Belonging to the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, born at Soyhières, a village of the Bernese Jura (then French territory), 16 June 1793; died at Troyes, 6 October 1875. Her parents were excellent Christians: her father had seen service in the regular Guard (the Cent-Suisses corps) of the King of France. Her mother, née Catherine Fleury, was the sister of the Curé of Soyhières. Out of eleven children born of this union, six entered religion. From infancy Marie Thérèse was remarkable for her piety. She made her First Communion in 1802 and at the age of twelve years entered as an intern pupil in the Visitation Convent at Fribourg, where she remained three years. In June, 1811, she returned to the convent as a postulant, but left it again in three months. Three years later she came back, took the religious habit on 3 June, 1815, and made her profession on 9 June 1816. A year after taking her vows she was sent to Metz, but reasons of health compelled her to return to Fribourg. In 1826 she became superior of the monastery at Troyes, and in 1833 spent six months in the second monastery in Paris, where she was afterwards to be superior (1838-44). The greater part of her life was spent at Troyes, where she was elected superior eleven times, and where she celebrated in 1866 the golden anniversary of her religious profession. Her last illness attacked her in September, 1875.
Mother Mary de Sales is celebrated chiefly for her zeal in spreading a certain kind of spirituality which she called “The Way” (La Voie). Her principal biographer, Father Brisson, who had been for thirty years confessor to the Visitandines of Trayes, and was her director, writes that by this expression – La Voie – “she understood a state of soul which consisted in depending upon the actual will of God, relishing whatever was His good pleasure, and imitating the life of the Saviour externally”. The English edition of her life (London, 1900), in translating this sentence, overlooks the word actuelle (actual): “What did the good Mother mean by this Word, ‘The Way’? She meant a state of soul which consists in an entire dependence on the Will of God, by an interior consent to all that is according to His good pleasure, and an exterior imitation of our Saviour”. It adds: “Chosen by God to propagate and spread abroad this Way, the good Mother consecrated her whole life to it”. To spread this Way, she, with Father Brisson, founded the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales. – “It was in order to extend this Way that she made choice of others like herself, whom she might inspire with zeal, and point out the means, for attaining the desired end. She solemnly asserted that they would participate in the grace which she had herself received from God, by which they would understand how to deal with souls, and how to lead them to a love of this resemblance to their Saviour. This, she said, would be the characteristic work of their apostleship”. She and her disciples proclaimed the marvellous efficacity of “The Way”. “She added that this Divine action would not be confined merely to a certain number of privileged souls, but that it would be brought within the reach of the most abandoned. Nor would it be confined to souls who dwell under the light and influence of the Gospel, but would reach those who are the farthest from it, and penetrate even to the uttermost parts of the world”. “‘Wishing to save the world over again,’ says one of the leading oblates, Father Rollin, in giving the ideas of the Good Mother, ‘Our Lord had to use means until then unknown’ . . .”. The English “Life” attenuates this passage: “In His insatiable desire to save the world, He willed to employ a means hitherto unknown; a means by which all the glory would redound unto Himself alone, since, being merely His agents, man would claim no part therein . . .”
For some years past there have been controversies as to the doctrinal value of Venerable Mary de Sales’ “Way”; it will be enough to indicate, in the bibliography at the end of this article, some of the various writings which have treated the subject. It seems, indeed, that many of her disciples have exaggerated the purport of the approbation accorded to her writings (2 June 1892). a approbation is not absolutely definitive, in that it implies many restrictions, and that, even when joined with beatification, it does not forbid the exercise of a respectful criticism. Benedict XIV says: “This much, it seems, should be added by way of corollary: It can never be said that the doctrine of a servant of God has been approved by the Holy See, but, at the most, that it has not been condemned. There has been controversy also as to the marvellous deeds attributed to Venerable Mary de Sales. This much is certain: that an ecclesiastical commission appointed by the Bishop of Troyes has declared, after canonical investigation, that the facts alleged in the ‘Abrégé de la vie’, can be explained naturally or in other cases are not sufficiently established”. Nevertheless, examination of these miracles results in evidence of the personal sanctity of Mother Mary de Sales. The cause of her beatification was introduced at Rome, 27 July, 1897. The Sacred Congregation of Rites will decide as to the doctrine of “The Way”, or, at least, as to the miracles, virtues, and perfection of the Venerable Mary de Sales.