January 12

200px-portrait_de_marguerite_bourgeoys

1700

The death of a Canadian saint.

The colony of New France was in a perilous state in the middle of the seventeenth century. A number of private corporations had failed to establish a secure position in the St Lawrence valley; few colonists were attracted to the harsh landscape; infant mortality was high; and attacks by native tribes discouraged settlement. To this tenuous toehold came Frenchwoman Marguerite Bourgeoys in 1653.

Marguerite had been recruited to the colony by Paul Chomedey de Maissoneuve, the Governor of Ville-Marie (later Montreal) who brought her, 15 girls searching for husbands, and 100 settler-soldiers to hold the little fort. It was Marguerite’s job to care for the marriageable women, find suitable mates for them and instruct children. A cloistered community of nuns was unsuitable for the situation so Marguerite developed a community of secular sisters, a dangerous innovation in the eyes of some church leaders. She built the town’s first church, set up a school in a stable and recruited women to form the Congregation Notre-Dame which would teach the children of colonists and natives across the colony. She journeyed to France several times on recruitment missions and efforts to keep her community from being forced to accept a lifestyle of seclusion. Marguerite was successful in all these efforts and when she died in 1700 she had the reputation of a saint. She was officially canonized in 1982 by Pope John Paul II.

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