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The Universal Call to Holiness

French

HOW JULIE BECAME A SAINT – CANONIZATION 

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).

Holiness by Popes Paul VI and Francis. Click and read the document.

Pictures of the exposition in the Heritage Center in Namur.

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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? 

  1: THE SMILING SAINT. Click to read or download

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Illustration2-editedMother Aloysie, 6th Superior General (1875-1888)

Illustration3 editedMonsignor Gravez, Bishop of Namur (1867-1883)

Illustration4 editedLetter of Monsignor Gravez, Bishop of Namur, which accepts the request of Mother Aloysie with respect to the introduction of the causes of Julie and Françoise.

Illustration5 editedNote of invitation to the diocesan process

Illustration6-edited-2Three large related volumes with all the letters of postulation for the purpose of the Introduction of Julie’s cause, General Archives of the Congregation, Namur.

Illustration7Cabinet with all the official documents related to Julie Billiart’s cause, General Archives of the Congregation, Namur.

Illustration8 editedLetter of postulation to introduce Julie’s cause signed by the Queen of the Belgians, Marie-Henriette (wife of King Leopold II), 1888.

     2: VENERABLE JULIE. Click to read or download

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Illustration9 editedTestimony of Sister Marie Adele Claus deposed at Clapham (Great Britain), July 15 1882, for the purpose of Julie’s beatification.

Illustration10_1889_DecretDecree of introduction of Julie’s cause, 1889.  Julie becomes Venerable.

 3: BLESSED JULIE. Click to read or download

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Illustration11Shrine of Saint Julie exposed in the Heritage Center at Namur. To know more:  http://www.snddenheritagecentre.org/MUSEE/index.php/la-  mort-de-Julie/chasse

Illustration12-editedPope Pius X, Cardinal Ferrata (Protector of the Institute in Rome). Monsignor Heylen (Bishop of Namur) and Mother Aimée de Jésus with their crest.

Illustration13-editedOrigin and meaning of the crest of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

Illustration14Poster of the celebrations in Namur for the beatification of Julie, May 17-21, 1906.

Illustration15Picture of the celebrations in Namur, 1906.

 4: SAINT JULIE. Click to read or download

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Illustration16-editedReverend Ugo Märton, O. Praem., Postulator of the Cause, thanks Pope Paul VI for Julie’s canonization.

Illustration17-editedCanonization in Rome by Pope Paul VI.

Illustration18-editedOfficial 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Illustration19-editedLouis Waëlens miraculously healed by the venerable Julie in 1886.

Illustration20-editedDecoration 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.

Illustration21-editedMr. Otacilio Ribeiro (miraculous cure) and his daughter, Julie. 

Illustration22-editedPositio Super Miraculis listing the two miracles of the canonization, 1968.

Illustration23-editedBanner 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.

COMPIÈGNE – THE VISION

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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.

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Drawing from the comic book, Saint Julie Billiart, Signe, 2000.  (Available in the Heritage Centre of the Sisters of Notre Dame – heritagecentre@sndden.org). 

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.

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  • 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

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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.

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Picture of the folders containing the depositions of the sisters in preparation for the beatification of Julie.  General Archives of the Congregation in Namur

“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]

  1. 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.

  1. The description of the vision is always the same:  cross – persecution in Amiens – women religious in a habit
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Testimony of Sister Marie Adèle Claus deposed at Clapham (G-B) June 16, 1882.  Click to download  the document.

“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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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. 

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Refugees, Homeless, Immigrants

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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.

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  • 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.

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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.

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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.

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Handwritten letter of Pastor Dangicourt regretting his inability to go to Compiègne on April 4, 1791.  B.M.C., Mss 169, art. 47. 

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.

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Proclamation of priests, elected to vacant parishes, May 9, 1701.  Municipal Archives of Compiègne, File P4 18-21, religion.

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.

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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.

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9_GournayChateau 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.

Chronology of the Gournay-sur-Aronde chateau, click here. 

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.

10_Graffiti-1Graffiti 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

11_CharretteJulie 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.

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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.

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Requisition record with the signature of citizen Cardon and dated May 27, 1794.

October 1794:  Julie is welcomed in Amiens

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.

To know more about the sisters who saved Jewish children during the Second World War, click here.

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.

To read the testimony of Sr. Marie-Dominique Kohler, click here. http://sndden.be/soeur-marie-dominique-kohler

“So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”  (Eph. 2:19)

 

Family

French

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In Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Pope Francis called on families to create conditions that might allow children “to welcome God’s grace.”

 How did Julie’s parents live in this manner for their children

“Come on, go straight, absolutely straight to the good God like a little child with simplicity of heart.”  Julie, Letter 81.

Julie’s parents opened to her the paths of life and joy but her only Master was the Holy Spirit to whom she responded with the simplicity of a child.

“Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 18:3

  • Christian Family

“The home:  the place where the human being becomes oneself, it is there that Julie learned to love, to pray, to grow in the faith in confidence, in abandonment.” 

Christian Marriage

It is in Cuvilly, a little village in the north of France, in a home where “piety and virtue were hereditary” that Julie was born.  Her father, Jean François Billiart (from Cuvilly), married her mother Marie-Louise Antoinette Debraine (from Maignelay) in 1739.  A consistent approach that gives meaning to the baptism of their children.

2-MariageBilliart_DebraineMarriage certificate of Julie Billiart’s parents in 1739.  Click on the image to enlarge it.

Baptism – Eucharist – Confirmation

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Seventh child of the couple, Julie is baptized the day of her birth, July 12, 1751.

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Baptismal certificate of Julie Billiart.  Click on the image to enlarge it.

“You will receive my letter on the anniversary of my baptism.  How I ought to die of shame for having already spent so many years on earth and not yet having died of love for my God.”    Julie, Letter 55.

Julie’s parents had so well encouraged her in her faith that Father Dangicourt discovered a little girl of 8 already full of fervor and willing to share her love for God. Father Dangicourt granted Julie, at age 9, the rare permission of receiving her First Holy Communion. At 13, Julie received the sacrament of confirmation on June 4, 1764.  At 14, she consecrated herself to the Lord by means of a vow of perpetual chastity.

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Confirmation of Julie Billiart on June 4, 1764, in Cuvilly.  Click on the image to enlarge it.

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In order to reward Julie for her exemplary conduct, a knight gave her a reliquary cross.  When she left Cuvilly, Julie gave it to her parish church.  In 1882, Father Fournier, pastor of Cuvilly, sent it to the Mother House of the Sisters of Notre Dame in Namur.  The cross is today exposed in the Heritage Center at Namur. 

Discovery of God as a loving father

From her early childhood, she received a Christian education from her parents who cared for her in a loving manner until her departure from Cuvilly at age 40.  It is because of their treatment of her that there was formed in her “the image of God as a tender father and a loving mother.”

We must quite simply act like children who, on a very dark night, keep a tight hold on their father’s or mother’s hand and allow themselves to be led.” (Letter from Julie to Françoise, September 1, 1795)

Opening and initiation to prayer

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In several depositions made in preparation for Julie’s beatification and notably in Father Trouvelot’s testimonial, we can read that. “As a child, she often went to her room to pray with a recollection and fervor that deeply impressed her parents and others who chanced to observe it.”  Prayer penetrated Julie’s life and gave it meaning.  During her illness, she was able to spend several hours each day in prayer; she thus strengthened herself in her faith.

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Anonymous sketch of the former Billiart home (around 1791?)

History of the native home of Julie Billiart, click here.

Julie had a very tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

This is a tradition garnered by Father Fournier, former pastor of Cuvilly, that, before leaving the church, she would always kneel at Our Lady’s altar.

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Banner that Julie embroidered and that carries in its four corners horns of plenty, overflowing with flowers, and in the middle the monogram of Mary in tufted velvet yarn and sequins with this inscription:
Tota pulchra es, Maria, et macula non est in te. Tu gloria Jerusalem, tu laetitia Israel. (You are all beautiful, Mary, and the original stain is not in you.  You are the exaltation of Jerusalem, you are the joy of Israel.)  Today, this banner is exposed in the Heritage Center at Namur.

Like the other members of her family, Julie had a devotion to the Sacred Heart.

  • Two handwritten lists (enumerating the members of the Confraternity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus established in Cuvilly), done by the hand of Father Dangicourt, were found in a manual of prayers. The tenth name on the first list is that of Julie Billiart, followed further down are those of her sister Marie-Madeleine, her brother Louis-François, and of several people related to them.

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This list is reproduced in Father J. Claire’s, Life of Julie Billiart, Sands and Company: 1909.

  • In her legal deposition, made at Beauvais in 1882, Madam Victoire Berthelot (Julie Billiart’s great-niece) attests that the veneration of the Sacred Heart was transmitted like a heritage. “My mother told us:  I pray to the Sacred Heart, children.  Keep this devotion:  it is a family devotion.”

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Madam Victoire Neute-Berthelot
Undated photo (before 1843) taken in front of Julie’s room in Cuvilly.

Family Pilgrimage

As a child, Julie made a pilgrimage with her whole family to Montreuil-sous-Laon, where the icon of the Holy Face was located, in order to obtain a cure for her and her sister’s eyes. 

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The Holy Face, today in the Laon Cathedral.

  • Faith in action

Family that chooses life

The death of young children was common at the time and the Billiarts did not escape this trial.  Julie’s family chose life in spite of suffering and pain. Of the nine Billiart children, four died at an early age and two during adolescence. By the time of Julie’s birth, three children had already died.  Julie received the first name of her sister, Marie-Rose, deceased one year earlier.  Three other children in the Billiart family died:  Julie was five when her parents lost their newborn; then she was 13 when her sister of 22 years died; and, finally, at the age of 14, she lost her older brother who was 16.   From 1765, there were only three children in the home:  Julie (14), Marie-Madeleine (21) and her younger brother, Louis (11).  These difficult times of mourning certainly united the Billiart family, encouraging each one to go beyond oneself in order to strengthen the family bonds.

Children of the Billiart family

Louise Antoinette                                           1739-1741
Marie Louise Angélique                                1742-1764
Marie Rose                                                       1743-1750
Marie Madeleine Henriette                         1744-1819
Bonaventure                                                    1747-1750
Jean Baptiste                                                   1749-1765
Marie Rose Julie                                             1751-1816
Louis François                                                 1754-1832
Child who died the day of birth                  21/11/1750

Notice on Julie Billiart’s family, click here

Work ethic

14-MoissonJulie’s parents owned a little cloth and sewing notions business as well as a parcel of land to provide for their family.  In spite of reversals of fortune and village jealousies, Julie’s parents understood the meaning of work.  Julie inherited this. In 1767, Jean-François Billiart was forced to sell nearly all his land after thieves seized the goods in his business.  In order to help her parents, Julie made vestments and lace and worked hard in the fields with the field hands.  She also undertook frequent trips on foot or on horseback to sell the remainder of the merchandise left behind by the thieves, even going to Beauvais in order to negotiate a just price for a few pieces of cloth with an honest merchant.

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Scissors that belonged to Julie.

A family that viewed separation as one of life’s paths for their children

Even if she was not yet aware of it, at the age of 40, Julie left Cuvilly and her family to follow God’s plan.  Suffering and great difficulties took nothing away from her confidence in God.

“All will go well as I put all my hope in the Lord, all my trust in my God.  It is God’s work, not mine.”  (Julie, Letter 283)

Julie was not alone in suffering exile since she was able to count on family support by means of Felicity, the daughter of her sister, Marie-Madeleine.  Felicity was only 7 years old when her aunt, Julie, became paralyzed and she demonstrated great kindness towards Julie not hesitating to follow her when Julie had to flee Cuvilly.  How her presence must have alleviated Julie’s terrible trial!  Julie would never see her father again, since he died when she was in Compiègne, and she only briefly saw her mother for the last time when being moved from Compiègne to Amiens.

  • A family that practices its faith

Inspired by her parents, Julie put her faith into practice by focusing her attention on the poor and on welcoming all around her sick bed.

“She was able to make religion attractive at a time when many were beginning to abandon their faith.”    Roseanne Murphy

And we today in a different context: “how do we hear the call of Pope Francis?”

 

FEBRUARY 2019 – THE GOODNESS OF GOD

Section 1
Section 2
Section 3
Section 4

French

Discovering the Goodness of God through the benevolent persons who surrounded Julie in Cuvilly

The point of departure for Julie, as that of all the saints, is faith; with her, faith in a Good God, a God who is Father and whose compassionate love enfolds, sustains and carries her, whatever the circumstances of life. She believes in this wise, generous and personal love throughout her life, whether in the poverty endured by her family, in illness or in the life-threatening dangers of the Revolution.

For this theme of the month of February, we are going to discover how Julie experienced the goodness of God during her youth in Cuvilly, a little village in the north of France where Julie was born and lived for the first 40 years of her life.

SECTION 1: THREE NARRATIVES ABOUT JULIE AND HER LIFE IN CUVILLY:

1 a. Testimony of Father Trouvelot, January 20, 1820
2 b. The notes of Father Sellier, June 18, 1852
3 c. The Memoirs of Mother St. Joseph

In the Archives of the Congregation we do not have direct testimonials from anyone who knew Julie during her early years in Cuvilly. It is through the viewpoint of THREE PEOPLE who knew Julie well that we are going to discover how Julie experienced God’s goodness during her youth.

1 a.The Testimony of Father Trouvelot, pastor of Ressons

  January 20, 1820
It is he who teaches us the most about the Julie’s youth because he went to Cuvilly shortly after Julie’s death in order to collect testimonials from her contemporaries. Here is the information that I have been able to gather about the early years of Julie Billiart, he wrote. I am all the more certain about what I write since I knew her very well and heard from her own lips most of what her brother has just told me. He is referring to the younger brother of Julie, Louis Billiart (1754-1832)

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trouvelot_1820

 

 

 

2 b. The notes of Father Sellier who met Julie in 1795 but only had a relationship with her from 1810-1811

 June 18, 1852
Father Sellier gives us details concerning Father Dangicourt who will play a considerable role with respect to Julie.

signature_sellier  sellier_1852

3 c. The Memoirs of Mother St. Joseph who met Julie in 1794

Between 1818 and 1838
The Memoirs of Mother St. Joseph contribute some details

signature mère st joseph memoiresst_joseph

We will add some details provided by Sister Theresa of the Passion (Elisabeth Lomax) in 1881 and through Father Clair,  who wrote a biography of Julie, written in 1895 (this latter had access to many documents, today disappeared due to the bombings of 1940).

PereCH.CLAIR


SECTION 2:  PEOPLE WHO ENCOURAGED JULIE IN HER FAITH IN A GOOD GOD

Why would one already hear of Julie spoken about in Cuvilly as “the saint who smiled”? Wouldn’t it be that the populace intuitively perceived in her this smile of God’s goodness imprinted on her face?

Julie, as soon as she attained awareness, always made this choice of life proposed to each one at the beginning of the Bible: Deut. 30:19 “I set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live.”

 It is thus that, step by step she advanced in life surrounded by those who confirmed her in her identity as “a well-loved daughter of the Father.”

Interactive map with people who encouraged Julie in her faith.
Drag your mouse over the map and click on the icons.


SECTION 3: BENEVOLENT PERSONS ON WHOM JULIE SPREAD GOD’S GOODNESS 

While touching on this goodness that was revealed to her by God Himself: in prayer, the Eucharist, the benevolent people who surrounded her, Julie did not keep for herself this inestimable treasure and she, naturally, stimulated this awareness in others with whom she was acquainted!

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In his letter of 1820, Father Trouvelot describes an active and sociable child. From the age of seven, after school, “Julie read good books and taught the catechism to the other children.” According to the declarations of the villagers and as collected by Father Trouvelot, “people never saw Julie in places of public amusement. Prayer, reading good books and teaching other children, directing them away from the occasion of sin, this was her recreation.” Julie “by nature was very quick-tempered, but she learned, with God’s grace, to moderate her natural vivacity so well that even in childhood she let no one suffer from it.”

Father Trouvelot learned from her brother that if she felt she had been too quick with her younger brother, she punished herself for it immediately, and she knew so well how to make up for these small failings that she was the only one who complained about them.” “While she was still a child and in her father’s house,” relates Mother St. Joseph, “she began instructing the poor children in the truths of religion. There was one who was a beggar; the lessons she gave helped him to find the means to earn his livelihood. I saw a letter he wrote her more than thirty years later, well composed, expressing his faith and gratitude; he said that after God she had been the principal cause of the happiness in his life.”

sjb photo2

After her Communion, Julie began “to assist her parents by working in the fields: and visiting the Blessed Sacrament in the afternoon or evening.” During the permitted break in the middle of the day, she assembled the harvesters, men and women, speaking to them of the Good God and having them sing hymns.”

After the theft of her parents’ shop, “Julie, 15 years of age, redoubled her efforts to help the family, securing work in the fields at a harvester, where none of the field-hands could surpass her. Meantime she neglected none of her spiritual duties; each week she went to confession and communion with a devotion and recollection that revealed how deeply she was aware of the greatness of the act she was performing. She seemed to draw from the Eucharist the strength, even physical, that she needed to sustain the great fatigues she bore to relieve the distress of her parents.”

Father Trouvelot also recounts how, one day, Julie “placing her trust in God,” made a bundle of goods and “set out for Beauvais, a city where she knew no one. Arriving at the city, she entered the first shop she found open and offered her fabrics for sale…. For six years, she continued her labor in the fields.”

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When she was 21 or 22, Julie fell ill, “the local physician was called in, and she became the victim of his ignorance; immediately he bled her feet.” She remained “weak and infirm, and for years was unable to walk, until cured.” Her illness could have isolated her but her expansive personality and her enthusiasm inspired people to visit her. “Ill and deprived of the use of her legs, she still found good to do. Noble women, who helped her with her temporal necessities, came to seek her assistance in their spiritual needs, on the advice of their pastor. She continued to teach catechism to the children and villagers who happily gathered at her bedside.”

Interactive map with the noble ladies who helped Julie.
Drag your mouse over the map and click on the icons.


SECTION 4: THE GOODNESS OF GOD IN ALL THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF HER LIFE

In contrast to the rigid views of Jansenism, a movement that predominated within the French Christian Churches of her time, Julie always described God as a Good God. “This is the solid truth,” she said, “the Good God only asks of us to do the good that we can with His grace.”

Julie suffered more and more but, as St. Paul says,” It is when I am weak that I am strong” and her deep conviction of the God’s goodness was immutable in all the circumstances of her life.

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During her illness:
Formerly a young woman active in Cuvilly, traveling, doing business, comforting the sick, leading the parish, Julie, now on a sickbed, waited; she grew strong in her faith spending several hours each day in prayer. According to Father Sellier, Julie profited “so well from the lessons of her holy director, Father Dangicourt, that she became in just a few years a model of edification and the long series of tests and infirmities contributed greatly to her advancement in the way of holiness by means of the virtues that this state of suffering gave her the opportunity to practice.” In her Memoirs, Mother St. Joseph speaks of Julie crosses, of her bed of suffering: “Living faith was the source of her patience while long and intimate prayer made her illness bearable, strengthened her love, and prepared her for what Providence had in store for her.”

As a postscript to his letter, Father Trouvelot reports “what some people were telling him yesterday.” “That during the time of her infirmity she used to have them come to her room for instruction, and that she went on with her lessons in spite of her suffering. They said that she taught them to love goodness and virtue, which she made attractive, especially through her own patience and kindness and the zeal she displayed in instructing them.”

In spite of the danger of the Revolution:
Julie opened the way of total confidence in God to the inhabitants of Cuvilly, disoriented by new ideas and the troubles associated with the Revolution, a confidence that reassured and guided them. “Such was the esteem that the villagers had for the poor invalid that when they were deprived of their legitimate pastor, they consulted Julie in order to know if they should obey their constitutional priest. Strong in her faith, she prevented all in the village from floundering into schism, though it earned for her the persecution of revolutionary partisans.”

Father Trouvelot says in his 1820 letter: “Julie carried on her work of teaching, especially continuing the religious education of children and others uninstructed in the truths of faith. She had the happiness of preventing many people from falling into schism.”