Marie-Marguerite Dufrost de Lajemmerais: The Mother of Universal Charity

Margueritte d’Youville – Le Mémorial du Québec, 1918

All the wealth in the world cannot be compared with the happiness of living together happily united.

— Marie-Marguerite Dufrost de Lajemmerais – Saint Marie-Marguerite d’Youville

The life of Marie-Marguerite Dufrost de Lajemmerais was a turbulent one, for she faced many obstacles throughout her life. Still, the woman relied on her faith as she faced each uncertain barrier. Later in life, she established the Sisters of Charity to help others in need. In time, this godly woman found her way into the hearts of her followers. She was canonized as the first Canadian-born saint on December 9, 1990, in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, by Pope John Paul II. Known as the Mother of Universal Charity, she was recognized as the patron saint of widows, difficult marriages, and the death of young children.

Commemorative medal for the canonization of Marguerite d’Youville, 1990, MGS Collections

On October 15, 1701, Marguerite was born in Vareness, Quebec. On October 16, 1701, her parents, Christophe Dufrost de Lajemmerais and Marie–Renée Gaultier, had her baptized at Sainte-Anne de Vareness in the province of Quebec. Her father proudly placed his daughter on the lap of her great maternal grandfather, Sieur Pierre Boucher de Boucherville, so he could offer a traditional blessing.

Marguerite d’Youville fonds, baptismal records, copy, 15 October 1701

Marguerite was the eldest of six children, and when she was seven, her father died. He left his family in poverty; however, with her great grandfather’s help, she studied with the Ursuline nuns in Quebec. After two years of training, she returned home to help her mother and educate her siblings.

In 1722, Marguerite married François d’Youville. The pair lived with her mother-in-law, who did not care for her son’s wife and poorly treated her daughter-in-law. The husband was inattentive, leaving his wife and children for long periods of time. The couple still managed to have six children, but four died young. Because her husband illegally sold alcohol to the native people, it destroyed her reputation. Still, through her grief and torment, she cared for her husband until his death in 1730.

After her husband’s death, Marguerite buried a daughter and continued to raise her two sons. She opened a store to pay off her husband’s debt, and she continued to help the poor. Once her sons were grown, the kind woman and several friends began helping others. The women called their circle the Institute of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal. They saved a hospital, and it soon became known as the Hotel Dieu, the House of God. The nuns provided guidelines for medical care and Christian charity. In 1753, the king, Louis XV, appointed Marguerite as director of the hospital and the manager of the Sisters of Charity. In 1766, the hospital burned. As she kneeled in the ashes, she was determined to rebuild the hospital. Although government officials tried to stop her altruism, she won her battle. Her refuge cared for children, prisoners, the elderly, soldiers, women of ill repute, and natives during a smallpox epidemic.

During her years of work, Marguerite faced many difficulties. Serving the poor was not a popular activity during her time, and her vision to serve others brought about ridicule, even from her own family and neighbors. People in the community mocked her and the women because of her late husband’s practice of selling and trading liquor to the indigenous people. Citizens called them “souers grises,” or “grey women;” it also means “the tipsy sisters.” In time, she embraced the name, the Grey Nuns.

On December 23, 1771, Marguerite left her earthly realm after a life dedicated to serving others. Her undeniable strength, courage, and devotion have continued to inspire others. This Grey Nun will be remembered for her charitable works and loving the least of these.

Registry of burials at the Old General Hospital (1759-1776)

Family Tree

  • Marie Marguerite Dufrost de Lajemmerais d’Youville Dufrost de Lajemmerais 1701-1771
    3rd cousin 10x removed
  • Marie de Varennes 1682-1758
    Mother of Marie Marguerite Dufrost de Lajemmerais d’Youville Dufrost de Lajemmerais
  • Marie Boucher 1655-1688
    Mother of Marie de Varennes
  • Pierre Boucher 1622-1717
    Father of Marie Boucher
  • Gaspard Boucher 1599-1662
    Father of Pierre Boucher
  • Marie Boucher 1629-1706
    Daughter of Gaspard Boucher
  • Genevieve Lafond 1652-1715
    Daughter of Marie Boucher
  • Marie Madeleine Trottier 1670-1747
    Daughter of Genevieve Lafond
  • Marie Madeleine VIEL 1689-1773
    Daughter of Marie Madeleine Trottier
  • Jean Baptiste Leduc 1715-1790
    Son of Marie Madeleine Viel
  • Jean Baptiste Leduc 1744-1820
    Son of Jean Baptiste Leduc
  • Jean Baptiste Leduc 1765-1835
    Son of Jean Baptiste Leduc
  • Joseph Leduc 1799-1880
    Son of Jean Baptiste Leduc
  • Joseph LaDuke 1827-1907
    Son of Joseph Leduc
  • Ellsie LaDuke 1862-1898
    Daughter of Joseph LaDuke
  • Anna Strassburg 1892-1913
    Daughter of Ellsie LaDuke
  • Elva Marie Allen 1908-1983
    Daughter of Anna Strassburg


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  2. “Anniversaries.” Anniversaries : The Grey Nuns of Montreal, The Grey Nuns, 9 Dec. 2020,
  3. Carson, Mary Henryettea. “Margueritte D’Youville.” Youville, Wikicommons, 20 Jan. 2018, Accessed 9 Mar. 2022.
  4. “Canada, Find a Grave Index, 1600s-Current.” Search, Operations, Inc., 2012,
  5. “Canadian Genealogy Index, 1600s-1900s.” Ancestry®, Operations Inc, 2005,
  6. “Dictionary of Women Worldwide: 25,000 Women through the Ages. . 3 Mar. 2022 .”,, 9 Mar. 2022,
  7. “Happy Birthday Marguerite Dufrost De Lajemmerais.” Happy Birthday Marguerite Dufrost De Lajemmerais : The Grey Nuns of Montreal, The Grey Nuns, 25 July 2021,
  8. Lacille, Claudette. “Dufrost De LAJEMMERAIS, Marie-Marguerite – Volume IV (1771-1800) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 1979,
  9. MacNeil, R.G. “Canada’s First Home Born Saint.” The Ottowa Citizen, 15 Dec. 1990, pp. G8–G8.
  10. “Programme De Recherche En Démographie Historique. Généalogie Canadienne-Française Du Québec.” PRDH, Drouin Genealogical Institute, 2022,
  11. “Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968.” Ancestry®, Operations, Inc., 2008,
  12. “Saint Marguerite D’Youville.” Franciscan Media, Franciscan Media, 15 June 2020,

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