Written on: October 15, 2021
The following is adapted from a letter to the Congregation from GNSH president, Sister Denise Roche.
This year, 2021, marks the 250th anniversary of Marguerite d’Youville’s death, December 23, 177l. Although we focus on her life and the legacy of love which she gave us, this year provides an opportunity to contemplate her death and the lessons that we can learn from the way she prepared for it.
The dedication and stamina displayed by Marguerite all of her life present a picture of whole hearted acceptance of whatever heartache, trial, discouragement or obstacle she encountered. The time came, however, when all of her determination and zeal were not enough to overcome the physical setbacks that faced her. We have learned so much from her life; what can we learn also from her sickness and death?
Trust in Divine Providence
The remarkable, unflinching trust that sustained Marguerite throughout her life did not fail her at the time of her death. Trusting that Providence would care for her beloved poor even though she was struggling with pain and weakness and her approaching death, Marguerite put confidence in her good friend, Father de l’lsle-Dieu to appoint a capable person to oversee the finances of the hospital. Marguerite expressed her gratitude to Father de l’lsle-Dieu, who responded that she had every reason to believe that Mr. Maury was a gift from Providence and not from him.1 Marguerite was at peace, knowing that her poor would be provided whatever they would need.
Acceptance of her physical condition and of the care she required
Marguerite, a woman of contemplation and action, knew not only how to work indefatigably, but also when to accept help graciously. During December 1771, the time leading up to her death, Marguerite continued to meet and work with sisters to make certain that they were prepared to assume new and expanding responsibilities. Her ability to let go of her beloved work on behalf of “her poor” must have been a great sacrifice, but Marguerite faced her condition with acceptance and placed herself in God’s care. By mid-December, Marguerite was unable to walk without assistance and able to speak only with great difficulty. According to those who shared this time with Marguerite, she adapted to the changes, accepting them comfortably as a gift of Providence to her. This woman, who spent her life working on behalf of others, became an example of how to accept weakness and the assistance and dependence it required.
Acceptance and Preparation for Death
Realizing that her frailty was increasing and that her work with her beloved poor was coming to an end, Marguerite used the time to commune with God and to place herself in God’s loving embrace. Her last weeks were described as being in “prayerful recollection” and receiving the sacraments. Her time in prayer was interrupted only by visits from the sisters. Marguerite, in the last days of her life, made certain that her will and her final obligations were in good order and that all her responsibilities were completed.
Focused on Others
Even with the pain and discomfort of her failing health, Marguerite loved to visit and chat with her sisters. Her conversations included encouragement of the sisters, comfort for the sense of loss they would feel at her demise and a sense of acceptance at their denial that she was nearing the completion of her life.
On December 13, realizing that her nurse had not enjoyed a peaceful noon meal, Marguerite dismissed the nurse assuring her that her patient’s condition would not change during her absence. While the nurse was absent, Marguerite had a second attack of paralysis, leaving her more infirm than the first. First on her mind, though, was the comfort of her nurse.
Her words to her sisters during these last hours were filled with resignation to God’s will, comfort for the sisters and support and encouragement for the sisters to continue the good that they had begun with Marguerite. The last recorded words of Marguerite were the legacy that she left to them and to us:
“My dear Sisters, be constantly faithful to the duties of the state that you have embraced. Walk always in the paths of regularity, obedience and mortification; but, above all, let the most perfect union reign among you.” 2
As we approach our elder years, we find that there is no preparation adequate for the surprising circumstances that we will need to face. Perhaps looking at the gracious way in which our foundress, Marguerite, trusted God and embraced God’s will even unto death can be an example to us. Her love of God and trust in Divine Providence, so evident in every episode of her life, were her support and confidence at the time of her illness and death also. December 23, 1771 at about 8:30 in the evening, Marguerite d’Youville died.
Enjoy and celebrate the feast of our beloved foundress!
Please use the beautiful prayer attached, prepared by Sister Barbara Schiavoni, in union with one another and with all those who commemorate the life and death of St. Marguerite d’ Youville. Feast Day Prayer 2021
1 Love Spans the Centuries, Vol. 1, p g . 261
2 Ibid 267