People facing disappointments or challenges in life often comment that “God closes a door . . . and opens a window.” Consequently, we must wait patiently to discover God’s true purpose in our lives.
This was certainly true of Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys, who established the Congregation de Notre Dame in Montreal in 1676. Born in Troyes, France, in 1620, Marguerite felt a call to religious life as a young woman, but this desire would not be realized until she arrived in Canada in 1653 and embarked on a life of hardship and service that would make her an educator, nurse, counselor, and confidante to settlers and native peoples alike.
Marguerite is considered the founder of the Canadian school system and the “Mother of the Colony” of Ville-Marie, as Montreal was then known. Her order arose from the need for coworkers; returning to Troyes, she recruited a friend and two other young women. Later, she attracted six other women and received a royal charter for the school she had opened. From these roots grew the Congregation de Notre Dame, dedicated to the education of girls and young women.
In 1698, two years before her death, Marguerite and her sisters vowed their lives to God and the service of others.
In his homily at her canonization in 1982, Pope John Paul II remarked, “. . . in particular, Marguerite contributed to building up that new country [Canada], realizing the determining role of women, and she diligently strove toward their formation in a deeply Christian spirit.”
The Catholic Church honors this woman of heroic faith and risk-taking for God’s glory on January 12 each year.
Members of the Congregation of Notre Dame came to New York City and the newly-formed parish of Saint Jean Baptiste in 1886. Within days of their arrival, they opened a school in the basement of the church to educate the children of the neighborhood. Today they continue to serve Saint Jean Baptiste High School, which offers young women, including the daughters of new generations of immigrants, a liberating education and a vision of faith and service rooted in the Gospel.
Congregation de Notre Dame
Saint Jean Baptiste High School