Congregation of Christian Retreat
Two branches of this congregation, the Fathers of Christian Retreat and the Sisters
Christian Retreat, CONGREGATION OF.—There are two branches of this congregation, the Fathers of Christian Retreat and the Sisters. It was founded on the 19th of November, 1789, at Fontenelle, Doubs, France, by Father Antoine-Silvestre Receveur, who was declared Venerable in 1883 by Pope Leo XIII. He had an extraordinary love of the Cross, and was fond of saying “it was a cross to be without one”. The Revolution raging at the time of its birth caused the society to endure many privations and forced its members to make many sacrifices. For three years the sisters, who at that time numbered seventy, were subjected to great persecution, and then a revolutionary mob drove them out of their convent. The choice was given them of death or separation from Father Receveur, which would have involved abandoning the life they had adopted. The sisters unanimously chose death rather than give up their vocation, and their persecutors, touched by their bravery, allowed them to go into exile. After ten years the storm of the Revolution subsided, they returned to France, and in 1800 the congregation received the approbation of Pius VII. Its work is the education of youth and the giving of spiritual retreats. The Fathers of Christian Retreat used to direct colleges in France, and still act as chaplains to the different convents of the congregation. The Sisters of Christian Retreat teach in elementary and secondary schools, and their rule allows them time and opportunity for higher studies. Those sisters who from age or ill-health are unable to teach spend the greater part of the day in silence and prayer for the members who are engaged in active work. They also do needlework and embroidery of every description. Seven times a day the rule calls all the members to the foot of the altar, and every night at midnight a bell is rung in all the convents to rouse the sisters to thank God for the grace of their vocations. On the 19th of November a special midnight service is held in memory of the entry at midnight into the first convent. A special service called the Adoration of the Cross is held every day in all the convents. There are no lay sisters; the work of the house is done by all the sisters according to the direction of the superior.
In 1902 the congregation had seventeen houses, thirteen in France, four in England, and more than a thousand members. There were then three novitiates, two in France and one in England, but all the French houses except one have since been confiscated under the Association Law. Convents were then opened in Belgium and Switzerland, and in England there are now seven convents, including a novitiate. The novitiate lasts two years; postulants without dowry, if qualified for teaching in secondary schools, can be received. The habit is of white serge, with a white cape and scapular; no veil or wimple is worn, but instead a white linen band across the forehead and a white serge cap. The sisters are not enclosed; when they go out they wear a black habit and a long black cloak. The government is under a mother-general. In England the convents are at Shepherd’s Bush, near London; at Clapham; at Redhill, Surrey; at Cannock, Staffordshire, and three new foundations.
F. M. STEELE