The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – Venerable Anne Marie Javouhey

Blessed Anne Mary JavouheyArticle

A French officer of high rank once boasted that he had embraced the greatest man in France, Napoleon, and kissed the hand of the greatest woman in France, Mother Javouhey. Whence, as the legend goes, Napoleon once said in a pleasant mood: “I know of only two good heads in France – my own and Mother Javouhey’s. If she were a man I would make her a general and give her chief command of one of my armies.” It is only a legend, but it is evidence of the high opinion universally had of the ability of the Venerable Anne Marie Javouhey, foundress of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Cluny. At the French court, with princes of the Church, and with statesmen, she possessed great influence. Felicite de Lamennais even after his apostasy paid her the tribute of his admiration. Mother Javouhey owed her fame in the eyes of the world to her remarkable skill in organization and the admirable success of her Congregation at home and in the French colonies. When she was superior-general she once journeyed to the Gold Coast and twice to Guiana to organize and develop the mission work of her Sisters. In Guiana she established a settlement for emancipated slaves after the model of the Reductions of Paraguay. Her influence in the colony was so great that the envious called her the “white queen” of Guiana.

To this exterior activity corresponded a still greater vigor in the work of her own sanctification from an earnest conviction that she must exert all her powers in promoting the cause of God.

Anne Marie Javouhey was a month older than Blessed Madeleine Sophie Barat, and like her was born in Burgundy in the year 1779. Her birthplace was the village of Jallanges. The dreadful days of the Revolution presented her the first opportunity for the exercise of her dauntless zeal, when she showed heroic courage by giving shelter to priests and making possible the celebration of the Holy Mysteries. She gathered the children of the village about her and went among the people while they were at work to instruct them in their religion. She was everywhere welcomed and eagerly listened to. On 11 November 1798, during Holy Mass, which was said at the altar in the house, she made a vow in the presence of the whole family to devote herself entirely to God. Twice she tried her vocation in a Religious Order, but each time when the occasion for taking the habit arrived her whole spirit rose against it and she felt herself obliged to leave. An interior voice told her that she was herself to found a Congregation. Assisted by her three sisters she opened a sort of oratory for poor children. She had considerable trouble in overcoming the objections of her father. The parish priest of Chalons-sur-Saone heard of her effective work and in 1805 called her into his parish to superintend a school. This enabled her to make rapid progress in the organization of her Congregation. In 181 2 she acquired an old convent of the Recollects at Cluny, which she transformed into a mother-house. Thus Cluny once more became the center of a Congregation destined to become eminent in promoting the interests of the Church. Mother Javouhey knew how to inspire her daughters with courage and enthusiasm in their difficult vocation. There was no dearth of novices and of applications for new residences, especially since in 1817 she had included the foreign missions within the sphere of her activity. At her death, on 15 July 1851, the Congregation numbered fully fourteen hundred members and to-day, in spite of the persecution in France, there are quite four thousand distributed throughout every nation on earth.

It would be a mistake to think that in this splendid exterior success the Venerable Mother was not obliged to travel over the way of the cross. If hers had not been a truly valiant character and she had not possessed an imperturbable confidence in God, there were times innumerable when she would have given up her efforts. The heaviest trials were those which came from the ecclesiastical authorities. In Guiana she was forbidden the Sacraments for nearly two years; the archbishop of Paris placed her chapel under interdict; and with other bishops who wished arbitrarily to change the constitutions of her Congregation she was obliged to combat strenuously. But never, as the decree introducing the process of her beatification declares, “did she forget in these bitter trials the duty of charity or the respect due to authority, a clear indication of her virtue and sanctity.” So great and yet so humble and modest a soul as Mother Javouhey’s we seldom meet with in history.

MLA Citation

  • Father Constantine Kempf, SJ. “Venerable Anne Marie Javouhey”. The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century: Saintly Men and Women of Our Own Times, 1916. CatholicSaints.Info. 17 March 2018. Web. 19 January 2019. <>