Saint Marguerite d’Youville

Marguerite Dufrost de Lajemmerais was born in Varennes, Quebec, in 1701. She married François Youville de la Découverte and was early widowed. In 1737, she founded the community of The Sisters of Charity of Montreal. In consideration of her exceptional life of devotion and compassion for her brothers and sisters of the human family, she was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1990. Her Mortal Remains rest in the Basilica of Saint-Anne in Varennes, where a chapel is dedicated to her.

Marie Marguerite Dufrost de Lajemmerais, the Widow Youville

The portrait of Marguerite d’Youville by François Beaucourt was based on a portrait sketched by Philippe Liébert on the day after her death in 1771. Twenty years later, the artist was also inspired by the memories of her companions. He shows us the face of an older woman marked by life.

Marguerite’s son Charles, the author of her first biography, described her thus: “She was one of the most beautiful women of her time. She had light brown hair, a rosy complexion, keen and expressive eyes, and perfectly even features. She was tall and very distinguished looking.” According to Charles, Marguerite d’Youville loved life’s pleasures. Her contemporary the Sulpician Montgolfier, who admired her organizational abilities, said that she possessed an unusual intelligence.

Beyond these traits, the innumerable trials of her life developed in her a deep spirituality that revealed itself in her compassion for the poor. Her letters reveal a gentle firmness, a precise understanding of business matters, and a good judgement; these qualities enabled her to restore and courageously administer the General Hospital of Montreal during the difficult years at the end of the French rule.

 Sainte Marguerite d'Youville
Mère d’Youville
François Beaucourt, 1792
Collection des Sœurs Grises de Montréal

Marguerite’s surnames: Lajemmerais or La Gemerais, Youville or d’Youville,

In Marguerite d’Youville’s time, the spelling of proper names frequently varied. François Ladécouverte, called Youville, was the son of Pierre You, Sieur de la Découverte, who was thus named because he had taken part with the Cavalier de la Salle in the discovery of Louisiana. On his wedding contract he signed his name as François Youville De la Découverte. It was Marguerite d’Youville’s biographer, the Abbé Étienne-Michel Faillon, who added the “d” to Youville for reasons of euphony.

As for Marguerite’s family name, it was sometimes spelled Dufrost de la Gemerais and sometimes de la Jemerais. Her bursar in Paris asked her to sign it always in the same way; but in the last years of her life, she signed her name as M.M. Lajemmerais, Widow Youville.