Sisters of the French Canadian Church
Marguerite Bourgeoys (1620-1700) is a Catholic nun, and the founder of the congregation of Notre Dame in Montreal, devoted to education and service. It was originally, in 1640, a noncloistered teaching order (like the Ursulines, who tried to recruit Bourgeoys on her initial arrival in Quebec). She came to Canada in 1653, and set up schools and missions for French settlers and Indians in isolated areas, and moving the organization towards the religious life by introducing a uniform habit to the sisters, worship in the chapel, and religious names. Although they remained uncloistered, by the 1700's, the other cloistered communities recognized members of the organization as "true nuns" (Choquette). She spent her last few years in meditation and prayer, and already revered as a saint by the colonists before she died. She built her life around fidelity to god's will, and it was characterized by her "heroic poverty" and "devotedness to the service of others" (Jaenen).
Her importance is evident in the austere portrait, Marguerite Bourgeoys, crafted by Pierre La Ber in the year of her death. The design is simple and stark, with Marguerite blending into an undefined, dark background; there are no unnecessary details. Le Ber leaves no impression of Marguerite's world; instead, she blends into her environment seamlessly. Her value is highlighted by the dearth of any distracting elements in the piece. She is an uncompromisingly commanding figure in the painting, competing only with the large cross that dangles from beneath her praying hands. Le Ber's style is primitive, unperfected and unpolished. The result is that Marguerite looks worn, tired, and experienced. Her half-closed eyes and stern expression portray an inner serenity, and a thoughtful devotion to her religion. The lines of the painting are soft, yet angled, the triangular fabric of her robe points downward toward her cross. The triangular shape made between the palms of her hand also emphasizes the cross. As in the other three portraits, the viewer sees nothing but a woman and her faith, as she holds it close to her and devotes herself to it.
Choquette, Leslie. "'Ces Amazones du Grand Dieu.': Women and Mission in Seventeenth-Century Canada.." French Historical Studies Vol 17. No 3. Spring, 1992. 627-655. 26 Oct 2008
Vatican, "Marguerite Bourgeoys (1620-1700)," http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_19821031_bourgeoys_en.html (accessed Oct 25 2008).
Jaenen, Cornelius J. "Bourgeoys, Marguerite." http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0000919 (accessed Oct 25 2008).
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