BOURDON, MARGUERITE, dite de Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Augustinian Hospitaller of the Hôtel-Dieu of Quebec, one of the foundresses of the Hôpital Général; b. 12 Oct. 1642 at Quebec, daughter of Jean Bourdon*, attorney general of New France, and of Jacqueline Potel; d. 11 Oct. 1706.
Marguerite, one of Jean Bourdon’s four daughters by his first marriage, was raised by nuns, as were her sisters, Marie, Geneviève, and Anne. She remained with the Ursulines until she was 14. Although the Ursulines would have “very much liked to have her with them,” Marguerite returned to live with her parents, who considered that she was too young to make up her mind. Although she was liked and sought after in the society in which she moved – Jean de Lauson*, the governor’s son, even asked for her hand – she nevertheless chose to join the Religious Hospitallers of the Hôtel-Dieu. She was received into the order on 23 Jan. 1657 and made her profession on 15 Oct. 1658 under the name of Saint-Jean-Baptiste.
At the Hôtel-Dieu Marguerite played an increasingly important role. Her zeal in the service of the poor caused her to be named several times to the post of second and then of first hospitaller. Because of her piety she was appointed vestry-nun. Finally, her sense of order and exactitude contributed to her being elected assistant superior twice.
The founding of the Hôpital Général somewhat upset this peaceful existence. On his arrival in New France in 1688, Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix], who wanted to found a hospital for the infirm, bought a house in the Upper Town of Quebec and entrusted its management to the Congrégation de Notre-Dame. In 1692 the hospice was moved to the convent of Notre-Dame-des-Anges [see Filiastre] on the banks of the St Charles River, and the Hospitallers of the Hôtel-Dieu were asked to take over the running of the new hospital. At first they attempted to refuse, and proposed instead building an annex to their convent where the infirm would be cared for; Bishop Saint-Vallier did not accept this proposal and persisted in his request. Finally the nuns had to accede to the bishop’s desires. In 1693, then, they signed the founding deed and appointed four nuns. Marguerite Bourdon was one of those chosen, along with two other choir nuns, Mothers Louise Soumande de Saint-Augustin and Geneviève Gosselin de Sainte-Madeleine, and a lay sister, Sister Madeleine Bâcon de la Résurrection. They moved into their new convent on 1 April 1693; Mother Saint-Jean-Baptiste, although she was not appointed superior, was entrusted by virtue of being the eldest with the task of directing her companions under the authority of the superior of the Hôtel-Dieu, Mother Juchereau de Saint-Ignace [Juchereau de La Ferté]. It was, however, Louise Soumande de Saint-Augustin who was chosen as superior in the first elections, held in 1694.
In this hospice, where there was no lack of work, Mother Saint-Jean-Baptiste exerted herself without stint. In 1699 she had an attack of spitting blood and fell ill with a dangerous lung ailment. As her illness persisted, she was taken to the Hôtel-Dieu where she could receive better care. She came back only after six weeks, a little better but not perfectly recovered, and she had to remain some time without working, which did not prevent her from being elected assistant superior in April 1699.
These elections had increased in importance, since an ordinance by Bishop Saint-Vallier had just separated the two communities of the Hôtel-Dieu and the Hôpital Général, a measure which almost brought about the disappearance of the latter. Indeed, when the religious of the Hôtel-Dieu presented a memoir to the Comte de Pontchartrain to have certain points defined more accurately, the minister ordered the dissolution of the community of the Hôpital Général and the transfer of all the religious to the Hôtel-Dieu. But the authorities of the colony sought a means of lessening the effect of the minister’s order and decided to send back to the mother house only the superior, Mother Gabrielle Denis de l’Annonciation, and the novices. Bishop Saint-Vallier himself went to France and succeeded in saving his work and the young community; the religious returned to the Hôpital Général.
Marguerite Bourdon died 11 Oct. 1706. Mother Saint-Augustin paid her this final tribute: “As I have always been responsible for temporal affairs, it was a great comfort for me to have in her example support in maintaining discipline within the house. She set the young sisters great examples of fervour, discipline, and mortification. In the midst of our sorrow we have the consolation of seeing her die as she had lived, bearing the precious mark of predestination.”