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Grey Nuns

The Sisters of Charity of Montreal
Formation 1738
Type Religious organizations
Legal status active
Purpose advocate and public voice, educator and network
Headquarters Montreal, Quebec
Region served
Canada, the United States, Colombia, Brazil, Japan, Haiti, Central African Republic, South Africa, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, Bahamas, and the Dominican Republic
Official language
Website Grey Nuns of Montreal Home Page
Saint Marguerite d'Youville, foundress of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, in the former habit of the institute. Painting by James Duncan (1825-1881).

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


  • Foundation 1
  • Mockery 2
  • Constitution 3
  • Sister communities 4
  • The 21st century 5
    • Hospitals 5.1
    • Shelters 5.2
    • Other works 5.3
  • Classification as religious sisters 6
  • Numbers 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10


The congregation 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 the color of their attire and 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 religious institute 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.

Sister communities

Convent of Deschambault, held by Sisters of Charity of Quebec between 1861 and 1994.

The sisters undertook the first mission by a female religious institute 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:

Statue to the Grey Nuns, Quebec City

The 21st century

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. The Grey Nuns' Hospital building built in 1765 in Montreal was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1973 to commemorate the Grey Nuns.[5] In 2011, Grey Nuns Motherhouse, the former motherhouse of the Grey Nuns in Montreal, now part of Concordia University, was also designated a National Historic Site.[6]


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.[7] St. Boniface General Hospital in Winnipeg is still owned by the Grey Nuns;[8] hospitals previously owned, operated, or enlarged by the institute include the former Holy Cross Hospital in Calgary,[9] St. Paul's Hospital in Saskatoon,[10] and the Grey Nuns Community Hospital in Edmonton.[11] Many of these health care institutions were founded by missionary nuns sent out from convents in Quebec and Ontario.[11]

Other works

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.[12]

Classification as religious sisters

Although the institute's informal name contains the word "nuns", members are actually classified by the Roman Catholic Church as religious sisters, as they are not cloistered and belong to a congregation, not an order. 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.[13] The Quebec congregation has not recruited any new members since before 2000. Sister Bernadette said the nuns' legacy will live on in other ways.[14]


  1. ^ Marie–Marguerite d'Youville at the Vatican Liturgy of Saints Project. Retrieved 26 August 2008.
  2. ^ a b c Canadian Encyclopedia article on the Grey Nuns. Retrieved 26 August 2008.
  3. ^ Grey Nuns ministries worldwide. Retrieved 26 August 2008.
  4. ^ a b c Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart Ministries. Retrieved 26 August 2008.
  5. ^ Grey Nuns' Hospital. Canadian Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 30 July 2011.
  6. ^ Mother House of the Grey Nuns of Montreal. Directory of Federal Heritage Designations. Parks Canada. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
  7. ^ Current ministries of the Grey Nuns. Retrieved 26 August 2008.
  8. ^ St. Boniface General Hospital. Retrieved 26 August 2008.
  9. ^ University of Calgary Library Special Collection article on Holy Cross School of Nursing. Retrieved 26 August 2008.
  10. ^ Saskatoon Health Region article on St. Paul's Hospital. Retrieved 26 August 2008.
  11. ^ a b Alberta Heritage article on Grey Nuns. Retrieved 26 August 2008.
  12. ^ Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart mission. Retrieved 26 August 2008.
  13. ^ Peretz, Ingrid (24 December 2008). "Montreal nuns moving – with saint's remains". Globe and Mail (Canada). Retrieved 24 December 2008. 
  14. ^ CBC: Grey Nuns leave motherhouse for Concordia University takeover

Further reading

  • The Grey Nuns and the Red River Settlement by Dennis King. Toronto: Book Society of Canada, 1980. ISBN 978-0-7725-5294-5
  • Mother d'Youville, First Canadian Foundress by Albertine-Ferland Angers. Montreal: Sisters of Charity of Montreal, Grey Nuns, 2000. ISBN 2-920965-05-0

External links

  • Grey Nuns of Montreal Home Page
  • Sisters of Charity of Saint-Hyacinthe Home Page
  • Sisters of Charity of Ottawa Home Page
  • Sisters of Charity of Quebec Home Page
  • Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart Home Page
  • Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception Home Page
  • Manitoba Historical Society – The Grey Nuns and the Red River Settlement


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