17th-century Quebec, Canada, was a harsh place to live.
With only a scattering of Native American tribes and a small French colony of 200 people, the area was practically unaltered wilderness. With warring tribes, harsh winters, and a lack of formal medicine, Quebec was seen as inhospitable, hardly a place for any civilized person to live, let alone a woman…
But Marguerite Bourgeoys was accustomed to overcoming the odds.
Born in France, Marguerite knew from a young age that she was called to religious life. By the time she was 20, she had applied to her two preferred orders, the Carmelites and the Poor Clares.
She was rejected by both.
But Marguerite trusted steadfastly in the Lord, and His plans for her gradually revealed themselves. A local woman had connections to the governor of a small Canadian colony, Ville-Marie. Rather than deter Marguerite, the tales of the poverty of the people, the unlivable conditions, and the desperate need for Christian witness inspired the young woman. It was clear: this is where God was calling Marguerite.
When Marguerite arrived in Ville-Marie, instructed to begin a Catholic school there, she was shocked by the harsh realities of her mission. Without a hospital and formal medicine, most children died before they were even school-age. Alongside other missionaries, Marguerite went to work establishing a hospital and helping mothers provide for their children.
After years of hard work in the Canadian wilderness, Marguerite’s work was rewarded and there were enough children to establish a school.
Over the next 26 years, St. Marguerite Bourgeoys faithfully served as a missionary and school teacher despite conditions that most would consider unlivable. She lived through Iroquois attacks, a fire that destroyed her small village, and plagues on the ships that she took back and forth to France. But perhaps her greatest trial was the doubt she faced from her bishop.
Believing that a woman’s work was best suited to cloistered living, her bishop was uncomfortable with Marguerite’s active approach to religious life, especially considering the dangerous conditions in which she lived. Throughout her time serving in Ville-Marie, the bishop often tried to dissuade Marguerite from this life, urging her to enter the cloistered order of the Congregation of Notre Dame. But Marguerite trusted in Our Lord and, while respecting her bishop, held fast to God’s mission for her.
Her service and witness helped heal the community of Ville-Marie and began to attract other religious. Soon, Marguerite found that she had a community of religious women who had come to serve alongside her.
Moved by Marguerite’s faith and inspired by her work, her bishop eventually had a change of heart. The bishop wrote to Marguerite, “I cannot doubt, Mother Bourgeoys, that you will succeed in moving heaven and earth as you have moved me!” With his approval, her order was able to establish a rule and remain an active teaching order, one of the very first of its kind for women.
Like St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, we are all called to radically trust Our Lord. We were made for love, and love requires trust. In Jesus I Trust in You: A 30-Day Personal Retreat with the Litany of Trust, Sr. Faustina Maria Pia, S.V., will teach you what it means to place our trust in Jesus—no matter the circumstances. Order this transformative retreat today from The Catholic Company!