The Life and Work of Madame Barat

Saint Madeline Sophie BaratMadeleine-Louise-Sophie Barat was born on the 12th of December, 1779, in the little village of Joigny, in Burgundy. Her father was a cooper and the owner of a small vineyard, a very worthy and sensible man and an excellent Christian. Her mother was remarkably intelligent and quite well educated, far superior in personal character to her humble station, very religious, and endowed with an exquisite sensibility of temperament, controlled by a solid virtue which made her worthy to be the mother of two such children as her son Louis and her daughter Sophie. The birth of Sophie, who was the youngest of her three children, was hastened, and her own life endangered, by the fright which she suffered from a fire very near her house during the night of the 12th of December. The little Sophie was so frail and feeble at her birth that her baptism was hurried as much as possible, and the tenure of her life was very fragile during infancy. As a child she was diminutive and delicate, but precocious, quick-witted, and very playful. The parish priest used to put her upon a stool at catechism, that the little fairy might be better seen and heard; and at her first communion she was rejected by the vicar as too small to know what she was about to do, but triumphantly vindicated in a thorough examination by M. le Curé, and allowed to receive the most Holy Sacrament. She was then ten years old, and it was the dreadful year 1789. Until this time she had been her mother’s constant companion in the vineyard, occupied with light work and play, and learning by intuition, without much effort of study. At this time her brother Louis, an ecclesiastical student eleven years older than herself, was obliged to remain at home for a time, and, being very much struck with the noble and charming qualities which he discerned in his little sister, he devoted himself with singular veneration, assiduity, and tenderness to the work of her education. This episode in the history of two great servants of God, one of whom was an apostle, the other the Saint Teresa of her century, is unique in its beauty.

The vocation of the sister dated from her infancy, and was announced in prophetic dreams, which she related with childish naïveté like the little Joseph, foretelling that she was destined to be a great queen. When Sophie was eight years old, Suzanne Geoffroy – who was then twenty-six, and who entered the Society of the Sacred Heart twenty-one years afterwards, in which she held the offices of superior at Niort and Lyons, and of assistant general – was seeking her vocation. Her director told her to wait for the institution of a new order whose future foundress was still occupied in taking care of her dolls.

Louis Barat divined obscurely the extraordinary designs of Almighty God in regard to his little sister, and, faithful to the divine impulse, he made the education and formation of her mind and character the principal work of the next ten years of his life – a work certainly the best and most advantageous to the church of all the good works of a career full of apostolic labors. He was a poet, a mathematician, well versed in several languages and in natural science, very kind and loving to his little sister, but inflexibly strict in his discipline, and in some things too severe, especially in his spiritual direction. In a small attic chamber of his father’s cottage he established the novitiate and school composed of little Sophie Barat as novice and scholar, with brother Louis as the master. The preparatory studies were soon absolved by his apt pupil, and succeeded by a course of higher instruction, embracing Latin, Greek, Italian, and Spanish. Sophie was particularly enchanted with Virgil, and even able to translate and appreciate Homer. The mother grumbled at this seemingly useless education, but the uneducated father was delighted, and the will of Louis made the law for the household. During seventeen months he was in the prisons of Paris, saved from the guillotine only by the connivance of his former schoolmaster, who was a clerk in the prison department, and released by the fall of Robespierre. Sophie went on bravely by herself during this time, and continued her life of study and prayer in the attic, consoling her father and mother, who idolized her, during those dreadful days, and persevered in the same course after her brother’s release and ordination, under his direction, until she was sixteen. At this period her brother, who had taken up his abode in Paris, determined to take his sister to live with himself and complete her education. Father, mother, and daughter alike resisted this determination, until the stronger will of the young priest overcame, with some delay and difficulty, their opposition, and the weeping little Sophie was carried off in the coach to Paris, to live in the humble house of Father Louis, and, in conjunction with her domestic labors, to study the sciences, the Holy Scriptures in the Latin Vulgate, and the fathers and doctors of the church. She had several companions, and the little group was thus formed and trained, not only in knowledge but in the most austere religious virtues and practices, under the hand of their kind but stern master, for more than four years. During the vintage Sophie was allowed to take a short vacation at home, of which she availed herself gladly; for she was still a gay and playful girl, submitting with cheerful courage to her brother’s severe discipline, yet not without a conflict or without some secret tears. She was a timid little creature, and the injudicious severity of her brother’s direction made her scrupulous. Often she was afraid to receive communion; but she was obedient, and when her brother would call her from the altar of their little chapel, saying, “Come here, Sophie, and receive communion,” she would go up trembling and do as she was bidden. Her great desire was to become a lay sister among the Carmelites, and her companions were also waiting the opportunity to enter some religious order. Father Barat did not doubt her religious vocation, but he wanted to find out more precisely how it could be fulfilled. Her divine Spouse was himself preparing her for the exalted destination of a foundress and spiritual mother in his church; and when she had attained her twentieth year, this vocation was made known to her and accepted with a docility like that of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the angel’s message.

The history of the origin of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus requires us to go back some years and relate some events which prepared the way for it. Four young priests, Léonor and Xavier de Tournély, Pierre Charles Leblanc, and Charles de Broglie, had formed a society under the name of the Sacred Heart, intended as a nucleus for the re-establishment of the Society of Jesus. The superior was Father Léonor de Tournély, a young man of angelic sanctity, and a favorite pupil of the saintly Sulpician, M. l’Abbé Emery. This young priest received an inspiration to form a congregation of women specially devoted to the propagation of the devotion of the Sacred Heart and the higher education of girls. The first woman selected by him as the foundress of the new society was the Princess de Condé, under whom a small community was formed at Vienna, but soon dispersed by the departure of the princess to join the Trappistines. Soon after Father de Tournély died, having scarcely attained his thirtieth year, leaving in his last moments the care of carrying out his project to Father Varin. Joseph Varin d’Ainville was a young man of good family, who, after passing some time in a seminary, had left it to join the army of the Prince de Condé, with whom he made several campaigns. He had been won back to his first vocation through the prayers of his mother, offered for this purpose on the eve of ascending the scaffold at Paris, and the influence of his former companions, the four young fathers of the Sacred Heart above named. On the very day of the prayer offered by his heroic mother he was determined to return back to the ecclesiastical life on receiving communion at Vanloo, in Belgium, when he had met his four saintly friends, whose society he immediately joined. Having been elected superior of the society after the death of Father de Tournély in 1797, Father Varin was persuaded to merge it in another society formed by a certain Father Passanari under the title of the Fathers of the Holy Faith, which was also intended as a nucleus for the revival of the Order of Jesuits. The Archduchess Maria Anna, sister of the Emperor of Germany, was selected to form in Rome, under the direction of Father Passanari, a society of religious women according to the plan of De Tournély, and she went there for that purpose, accompanied by two of her maids of honor, Leopoldina and Louisa Naudet. Early in the year 1800 Father Varin returned to Paris with some companions, and Father Barat was received into his society. In this way he became acquainted with Sophie, and her direction was confided to him, to her great spiritual solace and advantage; for he guided her with suavity and prudence in a way which gave her heart liberty to expand, and infused into it that generosity and confidence which became the characteristic traits of her piety, and were transmitted as a precious legacy by her to her daughters in religion. As soon as Father Varin had learned the secrets of the interior life of his precious disciple, and had determined her vocation to the same work which had been already begun in Rome by the three ladies above mentioned, three others were admitted to share with her in the formation of the little Society of the Sacred Heart. One of these was Mlle. Octavie Bailly, another was Mlle. Loquet, the third was a pious servant-girl named Marguérite, who became the first lay sister of the society. On the 21st of November, the Feast of Our Lady’s Presentation, the little chapel was decorated in a modest and simple way. Father Varin said Mass. After the Elevation the four aspirants pronounced the act of consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and afterwards they received communion.

This was the true inauguration of the Society of the Ladies of the Sacred Heart, for the attempt made at Rome by the archduchess proved a failure; the intriguing, ambitious character of Father Passanari was detected, and Father Varin renounced all connection with him and his projects. These events occurred, however, at a later period, and for some time yet to come the little community in France remained affiliated to the mother-house in Rome.

The first house of the Ladies of the Sacred Heart, the one which has always been called the cradle of the society, was founded at Amiens one year after the consecration of the postulants in the little chapel of the Rue Touraine. A college was established in that city by the Fathers of the Holy Faith, and a visit which Father Varin made there early in the year 1801, for the purpose of giving a mission and preparing for the opening of the college, led to an arrangement with some zealous priests and pious ladies of Amiens for transferring a small school of young ladies to the care of Sophie Barat and her companions. Two of these ladies of Amiens, Mlle. Geneviève Deshayes and Mlle. Henriette Grosier, joined the community, of which Mlle. Loquet was appointed the superior. This lady proved to be entirely unfit for her position, and after some months returned to her former useful and pious life in Paris. Mlle. Bailly, after waiting for a considerable time to test her vocation, at length followed her first attraction and left her dear friend Sophie for the Carmelites. Sophie Barat, with the consent of her companions, was appointed by Father Varin to the office of superior, much to her own surprise and terror, for she was the youngest and the most humble of her sisters; and from this moment until her death, in the year 1865, she continued to be the Reverend Mother of the Society of the Ladies of the Sacred Heart, through all its periods of successive development and extension. It was on the 21st of December, 1802, soon after her twenty-third birthday, that she was definitively placed in this her true position, for which divine Providence had so wonderfully prepared her. She had been admitted to make the simple vows of religion on the 7th of June preceding, in company with Madame Deshayes. The community and school increased and prospered, and on the Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, 29 September 1804, they were installed in their permanent residence, one of the former houses of the Oratory of Cardinal de Berulle. The community at this date comprised twelve members, including postulants. Their names were Madeleine-Sophie Barat, Geneviève Deshayes, Henriette Grosier, Rosalie-Marguérite Debrosse, Marie du Terrail, Catharine-Emilie de Charbonnel, Adèle Bardot, Felicité Desmarquest, Henriette Ducis, Thérèse Duchâtel, Madame Baudemont, and Madame Coppina. The two last-mentioned ladies afterwards brought the society into a crisis of the gravest peril, and finally withdrew from it, as we shall see later. Of the others, Mesdames Deshayes, Grosier, de Charbonnel, Desmarquest, and Ducis were among the most eminent and efficient of the first set of co-workers with the holy foundress herself in the formation and government of the society and its great schools and novitiates. The final rupture with Father Passanari had already been effected, and Madame Barat was therefore the sole head of the society, under the direction of Father Varin. Twelve years elapsed before the constitutions of the society were drawn up and adopted, and during this period the first foundations were made, a most dangerous and well-nigh fatal crisis was safely passed, the spirit and methods of the new institute were definitely formed; thus laying the basis for the subsequent increase and perfection of the vast edifice of religion and instruction whose corner-stone was laid by the humble and gracious little maiden of Joigny in the depths of her own pure and capacious heart. Saint John of the Cross says that “God bestows on the founder such gifts and graces as shall be proportionate to the succession of the order, as the first fruits of the Spirit.” The whole subsequent history of the Society of the Sacred Heart shows that this was fulfilled in the person of Sophie Barat. After the second foundation had been made in an old convent of the Visitation at Grenoble, Madame Baudemont was made superior at Amiens, and the first council was held for the election of a superior-general. Madame Barat was elected by a bare majority of one; for a party had already been formed under sinister influences which was working against her and in opposition to Father Varin, and seeking to change altogether the spirit of the new institute. From this time until the year 1816 Madame Barat was merely a superior in name and by courtesy at Amiens, and she was chiefly employed in founding new houses, forming the young communities, and acquiring sanctity by the exercise of patience and humility. The new foundations were at Poitiers, Cuignières, Niort, and Dooresele near Ghent; and of course the society received a great number of new subjects, some of whom became its most distinguished members – as, for instance, Madame Duchesne, the pioneer of the mission to America, Madame de Gramont d’Aster and her two daughters, Madame Thérèse Maillucheau, Madame Bigeu, Madame Prévost, Madame Giraud, and the angelic counterpart of Saint Aloysius, Madame Aloysia Jouve. We must not pass over in silence the benediction given on two occasions by the august pontiff Pius VII. to Madame Barat and her daughters. At Lyons she had a long conversation with him, in which she explained to his great satisfaction the nature and objects of her holy work, and she also received from his hands Holy Communion. At Grenoble all the community and pupils received his benediction, and of these pupils eleven, upon whose heads his trembling hands were observed to rest with a certain special insistance, received the grace of a religious vocation. Another incident which deserves mention is the last visit of Madame Barat to her father. The strict rules of a later period not having been as yet enacted, she never failed, when passing near Joigny on her visitations, to stay for a short time with her parents, often taking with her some of the ladies of her society who were of noble or wealthy families, that she might testify before them how much she honored and loved the father and mother to whom she owed so great a debt of gratitude. On her annual fête she used to send them the bouquets which were presented to her. During her father’s last illness she came expressly to see and assist him in preparing for death, and, though obliged to bid him adieu before he had departed this life, she left him consoled and fortified by her last acts of filial affection, and he peacefully expired soon after her departure from Joigny, on the 25th of June 1809.

At the first council the spirit of disunion already alluded to prevented Father Varin and Madame Barat from undertaking the work of preparing constitutions for the society. A brief and simple programme of a rule was drawn up and approved by the bishops under whose jurisdiction the houses were placed, and Madame Barat became herself the living rule and model, on which her subjects and novices were formed. Father Varin had resigned his office of superior when Madame Barat was formally elected by the council of professed members their superior-general. Another ecclesiastic of very different spirit, who was the confessor of the community and the school at Amiens, M. l’Abbé de Saint Estéve, was ambitious of the honor and influence which justly belonged to Father Varin. He obtained a complete dominion at Amiens by means of Madame de Baudemont, a former Clarissine, who was gained over by his adroit flattery and artful encouragement of the love of sway and pre-eminence which her commanding talents, her former conventual experience, and her mature age, together with the advantage of her position as local superior, entrusted to her against Father Varin’s advice, gave a too favorable opportunity of development. M. de Saint Estéve arrogated to himself the title of founder of the society, and planned an entire reconstitution of the same under the bizarre title of Apostolines, and with a set of rules which would have made an essential alteration of the institute established by Father Varin. All the other houses besides Amiens were in dismay and alarm. Madame Penaranda, a lady of Spanish extraction, descended from the family of Saint Francis Borgia, who was superior at Ghent, separated her house from the society by the authority of the bishop of the diocese. She returned, however, some years later, with seventeen of her companions, to the Society of the Sacred Heart.

In the meantime the Society of Jesus had been re-established and the Society of the Fathers of the Holy Faith was dissolved, most of its members entering the Jesuit Order as novices. Father de Clorivière was provincial in France, and Madame Barat, encouraged by the advice and sympathy of wise and holy men, waited patiently and meekly for the time of her liberation from the schemes of a plausible and designing enemy who had crept under a false guise into her fold. This was accomplished through a most singular act of criminal and audacious folly on the part of M. de Saint Estéve. Having gone to Rome as secretary to the French Legation, in order to further his intrigue by false representations at the Papal Court, he was led by his insane ambition, in default of any other means of success, to forge a letter from the provincial of the Jesuits of Italy to Madame Barat, instructing her to submit herself to the new arrangements of M. de Saint Estéve, which he declared had been approved by the Holy See. In this crisis Madame Barat submitted with perfect obedience to what she supposed was an order from the supreme authority in the church, and counselled her daughters to imitate her example. Very soon the imposture was discovered. Mesdames de Baudemont, de Sambucy, and Coppina left the society and went to join another in Rome, and the rest of the disaffected members of the community at Amiens, although not immediately pacified, made no serious opposition to Madame Barat, and not long after were so completely reconciled to her that all trace of disunion vanished. There being now no obstacle in the way of forming the constitutions, a council was summoned to meet in Paris, at a suitable place provided by Madame de Gramont d’Aster, and its issue was most successful. It assembled on the Feast of All Saints, 1815, and in the chapel which was used for the occasion was placed the statue of Our Lady before which Saint Francis de Sales, when a young student, had been delivered from the terrible temptation to despair which is related in his biography. It was composed of the Reverend Mothers Barat, Desmarquest, Deshayes, Bigeu, Duchesne, Geoffroy, Giraud, Girard, and Eugénie de Gramont. Father de Clorivière presided over it, and Fathers Varin and Druilhet, previously appointed by him to draw up the constitutions, were present to read, explain, and propose them to the discussion and vote of the council. The whole work was completed in six weeks. The Reverend Mothers Bigeu, de Charbonnel, Grosier, Desmarquest, Geoffroy, and Eugénie de Gramont were elected as the six members of the permanent council of the superior-general, arrangements were made for establishing a general novitiate in Paris, the society was placed under the government of the Archbishop of Rheims as ecclesiastical superior, who delegated his functions to the Abbé Pereau, a solemn ceremony closed the sessions on the 16th of December, and early in January the reverend mothers returned to their respective residences. The constitutions were received with unanimous contentment in all the houses, including Amiens, approved by the bishops in whose dioceses these houses existed, and, finally, a letter of congratulation, expressed in the most kind and paternal terms, was received from his Holiness Pope Pius VII. From this period the authority of Madame Barat was fully established and recognized, harmony and peace reigned within the society, and a new era of extension began which has continued to the present time. The society with its constitutions was solemnly approved by Leo XII. in a brief dated December 22, 1826, which was received at Paris in February, 1827, during a session of the council. By the authority of the Holy See an additional vow of stability was prescribed for the professed, and the dispensation from this vow reserved to the pope. The rules were made more strict in several respects, and a cardinal protector was substituted for the ecclesiastical superior. The royal approbation for France was at this time also solicited, and granted by Charles X., then reigning. In 1839 another effort was made to give a still greater perfection to the statutes and to provide for the more efficacious government of the institute, now become too great for the immediate government of the superior-general, by a division into provinces under provincial superiors.

At this time the society passed through another dangerous crisis, and for four years was in a disturbed state which gave great anxiety to the Rev. Mother Barat, diminished seriously her influence over her subjects, and even occasioned a menace of suppression in France to be intimated by the government. The cause of this trouble was an effort made by a number of persons both within and without the society to transfer the residence of the superior-general to Rome, and to modify the rules in a way to make the society as far as possible a complete counterpart of the Society of Jesus. In 1843 this difficulty was finally settled by the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff, who annulled all the acts and decrees which had been passed in the councils of the society looking towards innovation, and determined that the residence of the superior-general should not be removed from France. Happily, not a house, or even a single member, was separated from the society by this disturbance, and when it passed by the venerable and holy foundress was more revered and loved than ever before, and her gentle but strong sway over the vast family which she governed was confirmed for ever, never again to suffer diminution. Some of the proposed changes were, however, absolutely necessary for the order and well-being of the society, and were provided for in the year 1850 by Pius IX., who decreed the establishment of provinces under the name of vicariates, each one to be governed by the superior of its mother-house with the rank and title of superior-vicar, subject to the supreme authority of the superior-general. At the close of Madame Barat’s administration, which ended only with her life, on Ascension Thursday, 1865, there were fifteen vicariates. Since then the number has been increased. There are three in the United States, one in British America, one in Spanish America; and in these five vicariates there are about eleven hundred religious of the first and second profession, including lay sisters. The number of houses in various parts of the world is about one hundred, and the total number of members four thousand. Madame Barat herself founded one hundred and fifteen houses, and many others have been established since her death. But of these some have been suppressed in Italy and Germany, and others were given up or transferred by the superiors of the order. Madame Goëtz, who was vicar-general to Madame Barat during the last year of her life, succeeded her as superior-general, and was succeeded after her own death, in 1874, by Madame Lehon, the present superior-general.

Our limits will not permit even a succinct narrative of the events which filled up the half-century during which Madame Barat governed the Society of the Sacred Heart, from the memorable council of 1815 until 1865. We cannot omit, however, some brief notice of the foundation of the American mission and the ladies who were sent over to establish it. The first American colony was composed of three ladies and two lay sisters: Madame Duchesne, Madame Audé, Madame Berthold, Sister Catharine Lamarre, and Sister Marguérite Manteau. Madame Philippine Duchesne was a native of Grenoble, where she received an accomplished education, first at the Visitation convent of Sainte-Marie-d’en-Haut, and afterwards under private tutors in the same class with her cousins, Augustin and Casimir Périer. At the age of eighteen she entered the Visitation convent as a novice, but was prevented by the suppression of the religious orders in France from making her vows. During the dark days of the Revolution her conduct was that of a heroine. After the end of the Reign of Terror she rented the ancient convent above mentioned, and for several years maintained there an asylum for religious women with a small boarding-school for girls, waiting for an opportunity to establish a regular religious house. Her desire was accomplished when Madame Barat accepted the offer which was made to her to receive Madame Duchesne and her companions into the Society of the Sacred Heart, and to found the second house of her society in the old monastery of Ste.-Marie-d’en-Haut. Madame Duchesne had felt an impulse for the arduous vocation of a missionary since the time when she was eight years old, and this desire had continually increased, notwithstanding the apparent improbability of its ever finding scope within the limits of her vocation. She was about forty-eight years of age when she was entrusted with the American mission, and lived for thirty-four years in this country, leaving after her the reputation of exalted and really apostolic sanctity. Madame Eugénie Audé had been much fascinated by the gay world in her early youth, and her conversion was remarkable. Returning one evening from a soirée, as she went before a mirror in her boudoir, she saw there, instead of her own graceful and richly-attired figure, the face of Jesus Christ as represented in the Ecce Homo. From that moment she renounced her worldly life, and soon entered the novitiate at Grenoble as a postulant. Even there, her historian relates, “on souriait de ses manières mondaines, de ses belles salutations, de ses trois toilettes par jour! Même sous le voile de novice qu’elle portait maintenant, elle laissait voir encore, pas sans complaisance, l’élégance de sa taille et les avantages de sa personne. On ne tardera pas à voir ce que cette âme de jeune fille changée en âme d’apôtre était capable d’entreprendre pour Dieu et le prochain.” This great change was wrought in her soul during a retreat given by Père Roger on the opening of the general novitiate at Paris during November, 1816. When called to join Madame Duchesne two years later, she was twenty-four years of age, and, after a long period of service in the United States, was finally elected an assistant general and recalled to France. Madame Octavie Berthold was the daughter of an infidel philosopher who had been Voltaire’s secretary. She was herself educated as a Protestant, was converted to the faith when about twenty years of age, and soon after entered the novitiate at Grenoble. She volunteered for the American mission, animated by a desire to prove her gratitude to our Lord for the grace of conversion, and was at this time about thirty years of age. “Caractère sympathique, cœur profondément devouée, intelligence ornée, spécialement versée dans la connaissance des langues étrangères, Mme Octavie était fort aimée au pensionnat de Paris.”

Monsignor Dubourg, Bishop of New Orleans, was the prelate who introduced the Ladies of the Sacred Heart into the United States. It was during the year 1817 that the arrangements were completed at Paris. On the 21st of March, 1818, the five religious above mentioned embarked at Bordeaux on the Rebecca, and on the 29th of May, which was that year the Feast of the Sacred Heart, they landed at New Orleans, where they were received as the guests of the Ursulines in their magnificent convent. Their own first residence at Saint Charles, in the present diocese of Saint Louis, was as different as possible from this noble religious house, and from those which have since that time been founded by the successors of these first colonists. Madame Duchesne, in her visions of missionary and apostolic life, never dreamed of those religious houses, novitiates, and pensionates, rivalling the splendid establishments of Europe, which we now see at Saint Louis, Manhattanville, Kenwood, and Eden Hall. Her aspirations were entirely for labor among the Indians and negroes, and, to a considerable extent, they were satisfied. She began with the most arduous and self-sacrificing labors upon the roughest and most untilled soil of Bishop Dubourg’s diocese, and one of her last acts was to go on a mission among the Pottawattomies, from which she was only taken by the force of Archbishop Kenrick’s authority a little before her death. The present flourishing condition of the two vicariates of New Orleans and Saint Louis is well known to all our readers. The foundation at New York was due to the enlightened zeal of the late illustrious Archbishop Hughes, although the first idea originated in the mind of Madame Barat many years before. In the year 1840 the celebrated Russian convert, Madame Elizabeth Gallitzin, a cousin of Prince Gallitzin the priest of Loretto, and assistant general for America to Madame Barat, was sent over to establish this foundation and to make a general visitation, in the course of which she died suddenly of yellow fever at Saint Michel, on the 14th of November, 1842.

The first residence in New York was the present convent of the Sisters of Mercy in Houston Street, from which it was removed, first to Astoria, and afterwards to the Lorillard estate in Manhattanville, where is now the centre of an extensive vicariate comprising eight houses in the States of New York, Rhode Island, Ohio, and Michigan, about five hundred religious, a novitiate containing at this moment forty-eight novices exclusive of postulants, and flourishing schools both for the education of young ladies and the instruction of the children of those parishes which are adjacent to the several convents. It is not necessary to describe for the benefit of our American readers with more detail the history and present condition of the Society of the Sacred Heart in this country. Our European readers would no doubt be interested by such a history; but, besides the imperative reason of a want of space in the present article, there is another which imposes on us the obligation of reserve in respect to works accomplished by the living, to whom has been transmitted the humility as well as the other virtues of their holy foundress. There is one venerable lady especially, now withdrawn from the sphere of her long and active administration to a higher position in the society, who is remembered with too much gratitude by her children, and honor by all classes of Catholics in her native land, to require from our pen more than the expression of a wish and prayer, on the part of thousands whose hearts will echo our words as they read them, that she may resemble the holy mother who loved her and all her American children so tenderly, as “sa plus chère famille,” in length of days, and in the peace which closed her last evening.

We have already alluded briefly to the blessed departure of Madame Barat from the scene of labor to the glory which awaits the saints, in the eighty-sixth year of her age and the sixty-sixth of her religious life, on the Feast of the Ascension, 1865. The narrative of a few salient events in her life, and of the principal facts in the history of the foundation of the Sacred Heart, which we have thought best to present, meagre as it is, in lieu of more general observations on her character and that of her great works, for the benefit of those who cannot, at least for the present, peruse the history of M. Baunard, leaves us but little room for any such remarks. The character of this saintly woman must be studied in the details of her private and public life, and in the expression she has given to her interior spirit in the extracts from her vast correspondence published by her biographer. No one could ever take her portrait; and we are assured by one who knew her long and intimately that the one placed in front of the second volume of her life is not at all satisfactory. How can we describe, then, such a delicate, hidden, retiring, subtile essence as the soul of Sophie Barat in a few words, or give name to that which fascinated every one, from the little nephew Louis Dusaussoy to Frayssinous, Montalembert, and Gregory XVI..? Extreme gentleness and modesty, which, with the continual increase of grace, become the most perfect and admirable humility, were the basis of her natural character and of her acquired sanctity. In the beginning her modesty was attended by an excessive timidity, so that Father Varin gave her the name of “trembleuse perpetuelle.” This was supplanted by that generous, affectionate confidence in God which shone out so luminously in the great trials of her career. In all things, and always, Madame Barat was exquisitely feminine. She conquered and ruled by love, and this sway extended over all, from the smallest children to the most energetic, commanding, impetuous, and able of the highly-born, accomplished, and in every sense remarkable women who were under her government in the society, to women of the world, to old men and young men, to servants, the poor, fierce soldiers and revolutionists, and even to irrational creatures. With this feminine delicacy and gentleness there was a virile force and administrative ability, a firmness and intrepidity, which made her capable of everything and afraid of nothing. Her writings display a fire of eloquence which may be truly called apostolic, and would be admired in the mouth of an apostolic preacher. Besides the great labors that she accomplished in the foundation and visitation of her numerous houses, and in the government of her vast society, Madame Barat went through several most severe and dangerous illnesses, beginning with one which threatened her life in the first years at Amiens; and was frequently brought, to all appearance, to the very gates of death. Besides these sufferings, and the great privations which were often endured during the first period of new foundations, she practised austerities and penances of great severity, to the utmost limit permitted by obedience to her directors. With her wonderful activity she united the spirit of a contemplative; and there are not wanting many evidences of supernatural gifts of an extraordinary kind, or proofs of her power with God after her death. Mgr. Parisis has publicly declared that her life was one of the great events of this century, and comparable to those of Saint Dominic, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Catharine of Siena, and Saint Teresa. There is but one, universal sentiment in respect of her sanctity, and one, unanimous desire that the seal of canonization may be placed upon it by the successor of Saint Peter. A prayer under her invocation has been already sanctioned by Pius IX., and the cause of her beatification has been introduced, the issue of which we await, in the hope that we may one day be permitted and commanded to honor the modest little Sophie Barat of Joigny – who went away weeping in the coach to Paris at sixteen to found one of the greatest orders of the world – under the most beautiful and appropriate title of Sancta Sophia.

When we consider the work of Madame Barat as distinct from her personal history, we observe some peculiar and remarkable features marking its rise and growth. It came forth from the fiery, bloody baptism of the French Revolution as a work of regeneration and restoration. Many of its first members had been through an experience of danger, suffering, and heroic adventure which had given them an intrepidity of character proof against every kind of trial. The stamp thus given to the society at the outset was that of generous loyalty to the Holy See, and uncompromising hostility to the spirit and maxims of the Revolution.

Another fact worthy of notice is that so many small communities, private institutes for education, and persons living a very devout and zealous life in the world, were scattered about the territory over which the destructive tornado of revolution had passed, ready to be incorporated into the Society of the Sacred Heart, and furnishing the means of a rapid growth and extension.

New orders are not absolutely new creations. They spring from those previously existing, and are affiliated with each other more or less closely, notwithstanding their differences. Many of the first members of the Society of the Sacred Heart had been previously inclined to the orders of Mt. Carmel and the Visitation. The spirit of the Carmelite Order was largely inherited by the new society, and from the Order of the Visitation the special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was received by the same transmission of mystic life. The organization was produced by the engrafting of the principles of the constitutions of Saint Ignatius on the new and vigorous stock. From this blending and composition sprang forth the new essence with its own special notes, its original force, and its distinct sphere of operation. Cardinal Racanati thus expresses his judgment of its excellence: “My duty has obliged me to read the constitutions of almost all ancient and modern orders. All are beautiful, admirable, marked with the signet of God. But this one appears to me to excel among all the others, because it contains the essence of religious perfection, and is at the same time a masterpiece of unity. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is at once the pivot around which everything moves, and the end in which everything results.” Pope Gregory XVI.. said that the Rule of the Sacred Heart was in every part the work of God. Although not an exact counterpart of the Society of Jesus, the Society of the Sacred Heart is nevertheless, in its government and method of discipline, modelled after a similar type, with equally efficacious means for producing in its subjects, in a manner proportionate to their feminine character, all the highest religious virtues of the mixed state of action and contemplation. The only important differences between the Society of the Sacred Heart and the older orders of women are the absence of the interior cloister and of the solemn vows. The first, which is obviously an advantage considering the nature of the occupations in which the Ladies of the Sacred Heart are engaged, is compensated for by the extreme strictness of the rules governing their conduct in regard to intercourse with the world, and the obligation of going at a moment’s warning to any house, in any part of the world, where they may be ordered by the superiors. In respect to the second, as the final vows can only be dispensed by the pope, the completeness and sacredness of the oblation for life are not diminished, but only a prudent provision for extraordinary cases secured by the wisdom of the Holy See, which is beneficial both to the order and its individual members. In respect to poverty, self-denial, regularity, and all that belongs to the beautiful order of conventual life, the written rule of the Sacred Heart, which is actually observed in practice, is not behind those of the more ancient orders. In respect to the extent and strictness of the law of obedience, it is pre-eminent among all, and its admirable organization may justly be compared to that acknowledged masterpiece of religious polity, the Institute of Saint Ignatius. The more humble occupations to which so many admirable religious women in various orders and congregations devote themselves form an integral part of the active duties of the society. A large portion of its members are lay sisters, and a great number of the religious of the choir are engaged in the instruction of poor children or domestic duties which have no exterior éclat. The specific work of the society is of course the education of young ladies, with the ulterior end of diffusing and sustaining Catholic principles and Catholic piety, through the instrumentality of the élèves of the Sacred Heart, among the higher classes of society. There cannot be a nobler work than this, or a more truly apostolic vocation, within the sphere to which woman is limited by the law of God, human nature, and the constitution of Christian society. What an immense power has been exerted by the daughters of Madame Barat in this way as the auxiliaries of the hierarchy and the sacerdotal order in the church, is best proved by the persecutions they have sustained from the anti-Catholic party in Europe, and the fear they have inspired in the bosoms of tyrannical statesmen like Prince Bismarck, who tremble with apprehension before the banner of the Sacred Heart, though followed only by a troop of modest virgins. It is after all not strange. The women of the revolution are more terrible than furies led on by Alecto and Tisiphone. Why should not the virgins of the Catholic army resemble their Queen, who is “terrible as an army set in array”?

It is with great regret that we abstain from setting forth the enlightened, sound, and thoroughly Christian ideas of Madame Barat, and the various councils over which she presided, in respect to the education of Catholic girls in our age. We are obliged also to omit noticing the charming sketches given in the book before us of the first pupils of the Sacred Heart, and the noble part which so many of them played afterwards in the world. We must close with a few words on the merit of the Abbé Baunard’s work, and an expression of gratitude to the distinguished ecclesiastic who has furnished us so much pleasure and edification at a cost of such very great labor to himself. He has been fortunate in his subject and the wealth of authentic materials furnished him for fulfilling his honorable and arduous task. His illustrious subject has been fortunate in her biographer. The History of Madame Barat deserves to be ranked with Mother Chauguy’s Life of Saint Frances de Chantal and M. Hamon’s Life of Saint Francis de Sales. We trust that an abridged life by a competent hand may furnish those who cannot afford so costly a book, or read one so large, with the means of knowing the character and history of the Teresa of our century. There are also materials for other histories and biographies of great interest and utility in the rich, varied contents of this most admirable and charming work, which we hope may not be neglected.

– text from The Catholic World, 1876