Marguerite Bourgeoys was born in 1620. Like many French people of her time, she believed strongly in the catholic religion, but was reluctant to enter a convent. Around the age of 20, she joined a congregation, but instead of staying at the convent, she continued to work with people in her hometown of Troyes.
Her directress was the sister of Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, who has just founded Ville-Marie (Montréal). Ville-Marie was a small mission on the island of Montréal where the French hoped to convert Indigenous people to Catholicism. Marguerite offered to go to Ville-Marie to start a school. In 1653, she crossed the ocean to New France with a group of new colonists. Since there were not enough children to open a school, she helped Maisonneuve develop the mission.
As soon as there were enough children, Marguerite Bourgeois opened the first school in Montréal. The school was located in a stone stable that had been given to her by Maisonneuve. Along with four young French girls, Marguerite formed the Congregation of Notre Dame. Together, they built the Saint-Gabriel farm, whose house still exists today. This is where Marguerite lodged the “Filles du roi” (the king’s daughters) until they found a husband.
Marguerite Bourgeoys played an important role in the early years of New France. When she died in 1700, her congregation already had 40 nuns. She not only founded a convent, however. She launched an education initiative would go on to open schools for girls throughout the colony, in Louisbourg, Québec, Trois-Rivières, Montréal, New Orleans and even in a number of rural parishes.
Author: Service national du Récit de l’univers social
See also – Traces of the past: