The Sisters of Charity of Montreal (#0490), commonly called Grey Nuns (SGM), a pontifical congregation of religious women, was founded in 1738 at Montreal, Canada, by (St.) Marie Marguerite d'youville.
Grey Nuns of Montreal. The original foundation developed slowly. On Dec. 31, 1737, Madame d'Youville and three companions, Louise Thaumur, Catherine Cusson, and Catherine Demers, privately professed their dedication to the poor and sick, without any intention, however, of forming a religious community. The following year they began to live together in a rented house in order to receive the destitute and give them better care. This beginning of their community life enraged many citizens, who could not believe that the widow of François d'Youville, confidential agent of the governor-general in illegal trade with the Native Americans, would honestly help the poor. In spite of violence and invective, including their title, les soeurs grises (the drunken nuns), the women persisted in their dedication, under the spiritual guidance of a Sulpician priest, Louis Normant du Faradon. In 1745 they made the first formal promises anticipating their rule, when they agreed to live together in charity for the rest of their lives under a superior and according to a rule; to practice entire poverty; to consecrate their time and labor to the care of as many poor persons as they could receive; and, for this purpose, to put their individual resources into a common fund. Moreover, they agreed to wear plain black dresses, uniform only in simplicity.
In 1747 the administrators of the General Hospital of Montreal, established by the Charon Brothers in 1692 for aged men, appealed to Mother d'Youville to take charge of the institution. King Louis XV confirmed the appointment (1753) and authorized the foundation of a religious community. The first papal approval was granted on July 21, 1865. In 1755, when the community numbered 12 members, it was decided to design a habit. Having been called lex soeurs grises for 18 years, they chose grey—also gris in French—for the color of their costume, thus giving a new meaning to an old title. The General Hospital, now restored, became the first motherhouse of the Grey Nuns, as well as the center of all kinds of work for the blind, the mentally ill, destitute and aged men and women, those suffering from contagious diseases, abandoned children, and needy seminarians. In 1855 a foundation was made in the United States, which later developed into the American province with headquarters at Lexington, Massachusetts.
Grey Nuns of St. Hyacinthe. The first independent foundation, the Sisters of Charity of St. Hyacinthe (SCSH, Official Catholic Directory #0610) was made in 1840 at St. Hyacinthe, near Montreal. From this foundation another was made at Nicolet in 1886, but in 1940 it became a province of the original institute in Montreal. The Sisters of Charity of St. Hyacinthe (SGSH) made their first United States foundation in 1878. The generalate is in St. Hyacinthe, Canada; the United States regional administration is in Lewiston, Maine.
Grey Nuns of Quebec. Another self-governing mission from Montreal was founded in 1849 in the city of Quebec at the request of Bishop Pierre-Flavien Turgeon. These Sisters of Charity (SCQ, Official Catholic Directory #0560) subsequently established provinces in the civil Province of Quebec. In 1890, they established their first foundation in Massachusetts, Massachusetts. The sisters work in schools and hospitals, and care for the elderly.
Grey Nuns of the Cross. In 1845, under the leadership of Mother Elizabeth Bruyère, the Grey Nuns of Montreal founded an autonomous congregation in Ottawa, Ontario. Their rule received pontifical approbation in 1889. Their work includes education, nursing, pastoral work, and care of the aged and orphans. In the United States, the sisters made a foundation in 1857, which eventually became an independent branch, the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart in 1921.
Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart. In 1857 an autonomous congregation was founded from the Grey Nuns of the Cross that became known as the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart (GNSH, Official Catholic Directory #1840). At the invitation of Cardinal Dennis Dougherty of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, they established their motherhouse there in 1921. The sisters are active in schools, hospitals, care for the aged, parochial and pastoral ministries, outreach programs to the homeless, youth ministries, counseling, and campus ministries.
Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. In 1926 a group of English-speaking members of the Grey Nuns of the Cross established a separate motherhouse in Pembroke, Ontario. Besides hospitals, orphanages, and schools (both elementary and secondary), the congregation had also maintained Chinese missions in Canada, which were completely destroyed by communists.
Bibliography: Archives, Grey Nuns of Montreal. t. a. keefe, The Congregation of the Grey Nuns. 1737–1910 (Washington 1942).
[l. r. cayer/
m. p. fitts/eds.]