Illustrated Catholic Family Annual – Madame Barat

Madame BaratArticle

Madeleine Louise Sophie Barat, the foundress of the Society of the Ladies of the Sacred Heart, was born in the village of Joigny, in Burgundy, on 12 December 1779. The child of parents in a very humble rank of life, she was destined by Divine Providence to become the spiritual mother of perhaps the most flourishing of modern religious societies, and one whose specific work was to be that of educating young ladies belonging to the higher classes of society. The training which fitted her for this end was peculiar. Her only brother, Louis Barat, eleven years her senior, and an ecclesiastical student, was obliged to leave the seminary during the persecutions which the Church underwent in 1789 and the succeeding years, and on returning home was so much struck by the fine qualities and precocious intelligence which he noted in his little sister, that ho resolved to devote himself to the work of her education. Under his kind but often severe training Sophie passed nearly ten years, learning Latin, Greek, Spanish, Italian, studying the sciences, and becoming familiar with Holy Scripture and the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. When she was sixteen her brother was ordained, and she went to live with him in Paris. In her twentieth year she made the acquaintance of Father Varin, at that lime a member of a society called by the name of the Sacred Heart, but who later entered the Society of Jesus at the time of its rc-cstablishment. Her vocation to the religious life had been marked, even from her earliest childhood, but up to this time her inclinations had seemed to turn in the direction of the Carmelite cloister. Father Varin, to whom the idea of a religious order of women devoted to the propaga tion of devotion to the Sacred Heart and to the higher education of girls had been bequeathed by the saintly Father de Tournely, asked her to consider seriously whether it were the will of God that so exceptional a training and so many gifts as had been bestowed upon her should not be used for the benefit of others. His own views as to her vocation were clear. Ho had discerned in her the qualities necessary for a foundress, and recognized in the providential development they had received clear indications of the Divine will. Sophie Barat acquiesced simply in a decision which seemed to run counter to her own attraction for the hidden life, and patiently continued the work of teaching, which, with two or three companions, she had already begun. On 21 November 1800, the Feast of Our Lady’s Presentation, the foundation of the Society of the Ladies of the Sacred Heart was laid at Paris, when Sophie, with three companions, pronounced the act of consecration to that Divine Heart in a little chapel in the house where they lived, and afterwards received communion. The first house of the society was. however, founded at Amiens in 1801, when a small school for young ladies, already established in that town, was transferred to its care. In 1802, shortly after her twenty-third birthday, Madame Barat was elected superior of the community in which she was the youngest and the humblest member. She retained this office from that period until her death, in her eighty-sixth year, in 1865. Sixty-six years of this long and fruitful life had been passed in religion. Before it closed Madame Barat had seen her institute solemnly approved at Rome by three successive Pontiffs, had herself founded one hundred and fifteen houses in various parts of Europe, and had sent her daughters to establish others in the New World. At her death the society was divided into fifteen vicariates, each ruled by a superior-vicar, subject to the authority of the superior-general, who always has her residence in Paris. Since then this number has been increased. In 1876 there were three in the United States, one in British America, and one in Spanish America, containing over eleven hundred religious. The number of houses in all parts of the world at present is over one hundred, and the total number of members upwards of four thousand. Madame Barat was succeeded in the office of superior-general by Madame Goetz, who died in 1874 and was replaced by the present head, Madame Lehon.

The first American mission of this society was founded at Saint Charles, in the diocese of Saint Louis, at the instance of Bishop Dubourg, of New Orleans – the prelate who gave the suggestion which resulted at Lyons, France, in the foundation of that greatest of good works, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Its first superior was Madame Philippine Duchesne, a heroic and saintly soul, who stands in the annals of the Society of the Sacred Heart second only to its founder. At Saint Charles the society at first devoted itself to the care of the Indians and negroes. The two vicariates of New Orleans and Saint Louis are now in a most flourishing condition. That of New York, which has its novitiate at Kenwood, near Albany, comprises eight houses in the States of New York, Rhode Island, Ohio, and Michigan, upwards of five hundred religious, many novices and postulants, and flourishing schools, both for the education of young ladies and the training of poor children.

The cause of Madame Barat’s beatification has already been introduced at Koine, and a prayer under her invocation, which was sanctioned by the late revered Pontiff, Pius IX, is widely used. Concerning her sanctity there is but one sentiment, and it is hoped and believed that it will yet receive the seal of canonization.

MLA Citation

  • “Madame Barat”. Illustrated Catholic Family Annual, 1879. CatholicSaints.Info. 12 January 2017. Web. 30 May 2017. <>