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Marie-Marguerite d'Youville

Saint Marie-Marguerite d'Youville
Painting of Marguerite d'Youville
Mother of Universal Charity
Born October 15, 1701
Varennes, Quebec
Died December 23, 1771(1771-12-23) (aged 70)
Montreal, Quebec
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified 1959 by Pope John XXIII
Canonized December 9, 1990, Vatican Basilica by Pope John Paul II
Feast October
Patronage widows, difficult marriages

Saint Marguerite d'Youville (English ) (October 15, 1701 – December 23, 1771) was a French Canadian widow who founded the religious order the Order of Sisters of Charity of Montreal, commonly known as the Grey Nuns of Montreal. She was canonized by Pope John-Paul II of the Roman Catholic Church in 1990, the first native Canadian to be declared a saint.


  • Early life and marriage 1
  • Religious life 2
  • Legacy 3
  • Final resting place 4
  • Recognition 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • External links 8
  • References 9

Early life and marriage

She was born Marie-Marguerite Dufrost de Lajemmerais in 1701 at Varennes, Quebec, oldest daughter of Christophe du Frost, Sieur de la Gesmerays (1661–1708) and Marie-Renée Gaultier de Varennes. (Pursuant to Quebec naming conventions, she would have always been known as Marguerite, not Marie.) Her father died when she was a young girl. Despite her family's poverty, at age 11 she was able to attend the Ursuline convent in Quebec City for two years before returning home to teach her younger brothers and sisters.[1] Marguerite's impending marriage to a scion of Varennes society was foiled by her mother's marriage below her class to Timothy Sullivan, an Irish doctor who was seen by the townspeople as a disreputable foreigner.[2] On 12 August 1722 at Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal, she married François d'Youville, a bootlegger who sold liquor illegally to Indians in exchange for furs and who frequently left home for long periods to parts unknown. Despite this, the couple eventually had six children before François died in 1730. By age 30 she had suffered the loss of her father, husband and four of her six children, who died in infancy. Marguerite experienced a religious renewal during and after her marriage; in the words of her Vatican biography:

Religious life

Marguerite d'Youville Sanctuary in Varennes

With her two surviving sons already in the priesthood, Marguerite and three other women founded in 1737 a religious association to provide a home for the poor in Montreal. At first the home only housed four or five members, but it grew as the women raised funds. As their actions went against the social conventions of the day, d'Youville and her colleagues were mocked by their friends and relatives and even by the poor they helped. Some called them "les grises", which can mean "the grey women" but which also means "the drunken women",[3] in reference to d'Youville's late husband. By 1744 the association had become a religious order with a rule and a formal community. They were in 1747 granted a charter to operate the General Hospital of Montreal, which by that time was in ruins and heavily in debt. d'Youville and her fellow workers brought the hospital back into financial security,[4] but the hospital was destroyed by fire in 1765.[1] The order rebuilt the hospital soon after. By this time, the order was commonly known as the "Grey Nuns of Montreal" after the nickname given to the nuns in ridicule years earlier. Years later, as the order expanded to other cities, the order became known simply as the "Grey Nuns".


Marguerite d'Youville died in 1771 at the General Hospital. In 1959, she was beatified by Pope John XXIII, who called her "Mother of Universal Charity", and was canonized in 1990 by Pope John Paul II. She is the first native-born Canadian to be elevated to sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church. Her feast day is October 16. In 1961, a shrine was built in her birthplace of Varennes. Today, it is the site of a permanent exhibit about the life and works of Marguerite.[5]

A large number of Roman Catholic churches, schools, women's shelters, charity shops, and other institutions in Canada and worldwide are named after St. Marguerite d'Youville. Most notably, the renowned academic institution of higher learning, D'Youville College in Buffalo, NY, is named after St. Marguerite D'Youville.[6] The D'Youville Academy at Plattsburgh, New York was founded in 1860.[7]

Sir Louis-Amable Jetté’s wife, Lady Jetté, wrote a biography of Saint Marie-Marguerite d'Youville who founded the religious order the Order of Sisters of Charity of Montreal.[8]

Final resting place

In 2010, Mother Marie-Marguerite d'Youville's remains were removed from Grey Nuns Motherhouse and relocated to her birthplace of Varennes.[9]


On 21 September 1978 Canada Post issued 'Marguerite d'Youville' based on design by Antoine Dumas. The 14¢ stamps are perforated 13.5 and were printed by Canadian Bank Note Company, Limited.[10]

See also

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