On today’s date in 1658, French nun Marguerite Bourgeoys was “finally able to receive her first pupils in a stable that had been given her by Maisonneuve for want of something better,” according to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.
Bourgeoys landed in Québec five years earlier with French military officer and founder of Montréal Paul de Chomedey. They were joined by about 100 other colonists, who were sent to defend Ville-Marie (present-day Old Montréal) against Iroquois attacks, which reduced the young colony to fewer than 50 inhabitants living in “not more than five or six houses,” according to Simone Poissant’s 1982 book, Marguerite Bourgeoys, 1620-1700.
Because many of the colony’s children had died, Bourgeoys was unable to establish the school as planned and instead focused on charity and social service while convincing settlers to begin work on Montréal’s first stone church.
Finally, on April 30, 1658, Bourgeoys “opened the first school proper in Montréal” in a converted stable measuring 11 metres by 5.5 metres, according to William Atherton’s 1914 book Montreal, 1535-1914. The stable, which faced Hôtel Diéu on St. Paul Street, was donated by Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve.
Eventually, she and a woman she recruited came to be known as the “Congrégation de Notre-Dame,” which was largely self-supporting and earned the respect of King Louis XIV, who felt the colony “could not support a large number of materially unproductive ecclesiastics.”
In 1666, Bourgeouys opened another boarding school for young girls. Four years later, when the stable-turned-school was deemed insufficient, a large stone house was built.
1975 BOURGEOYS STAMP
Bourgeoys, who intended to establish a school upon arriving, was commemorated on an eight-cent stamp (Scott #660) issued by Canada’s Post Office Department (now Canada Post) in 1975.
Printed by Ashton-Potter, the multi-coloured stamp has general tagging along two opposite sides and had a print run of 13,400,000.
Bourgeoys died in Montréal on Jan. 12, 1700.
In 1982, Bourgeoys was canonized and became Canada’s first female Catholic saint.