Society of the Helpers of the Holy Souls
A religious order of women founded in Paris, France, 1856
Helpers of the Holy Souls, SOCIETY OF THE (AUXILIATRICES DES AMES DU PURGATOIRE), a religious order of women founded in Paris, France, 1856, with the object of assisting the Holy Souls, by Eugenie Smet (in religion, Marie de la Providence), b. at Lille, March 25, 1825; d. at Paris, February 7, 1871; educated at the convent of the Sacred Heart, at Lille, she distinguished herself by intellectual acquirements and striking traits of devotion to the Holy Souls. She went to Paris on January 19, 1856; the society dates its foundation from that day. On January 22 Eugenie obtained the permission of Archbishop Sibour to establish her order in Paris. The community Mademoiselle Smet had gathered round her took possession of No. 16, Rue de la Barouillere, on July 1, 1856. This is still the mother-house of the order. On December 27, 1857, the foundress, with five of her first companions, pronounced her first vows; a Jesuit was appointed chaplain, and the Rule of St. Ignatius was adopted. Besides the three usual vows, they take a fourth obligation to “pray, suffer, and labor for the souls in purgatory”, offering up the satisfactory part of all their works of mercy, their vows and prayers, as well as indulgences applicable to themselves. There are two classes of religious, the choir nuns and the lay sisters; both make the same vows, follow the same rule, and enjoy the same privileges. The subjects admitted to the first probation have a postulate of three months, followed by a two-year novitiate; the sisters then make their first profession and receive a crucifix, which they wear on their breast. After another year’s probation (about ten years after their first vows), they can be admitted to perpetual vows, with the usual ecclesiastical approbation. On that day each professed religious receives a ring, a token of her eternal alliance with Jesus Christ.
On entering the novitiate their family name is replaced by a name in religion. The society is governed by a reverend mother general, who is aided by a council of at least four assistants. Each separate convent has a local superior. To facilitate their works of mercy among the poor, the Helpers adopt a simple black costume. Their principal work of mercy is the visiting and care of the sick poor. During the time which is not occupied by their spiritual exercises, they go to the homes of the poor afflicted by sickness, and bring them every relief and consolation religious devotedness can devise; rendering them the humblest services their state requires. The Helpers also undertake, according to the requirements of the place in which they are settled, numerous other works of zeal and charity, such as the religious instruction of children and adults, guilds for women and girls of the working classes, mothers’ meetings, meetings for governesses and business employes, free circulating libraries, catechism classes, etc. All these works are gratuitous, the rule of the order forbidding compensation for services rendered.
Soon after their institution, they adopted “honorary members”, “associates”, and “benefactors”, who enter into a union of prayer and sacrifice with the Helpers, and participate in the privileges enjoyed by the society. Priests can become honorary members by promising to offer up the Holy Sacrifice once a month for the prescribed intentions; and religious, by offering up a monthly Communion for the same intentions.
In 1859 Pius IX blessed the Confraternity of Lady Associates and granted it a special indulgence; on June 9, 1873, he granted the society the Lauda or first Brief of approbation, and on June 25, 1878, the constitutions of the order were approved by Leo XIII. The first branch house was established at Nantes, July, 1864. In 1867 six nuns were conducted by Bishop Languillat to Shanghai; the works which they undertook were the superintendence of a congregation of Chinese Catholic maidens and widows; the preparation of converts for reception into the Church; the direction of a native orphanage and of European schools for the wealthier classes. The Chinese congregation, now known as Presentandines, are trained by the Helpers. They visit the sick, baptize abandoned children, and keep native schools. The Helpers have established in Shanghai a high school for the Chinese, under the name of “L’Etoile du Matin”. In December, 1869, a house was established in Brussels. The Helpers did good work in the ambulances for the wounded of both nations during the Franco-Prussian War.
In 1873 the Helpers were installed in the Archdiocese of Westminster, at 23 Queen Anne Street, Cavendish Square. They removed to Gloucester Road, Regent’s Park, in 1882. From 1874 to 1880 communities were established at Cannes, Orleans, Tourcoing, and Montmartre. In the last twenty-five years convents have arisen at Rome, Turin, Florence, and San Remo; in Belgium at Brussels, Liege, Ghent, and Namur. There is a house in Vienna, one in Switzerland, and one at San Sebastian in Spain. There is a novitiate at Versailles; another at Beaulieu, Jersey. The Helpers are also at Lourdes, at Blanchelande in Normandy, at Lille, and at Edinburgh, Scotland. When it was decided to erect a commemorative chapel on the site of the fire of the charity bazaar in the Rue Jean Goujon, Paris (May 4, 1897), Cardinal Richard selected the Helpers as the guardians of this sanctuary. This foundation is named Notre-Dame de la Consolation.
In May, 1892, seven Helpers sailed for New York, and were heartily welcomed by Archbishop Corrigan. The first convent was a very small house in Seventh Avenue; there they labored for nearly three years, when they removed to 114 East 86th Street. In 1906, they had five houses in the same neighborhood. Children from the public schools come to the convents for religious instruction. The girls have sewing classes three times a week, and are allowed to take home the garments they have made. Often Protestants and Jewesses ask permission to join. Some idea of this work may be obtained when it is considered that over thirty-seven thousand general instructions were given to the classes during 1905. In the winter months a number of entertainments are held for the older women as well as for the young girls and boys, and during 1905 a course of lectures on hygiene and first aid to the injured was given. In 1903, some Helpers were sent to St. Louis, Missouri. They have now a prosperous convent in Washington Boulevard. In 1905, the Sisters went to San Francisco, where they settled in a house in Howard Street, which was destroyed in the earthquake of 1906, when they found ample scope for their zeal in the exercise of their double vocation, ministering to the sick and dying, while praying unceasingly for those who had perished. They have now a new convent in Golden Gate Avenue.