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.”
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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.
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.
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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.
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)