Reflection on St. Marguerite d’Youville

Written on: October 7, 2020

If there is anything St. Marguerite’s life teaches us, it is how humanly God acts in our lives. We Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart like to call it “God’s loving Providence,” i.e., God using everything we experience to deepen us and guide us.

I believe Saint Marguerite’s life can exemplify how God guides our lives, drawing us to the unfolding of our best, our saintly selves. Christ’s life can only become ours through the human uniqueness we possess, the talents that are ours to trade, to invest, or to use for building up or mending and for stretching out to others who need us. We can regard all the experiences of our own lives as a personal, unique roadmap to holiness, i.e., the ways God’s loving providence uses to deepen, guide and sanctify us!

How can Marguerite help us understand this? A few of Marguerite’s times of visitation from God may help us more easily ‘read’ within our own lives the many visits of God to us, the grace of God working steadily in our sometimes simple, sometimes complicated, yet always unique lives.

Let’s start with Marguerite’s schooling, only two years, and only made possible by the help of her uncle and aunts. There, Marguerite met influences that molded her, exposed her to new insights that became very rooted in her. The Cross or the concept of good coming out of apparent evil or suffering was one such insight. Another was a new understanding of Christ’s personal love, revealed as the Sacred Heart some few decades earlier to Saint Margaret Mary.

Did help from some relative or a teacher make a big difference in your life? How about your own school memories? What do you still retain of those influences? What has become rooted in you from those years?

Now, let’s look at young Marguerite’s family. What was her place within it? She was the oldest, her mother’s confidant while her father was away in the military and, after his death, a widow’s comforter. She was a teacher and caretaker to her siblings. How did these roles affect her? Certainly not all in a positive way.

In your family situation, what were your roles? What did you learn? How has this affected you?

Marriage is not an ordinary event. For a religious, it’s like our decision to enter. Both vocations call for vows. Both are pivotal events in life. Saint Marguerite fell in love, but lost the opportunity to marry the person she loved, could not enter the society to which she aspired and had to forego the promise of financial stability – all because her mother, her earlier confidant, chose her own bliss and stability. On the rebound, Marguerite chose poorly and suffered greatly, including a gratingly critical mother-in-law, the neglect of her husband, shame at his alcoholism and illegal activities, the death of four of their children and final destitution. Such was the record of marriage for Marguerite d’Youville.

And you? How smoothly has it gone? Were there false starts? Disappointments? Highs? Bliss? Security? This gateway to union, to family, to parenthood – what has it brought you? What has it asked of you? What is the ‘state of the union?

In reference to this period of her life how deeply Marguerite sought, as any of us have, to search for the reserves of grace that can actually pull us up and out of such miseries as those she endured! One of the ways she and we are rescued from such profound loss is through community. Community is another aspect of the life we live, one that becomes very significant in times of trouble. Saint Marguerite lived community in many ways. First, as part of an extended family that were movers and shakers for the area in which she lived. After her husband’s death, she joined the commercial community as a storekeeper on the village square. She belonged to a parish and within it she participated in a circle that proposed to strengthen families and in another group much like our St. Vincent de Paul Society, which visited to help the poor.

She gave, but she mainly received from these communities. For instance, not all, but some in her family supported her through the difficult times, her store customers were faithful enough to render her business successful, her parish priests offered support and guidance. The parish confraternities offered her spiritual formation and opened her to realize her gifts for spiritual understanding and for leadership.

Which are your communities? What do you give? What do you receive from community? Do you allow yourself to be called forth?

Finally, let’s look again at ‘taking one’s place.’ Marguerite took her “first child” place in her own family, then spouse, parent, a place in her church; she responded to the needs that came to her notice, such as the burial of the criminals executed in the town square, or housing for a blind woman. Because she learned from these experiences and because she was encouraged by those she trusted, she gradually took her place in the helping community as a spokesperson for the poor. Then, because responding to social needs costs money, she made the financial decisions needed and took her place in the civic community, there confronting decision-makers for the sake of the poor.

What are your own multiple ‘places’?  In family, in the neighborhood or parish, socially, professionally? How have you deepened as a result?

When we examine a saint’s life, it seems to hold so much goodness or heroism. When we look at our own lives, we see less than the ideal.

Is there a danger that making comparisons will only widen the chasm between our ordinariness and the specialness of sainthood? You can see that my answer is no. Saint Marguerite was canonized to help us see that sainthood is a universal call and a universal reality. Marguerite is called the “Mother of Universal Charity.” Let’s think of the term ‘universal’ as: general; applicable to all; readily available; or within reach. Let us regard our own lives as our personal, unique roadmap to universal charity, in other words, as the concrete manner which God’s loving Providence has utilized to deepen, to guide and to sanctify us!

Sr. Barbara Harrington, GNSH, a proud native of Buffalo, NY currently resides in a Buffalo suburb where she is always searching for ways to assist others. She served for many years in both Atlanta, GA and Kodiak, AK working primarily with immigrants to the U.S. helping them learn English and navigate their way through society’s challenges. Although technically retired, she has no understanding of what that means and continues to engage herself and others in numerous helpful projects.

2 thoughts on “Reflection on St. Marguerite d’Youville

  1. Katie Devlin (Kathleen Devlin) says:

    Sr. Barbara has been an inspiration to many, going back to CDHS days in Philadelphia. A remarkable woman, and deeply devoted to the Sacred Heart. Well written Sr. Barb!

    Katie Devlin

  2. Mary Coleen Kenny says:

    I’m so excited that I found this site on today the feast day of Saint Marguerite d’Youville. Thank you, I will be following you.

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