Marguerite Bourgeoys and Montreal, 1640-1665

By Foley, Mary Anne | The Catholic Historical Review, July 1998 | Go to article overview

Marguerite Bourgeoys and Montreal, 1640-1665


Foley, Mary Anne, The Catholic Historical Review


Marguerite Bourgeoys and Montreal, 1640-1665. By Patricia Simpson. [McGill-Queens Studies in the History of Religion, Series 2.] (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. 1997. Pp. xxvi, 247. $49.95 cloth; $19.95 paper.)

Patricia Simpson begins this first of a projected two-volume biography of Marguerite Bourgeoys by describing the restoration, some thirty years ago, of a portrait painted at the time of the latter's death in 1700. Simpson understands her own task as analogous to the restorer's: to permit the life of this educator, founder of North America's first uncloistered religious congregation, and cofounder of a city to be viewed without the accretions which centuries of devotion have added. To that task Simpson brings the fruit of considerable archival and archaeological research, in particular that of Alfred Morin and Sister Mary Eileen Scott. She also brings concerns which did not occupy earlier biographers, notably the way in which Marguerite and other ordinary women lived and related to one another and to men in society and in the Church. Not only is she meticulous in her use of sources (I would quibble only with her assertion that Bishop de S.-Vallier's 1694 Constitutions attempted to impose "solemn vows" on the Congregation), but she displays what Margaret Miles has termed a "hermeneutic of generosity toward such earlier commentators as Marie Morin, whose annals of the Montreal Hotel-Dieu are mined for their insight into the daily lives of Ville-Marie's women, in spite of numerous factual inaccuracies. When possible, she allows Marguerite Bourgeoys' own voice to emerge, forming each chapter around an initial quotation from her often fragmentary writings and providing context for numerous other citations sprinkled liberally throughout the text.

More than half this work serves as preface to its presentation of the period with which it is most concerned, the years from 1653,when Marguerite and the "hundred men" landed in Ville-Marie, to 1665, when Ville-Marie's first governor, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, departed. The description of Marguerite's early life in Troyes (1620-1653) includes the educational training she received from Pierre Fourier's Congregation de Notre-Dame and her efforts to find a communal expression of religious life. In Simpson's discussion of the French Societe de Notre-Dame de Montreal and the precarious first eleven years of VilleMarie's existence, she shows herself aware of revisionist histories but chooses to give full weight to the founders' stated intention: to recreate the primitive Christian community in the New World. …

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