Marie-Marguerite Dufrost de la Jemmerais was born in Varennes on October 15, 1701. The firstborn in a family of six children, she lost her father at age 7. In 1719, after her mother remarried, the family moved to Montreal. In 1722, she married François d’Youville and lived with her mother-in-law. Her husband held a fur and spirits trade whose practices were questionable. After his mother died, he squandered her inheritance. When he died, he left huge debts and a bad reputation to his wife, then aged 28.
Marguerite opened a small business, not only to provide for her children but also to help the poor who came her way. Inspired by her work, three ladies joined her. So it happened that on December 31, 1737, they consecrated themselves to the service of the poor, in whom they saw Jesus Christ. This decisive moment is considered as the founding of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal.
As soon as their society was established, the public persecuted them, believing that they were continuing François d’Youville’s spirits trafficking—hence the name “Grey” Nuns (meaning “drunken”), given to ridicule them. One trial came after another during the following years: fire, disease, extreme poverty . . .
Marguerite d’Youville settled with her companions at the Charon Brothers’ General Hospital. She became the manager of this shelter for “fallen girls,” seniors, sick and derelict people, men and women. When the authorities wanted to suppress this work to merge it with the Quebec City General Hospital, people recognized and defended Mother d’Youville’s work. The General Hospital stayed in Montreal.
Marguerite d’Youville died on December 23, 1771. She is remembered as a woman of exceptional courage, boldness, faith, and love of Jesus Christ and the poor. Her cause for canonization was introduced in Rome in 1890. On May 3, 1959, Pope John XXIII declared her Blessed and gave her the title of Mother of universal charity. On December 9, 1990, Pope John Paul II canonized the first Canadian-born saint.
Her remains rest in her birthplace, Varennes, in the Basilica of Sainte-Anne, beside the sanctuary dedicated to Saint Marguerite d’Youville.
Sources: Capsules “Si Marguerite d’Youville nous était racontée”, written by Sister Nicole Fournier, SGM.