Marguerite d’Youville, mother of six children and founder the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, was the first native Canadian to be declared a saint. She was born Marie Marguerite Dufrost de La Jemmerais on 15 October 1701 at Varennes in Quebec, the eldest of six children of Christophe Dufrost de Lajemmerais and Marie-Renée Gaultier. Her father died when she was seven years old, and the family of six young children was reduced to poverty. Thanks to her great grandfather, however, she was enabled to study for two years at the Ursulines in Quebec. Upon returning home, she supported her mother and taught her brothers and sisters.
When she was 21 years old she married François d’Youville. The young couple made their home with his mother, who did not like her daughter-in-law. Her husband’s frequent absences and illegal liquor trading with the Indians caused her further pain. She was pregnant with their sixth child when François became seriously ill and died in 1730. By age 29, she had experienced desperate poverty, suffered the loss of her father and husband, and four of her six children had died in infancy.
Despite this suffering, Marguerite grew in her belief of God’s tender love for every human person. She, in turn, wanted to make known his compassionate love to all. She provided for the education of her two sons, who later became priests, and she welcomed a blind woman into her home. She was soon joined by three young women who shared her compassion for the poor. At the end of 1737, they consecrated themselves to God and promised to serve him in the poor. Marguerite, without even realizing it, had become the foundress of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, the “Grey Nuns”. She was outspoken in her service of the poor, and as a result was ridiculed by many.
Further tragedies followed. When she was ill and mourning the death of one of her companions, a fire destroyed their home. This only served to deepen her commitment to the poor. In 1745, she and her two early companions pledged themselves to put everything in common in order to help a greater number of persons in need. Two years later, she was asked to become director of a hospice for the poor in Montreal.
In 1765 yet another fire destroyed the hospice, but nothing could destroy Marguerite’s faith and courage. At the age of 64 she rebuilt the hospice.
After a lifetime of self-giving, Marguerite died on 23 December 1771, a loving mother who served Jesus Christ in the poor. The power of her intercession before God was clearly evidenced when a young woman stricken with acute myelobastic leukemia in 1978 was miraculously cured.
At her canonization, John Paul II observed: “Marguerite d’Youville can sympathize with the unfortunate and painful situation of so many orphans, with adolescents worried about the future, with disillusioned girls who live without hope, with married woman suffering from unrequited love and with single parents. But most especially, Marguerite is a kindred spirit with all who have given their lives to helping others.”