light above the hospital. 'He first thought it was a fire, but the spot became a cross of fire. For fear of hallucinating, he called neighbours, who saw the same phenomenon in the sky. Mother d'Youville's spiritual legacy lives on: in 1960, there were 7,000 members of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal in over 75 dioceses in Canada, the U.S.A. (including Alaska), Japan, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Lesotho, Mawali. Marguerite d'Youville was beatified by Pope John XXIII on May 3, 1959, and canonized by Pope John Paul II on December 9, 1990, becoming the first Canadian-born saint.

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Words of Mrs. Côté-Mercier

On the occasion of the year dedicated to the Eternal Father, to Whom Saint Marguerite d'Youville had so much devotion, we think it proper to present to our readers a summary of this great and saintly Canadian figure. There are many lessons that can be learned from her life.

Those who feel sometimes they are misunderstood, persecuted, whereas they try to do some good, can strengthen their trust in God, being sure that if what they do is in keeping with God's will, and done with pure I intentions and a pure soul, neither the opposition of men nor the machinations of hell will prevent the seed from germinating, and the plant from growing, when God sees fit. But we must not rely only on our own person, or think we are important. On the contrary, we must consider ourselves as little instruments which, by themselves, are quite inefficient, and remain in sincere humility, asking the help of Heaven, and try to imitate, as far as we can, the virtues of Saint Marguerite d'Youville.

A gift from the Eternal Father

In November, 1961, we visited the motherhouse of the Grey Nuns in Montreal, on Guy Street. We learned there that, during her life, Marguerite d'Youville had a picture of the Eternal Father painted, because she had great devotion to Him. Louis Even bought a large framed picture of this painting, as well as a large framed painting of Marguerite d'Youville. And we asked the Eternal Father and Marguerite d'Youville to find the place wanted by the Eternal Father to build a house with the intention of sheltering our Pilgrims of Saint Michael.

Less than a month later, we bought the land in Rougemont (the parish is dedicated to Saint Michael), where our motherhouse, the House of Saint Michael, is built. It was a gift of the Eternal Father and of Marguerite d'Youville. Since that time, in gratitude, the Pilgrims of Saint Michael in Rougemont recite, every morning, the following prayer to the Eternal Father, asking Him to protect, through the intercession of Saint Marguerite d'Youville, our two houses, the House of Saint Michael, built in 1962, and the House of the immaculate, built in 1975:

"Eternal Father, grant us, we beseech You, the favor that we ask with faith, confidence, and love, through the intercession of St. Marguerite d'Youville, your faithful handmaid, whose life was an homage of filial abandonment to Your Providence. St. Marguerite d'Youville, pray for us."

Gilberte Côté-Mercier

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