Madeleine Sophie Barat bigraphy, stories - Founder of the Society of the Sacred Heart

Madeleine Sophie Barat : biography

December 12, 1779 - May 25, 1865

Saint Madeline Sophie Barat, R.S.C.J., (December 12, 1779 – May 25, 1865) was a French saint of the Catholic Church and was the founder of the Society of the Sacred Heart.

The French Revolution

At the dawn of the French Revolution in 1789, Louis became involved in the debate surrounding the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, passed in July 1790 and requiring all priests to swear allegiance to the new revolutionary state. Louis took this oath of loyalty in January 1791 but, on learning the Pope had condemned the Constitution, he renounced his oath in May 1792. This renunciation had immediate consequences. Louis first tried to hide in his family’s attic but soon fled to Paris, for the danger had become too great both for himself and his family. In Paris, he was arrested in May 1793, imprisoned for two years, and only escaped the guillotine through the brave intervention of a friend.

In the space of just a few years, Sophie’s entire life had changed. Her studies were halted and she no longer had time to sew or to help her father in the vineyards. After her brother was released in 1795, he briefly returned home to Joigny. Louis then went back to Paris to seek ordination and exercise his ministry in secret. He brought Sophie with him in order to further her education. After arriving in Paris, Sophie and Louis lived in a safe house belonging to one Madame Duval. Louis continued to say Mass and teach Sophie the Fathers of the Church, mathematics, Latin, and the Scriptures. While living in Paris, at about the age of 18, Sophie decided to become a Carmelite nun. This would be impossible, however, for the Carmelites had, along with many other religious communities, been abolished in 1790. Nevertheless, by passing on to Sophie what he had learned in the Collège St. Jacques in Joigny, Sens and Paris, Louis prepared her for a different life and existence, even though this did not mean becoming a Carmelite. In 1800, Sophie briefly returned home to help her family with the vine harvest. During this time, Louis met a priest named Joseph Varin, a man who would change Sophie’s life forever.

The Founding and Expansion of the Society of the Sacred Heart

When Sophie returned to Paris, she was introduced to Varin, a priest belonging to the Society of the Fathers of the Faith, a new group of priests that would eventually merge with the Jesuits. Varin wanted to create a women’s order devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and involved in the education of young women that would match the Fathers of the Faith. On meeting Sophie, he saw in her a wholeness of spirit and heart that he knew would enable her to accomplish the task. On 21 November 1800, at the age of 21, Sophie abandoned her dream of becoming a Carmelite and, along with three other women living in the Paris safe-house, took her vows as one of the first members of this new religious congregation, marking the foundation of the Society of the Sacred Heart. However, because the French authorities had prohibited devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the society was initially known as Dames de la Foi ("Women of Faith") or de l’Instruction chrétienne ("Christian instructors").

The first school was opened in Amiens in northern France in September 1801 and Sophie travelled to this important provincial city in order to teach. The new community and school grew quickly. A school giving classes to the poor of the town was opened and, in December 1802, Sophie, although the youngest of the Sacred Heart Sisters, was named superior, thus making her the leader of the Society of the Sacred Heart at Amiens. Her first act was to kneel and kiss the feet of each of her sisters.

In November 1804, Sophie traveled to Sainte-Marie-d’en-Haut, near Grenoble in southeastern France, to receive a community of Visitation nuns into the Society. Among them was Philippine Duchesne, who would later introduce the Society to America and was canonized a saint in 1988. A second school was then established at Grenoble, followed by a third at Poitiers in western France. Father Varin envisioned an entire network of such schools and, after these first establishments in France, foundations mushroomed abroad in North America (1818), Italy (1828), Switzerland (1830), Belgium (1834), Algiers (1841), England (1842), Ireland (1842), Spain (1846), Holland (1848), Germany (1851), South America (1853), Austria (1853), and Poland (1857).

Living octopus

Living octopus

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