The spirituality of Marguerite d’Youville

The spirituality of Marguerite d’Youville can be situated within the wider stream of Catholic reform in France in the seventeenth century. A number of mystics and theologians came out of this movement, including Saint Jean Eudes, Saint Vincent de Paul, and Jean-Jacques Olier, the founder of the Society of the Priests of Saint-Sulpice. The members of that Society were the Lords Proprietor of the island of Montreal from 1659. They were in charge of the parish of Notre Dame; and one of them, Louis Normant de Faradon, became the spiritual director of Marguerite d’Youville after Gabriel du Lescöat.

In 1727, like a number of Montreal ladies, Marguerite d’Youville joined the Confraternity of the Ladies of the Holy Family. According to her biographers, it was at this time that she experienced a mystical encounter with God the Eternal Father. She was often alone and mourning the deaths of three of her children. Perhaps she recalled the words of her great-grandfather Pierre Boucher: “God will care for you, and He will be a Father to you.” All her life Marguerite d’Youville had a strong devotion to and trust in God the Father and his Divine Providence. In 1766, she wrote, “The Divine Father has been the object of all my trust for nearly forty years.”

This trust in the goodness of God and his justice towards all enabled her to achieve charitable works of astonishing scope, even by today’s standards. It becomes explicit if are considered that she laid the foundations for the social and community services that we are currently familiar with in our society. In a recent study, Sister Estelle Tardif, SGM, interpreted Marguerite’s thought in the following way: “The cry for help from the poor did not come to her only from without; it arose from within herself, a poor person among poor people. A woman of silence, she experienced a profound communion with the fatherhood of God and was able to hear the cry of the poor without the poor making a sound. For her, the poorest of the poor was the person who had the greatest need of God in order to become a man or woman. Her dream was ‘to liberate the poorest of the poor in an encounter of the poor with the poor, to liberate the poor person by teaching him or her, through action that he or she is loved.”

Marguerite d’Youville left to her contemporaries and to future generations a spiritual legacy marked by an unconditional compassion for the poor and an inextinguishable faith in God the Father and His Providence. Her example will remain forever a source of inspiration for those who are working for the coming of a civilization of love and justice.

The Eternal Father

As a result of a promise Marguerite made to obtain the healing of her spiritual director, Louis Normant de Faradon, PSS, and at the request of one of her companions who wanted to see a representation of the Eternal Father, she ordered from France a painting depicting the Eternal Father. In our century of images, this request might seem a little naive; but in the eighteenth century, the painting served as a focus of meditation for the little community.

Le Père Éternel
The Eternal Father
Attributed to the Workshop of Jean Jouvenet
Before 1741
Collection of The Grey Nuns of Montreal 1974.A.100

Divine Providence

For Marguerite, God was a Father on whom she could count. The name given to God under the aspect of his care for us is the Providential God, or Divine Providence. It is the way in which God shows his care in the concrete events of our lives through intermediaries who are attentive to needs of the poor and marginalized.

This faith in Divine Providence made Marguerite bold in her choice of life. Through storm and tempest, she stood firm, knowing that God’s help was assured to her since she was seeking the well-being of the poor. She testified to this frequently.

“Providence is wonderful, it has means we cannot understand to relieve those who trust in it, it provides for everything, in it is my trust.”
17 October 1768

“Blessed be God! Divine Providence provides for everything; all my trust is in it.”
21 September 1771