The first Canadian-born saint was a woman who arrived on October 15, 1701, as the eldest child of Christophe Dufrost de Lajemmerais and Marie Renee Gaultier in Varennes, Quebec. Five siblings would also become part of this family. Sadly, Lajemmerais would die when Marguerite was just seven years old, leaving the family suddenly destitute. The role of caregiver came early in life then for this future saint, her compassion and mercy being formed by her own experience of need. She would briefly go to school but return home to teach her three brothers and two sisters. Pope John Paul II would recognize her extraordinary capacity for caring, calling her in her beatification ceremony on May 3, 1959, the Mother of Universal Charity.
I was blessed with the opportunity to go to Varennes earlier this year and see where her remains are entombed and visit the little museum there as well. Marguerite is known to me because my aunt is a Grey Nun–the order of women that Marguerite would found in the mid-1700s. Though the Grey Nuns are one of the better known orders in my province, the people of Quebec, in particular Varennes and Montreal, have a deep love for her that is apparent in their tributes to the work that St. Marguerite accomplished in her life and continues to embody in how her successors carry on her mission of charity.
The tomb in Varennes is peaceful. In the quaint country church of Ste. Anne, a statue of Marguerite watches over her remains in a quiet corner that was seemingly made for her to rest. Above her remains are paintings of herself and the Eternal Father who she deeply loved. Pilgrims may come here to pray and I found a serenity that was soul-soothing. Clearly the people of Varennes have welcomed their daughter back home with joy and reverence.
I will continue St.Marguerite’s story in Montreal at some point, of how she married a man who was a bit of a selfish scoundrel, and with whom she had six children. Her family too would be destitute and suffer many heartbreaking losses, again, instilling in her deep compassion for the needy. By the time she was 26, Marguerite’s love for the poor began to stir deep within her and move her to action. Life would be filled with many hardships for this saint but at the same time, her trust in Divine Providence would allow her to do many works of charity that continue to bless the world today.
How do you carry on despite hardships?
What could St. Marguerite teach you about loving those in need?
St. Marguerite, Mother of Universal Charity, show me how to love the unlovable, to act with kindness and mercy, and to give without counting the cost. You were a woman who knew suffering. May I turn to you and ask for your intercession when I feel abandoned and discouraged. Amen.