Moving Marguerite

A very interesting and somewhat sad article went up today on the impending move of the remains of St. Marguerite D’Youville.  She’s presently under the altar of the main chapel of the Montreal motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity (better known as the Grey Nuns), the order she founded. 


“It’s dramatic – a congregation that did so much through hospitals, charity work, with the poor. Now there is no one new to replace them. They are heading toward extinction.”

Once the pillars of Quebec’s health and education systems, nuns are dying off. The average age of the sisters shuffling along on walkers at the Grey Nuns Motherhouse is 82; the youngest is 61.

Their motherhouse, on prime downtown property at Guy Street and René Lévesque Boulevard, has been sold to Concordia University.

“We wouldn’t have wanted to leave Marguerite d’Youville here,” said the 79-year-old Mother Superior, Sister Cécile Castonguay, who has reluctantly accepted to say goodbye to the convent she’d first entered as a student in 1945.

And so St. Marguerite’s remains are being moved to her birthplace, in Verennes, Quebec. 

One other sad aspect of this story is also a testament to the heroic history of St. Marguerite’s order.  There are 276 other sisters buried in the basement crypt, and they must all be left behind when the nuns move out:

After the sisters sold the property to Concordia, they had wanted to exhume the bodies and transfer them to a congregation cemetery in suburban Châteauguay. But provincial public-health authorities nixed the idea for fear of spreading disease; the women had cared for patients during typhus and smallpox epidemics in the 1800s.

“We would have liked them all to be reunited in Châteauguay, but we were told the viruses are so strong they remain alive underground,” Sister Castonguay said. “We accepted it. We are used to accepting change.”

If you’re not familiar with her, I’d enourage you to get acquainted with St. Marguerite D’Youville.  There’s a chapter devoted to her in my Saints for Our Times.  Doing the research and writing the biographical summary and particularly the novena to St. Marguerite for that book was a truly enriching experience, and ever since then I feel like I have a fond connection to her.  It’s sad to read that the order she founded seems to be in its twilight.

St. Marguerite D’ Youville, pray for your sisters in religious life, for the Church, and for us.


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