Our History is Our Future


The Youville Centre is named for Saint Marguerite d’Youville, founder of the Grey Nuns in Canada. Marguerite spent a lifetime giving to those in need. Her legacy is her unyielding determination, her insight and her courage to move forward in the face of change.


Born in Quebec in 1701, Marguerite d’Youville learned the lessons of poverty and loss at an early age. Her father died when she was seven years old, leaving the eldest of his six children to help care for the destitute family. When she was 20, she married François d'Youville who died eight years later, saddling his wife with enormous debt. By the time Marguerite was 30, four of her six children had also died.

Still, Marguerite knew there were many in worse circumstances. She opened a store on the first floor of her Montreal home and supported herself selling handiwork and household items. She also used that money to help the less fortunate, welcoming anyone who needed food, shelter or comfort. Others inspired by her generous heart were compelled to join her mission, and in 1737, she and her companions formed the Sisters of Charity of Montréal, known by the people as the Grey Nuns.

Montreal’s social elite was shocked by her dedication to the poor but Marguerite was unafraid to challenge old ideas and stereotypes. In 1747, she was appointed Directress of the bankrupt General Hospital in Montreal where she and the Sisters restored the buildings and reorganized wards according to need. They established a place for disabled soldiers, a nursing home, an orphanage, mental asylum, VD clinic, and a reformatory for prostitutes. They also erased the hospital’s debts by sewing clothing, selling building materials and managing a cartage business.

In June of 1844, after a two month long canoe trip from Montreal, the first Grey Nuns arrived in St. Boniface to bring education and community health care to a fledgling colony. Their work and Marguerite d’Youville’s vision continues in Canada and around the world today: serving and protecting others, providing a refuge for those in need, and extending compassion and hope to any human poor in body, mind and spirit.