The Grey Nuns began in French-speaking Montreal, Canada. The French word for grey is “gris” which has two meanings: the color grey and the vernacular for drunken or tipsy. So, how did a Religious Congregation of Women get this name with a not-so-nice double meaning? The story of our “colorful” name begins with a wedding…
In 1722, at the age of 21, Marguerite de Lejemmerais, a girl from a genteel but impoverished Montreal family, married François d’Youville. François proved to be a disappointing husband. His illegal liquor trading with the Indians caused Marguerite great pain and social embarrassment.
After François’s death, society still judged Marguerite by the criminal actions of her husband. Despite her sufferings, she felt God’s presence in her life and committed herself to a life of charity and service to the poor, the ill and the elderly.
Marguerite’s deep spirituality, unwavering belief in Divine Providence and selfless works of mercy attracted other women to join her and in 1737, they consecrated themselves to God and established the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity.
Because of her husband’s association with illegal liquor trading, Marguerite and her sisters were jeered as “les Soeurs Grises” or “the tipsy sisters.” The compassion and good works of the sisters eventually won the respect of the people of Montreal and Marguerite retained the name “Grey Nuns” as a symbol of humility.
Today, Grey Nuns can be found all over the world, continuing the legacy of love, compassion and service of Saint Marguerite d’Youville. (…and, not involved in the illegal sale of liquor, like her husband!)