We celebrate a veritable panoply of saints today: In Canada, we have the memorial of Saint Marguerite D’Youville (+1771), the first Canadian-born saint, a lovely Quebecoise, who married young to a dissolute man, Francois D’Youville, a dissipated bootlegger who sold liquor to the easily-addicted Natives, and would disappear for long periods. He did not live long, but they did have six children together, before his untimely death.
By the time she was 30, Marguerite had lost her husband, her father, and four of her children, who died in infancy. She could have despaired, and lost herself in the bottle like her erstwhile husband, but there no victim mentality with this fine woman. Instead, she corresponded with the grace of God, renewed her faith, worked to pay off the debts of her husband, then – after providing for her two sons, who went on to become priests – founded an Order, Les Souers Grises, the ‘Grey Sisters’, who worked with the poor, sick and abandoned – and there were any number of them in those days with no social safety net. There is a story that she chose the name in defiance of a calumny against the fledgling Order, that they were themselves addicted to drink – ‘grise‘ can also mean ‘drunk en francais‘. The Grey Sisters have done incalculable good – we may recall the halcyonic days not that long ago when nursing and other health care was provided by those consecrated to God, with no interest in money, ambition and the world. May their reward be great in heaven. (See also the Vatican’s biography here.)
Margaret Mary Alacoque (+1690) was a contemplative nun in France, who from childhood devoted herself to God, with some rather intense asceticism, and entered the Order of the Visitation in 1671. She was subject to various humiliations, including the delaying of her profession; she was assigned to work in the infirmary, the other Sisters being impatient at times with her perceived incompetence, but the good Sister persevered, and her patience, piety and zeal eventually won her acceptance. Soon afterward, starting in December 1673, and continuing for a year and a half, Sister Margaret began to receive remarkable visions and revelations of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, emphasizing the very human love the Son of God has for us, a necessary antidote to the rigorous and cold Jansenism which was then infecting hearts and souls. The devotion to Christ’s human heart – symbolic of His love and mercy – met with much opposition, but, with the help of her confessor, also canonized, the Jesuit priest Claude de la Colombiere, soon spread throughout the world.