“Decide, my dear; better mistakes than paralysis.”
These are Julie’s words,
a woman overflowing with energy, prevented from moving during the 22 years of
her paralysis. An active girl in Cuvilly,
traveling, shopkeeper, comforting the sick, leading the parish, Julie lost the
use of her legs at the age of 31 years and would only regain her active life at
the age of 53. During the 12 years that
remained of her life, she displayed an intense activity, completely devoting
herself to the realization of her apostolate, the Christian instruction of poor
girls. The long days of inactivity and
pain during her paralysis taught her to appreciate the joy of being able to
perform the simplest tasks!
The circumstances of her paralysis
In 1774, Julie was speaking with her father at home, when a large rock was thrown through the window and a shot was heard.
Neither Julie nor her
father were hurt but this attack caused such an extreme shock to her overworked
body that it was the cause of a serious illness. In 1782, an epidemic erupted and the
unenlightened doctors thought it was best treated by bleeding the feet. The village surgeon submitted Julie to such
abundant bleedings that, little by little, she was deprived of the use of her
two legs and she had to stretch out on a bed that she would not leave for 22
The importance of prayer during her illness
Formerly so active, Julie waited on an invalid’s bed and she drew strength in her faith passing several hours each day in prayer.
In “To Heaven on Foot,”
(1969), Sister Mary Linscott writes:
“Julie conceived prayer as the key force in a cycle which bore the soul to God and then, in him, poured it out in the service of others.”
“Julie said to Sister Stephanie Warnier that during the course of the first eight years of her paralysis, she knew neither isolation nor weariness because she was filled with the presence of God and was sustained by the strength and joy of which the effects were almost tangible. It is during these years of paralysis that Julie became aware of the divine paradox that action is accomplished in inaction. Julie was energetic by nature; however, she accepted no longer being able to walk because she saw in it the will of God. Physically inactive, without plans for the future, Julie learned in the school of suffering and silence the lessons that she would one day teach with all the strength of a return to health. When, at the age of 53, she took up her active life, she fully appreciated the paradox in the of the weak things of the world that the providence of God uses to realize great works. Her joy and confidence in God never weakened.”
The circumstances of her cure
On February 2, 1804, Julie founded the Congregation of the Sister of Notre Dame with Françoise Blin de Bourdon. Since her legs were still paralyzed, Julie experienced some difficulties actualizing her apostolate. On a beautiful morning, Father Enfantin, a Father of the Faith, suggested that she make a novena to the Sacred Heart, without telling her the reason. Julie accepted and, on June 1, 1804, she was miraculously cured.
In her Memoirs, Françoise wrote: “One of the missionaries, Father Enfantin, was so zealous and full of faith that he was inspired to make a novena to the Sacred Heart to obtain our mother’s cure. When he began, he merely told Julie that he was making a novena and requested her to join him, which she did without questioning.
On June 8, Friday, Feast of the Heart of Jesus [In reality, the cure occurred on June 1st and not the 8th as Mother Saint Joseph indicates.], the fifth day of the novena, when Mère Julie was in the garden alone, Father Enfantin came to the house, in the evening after supper while it was still light. Mère Julie was in the garden alone, in her chair to take some air. He came up to her and said: “If you have faith, Mother, take a step in honor of the Heart of Jesus.” Julie rose and took a step, something she had not done for twenty-two years.” “Take another,” he said. “Another.” Then, “That will do; you may sit down now.” Julie took her seat, though she assured Father that she was able to walk even further. “
Henceforth, Julie was able to participate in the Amiens mission preached by the Father of the Faith and, then, she accompanied them to Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme and at Abbeville where she evangelized the populace.
In “To Heaven on Foot,”
Sister Mary Linscott speaks to us of this cure:
“A careless surgery had so damaged one bone in her foot that the doctor, who was asked to verify her relics when they were exhumed in 1888, hesitated to authenticate it, as he said that a person with such a malformed bone could never have walked at all. Julie knew that she walked in virtue of a miracle. In 1804 she had taken her first steps after twenty-two years of helplessness, in obedience to a command: ‘If you have any faith in the Sacred Heart, take a step forward.’ Whether the power of walking was restored by rectifying the surgeon’s clumsiness or simply in spite of it, she never paused to question. It sufficed for her that God had restored her health and energy. Her one ambition was to use both for his glory.”
Concerning the influence of the Fathers of the Faith
Thanks to a caring Faith
of the Faith, Father Enfantin, Julie regained the use of her legs and was able
to begin her apostolic vocation.
In 1799, a new society
called the “Fathers of the Faith” was formed in the spirit of the Company of
Jesus (suppressed in 1773). Although
Julie does not clearly mention the Ignatian inspiration in her work, this is
evident. The Fathers of the Faith were
present at important moments in the foundation of the Congregation as at the
time of her cure.
Among them, we can cite Father Enfantin who invited Julie to stand up while in the middle of a novena to the Sacred Heart but also Father Thomas who said Mass in Julie’s room at the Blin town home in Amiens and fled to Bettencourt with Julie and Françoise. Father Varin invited Julie to work for the glory of God and offered the first rule to the community or Father Leblanc who accompanied Julie to Flanders where she would establish several schools. On October 14, 1805, Julie took, moreover, the name of Sister Saint Ignatius.
Concerning her devotion to the Sacred Heart
It’s not for nothing that
her miraculous cure proceeded in the name of the Sacred Heart. Julie had grown up with a strong personal
attachment to the devotion to the Sacred Heart.
Elle propagated it in Cuvilly, introduced it in Belgium and left it as a
heritage in the Congregation.
As we have already mentioned in the theme for the month of March, Julie had a devotion to the Sacred Heart as did other members of her family. In her juridical deposition made in Beauvais in 1882, Madame Victoire Berthelot (great-niece of Julie Billiart) attested that the cult of the Sacred Heart was transmitted as a heritage: My mother told us: ‘I pray to the Sacred Heart, children. Preserve this devotion. It is a family devotion.’”
Importance of walking during the last twelve years of her life
After 22 years of
paralysis, Julie never was able to hope to walk again. In a space of ten years, she undertook many
trips in a stagecoach, on the back of a donkey or even often on foot in order
to establish schools for poor girls.
Although she accorded the greatest importance to prayer, Julie spent the
last years of her life on the road, caught up in action.
In the General Archives in Namur, one can find a little note on which Françoise counted Julie’s trips: 120 in ten years!
According to a study of Sister Mary Hayes, Julie would have made, in reality, 119 trips. But if one takes into account the many times that Julie redirected her travels in order to cover a broad range of preoccupations, Sister Mary Hayes estimates that Julie’s trips would reach the number 378.
Julie established the first schools in Amiens, Saint Nicolas, Namur, Montdidier, Rubempré and Jumet without needing to cross boarders since Belgium did not yet exist. If, in Amiens, they frowned on Julie’s travels, it was not the same in Namur where she was supported by Monsignor Pisani who was in favor of all her actions on behalf of her establishments. She traveled for miles to assure a welcoming home for the sisters and their students. In 1809, she was at Saint Hubert; in 1810, it was the foundation of Nouveau Bois in Ghent and, in 1811, the installation at Zele. In spite of war during the last years of the Napoleonic regime, Julie still pursued her work of education by opening schools in Andenne, Gembloux and Fleurus.
Saint Nicolas (1806)
Her strength of soul
How was Julie, a girl so
active during her youth and who did not spare any effort to help her parents, able
to find strength during her long years of illness? Among Julie’s most striking characteristics, her
contemporaries relate, in particular, her greatness of soul and her
courage. Struck by so many trials, among
which was her illness, she didn’t let them get her down. On the contrary, she
placed her confidence in God, whose “will expressed itself in all things.” She gave proof of a courage, a lucidity and a
sense of humor which affected all who knew her.
Sister Mary Linscott
speaks to us of this fortitude that Julie exercised:
“Fortitude is a great gift and a root of greatness. It is the quality of attack, of strength, vigor and energy. Positively, it brings confidence, with power, success and limitless desire; negatively, it gives rise to the refusal to give in, to endurance and perseverance, and to patience.
Saint Julie wrote: “More
than ever I see the need of strong, brave, generous souls, manly souls, who are
afraid of absolutely nothing on this earth except sin and displeasing
God…. Come on now, courage! courage! courage! but a manly courage, my dear sister, don’t
let any difficulty ever put us off… We
need brave apostolic souls for our vocation, those who are not afraid of
difficulties and who have no reserves with God…. If we only have a middling virtue, the work
won’t last, it needs souls of steel to hold firm in the world we live in.”
This is the story of the great friendship between Julie Billiart, Françoise Blin de Bourdon, without which the Congregation would never have seen the light of day!
One of the gifts that the
Congregation considers as its most precious is the fact that it is born of a
deep friendship between two women. This
is one of those friendships that can figure among the greatest in religious
Françoise possessed an immense capacity for friendship. We are going to speak especially of that which united her to Julie.
The story of 22 years of friendship between Julie and Françoise (between 1794-1816)
Born in the middle of the 18th century (Julie in 1751 and Françoise in 1756), in the north of France, from very different backgrounds, the first 40 years of their lives are not alike in their exterior circumstances but offer great similarities with respect to their relationship with God. They both had a rich interior life. Julie dies in 1816, after 22 years of friendship and collaboration with Françoise. The Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Namur is founded on an UNPREDICTABLE friendship between two very DIFFERENT French women. [Julie and Françoise had very different personalities: the first joyful, extroverted; the other more reserved. They also differed in their origins and education: the one from a modest milieu and who attended the village school; the other from the aristocracy with an excellent education. However, we will see how Julie and Françoise resembled one another in their way of living for God.
1. The Life of Françoise Blin de Bourdon before meeting Julie
four words: Aristocratic, well-educated,
chatelain and Carmel.
Aristocratic: A noble birth in a wealthy family, fruit of the union between the Blin de Bourdon and the Fouquesolles families. Françoise’s family was one of the oldest in Picardy, in the north of France. It traced its heritage to the eleventh century. In the Middle Ages there was an adage with respect to the name. When something was considered good, people said that it was “good as a Blin.”
When her parents married in 1748, her father, Pierre-Louis Blin de Bourdon, was 42 years of age and her mother, Marie-Louise-Claudine de Fouquesolles, was 17. Born on March 8, 1756, and preceded by a brother, Louis-Marie-César and a sister, Marie-Louise-Aimée, she was the third and last child and was baptized the day after her birth, on the feast of Sainte Françoise Romaine. Only 25 years of age and with two other children, 2 and 3 years old, Françoise’s mother was encouraged to leave the newborn with her parents at Gézaincourt, a vast and beautiful country manor with gardens (about 19 miles from Amiens). Aside from a few trips to Bourdon where her parents possess a chateau, she spends her childhood at Gézaincourt with her maternal grandparents, the baron and baroness de Fouquesolles. Françoise’s grandmother, with the assistance of a governess, Mademoiselle Ursula, introduces the young child to her first educational experiences, religious and secular. Françoise is raised with love. She was an obstinate and strong-willed child. * Well-educated At the age of six, Françoise became a boarder with the Benedictines in Doullens. It was there that she was confirmed when she was eight years of age. In 1768, she was sent for two or three years to the Ursulines in Amiens to complete her education. At 19, in order to prepare for her introduction into French society, she frequents the salons of Paris and is presented to the Court at Versailles. She was a friend of the sister of King Louis XVI, Madame Élisabeth.
Françoise was 25 when her
sister and brother marry and she now finds herself alone with her parents at
Bourdon. This is a sacrifice for her
since she got along well with her brother who was a true friend and
confidant. He establishs himself in
Amiens where he buys a town home on the rue des Augustins.
Three years later, at age 28: her maternal grandfather and her mother died (her grandfather on February 24, 1784, and her mother on April 2). Her mother was 53 when she died, 10 months after a carriage accident.
Françoise suffered greatly from these losses.
Chatelain and Carmel:
Françoise doesn’t stay
long with her father because her duty calls her to Gézaincourt. She must assist her grandmother and assume
her duties as chatelain of the vast domain.
She gives herself to her grandmother and the villagers and she
distributes alms to the poor. There she
manages the vast domain and its dependencies.
She also visits the sick and cares for them by means of medicinal herbs
that she cultivates; the villagers freely ask advice of the “good young lady.” The pastor later affirms that Françoise went
each day to Mass, prayed at length and received communion often. [Françoise seemed to be aware that she was
preparing herself to manage the future Congregation by becoming a good administrator
in order to make good decisions and expand the Institute. [Cf. Mémoire de Cécile Dupont for the purpose of
obtaining her Masters in History: The SND de Namur, Educational Entrepreneurs (1804-1842),
In her writings are found notes that show a deep commitment to God. In these personal notes, she had written, in 1783, “partial conversion; imperfect light” and, in 1785 (age 29), “full or complete conversion with the unshakeable resolve to remove from my life all that could separate me from my end or goal.” She wanted to enter a Carmelite monastery.
In 1789, the Revolution breaks out. Françoise, because of her social standing, will suffer terribly during the French Revolution.
In 1793, the members of the Blin de Bourdon family (her father, more than 80 years of age, and Françoise’s brother) were among those falsely accused of having fled the country, were imprisoned. In February of 1894, Françoise is arrested in place of her grandmother – who dies on March 18 – and is conducted to prison in Amiens. Because of overcrowding in the prisons, prisoners were given the option of begin transferred to the Carmelite monastery where the Carmelites were being held captive. Only Françoise accepted the transfer. [Françoise will not encounter them but she hears them pray.] It is only after the death of Robespierre that they will all be freed on August 3 and 4, 1794; Françoise then rejoins her brother at the Hotel Blin, in Amiens. The Viscount leaves for Bourdon; Françoise stays in Amiens. It is there that she will meet Julie.
A few words on Julie’s life: As for Julie, she suffers terribly during the French Revolution because of her fidelity to the Church and her deep faith. Forced to flee her village that she had never left, at 40 years of age, paralyzed, having lost the use of speech, having known several dwellings in Gournay-sur-Aronde and in Compiègne, she was retrieved in October of 1794 by an aristocrat well known in Cuvilly, the Countess Baudoin.
2. The Meeting
A Little after Julie’s arrival at the Hotel Blin (cf. April’s theme), Madame Baudoin proposes to Françoise that she meet Julie.
Françoise, who didn’t
have too many occupations at the time, accepts.
Françoise was to write later about this encounter in her Memoires:
“This young woman had leisure in abundance and was quite willing tocome, though when she found she could not understand the invalid’s labored speech the visits seemed less attractive…. Finally, in spite of a natural repugnance which she had at first experienced, a friendship grew between them, as events will show.”
Julie is immediately drawn to Françoise. She had already seen her in a vision (see the theme for the month of May) and recognizes her.
In the beginning, the
encounter with Julie (43 years old) and Françoise (38) is difficult: Julie could hardly express herself and
Françoise does not understand her.
It is interesting to note
that it is Françoise who ministers to Julie.
She makes the decision to perform an act of charity, a work of
compassion. According to Saint Francis de Sales, the love of friendship is not
merely a feeling but a resolute effort following a decision…. What begins with an act of compassion is
transformed into one of the most beautiful examples of spiritual friendship
between two women.
One of the foundations of friendship is that it should grow in time. Very quickly, then, the bonds of affection grew between the two women. Visits become more and more frequent. Both had an affinity for things spiritual.
3. In the friendship between Julie and Françoise, we can see 3 stages.
The first state is situated between 1794-1799.
The friendship begins
a resemblance between the two women.
(The two women had been tested by the SUFFERING endured during the
height of the French Revolution – Julie,
paralyzed, and Françoise tested by the deaths of her mother and her
grandparents and by a period of terrifying imprisonment. Both emerged from their sufferings more FAITH-FILLED
and committed to growth in goodness.
friendship between Julie and Françoise is the only perfect kind of friendship,
the Ancients would say: it is based on goodness
or virtue. Julie and Françoise resembled
one another in their goodness. And, the
RECIPROCITY in the recognition of the GOOD proper to each one is evident. There is a mutual benevolence which expresses
itself by the fact that each desires growth in the love of God for the
other. It is a
“Jesus-centered affectionate friendship.”
We can say that, from the beginning, the friendship between Julie and
Françoise was of a spiritual order.
Saint Augustin writes that he would feel the need to approach, to know and to bind himself in friendship to a person whose love for Christ had been proven in some trial or persecution. Such was the case for Julie and Françoise whose love for Christ had been tested before their encounter.
Soon, a little community forms around Julie’s bedside. In addition to Françoise, the daughters of Madame Baudoin invited their friends, the young women of the Méry and Doria families. Father Thomas, in hiding at the Hotel Blin, guides the group and celebrates the Eucharist. Children are baptized and confirmed in Julie’s room. But this association had only an ephemeral existence. Françoise remains as Julie’s only companion.
Françoise stays one year
Between 1795 and 1797, Françoise travels to Gézaincourt and to Bourdon to be near her sick father. During these two years of separation, Françoise and Julie write many letters to each other. Françoise returns to Amiens after the death of her father. The letters from Julie to Françoise are saved: 33 letters where one can discover the affection that they had for one another. They expressed their friendship. And, as Saint Francis de Sales said: the lack of communication (union of hearts) can end a friendship.
quickly becomes the “Mother” in their correspondence. While Françoise is the one of social standing
and the first to offer her assistance, it is Julie who becomes the spiritual
director in whom there is complete trust.
After the death of her
father, Françoise was free to consecrate herself to God as she wished. But, she had doubts as to the shape of the
project: she was hesitating to become a
Carmelite. It is then that Julie informs
her what she had seen in a vision when she was hiding in Compiègne: some women religious and among them was the face of Françoise that Julie did not
recognize at the time. Françoise
returns to Amiens with confidence.
The end of 1797, a new “Terror” breaks out. Father Thomas, pursued into the Hotel Blin, escapes his aggressors on June 15, 1799. The next day, Father Thomas, Françoise, Julie and her niece, Felicity, seek shelter in Bettencourt. Together, they evangelize the village. Julie’s health improves and she begins to speak.
In every friendship, there is a second and a third phase:
Between 1799-1803 (this is the second stage of their friendship relationship): Happy period where they live together in Bettencourt – the friends share their interior life and each shares in the qualities of the other.
Importance of communication: ) cf. Aristotle: “”If friends are not able to be present to one another and if they are not able to communicate, the friendship will die.”) Friendship has to be worked at and takes time.
There begins the time that Saint Francis de Sales calls, “the gentle struggle of friendship”. Friendship requires frankness; misunderstandings are inevitable (and there will be some between Julie and Françoise, notably due to the distance between them and their exchange of letters when one will be in Amiens and the other at Namur).
Friendship is strengthened through many shared difficulties, patience exhibited, tenderness, consideration, sharing of burdens.
There is a visible change in Julie and Françoise’s relationship from director and directee to that of a mutually recognized equality.
In February, 1803, Father Thomas, Julie and Françoise return to Amiens. The two friends receive some orphan girls in a modest house on the rue Neuve.
The third and last stage in the development of true friendshipis its perfection: union in diversity. Friends at this point communicate every aspect of themselves becoming one of heart and soul. As Aristotle said: “One soul in two bodies.”
Testimonies abound related to the obvious union of Julie and Françoise who were in total harmony despite striking temperamental differences (cf. Memoires, Blin): “Mère Julie, in a spirit of humility and Christian prudence, which never relies on itself alone, consulted [Mother Blin] as collaborator and friend… and the two were one in heart and soul.” “Mère Julie’s character was very different from Mother Blin’s but they were so united that there was never any real disagreement between them.” Julie was rather extroverted, quick to act; Françoise was reserved, introverted.
On February 2, 1804,
Julie, Françoise and Catherine Duchâtel (who will die a few months later) make
their vow of chastity and commit to consecrate their life to Christian
education. They take the name, Sisters
of Notre Dame, and received a rule from Father Varin. Françoise, as was the custom at the time,
takes the name Sister Saint Joseph.
On October15, 1805,
Julie, Françoise, Victoire Leleu and Justine Garson make their religious
vows. The next day, Mère Julie is
elected superior general. On June 18, 1806,
the statutes of the Association called Notre Dame are approved by
Napoleon. The opening of free schools is
authorized. Françoise brings her wealth
to the Congregation.
A conflict breaks out in Amiens with the superior of the Congregation, Father de Sambucy. He demands that Sister Saint Joseph bequeath the totality of her fortune to the house in Amiens exclusively. The two foundresses refuse these propositions. Father de Sambucy skillfully influences the Bishop of Amiens, Monsignor Demandolx, and succeeds in obliging Julie to leave the diocese of Amiens on January 12, 1809.
During this conflict,
Françoise gives witness to her deep friendship for Julie (sharing of burdens).
The first Sisters of Notre Dame are established in Namur on July 7, 1807, at the request of Monsignor Pisani de la Gaude. The Bishop of Namur welcomes them with great kindness and offers them a house near the bishopric. Sister Saint Joseph is named superior of the community. Thanks to Françoise’s fortune, the Sisters buy a larger house, rue des Fossés (the actual Motherhouse). Namur become the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Notre Dame. Many schools are established.
4. After Julie’s death(After 22 years of friendship, Françoise will live another 22 years without Julie)
In 1816, after Mère
Julie’s death, Mother Saint Joseph is elected superior general and will remain
so until the end of her life. She
faithfully continues the work of her friend; she edits the rule, completes
foundations in Liège and Dinant, creates those at Thuin, Verviers,
Philippeville and Bastogne.
Her great concern will be to preserve the unity of the Congregation under the Dutch regime between 1815-1830. By forbidding all foreign teaching authority, William I, is the source of many worries for Mother Saint Joseph. -King William fixes the number of sisters authorized to be in each house. -The Sisters are obliged to take an examination before a Committee of Instruction. -Françoise wants to resign as superior general in favor of a sister of Flemish origin for the good of the Congregation.
in December of 1824, she receives the document of naturalization and becomes a
citizen of the Netherlands.
[After having caused so much worry, King William 1 comes to Namur in 1829. He visits the school and leaves saying to her “Madame, a woman like you should never die!” (cf. the Annals of the Congregation)] -Meanwhile, Mother Saint Joseph had accepted to take responsibility for hospices since the schools were no longer viable.
In 1835, in spite of the opposition of some sisters, she keeps intact the spirit of the Institute. This is what is called the great trial; a sad trial that came from her own daughters who threatened the existence of the Institute. One sister plotted the Reform of the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame (18 sisters were in on the secret, one of whom was the Mistress of Novices). Their intention was to establish two membership categories: lay sisters who would be responsible for the domestic tasks and choir sisters for teaching. The intended goal of this new organization was to educate in the boarding school girls of the leisure class. This project directly targeted two of the original three essential founding purposes of the Institute: -equality of the sister -dedication to the instruction of the poor
The preservation of the
general government had already earned for Julie an expulsion from Amiens.
With the assistance of Sister Ignace Goethals, Mother Saint Joseph prevailed in this struggle but at the price of great suffering. Three sisters left the Institute; the others recognized their errors and, after public reparation, were readmitted. Françoise died at Namur, at the age of 82, (February 9, 1838).
What touches us
particularly with Françoise is the contrast between this woman of the nobility
who tried to live simply (in the Congregation, there is no distinction between
lay and choir sisters). And, this was
not easy for her or her family. In
Amiens, when she went into town dressed in a religious costume, this caused an
embarrassment, to the discomfort of her family.
Françoise came from the highest ranks of French aristocracy but she
never used her fortune to exert any influence or power over others. As Sister Jo Ann Recker explains, her true
power of influence resided, rather, in her ability to transform the life of
others by means of friendship. And
Françoise possessed a tremendous capacity for friendship. She had the unique ability to forget self and
to be sincerely concerned about the welfare of the other: from her grandmother whom she loved so much,
to her childhood friend, (Jeanne de Franssu with whom she remained close until
her death), to her friend, Julie Billiart, and her dear sister in religion,
Sister Anastasia Leleu. She was able to
see the greatest good in each person she encountered. God drew Julie and Françoise together for
something special. He led them to a
unity in diversity to make possible the development of the Institute.
May this example of friendship between two women be a source of inspiration for you!
Jo Ann RECKER (SNDdeN)
PWPT “A Treasure beyond Price,” FVP,
Jo Ann RECKER (SNDdeN),
Julie, Françoise and Our Heritage of Friendship: A Treasure without Price,”
Julie Renewal, 1997.
Jo Ann RECKER (SNDdeN),
“Françoise Blin de Bourdon – Woman
of Influence: The Story of the Co-foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame de
Namur” (Paulist Press, 2001).
Jo Ann RECKER (SNDdeN), “Très affectueusement, votre mère en Dieu :
Françoise Blin de Bourdon, French Aristocrat, Belgian Citizen, Co-Foundress of
the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur,” (Peter Lang Publishers, 2001).
Marie-Francine VANDERPERRE (SNDdeN), Julie and Françoise, Nov. 3, 2008.
Magdalen LAWLER (SNDdeN),
« Pathways to God’s Goodness,” ,2004, p. 22.
Myra POOLE (SNDdeN),
“Prayer, Protest, Power, 2001, pp. 52-69.
What are sources to
become acquainted with this friendship?
SIMPLICITY relates to us as
Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
Simplicity, didn’t Julie live it as a simple Picard farm girl of Cuvilly, before we began to speak of it?
chooses beautiful symbols from nature such as the sunflower that she admired in
the fields around her or crystal that she also used to express how she
understood this characteristic that she wished for each sister.
“Those who are not simple are neither children of God, nor mine.” Julie Billiart
Mary Linscott develops the idea:
analogy of sunlight shining through crystal suggests the complete penetration
and irradiation by which God influences human beings through simplicity, and
the transparency which is the human disposition in reply….
The simplicity of white light is not lack of colour but the potentiality for the full range of colours, unactualized so long as there is no object to refract its prismatic brilliance.”
Linscott, impregnated with the spirit of Teilhard de Chardin, quotes him:
now, to adore has meant to prefer God to things by referring them to him…. Now adoration means the giving of our body
and soul to creative activity, joining that activity to him to bring the world
to fulfilment.” (Christologie et
“Julie’s simplicity involved her in the problems of her time. Indeed, it was difficult for her to conceive of a Christianity that would not involve itself in the sufferings of life.”
What is today’s suffering that is powerfully expressed by youth of the entire world and echoed by Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si?
it not precisely: the urgency of an ecological conversion at all levels?
Let’s refer to a passage or two from Laudato Si, to read and, above all, to attempt to apply to our life with its particular charism of simplicity:
“#222. Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption…. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation…. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us….”
Another example #227. One expression of this attitude is when we stop and give thanks to God before and after meals. I ask all believers to return to this beautiful and meaningful custom. That moment of blessing, however brief, reminds us of our dependence on God for life; it strengthens our feeling of gratitude for the gifts of creation; it acknowledges those who by their labors provide us with these goods; and it reaffirms our solidarity with those in greatest need.”
Mary Linscott continues:
“It was the Spirit whose brooding over the waters gave life to creation, and whose overshadowing of our Lady brought about the incarnation. His action transforms the soul in the life of active, practical mysticism which Julie describes. She therefore often commends her work to him, urging the sisters to invoke him and to let his light shine through them, illuminating their work….”
The Sisters of Notre
Dame actively participate in ecological conversion.
Haven’t our successive General Chapters, open to the Spirit, taken seriously the current suffering of our world? In article 65 of our Constitutions, we read: “Gratefully aware of the goodness of God’s creation, we reverence the resources of the earth, and we are careful to use them in a spirit of stewardship to foster the life of all people.”
2014, the Congregation explained itself in this way: “Impelled by the ecological crisis, we examine every facet of our
relationship with the community of creation.
All members and units of the Congregation commit to take action on this
defining issue of our time.”
many concrete actions have been undertaken across the world, notably by Sisters
of Notre Dame, concerning this major preoccupation in this entirely shared
concern to preserve the earth and safeguard humanity! We recall so clearly the Pope: “The intimate
relation between the poor and the fragility of the planet; the conviction that
all is connected in the world.”
Clean energy, solar panels, water purification, healthy food, methods respectful of the earth…. One sister has even given her life in martyrdom for the cause: let’s remember Dorothy Stand defending the Amazon forest in Brazil; after her, the struggle continues.
Closer to Namur, let’s take the example of Jumet, in Belgium, where the large park is going to permit permaculture with its principle: “nothing gets lost all is transformed.” To learn more about the redevelopment of the Jumet convent (founded by Saint Julie in 1808) into an urban farm, click here: http://sndden.be/2018/11/09/ferme-bio-dans-le-couvent-de-jumet/
Another aspect that links our charism is the emphasis that is put on education
Francis reminds us: “We are faced with an educational challenge.”
#213 of the encyclical Ladato Si: “Ecological education can take place in a variety of settings: at school, in families, in the media, in catechesis and elsewhere. Good education plants seed when we are young, and these continue to bear fruit throughout life.”
Julie have this educational meaning when she said: “Let’s prepare girls for life.”
With respect to the biological project at Jumet, we read: “Education constitutes one of the principal axes of the project. The presence of a primary school on the site is an asset in order to heighten the awareness of children to natural food. We will be thus able to welcome students from all the disciplines for onsite training.”
close with the meaning that Pope Francis so admirably gives to the Eucharist:
#236: “It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures. The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter. He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours…. Indeed, the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love…. The Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world.”
To learn more:
Mary Linscott (SNDdeN),To Heaven on Foot, 1969 (French translation, 1990).
Saint Julie Billiart and the persecution of the Church at the time of the French Revolution
In Cuvilly, Julie becomes such an example of confidence and steadfastness in
the faith that the revolutionary forces see her as a threat. In 1791, persecuted because of her stance
with respect to “constitutional priests” (those who took the oath of allegiance
to the nation), Julie was forced to flee from her village and hide, first to Gournay-sur-Aronde,
then, in Compiègne and, later, in Amiens.
Julie is in Compiègne at the time of the height of the politics of dechristianization (September 1793 – September 1794). Dechristianization, during the French Revolution has for its goal to suppress Christianity in the daily life of the French; priests are deported or assassinated, religious are forced to renounce their vows, churches are closed or transformed into temples of Reason or of Liberty (as in Compiègne), crosses and pious images are destroyed, religious holidays forbidden, programs abolished, public and private worship is prohibited.
In order to deal with the many counter-revolutionaries and French monarchists, Robespierre implemented exceptional measures that would later be called the “Terror.” The most well-known is the terrible Law of Suspects which required the identification of all those who served the Revolutionary cause. Nearly 20,000 people, suspected of sympathizing with the counter-revolutionaries, were executed. It is in this context that 16 Carmelites are guillotined in July of 1794.
Relations between Julie and the Carmelites of Compiègne
Julie living in CUVILLY is in
contact with the Carmelites of Compiègne.
Julie, living in Cuvilly, knew the Carmelites
of Compiègne whom she visited in order to provide them with cloth and
embroideries. Let’s study the General
Archives of the Congregation in Namur.
The two older biographies of Julie written by Father Charles Clair, in French. (1895) and by Father James Clare, in English, (1909) mention Julie’s visits to the Carmelites of Compiègne.
Father Charles Clair based his book on the “recollections of her first companions” of which we keep copies in the Namur Archives.
On October 7, 1881, Sr. Marie Victoire Carez
writes : « […] At the
height of the Revolution, she [Julie] sought refuge in Compiègne; there she was
looked upon as a saint. She was in
contact with the saintly Carmelites, who died on the scaffold. […]. “
In her deposition
of January 25, 1883, taken at Chimay, Sr. Marie Claudine (in the world as Julie
Godefroit) notes: “She [Julie] was in contact with the saintly Carmelites, who died on the scaffold.”
As for Father James Clare, he finds information in the Annals of the Congregation written in 1844 by Sr. Stephanie Warnier: “Around the age of 18 […], she [Julie] visited at that time the Carmelites of Compiègne who instilled in her heart the love of God and zeal for the salvation of souls.”
Father Charles Clair and Father James Clare add interesting details that are not found in written sources:
The reasons for
Julie’s visits with the religious of Compiègne: “with respect to the sacred vestments that she had embroidered put her
in contact with the Carmelites of the city” (Father Clair)
The talent of
this girl. Her skill in church embroidery, to which we have already alluded, took
her from time to time to the Carmelite Convent of Compiègne, renowned at that
time through all the countryside for its strict observance and the holy lives
of its inmates. Thus she formed an intimacy
with that band of noble women who, a few years later, were one and all to win
the martyr’s palm; and the annals of her life note that their saintly
conversation fanned to yet brighter flame her ardour in the service of God. Surely it was not a mere chance, but rather
God’s eternal seal upon that friendship, that eight days after the hand of Pius
X had placed the coronet of the Blessed on the brows of the Virgin of Cuvilly,
it was lifted again to set it on those of the martyrs of Compiègne.” (Father James Clare, pp. 20-21)
Here is another proof of the relationship between Julie and the Carmelites of Compiègne.
Abbot A. Odon (pastor of Tilloloy) written around 1887:
“When circumstances permitted, it was for her a sweet recreation, on Sundays and holidays, to go to visit the Carmelites of Compiègne. Julie was so happy to speak with an open heart to the holy daughters of Saint Thérèse through their blessed grilles! What a joy for her soul to pour out her feelings to these seraphic souls, so well formed to understand her! Could she have drawn from a better source the desire of perfection, the attraction for the religious life, and this robust faith, this valiant love for Our Lord, this generous ardour, this ardour […] that came to be the distinctive character of her holiness and a mark of the profound imprint on the work that she was called to found?”
2. Julie, refugee inCOMPIÈGNE, has connections with the Carmelites by means of her niece and Abbot de Lamarche.
Julie is in contact with the Carmelites through her niece, Felicity, who accompanied her on the road of exile. We know this thanks to a letter written by Mother Henriette de Croissy. This note from the Carmelite, written between 1792 and 1794, unsigned and undated, but recognized as authentic, is interesting and delivers some details on Julie’s life: the room that she will soon occupy permits her to receive visits. We learn that Felicity did the Carmelites laundry (or that Julie and Felicity’s laundry was done in the Carmelite convent). A name is evoked by Mother Henriette de Croissy: it’s that of a certain Madame Gabriel to whose home Julie would be transported. She suffered at the time from rather violent toothaches.
“[… ] Felicity had just come to get the laundry that she thought was here but she was not able to take the time to go to your place as it was necessary that she go to the druggist. Julie has a very bad toothache and tomorrow she will be transported to Madame Gabriel’s home; she would not be able to keep the (?) crippled without suffering from her great sensibility. The surgeon thinks that she will have a rotten fever; in her new dwelling she could be visited but she will not be able to keep anyone. This happy inconvenience is not frequent… […] Felicity will gladly see that you send her the laundry through Thérèse, if that can happen.”
Julie is in contact with the Carmelites also by means of Abbot de Lamarche, priest at Compiègne. He met Julie in 1793 when “he ministered to some of the faithful and, notably, to the Carmelites. It is he who, disguised as a workman, will bless each Carmelite going to her death. The testimony left by Abbot de Lamarche expresses his admiration for the faith and strength of soul of Julie in spite of her paralysis and the threats associated with the “Terror.”
“February 2, 1820. It was not until 1793 that I made the acquaintance of Julie. She had left Cuvilly, her native place, and taken to Compiègne for greater safety in the troubles which at that time agitated France. I was ministering to the spiritual needs of some faithful souls who dwelt there, notably the Carmelite nuns. Julie was living in retirement in a small room with one of her nieces who took care of her. I went to visit her; she did not speak or rather she only spoke by signs. When she went to confession, I had to give her an hour’s notice. She then prepared herself with intense fervor and obtained, as she owned to me, the grace of articulating distinctly. It was only after absolution that she fell back into speechlessness. It seemed clear to me that it was by no effort by nature that she was able to express herself in confession, but that she obtained this favor by her lively faith. I saw her from time to time for about a year. I was more and more astonished at her progress in perfection. She offered herself continually to God as a victim to appease His anger. Her resignation was perfect; always calm, always united to God. Her prayer was so to speak unceasing… […]”
It is through Father de Lamarche that Julie
must have learned that the Carmelites of Compiègne offered themselves as a
holocaust to appease God’s anger, so that peace might return to the Church and
to the State.
When the Carmelites were guillotined in Paris in 1794, Julie had been in Compiègne for two years. The news of their death was without doubt very painful for her. As Sr. Roseanne Murphy (SNDdeN) says: “their heroic deaths made a profound impression on Julie; she often referred to them years later. She felt the loss of her friends for they had been a prayerful support for her since she was a child.”
The Martyrdom of the Carmelites of Compiègne
In the context of dechristianization, on September 14, 1792, the Carmelites are expelled from their convent by the civil authorities. They then lived their vocation in different houses in Compiègne, where they were separated into 4 groups. They pronounce each day a “vow of total consecration to the Divine Will” – even were it at the price of their life – to obtain the end of the massacres of the Terror and peace for the Church and the State.
They were arrested
on June 22-23 1794 and incarcerated in a former convent of the Visitation,
converted into a prison. The Reign of
Terror is then at its apex and affects, notably, religious orders. Thus, at Arras, on June 26, four religious
of the Daughters of Charity are executed and in July, 32 religious, Ursulines,
Sacramentarians, Bernardines, as well as 30 priests are guillotined.
On July 12, 1794, the 16 Carmelites are transferred from Compiègne to Paris, where they are judged on July 17 under accusation of “plotting against the Revolution.” The act of accusation is drawn up by Fouquier-Tinville. They are condemned to death and executed that very day as “fanatics and insurrectionaries.”
On July 17, while walking toward their martyrdom, they pray and sing the Miserere, the Salve Regina and the Te Deum. At the foot of the scaffold, they intoned the Veni Creator and renew their baptismal promises and their religious vows. Sister Constance de Jésus (Meunier), a novice, is called first. She asks the Mother Prioress, Thérèse de Saint-Augustin Lidoine) for her blessing and her permission to die. She then climbs the steps of the scaffold while singing the Laudate Dominum omnes gentes. The same scene is produced for the other sisters. The prioress is sacrificed last. They are then buried in a common grave in the cemetery of Picpus. On May 27, 1906, they are beatified by Pope Pius X.
“What happiness to die for one’s God!” cried out one of them. “Let’s be the last to die.” In effect, ten days after this sacrifice, the turmoil, which during two years had spread on French soil the blood of France’s children, ceased. (Decree of Beatification)
The Carmelites of Compiègne were beatified two weeks after Julie had received this honor on May 13, 1906.
Like the Carmelites of Compiègne, Julie, humbly, participates in the mystery of love of a God wounded by the world’s suffering. In spite of the danger of the troubles tied to the French Revolution, her deep conviction in the Goodness of God, is unshakeable. Entirely paralyzed and not able to express herself, she gives meaning to her life by offering herself as a victim and by presenting to Christ her life as a woman dispossessed of all activity and of any possibility of service. This abandonment leads her to an absolute confidence. She will later write:
In 2019, the Sisters of Notre Dame, forming a large international family, are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the CANONIZATION of their foundress, Saint Julie Billiart.
The General Archives of the Congregation and the Heritage Center produced an EXPOSITION in order to understand the process as to how Julie became a saint. Several panels displaying some of the documents of the time tell you, by means of a timeline, the events between 1881 and 1969.
The exposition is accessible during the hours when the Heritage Center is open (Motherhouse of the Sisters of Notre Dame, 17, rue Julie Billiart in Namur, Belgium): Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 12:00 noon and from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm (weekends, holidays and groups as requested).
Pictures of the exposition in the Heritage Center in Namur.
The 6 stages of the process of the canonization of Julie Billiart:
1. The diocesan inquiry into establishing the reputation of holiness (1881-1889)
2. Acceptance of the “dossier” by the Vatican; Julie becomes Venerable (1889)
3. The apostolic process (1890-1897) and the endorsement of three miracles (1905).
4. Julie becomes Blessed (1906)
5. The resumption of the cause and approval of two miracles (1924-1968)
6. Julie becomes a saint (1969)
Investigation in the ARCHIVES on the canonization of Julie Billiart
50 years later, how does Julie’s holiness still serve as an example? How does she inspire all those who walk in her footsteps: the sisters, volunteers, friends, teachers and students?
Reverend Ugo Märton, O. Praem., Postulator of the Cause, thanks Pope Paul VI for Julie’s canonization.
Canonization in Rome by Pope Paul VI.
Official decree (in parchment with illuminations) signed by Pope Paul VI, June 22, 1969. Julie Billiart becomes a saint.
5: MIRACLES OF THE BEATIFICATION
In his homily of June 22 (1969), Pope Paul speaks to us of holiness and miracles:
“This is hagiography, the study of saintliness. This very praiseworthy study has often turned its passionate gaze upon the MIRACULOUS ASPECTS of saintliness; and it has been so engrossed but the latter as to fix attention on observation of miracles, almost equating saintliness and miracle.
Thus sometimes, IN OTHER AGES, devotion to saintliness was considered as having leave to adorn it with IMAGINARY MIRACLES AND AMAZING LEGENDS, not, perhaps, with the intention of offending historical truth, but as a gratuitous and conventional tribute, a floral and poetic one.
NOW it is no longer so. Miracles remain a proof, a sign of saintliness; but they do not make up its essence. Now the study of saintliness is focused rather on HISTORICAL VERIFICATION OF THE FACTS and the documents that bear witness to it, and on the exploration of the PSYCHOLOGY of saintliness.”
To be recognized as blessed, Venerable Julie must have accomplished at least one miracle after her death.
The recognition of a miracle is subject to strict rules. A medical investigation is conducted on people to prove their miraculous healing through the intercession of Venerable Julie.
In 1905, three miracles are attested by the Sacred Congregation of Rites.
In 1882, 16-year-old Armand Hubin (Liège) was miraculously cured after his mother went to Julie’s grave and applied a relic to the ulcer of his leg.
Jean Noël Grégoire (from Namur), aged 20, suffered for many years at one of his legs following a bad fall. In 1881, in desperation, a novena was begun at Julie and a relic was applied to his wound. From the first day, he found a perfect health.
Louis Waëlens (from Bruges), 28, suffered from an ulcer in the stomach. He was unable to eat for years because of the pain and was wasting away. In 1886, his wife went to the sisters to explain the suffering of her husband. They gave him a relic and suggested starting a novena to Venerable Julie. That night, Louis Waëlens was able to eat without pain for the first time in years.
Louis Waëlens miraculously healed by the venerable Julie in 1886.
Decoration of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, May 13, 1906
6: MIRACLES OF THE CANONISATION
The sisters received hundreds of letters attesting to miraculous cures by means of the intercession of Blessed Julie. Among the hundreds of files, only four had been examined by the Sacred Congregation of Rites (and two will be finally recognized in 1958 and 1967).
The first miracle recognized is that of Otacilio Ribeiro. The story takes place in Campos Novos, in Brazil, on September 29, 1950. Otacilio Ribeiro, a young farmer of 29 years, is taken to the hospital by his father because of a tumor in his lower abdomen. They are welcomed by Sister Maria Bardona and Sister Mary Ludivine, of the Cosfeld Sisters of Notre Dame. Having performed an incision, Doctor Janh Martins Ribeiro determines it to be impossible to proceed with the removal of the tumor which is inaccessible and he pronounces the patient doomed. “Sister,” says the doctor, “he will not live an hour longer.”
The two sisters of Coesfeld and a third, Sister Maria Adelaide, then begin to pray to Blessed Julie. The next day, Otacilio revives; Sister Ludivine invites him to join in their prayers and she applies a relic of Julie to the site of the incision. The doctor only gives him three days to live. However, a few days later, Otacilio calls to sister: “Sister, there is something unusual. I can’t explain it but it’s different.” The next day, Otacilio is able to sit up.
A week later, Otacilio is cured. His parents offer to the sisters 3 1/3 lbs. of wax for candles and Otacilio promises to name his daughter Julie if he has one someday.
In 1957, Mother Mary Verona, the assistant to the Superior General of the Coesfeld Sisters of Notre Dame, writes to Sister Ludivine in Brazil so that she might submit Otacilio Ribeiro’s miracle to the Sacred Congregation of Rites. On January 17, 1958, the miracle is authenticated.
As for the second miracle, it is recognized by the Vatican on March 10, 1967. It concerns the miracle of Homère Rhodius, dating from 1919. At that time, Homère Rhodius was 69 years of age. He suffered from a uremic crisis that, in but a few days, reduced him to a critical state. The doctors judged the illness to be incurable. Homère Rhodius’ daughter, Sister Marie Ludovica, was a Sister of Notre Dame of Namur; she began a novena in the Garden Chapel where Julie was interred. A relic was applied on the site of the malady and, instantly, the condition of the patient improved significantly. In less than a month, he was perfectly cured.
Submitted in 1924, at the time of the resumption of Julie’s cause, this miracle had not been validated by the Vatican. It is the first time that a lawyer at the Consistory, Giovanni-Battista Ferrata, succeeded in obtaining a reversal of the first ruling of the Medical Consultation.
Mr. Otacilio Ribeiro (miraculous cure) and his daughter, Julie.
Positio Super Miraculis listing the two miracles of the canonization, 1968.
Banner made by Missori en 1968 for the canonization of Saint Julie. On can see Saint Julie with a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur and two “cousins” (a Sister of Notre Dame of Amersfoort and a Sister of Notre Dame of Coesfeld who claim the same spirit and follow the same rule but without juridical ties with the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur), surrounded by children from all the nations.
As a disciple of Jesus, Julie knew that the cross was inevitable in her life. She went through the experience of trials and suffering. But she also knew that it was by means of this cross that she would experience resurrection and new life.
Threatened at Gournay-sur-Aronde by the revolutionaries, Julie and her niece, Felicity, were brought to Compiègne and abandoned in the courtyard of an inn. This must have been in April of 1792, as recalled in graffiti on the wall of the chateau of Gournay-sur-Aronde. The years spent in Compiègne are without doubt the most difficult of Julie’s life. Her health is quickly deteriorating. Completely paralyzed, she loses her ability to speak as testifies Father de Lamarche who knew her in 1793: “Mère Julie was living secluded in a bedroom with one of her nieces who took care of her. I went to visit her and she could only speak by means of signs. In order to hear her confession, it was necessary for her to be notified an hour in advance.” Bedridden, she offers herself as a victim, giving to Christ her life as a woman dispossessed of all activity and all possibility of giving service. Pursued and unwelcome, Julie and her niece changed lodging several times until October of 1794, the date when Madame Baudoin, who formerly spent her summers in Cuvilly, took Julie under her protection and had her brought to Amiens.
Compiègne and the Revolution
While Julie is in Compiègne, King Louis XVI is arrested. It’s the end of royalty in France; the monarchy is replaced by a Republic in September, 1792. The King is executed but, in order to face the many counter-revolutionaries and French monarchists, Robespierre puts in place exceptional measures that will be later called the “Terror.” The most well-known is the terrible law of the suspicious that requires the taking of a census of all those who go against the revolutionary cause. Everywhere committees of surveillance control opinion. They send suspicious persons to exceptional tribunals or revolutionary courts. Nearly 20,000 people, suspected of counter-revolutionary sympathies, are executed.
“Days of darkness are perhaps our best and happiest days for glorifying God.” Julie Billiart
Julie, “the unwelcome”
Everywhere they look for those who go against the cause of the French Revolution; this is the case of the 16 Carmelites of Compiègne who refuse to swear allegiance to the Nation (because it is opposed to their vow of obedience). On July 17, 1794, the Carmelites of Compiègne are guillotined. This news was no doubt very painful for Julie. Julie was in contact with the Carmelites of Compiègne:
She knows Father de Lamarche who, disguised as a worker, had blessed each one of the Carmelites going to her death.
By means of her niece, Felicity, who washed the linens for them. We know this thanks to a letter from Mother Henriette de Croissy, Carmelite (between 1792-1794).
Like the Carmelites, Julie offers herself to God in order to save France and Christians; she will suffer profoundly from the knowledge of their violent death in Paris in July of 1794. A letter from Father de Lamarche to Abbot Belfroy in 1820 allows one a little approach to the mystery of the surprising solidarity lived by Julie in Compiègne with all the oppressed, those left behind: “I followed her intermittently for about a year; I admired more and more the progress that she was making in piety. She offered herself continually as a victim to God to appease his anger… always calm, always united to God. Her prayer was continual.” The testimony of Abbot de Lamarche expresses his admiration for Julie’s faith and her strength of soul.
Julie, isolated from much spiritual nourishment
Near Julie, few people: her niece, Felicity, who from day to day had to keep abreast of the external situation and, notably, the death of her father in June, 1792. From 1793, Abbot de Lamarche who met her at that time “rendered his religious services” to pious persons and to the Carmelites. One can hypothesize that Abbot de Lamarche knew, through Abbot Courouble in 1792, the name and address of the invalid. Doubtlessly, before their exile to Liège in November of 1792, Abbots Courouble and Carlet, were spiritual directors – one of the Carmelites, the other of the Visitation community.
“Confidence, love, total abandon into the hands of God; there is your strength, your support.” Julie Billiart
It is while she was suffering the most from her physical state, when she was totally powerless, hunted, surrounded by violence and the insecurity of the times, that Julie lived one of the most profound spiritual experiences of her life. It is at Compiègne that, one day rapturous in ecstasy, Julie suddenly sees Jesus on the cross of Calvary, surrounded by a great number of women wearing a religious habit that she did not recognize. Julie, then, received her vocation of foundress: “These are the daughters that I give you in the Institute that will be marked by my cross.”
It is in the recollections of some boarders and, especially, in the depositions in preparation for Julie’s beatification (1881-1889), preserved in the archives of the congregation in Namur, that we find testimonials mentioning the vision that Julie had in Compiègne around 1793.
“She had a vision in which the Good God revealed to her the work she was one day to found. She had seen a cross, then, all that she was to endure: suffering, persecutions, etc…. She had also seen some religious women with our habit and Our Lord had told her: ‘These religious will be your daughters.’” Recollections of Mère Julie by Sister Reine Cambier, age 78, 1879. [Green notebook 29 (General Archives), p. 130-134]
Julie speaks very little of this mystical intuition. These are always intimate revelations to one or other confidante.
“Since I have never spoken to anyone since that was said to me in confidence, I have forgotten a little.” Testimony of Mademoiselle Henriette Fallon, aged 84 (former boarder who knew Julie Billiart in 1809), Namur, 1879 [Green notebook 28 (General Archives), p. 78].
“Our foundress was so humble that she never spoke of this vision. We knew of it from Sister Anastasia, superior of the Namur house (1816-23). […] Sister Madeleine (the one who walked with crutches) told me the same thing, but Mère Julie rarely confided about it.” Recollections of Mère Julie by Sister Reine Cambier, 1879.
“In 1812, if I’m not mistaken, at the time when Mère Julie went to Amiens for the reunion, she had another vision and wrote to our dear Mother St Joseph. We wanted to question her about this, but she answered: ‘You will know all about it in heaven.’ Then she smiled and, when we insisted, she said: ‘Mère Julie wouldn’t be happy if I were to speak of it because she had me tear up the letter that she wrote to me from Amiens, and in which she recounted to me what Our Lord had shown her and said when she approached Amiens.’” Recollections of Mère Julie by Sister Reine Cambier, 1879.
Here are some details concerning the vision of 1812 about which Sister Reine speaks. (See the Proceedings of Fama sanctitatis in preparation for Julie’s beatification). The bishop of Amiens had expressed his regrets on having sent Mère Julie away from his diocese and invited her to return. At the moment of her entrance into the house (rue du Faubourg de Noyon in Amiens), Julie had an apparition of Jesus Christ carrying his cross and addressing these words to her: “ I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” At the same time, the Savior seemed to be leaving the house on the Faubourg-Noyon. Julie had many reservations on the subject of these extraordinary graces so the Sisters knew very little of what happened to her. But, once again, the theme of the cross was present in Julie’s life.
The description of the vision is always the same: cross – persecution in Amiens – women religious in a habit
“The oldest Sisters of the Congregation spoke to us of a vision granted to our Mother, during the years of suffering and privation that she spent in Compiègne prior to her stay in Amiens, in the home of the Viscount Blin de Bourdon. What was shown to Julie, still on her bed of suffering, (1793), was an ELEVATED CROSS, on a mountain and, at the foot of the cross, a large number of RELIGIOUS WOMEN, DRESSED AS WE ARE, and Our Lord said to her that these religious would be her daughters but that she would have to submit to a GREAT PERSECUTION IN AMIENS.” Testimony of Sister Marie Adèle Claus deposed at Clapham (G-B), June 16, 1882, pp. 38-39.
Persecution in Amiens
“Our good Mère Julie says that it was because of this vision that she had felt so much repugnance in coming to Amiens when Madame Baudoin appealed to her to come there. She knew that the work of the Institute would occur but she didn’t know when or how.” Recollections of Mère Julie by Sister Reine Cambier, 1879.
Faces that she recognized later, among which…
Mother St. Joseph: “At times, full of a confident abandon, good Mère Julie spoke to me of the glory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, for whom she had such a great love and her miraculous cure. Then, while walking one day, she said to me that, while still being on her bed of suffering in Compiègne, incapable of budging because of her paralysis, the Good God showed her the work he wanted to accomplish through her. She had also seen at that time that Mademoiselle Blin would be her companion in this work. She added that when Mademoiselle Blin made her first visit after she had left prison, ‘I recognized her immediately!’” Testimony of Mademoiselle Henriette Fallon, aged 84 (former boarder who knew Julie Billiart in 1809). Namur, 1879 [Green notebook 28 (General Archives), p. 78.]
“From then on, she had distinguished our Reverend Mother St. Joseph who would later be the salvation of the Institute.” Deposition of Sister Marie Claudine (in the world, Julie Godefroit), January 25, 1883, at Chimay, pp. 56-57.
After the death of her father in 1797, Françoise was free to consecrate herself to God as she wished. But, she had doubts as to the shape of this project; she hesitated to become a Carmelite. It is only at this time that Julie shared with her the role Françoise had in the vision she had had while hiding in Compiègne: women religious assembled at the foot of the cross and among them was found the face of Françoise whom Julie did not yet know. After the death of the Viscount Blin, Julie felt free to speak to Françoise of her intuitions in some letters:
“I always have before my eyes that about which I spoke to you once: that the Good God granted me the grace of finishing my days with you. Divine Providence, having permitted that I meet you, you will have what it takes to exercise your zeal with me…” “As soon as I learned of the death of your father, I saw you throw yourself in my arms. It seemed to me that this was going to be the moment when the Good God would give you to me and me to you in so strong a manner that only death would separate us.”
Sister Ursule (Marie) Blondel: “In this vision, she knew distinctly each of her first religious. […] “When the young MARIE (BLONDEL) presented herself to our worthy Mother during a trip to Ghent, June 11, 1813, our good Mother, seeing this sincere girl of 17 years take a step toward her, and as soon as Marie said: “Reverend Mother, permit me to ask a favor…,” our foundress interrupted the future postulant and embraced her enthusiastically saying to her: ‘Yes, yes, you will be my good dear daughter: I saw you at Compiègne.’” Notes about sisters who have died, XIV, p. 47 and Deposition of Sister Julienne des Anges (Marie Philomène Berlenger), August 2, 1882, at Antwerp, pp. 3-4.
“But our respect for our venerable Foundress was such that, not one of us, not even our Superior, Sister Marie Steenhaut, dared to ask our dear Mère Julie to explain what she said. “I saw you in Compiègne.” Annals of Nouveau-Bois in Ghent.
Because of the turmoil associated with the French Revolution, Julie was forced to escape from her native village in May of 1791. Now at the age of 40, she had never left Cuvilly, her parents or her family. For three years, she fled and hid. Although she was the recipient of the protection of some benefactors, who took great personal risk in hiding her and, as well, had the assistance of her niece, Felicity, who accompanied her throughout her exile, this period was the most bleak of her life.
However, her suffering and great difficulties took nothing away from her confidence in God.
January to May 1791: Religious unrest in Cuvilly
When the Revolution broke out in Paris in July of 1789, Julie celebrated her 38th birthday. She had been paralyzed for several years: in 1782, Julie had been affected by an epidemic that doctors of the time thought they could cure by abundant bleedings which, little by little, deprived her of the use of her legs. This was for her a time of profound spiritual growth. Bedridden, Julie prayed a great deal and continued with her catechetical work by welcoming villagers among whom were her benefactors. Julie opened paths of total confidence in God to the inhabitants of Cuvilly, disoriented by the new ideas and the turmoil associated with the Revolution.
In 1791, the disturbances reached Cuvilly. On July 12, 1790, France adopted a new decree, the “Civil Constitution of the Clergy.” Thus the clergy became a body of civil servants payed and selected by the State; these latter were obliged to take an oath of allegiance to the nation. Priests had until January 1, 1791, to take this oath.
Illustration that shows how priests were obliged to pledge allegiance to the nation.
On January 9, 1791, Father Dangicourt, stationed in Cuvilly for more than 15 years, and his assistant pastor, Father Delaporte, took the oath in the parish church in these terms:
“I swear to watch with fidelity over the faithful who are confided to us, to be faithful to the nation, the law, and the king, and to sustain, with all our strength, the Constitution which has been decreed by the Assembly and accepted by the king, in all which is not contrary to religion, as it is written in the supreme law:“render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God, what is God’s.”
click to enlarge and to read the document Text of the oath of Fathers Dangicourt and Delaporte, January 9, 1791 (sent to the Department on January 16, 1791), Municipal Library of Compiègne (B.M.C.), Mss 169, article 36.
This oath was considered to be improper by the district. By opposing the ideas of the Revolution, Father Dangicourt and his assistant became enemies of the State.
Invited on January 29 by the authorities of Compiègne to retake their oath, the two men refused.
In distinction to the majority of the other cases, the two ecclesiastics found solid support among most of their parishioners and in the surrounding municipality. The notables of Cuvilly presented to the District, on March 12, a petition to keep their pastor and his assistant and to pay them by means of voluntary contributions while the municipality of Cuvilly asked the district to permit them to keep their pastor: “… the loss of a pastor, that the residents of Cuvilly considered to be their father, would be for them a subject of affliction that they wished to avoid…”. Finally, the post was declared vacant and a former Cordelier monk from Compiègne, Jean-Baptiste Rollet, was invested on May 8 with the heavy responsibility of replacing Father Dangicourt.
From the day of his arrival in Cuvilly on May 15, the new pastor received threatening anonymous letters while the municipal reception was among the least warm. On May 24, he sent a letter to the district asking for help.
click to enlarge and read the document Transcript of an extract from the Registry of Deliberations of the Board of Management of the District of Compiègne, May 25, 1791. Departmental Archives of Oise – Series L.
The district then dispatched three of its members along with a detachment of the national guard and of the du Berry regiment to go to Cuvilly to establish order. They arrested the ex-assistant pastor, Delaporte, as well as several residents considered to be leaders of the disturbance. Three of these prisoners, the Guilberts and Lanvin, were relatives of Julie. The defendants, Delaporte, assistant pastor, and François Lanvin, mason, were brought before the tribunal of the Department of Oise while the Guilberts were sent back to Cuvilly to be under the surveillance of the municipality. Finally, the defendants were beneficiaries of the Court’s indulgence. Calm seemed to be reestablished in the parish of Cuvilly where a new mayor was soon elected.
Father Dangicourt is thought to have set out for Mont Valérien in June 1791 as he died in Paris in October of that same year. Father Delaporte, once again in the village, continued to say Mass in the chapel at the chateau of Séchelles. We don’t know where he went between 1791 and 1829, the date where one finds him again as a pastor in Ressons-sur-Matz.
As for Julie, she suffered more and more but her confidence in the goodness of God only strengthened her. She became such an example of confidence and determination in the faith that the revolutionary forces saw in her a threat.
“Julie had the happiness of keeping from schism many people whom she instructed when they came to see her.” (Father Trouvelot, 1820)
“Such was the esteem that the villagers had for the poor invalid that when they saw themselves deprived of their legitimate pastor, they consulted Julie to know if they were to obey the constitutional priest. Strong in her faith, she prevented the populace from sinking into schism earning for her persecution from the partisans of the revolution.” (Sr. Theresa of the Passion)
It is interesting to note that in 1793-94, Cuvilly remained one of the communes of the district the most rebellious to de-christianization. The national official, Bertrand, deplored the “reluctance of this cult” manifested by the inhabitants and their reproaches “their obstinacy and stubbornness in favor of a superstitious and fanatical regime.”
Path of exile
May, 1791 Julie finds refuge in Gournay-sur-Aronde
Persecuted because of her position vis-à-vis some “constitutional priests” (those who swore an oath of fidelity to the nation), Julie was forced to flee Cuvilly and to go into hiding. Madame de Pont l’Abbé whose chateau was in Gournay-sur-Aronde offered hospitality while taking enormous risks as did all those who wanted to help people considered to be undesirable. “This lady, who was one who gathered around Julie’s sickbed and whom she loved a great deal, in order to save Julie from persecution, came to get her in her conveyance and took her to the chateau.” She took care of Julie until the frenzy of the Revolution forced her to abandon her chateau. Julie was accompanied by her niece, Felicity, aged 16, but would never again see her father who died when she was in Compiègne. She would see, for the last time, her mother when she was transported from Compiègne to Amiens.
Chateau of Gournay-sur-Aronde
Julie stayed approximatively one year with Madame de Pont l’Abbé. Tormented herself, Madame de Pont l’Abbé had to flee to England, along with other aristocratic emigrants, where she died, leaving Julie and her niece, Felicity, under the care of her concierge, Monsieur Camus. This man, son-in-law of the property manager for the Pont l’Abbé family, had just acquired, what was now a national good or property, the chateau’s farm that had been managed by his father-in-law. According to Father Charles Clair: Monsieur Camus and Julie quickly became friends. In spite of this pledge given to the Revolution, Monsieur Camus did not seem to have been a devoted partisan of the ideas of the day; because he demonstrated to the “fanatical devotee,” a respectful attachment, one whose memory was cherished in his family.
According to the testimony of Father Sellier, “when the revolutionaries came to seize the chateau and put it in receivership along with all that it held, the servants drove Julie in a cart filled with various pieces of furniture (other depositions speak of a haycart) to the town square in Compiègne where a charitable family, whose name we do not know, took pity on her.
This must have been in April, 1792, as mentioned in the graffiti on the wall of the chateau.
Graffiti on the chateau of Gournay, side wall: souvenirs of the troops who were quartered there during the revolutionary period: “the second battalion of Haute Vienne will stick it to the aristocrats – 1792 The Nasion – 1794 Hemeri”
Did the patriots of the environs want to go after Julie, “the devote,” or after Madame de Pont l’Abbé, the noble woman who protected her? One would be surprised that a paralytic was able to be under suspicion by the revolutionaries. But, one must not minimize the incidents of May 25, 1791, in Cuvilly. Among the population opposed to the arrival of the constitutional priest, there were the Guilberts and Lanvin who were relatives of Julie. She herself was known in Cuvilly as a fervent Christian in contact with some non-juring or non-constitutional priests. And, who more than she was connected with the nobility, the Pont l’Abbés, who had emigrated. Hence the attribution of devote…fanatic…suspicious.
April 1792: Julie is abandoned in Compiègne
Julie transported in a hay cart with her niece.
According to the testimony of Father Trouvelot, pastor of Ressons-sur-Matz, Julie and Felicity received hospitality from some young women named de Chambon, who lived on the rue des Grandes Écuries. We know almost nothing about these women, except for the bravery that they demonstrated by welcoming a stranger who was very much in a bad way!
“I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Mt. 25:35)
In Compiègne, Julie’s health deteriorated quickly. Completely paralyzed, she lost the use of speech.
Pursued and unwelcome, Julie and her niece changed lodging several times in two and one-half years but, as Sr. Marie-Francine Vanderperre pointed out, the Archives of Compiègne kept no remembrance of any refugee who did not amount to some sort of news story. Only a note written by the Carmelite, Mother Henriette de Croissy, listing the names of Julie and Felicity and a requisition for flour drawn up in 1794, indicates the presence of Julie and her “niece”, rue Dufour.
click to enlarge and read the document Letter (between 1792-1794) from Mother Henriette de Croissy, Carmelite. Archives, dep. Q, FF1 no. 50. As one can see in this letter, Julie is in contact with the Carmelites of Compiègne through her niece, Felicity, who, it seems, does the laundry for them. In 1793, Julie received several visits from Father de Lamarche who also knew the Carmelites of Compiègne. Like them, Julie offers herself to God in order to save France and its Christians; she suffered profoundly from their violent death in Paris in July 1794.
In October of 1794, Madame Baudoin, who had formerly spent her summers in Cuvilly, had Julie brought to Amiens to the Blin de Bourdon town home where she rented an apartment for herself and her three daughters. She hoped that the presence of the invalid would bring her strength and courage after the death on the scaffold of both her father and her husband.
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Lev. 19:33-34)
The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur were also strangers, new arrivals.
On February 2, 1806, during the chanting of the “Nunc dimittis,” Mère Julie has a vision of the future apostolate of the Congregation that would cross the seas and carry to the world the message of the “Good News.”
“Like many other international congregations, we Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, traveled far beyond the borders of our roots. Sisters moved into social groups, neighborhoods and countries where they were strangers.” Newsletter of the leadership team of the Congregation (CLT), March 2019
“Our history reveals that a single-minded focus on the mission and the fear of being criticized (What would they think of us?) prevented us from welcoming local citizens as members. Fortunately, our eyes and hearts were opened. […]. Sharing our life stories allows for the loss of the stranger, welcomes the person at my side and exposes the heart.” Newsletter of the leadership team of the Congregation, March 2019.
The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur also welcome refugees
In this tradition, let’s note what the sisters recognized, what these “Just among the nations” accomplished in order to save Jews during the war.
Still today, many Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur welcome and support refugees and migrants, sisters like Sr. Marie-Dominique Kohler who lives in Switzerland and gives classes in the German language to refugees.