Paintings courtesy of Rever Montreal

The Register Archive: Mother d’Youville takes step to sainthood

  • March 9, 2018

In honour of International Women’s Day on March 8, we look into The Catholic Register archive for a story of the first Canadian-born saint and founder of the Grey Nuns of Montreal, St. Marguerite d’Youville, born in Varennes, Que., in 1701. This story was published May 9, 1959, days after her beatification by Pope John XXIII. She was canonized in 1990.

ROME – Love of the Cross and love of the poor were the chief characteristics of Mother d’Youville, noted Bishop W. J. Smith of Pembroke, Ont., speaking here May 5 at the second day of a three-day ceremony following the May 3 beatification of the foundress of the Grey Nuns.

“For more than 200 years, love of the Cross and love of the poor have been the inspiration leading the community to their triumphs of religion,” said Bishop Smith in his panegyric the afternoon of the “English Day” of the triduum honouring Mother d’Youville.

“We join in prayer that God will continue to bless the work of the Grey Nuns and hasten the canonization of her who greatly loved the Eternal Father,” he told those gathered in the Church of the Canadian Martyrs in Rome, where a French day opened the triduum and an Italian day closed it.

“The little seed planted and nurtured by Mary Margaret d’Youville’s love, sacrifice, faith and perseverance has grown into a mighty tree,” said Bishop Smith. “And when all the members of the trunk and its five branches are totalled, we find upwards of 8,000 Grey Nuns labouring throughout the world.

“The growth and progress of the whole community of Grey Nuns as workers of mercy and most capable educators bears witness to the fact that they learned well the lesson of the Cross.

“Their outstanding achievements in so many fields,” said Bishop Smith, “merit for them a place of honour in the history of Church and state in North America.”

Bishop Smith noted that even in childhood Mother d’Youville knew “poverty as a daily companion” and that she passed “through the crucible of suffering and trial.” This resulted from the early death of her own father.

Later she herself entered a marriage which “seemed to promise worldly happiness but it was, on the contrary, the beginning of such crosses and sufferings as soon entirely detached her from worldly vanities and served to prepare her as the instrument of God’s designs.”

“Her patience under all these trials was exemplary,” noted Bishop Smith, “and they taught her that all-important lesson that true happiness is to be found only in God’s service. Consequently, she determined to renounce the vain maxims of the world and embrace a devout life.”

When she was left a widow, she opened a small store which enabled her to pay off her husband’s debts, educate her two sons who became priests, “and at the same time satisfy her burning love for God’s poor, whom she visited in their sicknesses.”

Her good example attracted others, Bishop Smith said, and on Oct. 31, 1738, she and three other women “consecrated themselves for the rest of their lives to the service of the poor and suffering members of Jesus Christ. The Institute of the Sisters of Charity, or Grey Nuns, was begun.”

“If her life before 1738 had been a species of martyrdom, certainly the remaining years were to be more so,” said Bishop Smith.

God designed Mother d’Youville “to be in the Church of the young colony a mother to the afflicted and abandoned. She was the strong woman of the Bible who opens her hands to the needy and stretches out her arms to the poor.”

“In view of Mother d’Youville’s life of charity and the phenomenal growth of the community she founded, it is little to be wondered,” said Bishop Smith, “that Monsignor Parislo, postulator of her cause for beatification, in the traditional words of gratitude expressed to the Holy Father on the occasion of the proclamation of the decree of the herocity of her virtues, should have said: ‘Charity is the summary and the completement of all sanctity. Mother d’Youville was admirably endowed with this virtue, so much so that she was given the name of Mother of Universal Charity.’ ”

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