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Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Institution of religious women, taking perpetual vows and devoted to the work of education

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Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the an institution of religious women, taking perpetual vows and devoted to the work of education, founded November 21, 1800, by Madeleine-Sophie Barat (q.v.). One of the signs of returning vigor in the Church in France after 1792 was the revival of the religious life. Religious orders had been suppressed by the laws of August 18, 1792, but within a few years a reaction set in; the restoration of some orders and the foundations of new congregations ushered in “the second spring”. One of the first was the Society of Jesus. Under the provisional title of “Fathers of the Sacred Heart” and “Fathers of the Faith“, some devoted priests banded themselves together and in due time returned from their exile or emigration to devote themselves to the spiritual welfare of their country. Father Léonor De Tournély was among the founders of the Fathers of the Sacred Heart, and the first to whom it occurred that an institute of women bearing the same name and devoting themselves to the education of girls, would be one of the most efficacious means of restoring the practice of religion in France. Though many difficulties intervened, two attempts were made. Princess Louise de Bourbon Condé, before the Revolution a Benedictine abbess, and the Archduchess Mary Anne of Austria both tried to form an institute according to his idea; but neither succeeded, and he died before anything could be accomplished. He had confided his views to Father Varin who succeeded him as superior of the Fathers of the Sacred Heart. A short time afterwards Father Varin found in Madeleine-Sophie Barat, sister of Father Louis Barat, the instrument to execute his plans. The first members of the new society began their community life in Paris, under the guidance of Father Varin. The first convent was opened at Amiens in 1801, under Mademoiselle Loquet. A school which had already existed there was made over to the new institute, and some who had worked in it offered themselves as postulants for the “Dames de la Foi” or “De L’Instruction Chrétienne”, the name which the new society had assumed, as that of the “Society of the Sacred Heart” might be supposed to indicate a connection with the royalist party of La Vendee. As Mlle. Loquet, who had been acting as superior, lacked the requisite qualities, by the advice of Father Varin and with the assent of the community Sophie Barat was named superior. By education and temperament, the new superior was especially fitted for the work of foundation. In 1804 a second house was opened and a new member, Philippine Duchesne, received, who was destined to carry the work of the society beyond the limits of France. Formerly a novice of the Visitation convent at Ste. Marie d’en Haut, near Grenoble, Mlle. Duchesne found it impossible to reconstruct the religious life of the Visitation in the convent which she purchased after the Revolution. Father Varin made her acquaintance and reported to Mother Barat that the house was offered to her, and that she could find there some who wished to join her.

The first plan of the institute was drawn up by Fathers Roger and Varin, and with a memorial composed by Mothers Barat and Duchesne was presented to the Bishop of Grenoble and approved by him. This plan and memorial set forth the end of the association, which was the perfection of its members and the salvation of souls; the spirit aimed at detachment from the world, purity of intention for the glory of the Sacred Heart, gentleness, zeal, and obedience; the means, for the religious, the training of the novitiate, and spiritual exercises, for others, boarding schools for the upper classes, free schools for the poor, and spiritual retreats. The rule in this preliminary stage was simple; the houses were to be under one superior-general, everything was to be in common, the office of the Blessed Virgin was to be recited, the time appointed for mental prayer was specified. The manner of life was to be simple without the prescribed austerities of the older orders, which would be incompatible with the work of education. On Mother Barat’s return to Amiens in 1806 the first general congregation was assembled for the election of the superior-general, and she was chosen for the office. Father Varin then withdrew from the position he had held as superior of the new institute which was now regularly constituted, but he continued for years to help the young superior-general with his advice and support. The first serious trouble which arose nearly wrecked the whole undertaking. At the end of 1808 the “Dames de la Foi” had six houses; Amiens, Grenoble, Poitiers, Niort, Ghent, and Cuigniers. The first house at Amiens was governed at this time by Mother Baudemont, who fell under the influence of a priest of the Diocese of Amiens, Abbé de St-Estève, who took that house under his control and even drew up a set of rules drawn from those of the monastic orders and entirely foreign to the spirit of Father Varin and the foundress. The devotion to the Sacred Heart which was to be its very life scarcely appeared in the new rules and they were in consequence not acceptable to any of the houses outside Amiens. Abbé de St-Estève was determined to force the matter. He went to Rome and from thence sent orders, ostensibly from the Holy See. The name of the Society of the Sacred Heart was to be abandoned for that of “Apostolines”, and he wrote vehement letters condemning Father Varin and the superior-general and her work. The most important letter in the case proved to be a forgery. The institute recovered its balance, but the house at Ghent had been already lost to the society.

The second general congregation (1815) examined the constitutions which had been elaborated by Father Varin and Mother Barat (they were an expansion of the first plan presented to the Bishop of Grenoble) and they were accepted by all the houses of the society. It was decided to have a general novitiate in Paris. The third general congregation (1820) drew up the first uniform plan of studies which has been developed and modified from time to time to bring it into harmony with present needs, without losing the features which have characterized it from the beginning. In 1826 the society obtained the formal approbation of Leo XII and the first cardinal protector was appointed, in place of an ecclesiastical superior whose authority would have depended too much upon local conditions. The sixth general congregation was anxious to bring the constitutions into closer conformity with those of the Society of Jesus. Mother Barat foresaw that the proposed changes were unsuitable for a congregation of women but permitted an experimental trial of them for three years. Finally the whole affair was submitted to Gregory XVI, who decided that the society should return in all points to the constitution approved by Leo XII. The last changes in the constitutions were made in 1851 with the sanction of the Holy See. Superiors-vicar were named to help the superior-general in the government of the society by taking the immediate supervision of a certain number of houses forming a vicariate. The superiors-vicar assembled with the mother general and the assistants general form the general congregation of the society. In 1818 Mother Philippine Duchesne introduced the society into the United States and the first houses were founded in Missouri and Louisiana. The society under the guidance of Mother Mary Aloysia Hardey (q.v.) spread rapidly, and in 1910 counted twenty-seven houses and more than eleven hundred members. The extension in Europe was confined to France until 1827 when a school was opened at the Trinità dei Monti, Rome. Houses were founded in Belgium (Jette), 1836; England (Berrymead, now Roehampton) and Ireland (Roscrea), both in 1841; Canada (Montreal), 1842; Austria (Lemberg), 1843; Spain (Sarria, near Barcelona) 1846. Mother du Rousier was the pioneer in South America (Santiago de Chile in 1854). Other foundations were made in the West Indies (1858); New Zealand (1880); Australia (1882); Egypt (1903); Japan (1908). The Revolution of 1830 disturbed the house in Paris but did not destroy it; the novitiate was removed elsewhere. In 1848 the house in Switzerland had to be abandoned; the religious were expelled from Genoa, Turin, Saluzzo, and Pignerol while the houses in Rome were searched and pillaged. In 1860 Loreto, St. Elpidio, and Perugia were suppressed. The German houses were closed by the May Laws of 1873. Between 1903 and 1909 forty-seven houses in France were closed and many of them confiscated by the French Government. The mother-house was transferred to Brussels in 1909. This wholesale destruction increased the extension in foreign countries; for almost every house that has been closed another has been opened elsewhere. At present the society counts 139 houses and about 6500 religious.

The society aims at a twofold spirit—contemplative and active. It is composed of choir religious and lay sisters. Enclosure is observed in a manner adapted to the works; the Office of the Blessed Virgin is recited in choir. The choice of subjects is guided by the qualifications laid down in the constitutions. In addition to the indication of a true religious vocation there is required respectable parentage, unblemished reputation, a good or at least sufficient education with some aptitude for completing it, a sound judgment, and above all a generous determination to make an entire surrender of self to the service of God through the hands of superiors. The candidate is not allowed to make any conditions as to place of residence or employment, but must be ready to be sent by obedience to any part of the world, even the privilege of going on foreign missions is not definitely promised in the beginning to those who aspire to it. Postulants are admitted to a preliminary probation of three months, at the end of which they may take the religious habit and begin their novitiate of two years, which are spent in studying the spirit and the rules of the society, exercising themselves in its manner of living, and in the virtues which they will be called upon to practice; the second year is devoted to a course of study which is to prepare them for their educational work. To each novitiate there is attached a teaching and training department where the first course of studies may be taken, and when it is possible the young religious pass a year in this, after their vows, before they are sent to teach in the schools. The first vows, simple perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, are taken at the end of two years of novice ship, after which follow five years spent in study, teaching, or other duties. At the end of this period follows for those who have special aptitude for the work of teaching, another short course of study, and for all a period of second novitiate or probation lasting six months, at the end of which, that is to say, seven years after their admission to the society, the aspirants take their final vows and are received as professed religious. The vow of stability, that is, of perseverance in the society, is then added, and for the choir religious a vow to consecrate themselves to education of youth; provision is made, however, that this vow may be accomplished even if obedience should prescribe other duties than those of direct teaching, and may be fulfilled by concurrence in any way in the work of the society. The vow of stability binds the society to the professed until death, as well as the professed to the society; this bond can only be broken by the Holy See. The society is governed by a superior general, elected for life by the assistants general and superiors vicar. The assistants general are elected for six years, the superiors vicar and local superiors are nominated by the mother general, and may be changed at her discretion; their usual period of government is three years, but it may be prolonged or shortened according to circumstances. The superior general assembles the superiors vicar in a general congregation every six years, and with the help of the assistants general transacts with them all business connected with the general government of the society. These periodical assemblies, the occasional visits of the superior general to the houses in different countries, the regular reports and accounts sent in from every vicariate, the free access of all to the mother general by writing, and in particular the organization of the house of last probation, which as far as possible brings the young religious for six months into touch with the first superiors of the society—all tend to unity. Its union is what is most valued, and if it had been possible to define it sufficiently it is said that a fourth vow of charity would have been added to the obligations of the members.

Four principal works give scope to the activities of the society. (I) Education of the upper classes in the boarding schools and of late years in day schools. Originally the plan of studies was more or less uniform in all the houses, but it has become necessary to modify it according to the needs and educational ideals of different countries and the kind of life for which the pupils have to be prepared. The character of the education of the Sacred Heart, however, remains the same, based on the study of religion and of Christian philosophy and laying particular stress on history, literature, essay-writing, modern languages, and such knowledge of household management as can be taught at school. (2) Free or parochial schools. In some countries, as in England, these are aided by the State, and follow the regulations laid down for other public elementary schools; in others they are voluntary and adapt their teaching to the needs and circumstances of the children. Between these two classes of schools have arisen in England secondary schools, aided by the State, which are principally feeding schools for the two training colleges in London and Newcastle, where Catholic teachers are prepared for the certificates entitling them to teach in elementary state-supported schools. This work is of wider importance than the teaching of single elementary schools, and is valued as a means of reaching indirectly a far greater number of children than those with whom the religious themselves can come into contact. It likewise leavens the teaching profession with minds trained in Catholic doctrine and practice. This work for Catholic teachers also exists at Lima in a flourishing condition. (3) A work which is taking rapid development is that of spiritual retreats for all classes of persons. The spiritual exercises are given to considerable numbers of ladies who spend a few days within the convents of the Sacred Heart; in other cases the exercises are adapted for poor girls and peasant women. Retreats for First Communion in Rome, and retreats for Indian women in Mexico are special varieties of this work. (4) The congregations of Children of Mary living in the world which have their own rules and organization (see Children of Mary of the Sacred Heart, The).


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