The Grey Nuns
THE GREY NUNS OF MONTREAL
Since 1737, The Sisters of Charity of Montreal, “Grey Nuns”, have maintained their mission of love, respect, and compassion for poor and deprived people as it was defined by their Foundress, Saint Marguerite d’Youville.
Throughout the centuries, the faces of the poor, the sick, and abandoned children have changed. However, poverty, loneliness, and exclusion transcend time. Thousands of Grey Nuns have dedicated their lives to the enormous task of bringing care and comfort to the largest number of these people they could. They vowed to “walk in the footsteps” of their Foundress, Marie-Marguerite Dufrost de la Jemmerais, the Widow Youville.
MISSION & VALUES
The mission of The Grey Nuns of Montreal, following in the footsteps of Saint Marguerite d’Youville, is one of compassion for the most deprived and marginalized people of society. Inspired by a deep faith in a God of goodness and justice, the Grey Nuns offered services that have expanded and flourished over the 275 years of their history. Women of action, the Grey Nuns embody a spiritual reality that accompanies them in their charitable works with their beneficiaries. They acknowledge the constant presence of God in their lives.
The mission of the Grey Nuns is based on the following values: solidarity with the poor, promotion of social justice, protection of the sanctity of life, especially through respect for human rights, and conservation of the environment.
COAT OF ARMS
The coat of arms of the Grey Nuns illustrates the spirituality that Saint Marguerite d’Youville has bequeathed to her community, and that sustains their mission.
A three-fold color scheme of enamel constitutes the crest:
- The bottom in azure, or sky blue, reminds us that prayer and contemplation are the source of the inspiration and joy that will ensure a loving and effective presence among the poor according to the example of Jesus.
- The top in sinope, or aquagreen, symbolizes the active life of the Grey Nuns, who have promised to follow the example of Saint Marguerite d’Youville “… and to unreservedly consecrate our time, our industry, and even our lives… to provide subsistence for the poor and for ourselves.…”
- The centre in fire-red and gold
The heart of the crest represents the charity that animates the Grey Nuns in their relations with each other, with every person, and most especially with every poor and afflicted person.
A symbol of the Holy Trinity, the triangle reminds us of the beloved Person of the Father, Marguerite d’Youville’s principal devotion. As a precious legacy of family life, this devotion characterizes the Grey Nuns’ spirituality: the poor and they have one and the same Father, who is the original source of love.
The hand represents Mother d’Youville’s trust in Divine Providence. The Grey Nuns rely on the Father’s Providence, and on his infinite wisdom and mercy more than on their own efforts and achievements. The hand is pointing to the triangle, the source of their unfailing trust.
The Congregation has a special devotion to the cross; through it the Grey Nuns participate in the poverty and humiliation of Jesus crucified. The cross gives them strength to bear the sufferings inherent to a daily life of work and prayer dedicated to the Father’s love for the least of his little ones. Thus, the Grey Nuns glory only in the cross and in it they find joy, even in trials and tribulations.
The Heart of Jesus
Following the example set by their Foundress, the Grey Nuns find in the Sacred Heart of Jesus their most powerful intermediary before God the Father for all the poor and deprived. The Heart of Jesus unites the Grey Nuns in fraternal charity. It is also the source of their patience and kindness towards all those in need.
The Crown of Thorns
It symbolizes the difficulties of the mission that God the Father has entrusted to the Institute. Faithfulness to this mission requires boldness and creativity, which can open new avenues for responding to new needs. It is a faithfulness that is nourished by an authentic relationship with God, fraternal union, and a generous asceticism borne with the hope and strength of the martyrs.
“In hoc signo vinces” (By this sign you will conquer)
For her Institute dedicated to the relief of all the marginalized without distinction, this motto evokes the cross of Christ as the final triumph of love over every kind of human suffering.
The monogram of Mary
Marian devotion, which is dear to the Grey Nuns, goes back to the origins of their history. Mother d’Youville wanted her Sisters to venerate Mary as the beloved daughter of the Father and to pray to her as Our Lady of Providence, their mother and the mother of the poor. Furthermore, she chose to use the monogram used by the Priests of Saint-Sulpice in recognition of the faithfulness and devotion to her Institute of those she called “our Sulpician Fathers”.
The monogram of Saint Joseph
The Grey Nuns have a great devotion to Saint Joseph. Mother d’Youville entrusted the General Hospital to him from its beginning. Faithful and vigilant, Saint Joseph merits the gratitude of the Congregation, which recognizes him as its protector.
It signifies the purity that liberates and opens the heart to joy and universal charity. Purity enables the Sisters to be open to finding the means that can help them to identify with and serve “our lords the poor”.
The lily is also a fragrant flower that represents the virgin soil of Ville Marie, the birthplace of their religious family.
As the image of their rule of life, their coat of arms calls them to a conversion of the heart as disciples of Jesus, following in the footsteps of Marguerite d’Youville. It is also an invitation to a joyful hope, to an indomitable faith in the eternal kindness of God the Father, to the abiding presence of Christ, and to the divine assistance of the Holy Spirit.
SYMBOL OF THE “DAISY” (TRANSLATION FOR “MARGUERITE”, ALSO A FLOWER)
Daisy is a pearl in the flower kingdom, greatly appreciated by all flower gardeners and florists around the world; and so too is our Foundress Marguerite d’Youville a pearl of great value for all the needy people of the world.
Daisy is a simple plant, thriving in any flower garden or flower pot. The Grey Nuns try to live a simple life, to be happy where they are planted and to be ready to be of service to those in need, with a welcoming smile, a caring heart, a helping hand, a listening ear, and a word of hope.
In 1755, Mother d’Youville wanted to have silver crucifixes for the Sisters of her little community. In New France, it was very difficult to have works of gold and silversmith’s crafts. Consequently, Father Louis Normant, PSS (1681-1759), had to order the first twelve crosses from France.
An embossed heart representing the Sacred Heart appears above the figure of Christ, the heart of charity. Four fleurs-de-lis terminate the arms of the cross in acknowledgement of Louis XV, King of France, who approved the young community in New France by bestowing on them their Letters Patent.
The form of the cross has varied over the years. For example, the forms of the motifs have become more rounded, the corpus was raised up, and the fleurs-de-lis have become more indented and detailed. This style was in use until the General Chapter of 1981, when a new cross was accepted by the capitulants. While maintaining the old tradition “of the first mothers”, the new cross united the prevailing forms from the past and at the same time pointed towards the future with the figure of Christ being simplified almost to an abstract symbol.
WHY “GREY NUNS”?
The activities of Marguerite, the Widow Youville, among the poor at the beginning of her charitable work were frowned upon by Montreal’s social elite. Even her two brothers-in-law, along with 26 other people, signed a petition in 1738 to prevent her from taking over the administration of the General Hospital from the Charon Brothers. In fact, it was very new for women to form communities and undertake charitable work in common for the “wretched”. She was accused, among other things, of continuing her late husband’s illegal trade in alcohol with the First Nations and of being a drunk herself. “You and your Sisters are tipsy”, people yelled at them as they walked down the street. In French, « grise » has two meanings: ‘tipsy’ and ‘grey’. In memory of these calumnies, the Sisters of Charity of Montreal also call themselves the Grey Nuns.