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Grey Nuns: Wikis


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Saint Marguerite d'Youville, foundress of the Order of Sisters of Charity of Montreal, in the former habit of the order. Painting by Sr. Flore Barrette (1954).

The Order of Sisters of Charity of Montreal, formerly called The Order of Sisters of Charity of the Hôpital Général of Montreal and more commonly known as the Grey Nuns of Montreal, is a Canadian order of Roman Catholic religious sisters. The order was founded in 1738 by Saint Marguerite d'Youville, a young widow.[1]

The order was founded when Marguerite d'Youville and three of her friends formed a religious association to care for the poor. They rented a small house in Montreal on 30 October 1738, taking in a small number of destitute persons. On 3 June 1753 the society received royal sanction, which also transferred to them the rights and privileges previously granted by letters patent in 1694 to the Frères Hospitaliers de la Croix et de Saint-Joseph, known after their founder as the Frères Charon. At that time they also took over the work of the bankrupt Frères Charon at the Hôpital Général de Montréal located outside the city walls. The city residents mocked the nuns by calling them "les grises" - a phrase meaning both "the grey women" and "the drunken women", in reference to d'Youville's late husband, François-Magdeleine You d’Youville (1700-1730), a notorious bootlegger. Marguerite d'Youville and her colleagues adopted the particular black and brown dress of their order in 1755: despite a lack of grey colour, they kept the nickname once used to spite them.[2]

The rule given to Marguerite d'Youville and her companions by the Sulpician priest, Father Louis Normant de Faradon, P.S.S, in 1745 received episcopal sanction in 1754, when Monseigneur de Pontbriant formed the society into an official religious community. This rule forms the basis of the present constitution, which was approved by Pope Leo XIII on 30 July 1880. Besides the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the sisters pledge themselves to devote their lives to the service of suffering humanity.

The order undertook the first mission by a female religious order to Western Canada in 1844, when a colony of Grey Nuns left their convent in Montreal and travelled to Saint Boniface, on the shore of the Red River.[2] Several sister communities branched off from the Sisters of Charity of Montreal:

  • the Sisters of Charity of Saint-Hyacinthe (1840)
  • the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa (1845) formerly the Grey Nuns of the Cross
  • the Sisters of Charity of Quebec (1849)
  • the Sisters of Charity of the Hôtel-Dieu of Nicolet (1886), branched off from Saint-Hyacinthe, united with Montreal (1941)
  • the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart (1921), branched off from Ottawa
  • the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (1926), branched off from Ottawa

As of 2008 the various Grey Nun branches operate in Canada, the United States, Colombia, Brazil, Japan, Haiti, Central African Republic, South Africa, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, Bahamas, and the Dominican Republic.[3][4] They once operated a number of major hospitals in Canada; as provincial governments and church authorities moved to standardize both ownership and operation of hospitals, many of these hospitals passed into the hands of Church corporations (or, in some cases, governmental organizations) and the Grey Nuns changed focus. They now operate shelters for battered women (with and without children), shelters for women in need, clothing and food dispensaries, centres for the disabled, and some health care facilities.[5] St. Boniface General Hospital in Winnipeg is still owned by the Grey Nuns;[6] hospitals previously owned, operated, or enlarged by the order include the former Holy Cross Hospital in Calgary,[7] St. Paul's Hospital in Saskatoon[8], and the Grey Nuns Community Hospital in Edmonton.[9] Many of these health care institutions were founded by missionary nuns sent out from convents in Quebec and Ontario.[9]

Grey Nuns may work with the incarcerated.[4] Some chapters are also dedicated to peace and justice; at least one chapter, the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, has declared its properties a nuclear-free zone.[10]

Although the order's informal name contains the word "nuns", members of the order are actually classified by the Roman Catholic Church as religious sisters, as they are not cloistered. They no longer wear their distinctive habit and now wear street clothes.[4]

In 1993 it was estimated that there were just under 3,000 Grey Nuns in Canada, mainly in Quebec and Ontario.[2] By 2013 they will vacate their Mother House in downtown Montreal, after having sold the property to Concordia University in 2005. [11]


Further reading

  • The Grey Nuns and the Red River Settlement by Dennis King. Toronto: Book Society of Canada, 1980. ISBN 9780772552945
  • Mother d'Youville, First Canadian Foundress by Albertine-Ferland Angers. Montreal: Sisters of Charity of Montreal, Grey Nuns, 2000. ISBN 2920965050

External links

This article incorporates text from the entry Grey Nuns of the Cross in the public-domain Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913.



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