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.”
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.
Baptism – Eucharist – Confirmation
Seventh child of the couple, Julie is baptized the day of her birth, July 12, 1751.
“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.
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
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.
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.
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.
- 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.”
Madam Victoire Neute-Berthelot. Undated photo (before 1843) taken in front of Julie’s room in Cuvilly.
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.
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
Jean Baptiste 1749-1765
Marie Rose Julie 1751-1816
Louis François 1754-1832
Child who died the day of birth 21/11/1759
Notice on Julie Billiart’s family, click here
Julie’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.
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?”