Our Lady of Schools

By Michelle Renaud
Photo: Samantha Etane


Statue of Our Lady of Schools by Giacomini and Balducci

There is a magnificent marble statue of Our Lady of Schools, patron saint of all educational institutions, in the a chapel at 2330 Sherbrooke Street West. Carved in Italy at the beginning of the 20th century, this statue is a reminder that, for nearly sixty years, the building in which it is housed was the place from which spread the devotion to Our Lady of Schools.

The connection between Our Lady of Schools and the Congrégation de Notre-Dame dates back to the religious renewal that arose in France after the Revolution during the 19th cen­tury in the form of diverse teaching initiatives. One of them, devotion to Our Lady of Schools, was founded by Father Guyot in 1894, with the support of Pope Leo XIII, to ensure the success of the schools he opened in his parish. In France, this devotion did not survive the anticlerical laws abolishing religious schools, but it had time to be accepted in Quebec. It was adopted by Cardinal Taschereau who gave the Congrégation de Notre-Dame the responsibility of spread­ing this devotion, so closely linked to the educational mission of their foundress, Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys. When it opened in Old Montreal in 1899, the Congregation’s École normale was dedicated to and placed under the patronage of Our Lady of Schools1.    

In June 1903, a beautiful banner representing Our Lady of Schools began circulating through­out Quebec and even went all the way to Rome where it was blessed by Pope Pius X in 1906. On July 12, 1911, the Congregation obtained permission from the Holy Father to build the chapel of the future École normale building under the patronage of the Virgin of Schools and to celebrate her feast on the third Saturday of October. Once they had received this author­i­za­tion, they commissioned Italian artists Giacomini and Balducci to carve the image of the Madonna out of white Carrara marble. Installed in a niche above the main altar of the chapel in the new École normale building (situated at 2330 Sherbrooke Street West), the statue was blessed by Bishop Paul Bruchési on October 7, 1915.


Detail of the marble statue by Giacomini and Balducci


Devotion continued to grow

Over the years, devotion to Our Lady of Schools continued to grow at École normale such that for the 25th anniversary of the institution in June 1924, the graduates of École normale de­cided to found the Our Lady of Schools Alumnae, an association that “provides them with the opportunity to meet and collaborate in charities that foster education2.” However, devotion to Our Lady of Schools was not confined within the walls of École normale, far from it…

In fact, from the beginning, the Sisters made sure that reproductions, images, medals and statues promoted devotion to Our Lady of Schools, not only in the province’s schools, but everywhere in Canada and even abroad: “Newfoundland, Africa, Japan, the Canadian Northwest Territories, Guadalupe, Haiti, Texas, Mexico, Chili, Santo Domingo open the list of distant centres that gradually would become interested in the cause, the centre of which, henceforth, would be École normale of the Sisters of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame de Montréal Montréal3.”    

Finally, on November 12, 1952, agreeing to the request of Canadian bishops, Pius XII pro­claimed Our Lady of Schools “patron of schools and student youth for all of Canada.” Devotion to the Virgin of Schools found new fervor: an official prayer was printed and translated into 15 languages and, during the Marian Year in 1954, all the Canadian schools and numerous educational institutions in other countries officially dedicated themselves to Our Lady of Schools4.    

Devotion to the Virgin of Schools culminated on April 30, 1958, at the solemn coronation of the statue by Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger, with the special authorization of Pope Pius XII, in the chapel of École normale. This coronation marked the 300th anniversary of the founding in a stable of the first school of Montreal by Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys. Over fifty priests from all over Canada, representatives from different communities and civilian and school leaders, among whom was the Superintendent of Public Instruction, were present. Three bishops assisted in this ceremony that officially consecrated the devotion to Our Lady of Schools.

In 1961, Pope John XXIII, wishing to promote devotion to Our Lady of Schools, granted numerous privileges to those who visited her sanctuary in the École normale chapel. In its edition of July 1, 1962, the weekly La Patrie published: “The NDE sanctuary has become the place of pilgrimage for all young students from Canada, the United States and Europe5.”    

In 1970, on the occasion of the International Education Year and, upon the suggestion of Unesco in the United States, a request was addressed to the main responsible authorities of education in all countries to spread devotion to Our Lady of Schools across the world. Afterwards, the 500 responses received were given to the prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Catholic Education. But times had changed: in a letter dated June 21, 1971, the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship informed Most. Rev. Paul Grégoire, Archbishop of Montreal, that it did not feel it opportune to make this proclamation at that time6.    


In 2013, the statue of Our Lady of Schools can still be found at 2330 Sherbrooke Street West. However, it is no longer in the chapel of École normale, which has been converted into the administrative offices of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame, but in the chapel of the Con­gre­ga­tion’s eighth Mother House. Intimately linked to the educational outreach of the Con­gre­ga­tion, it bears witness to its history and, through it, the evolution of society.


  1. Histoire de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame, vol. XI, tome II, p. 491-492.[return to text]
  2. École normale Jacques-Cartier, 1899-1949, Archives of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame, p. 47.[return to text]
  3. Histoire de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame, vol. XI, tome II, p. 495.[retour au texte]
  4. Ibid, p. 497.[return to text]
  5. Ibid, p. 506.[return to texte]
  6. Ibid, p. 511.[return to text]


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