In 1653, Marguerite Bourgeoys arrived in Ville-Marie (Montreal) to teach. However, she had to wait until 1658 for there to be enough children to open a school.
Her first students were the children of the settlers who were building Montreal. They learned reading, writing, arithmetic and handiwork in order to be properly prepared for adult life. Marguerite believed in liberating education, whose purpose was to develop each person’s full potential.
Marguerite Bourgeoys visited the settlers’ wives who lived outside Ville-Marie’s walls. She taught them how to read and provided many services. She was often asked for her advice and was known as the “Mother of the Colony.”
Marguerite also welcomed les Filles du Roy (the King’s Wards), who had come from France to marry and start families. She taught them to adapt to the difficult conditions of their new environment. She also opened a workshop where impoverished women learned weaving, sewing, etc. to be able to earn a living.
Marguerite founded the Congrégation de Notre-Dame. It is one of the first uncloistered religious communities of women in the Catholic Church and the first in North America.
This Congregation is still in existence today. The sisters continue Marguerite’s work in eight countries: Canada, United States, Japan, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, France and Cameroon. They work with families and parishes, and advocate for greater social justice and the protection of the planet.
Marguerite Bourgeoys was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 31, 1982. She became the first female saint of Canada. Having dedicated her life to building a better Church and society, she invites us to work together for a more just world.