The life of Marguerite d’Youville, Foundress
of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, better known as the “Grey
Nuns” is one that has inspired women and men of every age and time.
Marguerite knew the difficulties of life. She knew what it was to
lose a father at age 7; to be a student without funds; a beautiful young woman
rejected by her fiancé because of class consciousness; a happy bride;
the mother of six, bereaved of four in infancy; the wife of a neglectful,
deceitful husband; a domineering, avaricious mother-in-law; a debt-burdened
widow at age 28 with two small sons to care for; subject to ridicule and
insults because of her husband’s unsavory reputation for illegal liquor
trading with the Indians.
After her husband’s death, Marguerite opened a dry-goods
store, paid off her inherited debts, educated her two sons for the priesthood,
and managed to have money to help the poor. At age 26, Marguerite received a
special grace which was to be the turning point of her life. She came to the
deep realization that in the great human family, all are sisters and brothers
loved by a compassionate and providential God. This powerful insight
transformed her life into a mission of universal charity. As she went about
helping the poor, she was always strengthened by her trust in Divine Providence
and confidence in God as a Father.
example encouraged three young women to join her and in 1737 they consecrated
themselves simply and privately to the service of the poor in whom they saw the
very person of Jesus Christ. This was the beginning of the Congregation of the
“Grey Nuns.” The name “Les Soeurs Grises,” meaning
“the tipsy nuns” was given the small group by the jeering mob that
associated them with her husband’s illegal liquor traffic. In the face of
prejudice, persecution and misunderstanding, she pursued her vision of
universal charity, embracing peoples of all cultures in unconditional love.
Later, when the sisters were well respected, Marguerite chose a
“gray” material for their habit to remind them of this unjust
accusation and hence the term, “Grey Nuns.”
The following years were marked by trials: twice the hospital that
she and her sisters took over was destroyed by fire; personal illness, extreme
poverty, conquest by the British, and opposition from civil and ecclesiastic
authorities. Marguerite and her Grey Nuns always fought for the rights of the
poor and continually broke with the social conventions of her day. She made a
difference and her influence lives on today in her Grey Nuns and the women and
men who follow her.
Pope John XXIII beatified Marguerite on May 3, 1959 and called her
“Mother of Universal Charity.” On December 9, 1990, Pope John Paul
II canonized this Mother of the Poor and gave her to the entire world as a
model of compassionate love; a Saint of the church.
To learn more about St. Marguerite
d'Youville, please take the time to look at the Publications
available for order.