The life of Marguerite d'Youville, Foundress of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, better known as the "Grey Nuns" is one that has inspired women and men of every age and time.
Marguerite knew the difficulties of life. She knew what it was to lose a father at age 7; to be a student without funds; a beautiful young woman rejected by her fiance because of class consciousness; a happy bride; the mother of six, bereaved of four in infancy;the wife of a neglectful, deceitful husband; a domineering, avaricious mother-in-law; a debt-burdened widow at age 28 with two small sons to care for; subject to ridicule and insults because of her husband's unsavory reputation for illegal liquor trading with the Indians.
After her husband's death, Marguerite opened a dry-goods store, paid off her inherited debts, educated her two sons for the priesthood, and managed to have money to help the poor. At age 26, Margerite received a special grace which was to be the turning point of her life. She came to the deep realization that in the great human family, all are sisters and brothers loved by a compassionate and providential God. This powerful insight transformed her life into a mission of universal charity. As she went about helping the poor, she was always strengthened by her trust in Divine Providence and confidence in God as a Father.
Marguerite's example encouraged three young women to join her and in 1737 they consecrated themselves simply and privately to the service of the poor in whom they saw the very person of Jesus Christ. This was the beginning of the Congregation of the "Grey Nuns." The name "Les Soeurs Grises," meaning "the tipsy nuns" was given the small group by the jeering mob that associated them with her husband's illegal liquor traffic. In the face of prejudice, persecution and misunderstanding, she pursued her vision of universal charity, embracing people of all cultures in unconditional love. Later, when the sisters were well respected, Marguerite chose a "gray" material for their habit to remind them of this unjust accusation and hence the term, "Grey Nuns."
The following years were marked by trials: twice the hospital that she and her sisters took over was destroyed by fire; personal illness, extreme poverty, conquest by the British, and opposition from civil and ecclesiastic authorities. Marguerite and her Grey Nuns always fought for the rights of the poor and continually broke with the social conventions of her day. She made a difference and her influence lives on today in her Grey Nuns and the women and men who follow her.
Pope John XXIII beatified Marguerite on May 3, 1959 and called her "Mother of Universal Charity." On December 9, 1990, Pope John Paul II canonized this Mother of the Poor and gave her to the entire world as a model of compassionate love; a Saint of the church.