The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – Blessed Julie Billiart

Saint Julia BilliartOver thorny paths, but lovingly and wisely, Providence led Blessed Julie Billiart to the end of her vocation. She was born at Cavilly in Picardy on 12 July 1751. On account of the poverty of her parents she was unable to obtain any superior education. It was her misfortune to become the victim of a nervous disorder, resulting from a great shock, and in course of time it completely crippled her. But sickness does not set limits to the activity of the saints. By her prayer and example and by her wise counsels Julie practised from her sick-bed a beneficent apostleship on all who addressed her from far and near. This was particularly manifest when the assault on altar and throne began in France. But the time came when the crippled Julie was obliged to flee from the bloody-minded revolutionists, who had discovered her to be the chief support of religion in Cavilly. After long and various wanderings, she at last found refuge in Amiens.

The persecution had brought her into contact with a noble and congenial soul, the noble lady Francoise Blin de Bourdon, Viscountess of Gezaincourt. To check the frightful degeneracy of morals caused by the unbelieving era of the Revolution the two friends resolved to found a Congregation for the education of poor girls. Although afflicted until 1802 with her dreadful ailment, Julie Billiart was the moving power of the enterprise, and with the assistance of two priests of the Fathers of the Faith, Father Joseph Varin and Father Anthony Thomas, who later joined the restored Society of Jesus, the establishment of the Congregation of Notre Dame was realized.

This institute spread rapidly and there prevailed in it an excellent religious spirit owing to the enlightened wisdom of Julie. But heavy storms were to break upon its founder. A French priest, the first confessor of the Congregation, interfered too much in the affairs of administration; there came differences with the bishop of Amiens and Julie Billiart fell under grave suspicion. It finally ended in her formal expulsion from Amiens and the abolition of her work in France. The holy woman turned to Belgium, where she had already established many residences. Here, too, severe trials awaited her. But the more frequent the blows of misfortune, the more refined was the gold of her pure love of God and the more solid the edifice of her Congregation. On April 8, 1816, she rendered her noble soul into the hands of the Creator. She had hardly died when the world recognized how great a saint had left it, but it no longer withheld the acknowledgment. On 13 May 1906, Pius X bestowed on her the honors of the altar. Her Congregation continues to work efficaciously in Belgium, Holland, Germany, England, and America.

– this text is taken from The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century: Saintly Men and Women of Our Own Times, by Father Constantine Kempf, SJ; translated from the German by Father Francis Breymann, SJ; Impimatur by + Cardinal John Farley, Archbishop of New York, 25 September 1916