Here is a text written by Fr. Marcel Lessard to highlight the 400th anniversary of the birth of Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys, a significant event in the history of the local Church in Montreal.
Author: Marc Lessard
(In-home translation, orginal in French)
It was an icy, windy Sunday, last January 12, as we made our way to the quaint chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours in Old Montreal. Though the inclement weather had kept the church from filling up, we had gone to join Archbishop Christian Lépine in celebrating the feast of Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys, which, coincidentally, had fallen on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord this year. It was a beautiful two-fold occasion that commemorated the virtues and the mission of a woman who committed her whole life to her baptismal call. The Eucharistic celebration was both a solemn and meaningful one, particularly for the close-knit "secular girls" of the Congregation of Notre-Dame.
The inaugural celebration launched the “Year of Marguerite Bourgeoys”, in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of her birth. Born on Good Friday, April 17, 1620, the Bourgeoys welcomed and celebrated the arrival of their child, who would become the sixth of 12 children. Her father, Abraham, worked as a merchant and master candlemaker. As a young girl, Marguerite grew up playing in the shade of the chevet (eastern end) of their parish church, which was located in the suburbs of Troyes, Champagne. Even in the childhood games she played, her natural traits of gentleness, care and joy for her friends became evident.
As a young woman, Marguerite met Sr. Louise Chomedey, and joined the Congregation of Notre-Dame established in Troyes. In 1640, during a procession in honour of Our Lady of the Rosary at the Jacobin Convent, she was struck by the beauty of a statue of Mother Mary that appeared to smile at her. The profound emotion she experienced proved to be more than fleeting; it stirred, inspired and challenged her. The beauty she saw in Mother Mary impelled her to undergo a life-changing transformation: to live a life modelled by the one who "pondered all these things in her heart".
Her piety and devotions were integrated into a spiritual life already awakened by the grace of Baptism. While in her twenties, she spent time in discernment, feeling an urgent call to go on mission and establish a congregation of women. Her Marian devotion took on a missionary zeal. She often went to pray at the local church, before a statue depicting the Visitation between Mary and her cousin, Elizabeth. (I saw this very beautiful and inspiring statue!) A joy radiates from this image of their encounter, two maternal bearers of the mystery of our salvation, of St. John, the Precursor and of Christ, the Savior. It depicts two women, both expecting: a young girl being greeted by her elderly cousin, who was said to be barren, and each embracing the other with joy! This scene of the Visitation deeply inspired Marguerite, who, at this time, had turned to Mary, “the Traveler”, to help guide her steps toward an extraordinary adventure.
Little did Marguerite know that meeting Paul Chomedey, the brother of now Mother Louise Chomedey, would lead to an opportunity to carry out her mission. The two were introduced during his visit to his sister while travelling to his hometown of Neuville-sur-Vanneto to settle family business. Eleven years earlier, he had founded a small community called Ville-Marie on the island of Montreal. The name of this community clearly embodied the Marian devotion that inspired him, and Marguerite believed that Mary “the Traveller” would lead her on mission to the New World. It was in 1653, at the age of 33, through moments of hesitation, she heard Mary reassure her: “Go, I will not abandon you...!”
We would soon follow in her footsteps, whose traces she left in the wooded and snowy terrain of New France.