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Origins of the Assumption Family

Founders and Foundresses
Foundations and Intuitions
Relations and Disagreements

Acts of the Inter-Assumption Colloquium
Paris, January 6–10, 2004

French edition
Edited by Bernard Holzer, A.A.

English edition
Edited by Robert J. Fortin, A.A.



Table of Contents

Introduction.. 5

English Editor's Note and Acknowledgments. 5

Significance of the Colloquium... 6

Word of Welcome. 12

Overview of French and European Society at the Time of the Foundations (19th Century) 14

The Founders of the Assumption Family, Their times and challenges (1830--1900) 15

Discussion.. 39

The Church in the 19th Century, Its Geopolitics and Strategies. 48

Foundation of the Congregations belonging to the Assumption Family and their Respective Founders and Foundresses. 66

Foundation of the Religious of the Assumption.. 67

Relations between the Assumptionists and the Women's Congregations of the Assumption Family  100

Foundation of the Oblates of the Assumption.. 113

Foundation of the Little Sisters of the Assumption.. 142

Foundation of the Orants of the Assumption.. 167

Discussion.. 196

Original Intuitions: Spirit and Spirituality of the Assumption Family. 210

The Religious of the Assumption.. 211

The Augustinians of the Assumption.. 220

The Oblates of the Assumption.. 221

The Little Sisters of the Assumption.. 233

The Orants of the Assumption.. 252

Discussion.. 272

Disagreements and Difficulties at the Beginning.. 281

Problems of Government and of Relations between the Religious of the Assumption and the other Congregations of the Assumption.. 282

The Priory of Nîmes Affair. 321

Relations between the Oblates and the other Congregations of the Assumption  328

Disagreement between the Religious [Sisters] of the Assumption and the Oblates of the Assumption about the name “Oblate”. 340

Disagreement between the Religious [Sisters] of the Assumption and the Oblates of the Assumption about a boarding school in Nîmes (1873) 348

Discussion.. 356

When Mother Marie of Christ (Religious of the Assumption) became an Oblate of the Assumption  358

The Near Eastern Mission and the Foundation of the Oblates of the Assumption  365

Relations between the Little Sisters of the Assumption and the Assumptionists. 382

The Orants of the Assumption.. 403

Discussion.. 418

New insight into Father Picard's categorical temperament. 424

Synthesis. 429

Conclusion and Dismissal. 435

Bibliography. 443


English Editor's Note and Acknowledgments

The present work is part of a 3-volume French collection entitled Recherches Assumption (Assumptionist Research):

Vol. 1.

Assumptionist Missionary Adventure (L’aventure missionnaire assomptionniste)—Acts of the Colloquium on History held on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Congregation of the Augustinians of the Assumption, Lyon-Valpré, November 22–26, 2000, published in 2005.

Vol. 2.

The Assumptionists and Russia (Les Assomptionnistes et la Russie) 1903–2003—Acts of the Colloquium on History, Rome, November 20–22, 2003, French edition, Bayard Presse, Paris 2005, Russian Edition, Moscow 2005.

Vol. 3

Origins of the Assumption Family, Founders and Foundresses, Foundations and Intuitions, Relations and Disagreements (Les origines de la Famille de l’Assomption, Fondateurs et Fondatrices, Fondations, Intuitions et Différends)—Acts of the Inter-Assumption Colloquium, Paris, January 6–10, 2004. French edition, Bayard Presse, Paris, 2005. English edition 2007.

All of the talks contained herein were delivered in French. Those given by members of the religious communities of women were first translated by members of their respective communities, except those given by the Orants of the Assumption which were translated by Father Leo Brassard, A.A. The talks given by Assumptionists and by the guest lecturers were translated by the undersigned who also revised and edited all the other translations. He wishes to thank all who contributed to this edition.

Robert J. Fortin, A.A.
Editor of this English edition

June 29, 2007
55, Via San Pio V
00165 Rome

Significance of the Colloquium

Bernard Holzer

The preparation of this Colloquium was not simple. The determination of the Superiors General and their Councils as well as the extensive research and collaboration on the part of the Archivists and their collaborators finally made this venture possible, albeit daringly. As stated in the program of the Colloquium:

This Colloquium was wanted by the five General Councils of the Assumption Family in order to re-read the history of our religious families and to clarify the problems that arose in the relations among our congregations in their early days.

This work of remembering and clarifying the past is meant to promote greater communion among the five Assumption families. It does not intend to pass judgment on people but to objectify the important issues involved and the reasons underlying the disagreements that took place, in an historical presentation that takes into account the mentalities of the time. This work will be based on the archives of each congregation.

The major themes around which this Colloquium is organized are those contained in the program that was planned.

A survey of French and European society at the time of the foundations in the 19th century

Several points-of-view were requested in order to help us discover this century which influenced the Founders and Foundresses as well as the foundations of the Assumption Family.

These points-of-view are reflected in the lectures of Louis Secondy, enriched by the contributions of the participants, and of Claude Prudhomme, on the Church’s Geopolitics and Strategics in the 19th Century, everything further enriched by our visit to the d’Orsay Museum.

The lectures demonstrated a desire to understand a century that is recent, often misunderstood, and sometimes caricatured.

We discovered a fascinating century, dominated in France by the event of the Revolution, a century that was extraordinarily innovative.

It was a Voltairian, rationalistic century that fought against the Church.

It was a century that witnessed society and the Church constantly evolving, often with no models or rules to go by; a century of debates, of repositioning, and of experimentation, but also of problems not yet resolved, “a century of confusion,” as it was characterized.

It was a century of conflict in which the laity got strongly involved, and women exerted their influence and demanded their rights. It was also a century in which the role of the priest and the pope as well as of the theology of the sacrament of Holy Orders was not to be underestimated.

We have understood a little better the Catholic mindset of the time, the answers—including the intransigent ones—the Catholic Church invented in order to respond to the challenges of this century and to redefine its position: “to be part of History in order to make history.”

It was in this century that the Assumption Family was born. It lived in it with a spirit of initiative, creating daring apostolates which it reproduced in other parts of the world.

The Founders of the Congregations of the Assumption Family and the Role of the Founders and Foundresses at the Time of the Foundation

The Founders and Foundresses of the five congregations came across as men and women completely of their time who thought daringly. They were fascinating and often passionate people with fiery temperaments that bound them together in strong and sometimes tumultuous friendships. But, as time went on, these Founders and Foundresses had increasingly closer ties not only among themselves but also with a network of intellectuals, activists, and religious of other congregations. They were completely up-to-date. They communicated among themselves, stimulating and challenging each other as they thought out their respective projects.

The participants in the Colloquium were struck not only by their humility but also by their ambition and their daring in wanting to “regenerate” society and families, “evangelize intelligences” and the poor, and “remake a people of God” ... to the farthest limits of the world.

The archivists underlined adventures that were, at one and the same time, fully human, spiritual, and mystical, along with their accompanying crises, surely, but also with their daring and their faith.

In the discussions, in addition to the question of the fourth vow, questions arose about how to determine who is a Founder or a Foundress and about the criteria to be used in defining a religious family.

Original intuitions: Spirituality and Spirit of the Assumption Family

Clearly, the spirit of the Assumption Family is rich and multifaceted, and sometimes difficult to formulate. It is characterized by prayer, a search for the will of God, abandonment to God, a desire to leave a stamp on history and on institutions, and formation. It is also characterized by a family spirit and mutual help. The foundations appear to have been the work of God.

Disagreements and Difficulties in the Early Days

After several clarifications were made about Father Pernet’s relations with his congregation, the “Nativity Affair” in Cannes, the “Marie-Gertrude Affair,” and the Cape Town schism, various problems—which were sometimes compounded by rumors, simplistic explanations, or hasty generalizations and which marked the mentalities of our congregations—were presented in all of their complexity, based on archival material, some of which is still unpublished:

  • Problems of government and of relations between the Religious Sisters of the Assumption and the other congregations of the Assumption Family.
  • The Priory of Nîmes Affair.
  • Relations between the Oblates and the other congregations of the Assumption Family.
  • The disagreement between the Religious [Sisters] of the Assumption and the Oblates of the Assumption over the boarding school in Nîmes.
  • The disagreement between the Religious [Sisters] of the Assumption and the Oblates over the name “Oblate.”
  • The Near Eastern Mission and the foundation of the Oblates of the Assumption.
  • The relations between the Little Sisters of the Assumption and the Assumptionists over the government and direction of the Congregation.

A lack of clarity about the objectives and ways of directing and governing a congregation, incomprehension, clashes of temperament, delicate relationships between men and women, emergency situations, impatience, associates who were excessive on occasion, gossip  ... all of this must be taken into account in order to disentangle the threads of these crises, which time has allowed us to relativize and which the archives are bringing to light little by little.

A spirit to be Lived, Spheres of Activity to be Pursued

These talks and the exchanges that followed at table, in the evening, and during the breaks were followed with great interest and attention. In the evaluations of the Colloquium, the participants unanimously underlined the climate of listening and of trust, the search for truth in the presentations, and the desire to identify and explain the difficulties encountered by replacing them in their context and their complexity.

Some of the conditions needed in order to re-read the crises were underlined. It was felt and, in fact, experienced during the Colloquium that the following were needed:

  • A willingness to listen to each other as well as the type of humility that our Founders and Foundresses had.
  • Seriousness in our research in order to be as precise and clear as possible.
  • A sense of the Church.
  • A desire for communion and dialogue in order to rise above the misunderstandings.
  • Mutual support.
  • Encouragement and friendship despite the crises.
  • A spirit of freedom.

This re-reading was also done in Faith.

During the exchanges, several participants noted that God was leading our history, mingling the human and the spiritual as well as frailty and daring. They discerned the Holy Spirit at work in the hearts of human beings. “Christ is present in the Assumption. He continues to work among us.”

“What undertaking is not a tissue of misery? God takes all of it and creates a body like Adam’s out of mud. And when his spirit breathes on it, it becomes something beautiful,” wrote Father d’Alzon to Marie-Eugénie of Jesus from Nîmes on March 22, 1853 (B 20231).

Before God, Brothers and Sisters were able to purify the memory of their congregation and to live and celebrate, in a brotherly and sisterly fashion, the reconciliation that comes from Him.

May the readers of these Acts relive this experience in the same fraternal spirit.

Father Bernard Holzer, A.A.
Member of the Colloquium
Coordinating Committee and
of the Editorial staff of these Acts

55, Via San Pio V
00165 Rome, Italy

Word of Welcome

Mercedes Martínez

I wish to welcome each and every participant in this Colloquium on the five Families of the Assumption. The Motherhouse of the Little Sisters of the Assumption is pleased to host the Brothers and Sisters who share with us the same spirituality, who form a spiritual family within the Church, but who nevertheless have different charisms.

This Colloquium is going to allow us to reread the history of our congregations, to deepen our knowledge of each other, to strengthen our relations, and, in so doing, to clear up the difficulties that took place, especially in the early stages of our foundations. Remembering the past always requires an effort, but it is a salvific experience. It is demanding, but it is also liberating.

By this rereading, we wish to clarify and objectivize our history, taking into account the mentality of the period, and to strengthen our fraternal bonds and communion. Without the shadow of a doubt, our Founders and Foundresses will accompany us throughout these days.

You will note in the program that, in addition to the contributions of each congregation, there will be contributions on more general topics which will help us grasp events in their social, political, economic, and religious context, as well as the status of women and of women religious in the society and Church of the 19th century.

The history and reality of each congregation is like sacred ground before which we must take off our shoes as did Moses before the burning bush. It is from this perspective of respect that I dare to invite you to dialogue, to clarify the issues, to listen to the questions, etc.

The prayer, the liturgical celebrations, the group or interpersonal encounters, the conviviality, the meals, and, at the end, the celebration of the Centennial of the death of Father Picard will allow us to strengthen, as I said earlier, the fraternity and communion that exist among us.

Blundine Fougerat, Religious of the Assumption, will be the Secretary.

Bernard Holzer, Augustinian of the Assumption, and Eliane de Montebello, Little Sister of the Assumption, will be the Moderators.

Christine Foulon, Religious of the Assumption, Luisa Drago, Oblate of the Assumption, and Mr. Louis Secondy, historian, will constitute the Animation Committee.

I believe I have nothing else to add, except to express the hope that these days, which we are about to experience and which are taking place at the beginning of the year 2004, following the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord, will reinforce our passion for the Kingdom and the communion that exists among us, and thus allow us to put into action our common motto, Thy Kingdom Come.

Sister Mercedes Martínez
Superior General of the
Little Sisters of the Assumption

57, rue Violet

Overview of French and European Society at the Time of the Foundations (19th Century)

The Founders of the Assumption Family, Their times and challenges (1830--1900)

Making good use of history to understand your Founders in their time, in society, and in the Church

Louis Secondy


In opening this colloquium, I will not try to rewrite or summarize the acts of the well-known colloquium of 1980 on Emmanuel d’Alzon in the society and Church of the 19th century. Rather, as an historian, I have been asked to help you discover or rediscover the overall context of the period. What would I have lived had I been a religious or a layman during that period? Many things were happening at all levels at that time, including extraordinary inventions of major importance. I will therefore describe many facts in order to provide you with an overview of what happened, recalling the main issues, but without going into detail. The various speakers who will follow me, all of them very qualified in their field, will in turn do the same thing, just as all of you will do individually throughout these meetings.

In my introduction, I will make three points in order to put in perspective both the subject-matter and the period.

Understanding the context

This topic would be irrelevant if the life and actions of the founders and of the congregations, either those that were just coming into existence or those that were already in full development, had not been in some way deeply influenced by these events, regardless of whether they took place in France, Europe, or elsewhere in the world.

For example, in 1832, young Father d’Alzon became interested in a group of exiles who arrived in Lunel, in the Department of Le Hérault in southern France, not far from Nîmes. Approximately 600 Polish citizens were directed to this city after the repression that had taken place in Warsaw in the aftermath of the insurrection of November 29, 1830 and the subsequent uprising in Poland.1 The city was re-occupied by the Russians and the Czar entered the capital, which provoked the exile of 10,000 Polish patriots toward Western Europe: Switzerland, Belgium, and especially France. Among them, were those who landed in Lunel. Young d’Alzon wrote that they showed themselves to be excellent practicing Catholics and models of recollection. The Polish priests, he thought, got along very well with the local clergy. Their faith and piety managed to overcome the prejudices of the Carlists2 (legitimists) who were numerous in Lunel. These new arrivals edified the parish by their assiduous Church attendance. “God grant that this good leaven will be able to energize our masses, which could be excellent if only we knew how to lead them.” This encounter with the refugees in Lunel, as well as his reaction to Gregory XVI’s letter to the Polish bishops,3 reflected his interest in Poland and foreshadowed the one he would always have for this country.4

His desire to merge with the Resurrectionist Fathers5 is another example of this interest. In reflecting later about the failure of his Polish policies, which would have served as the base from which he had hoped to re-conquer Russia for the Catholic Church, he came to believe that Poland, before all else, had made the Church “the defender of its nationality” and a weapon against Russification. This example helps us understand the reason why, in preparing this Colloquium, we decided to begin these days with a broad historical overview in order to recall the period in which the various events took place and to replace them in their overall context according to the importance they had in the lives of the founders.

The dates of the various foundations involved and the important choices that guided them are as follows:

1839—As Mother Marie-Eugénie began her foundation in 1839, she was struck especially by the de-Christianization of the ruling classes and the bourgeoisie, and by the inadequacy of secondary education for young girls. We will therefore need to take a closer look at the school question and the education of young girls in France at that time.6

1845—The Augustinians of the Assumption. Father d’Alzon was dreaming of a doctrinal religious order. Mother Marie-Eugénie told him of her interest in a congregation dedicated to education. Who more than he would get involved in the school questions of his time? Who would prove to be more innovative and more active in this field?

1865—The Oblates of the Assumption, founded by Father d’Alzon, were meant to be the servants and the elementary schoolteachers in Bulgaria7 as well as in France. Their specialty—the missions—was connected to one of the most important aspects of these foundations, viz. education.

1865—The Little Sisters of the Assumption were founded by Father Pernet and Miss Fage. These sisters, nurses to the poor, began to assist the suffering, to help them, and to provide them with health care, without taking any timeout for themselves, and without accepting anything from them in return. This raises the social question and its solutions.

1896—The Orants of the Assumption were founded by Father Picard and Countess Isabelle d’Ursel, born Clermont-Tonnerre. These sisters dedicate their lives to prayer and contemplation, another important area of religious life in the 19th century.

To be noted: the considerable amount of time elapsed between each foundation (1839, 1845, 1865, and 1896), and the great differences in the age of the founders who were born in 1810, 1817, 1824, 1842, and 1849. We can already suspect that many changes occurred over the course of these decades.

Changes that took place

Here are a few simple examples of what happened during the lifetime of the founders. The map of France was reshaped: France gained Nice and Savoy, but lost Alsace-Moselle. The Mont-Blanc in the French Alps became the highest peak in the country (4,102 meters) instead of La barre des Ecrins. Trains began to circulate throughout the land (3,000 km of railroad in 1848, 18,000 km in 1870), photography became commonplace after 1830, the press did not cease to develop itself, iron structures appeared in train stations and covered markets, and aluminum was used more and more. Large department stores began to appear. Schools sprang up everywhere, and all children were learning to read and write. Telephones made their appearance. Fashions changed regularly. New literary, artistic and musical movements competed with and succeeded each other. The Church lost its position in French society. Processions were outlawed. Crucifixes were banned from public places. Nevertheless, as pointed out by G. Cholvy, there was a constant ebb and flow of Christian life in society.

And these changes took place in all areas of life: geopolitics, political regimes, industry, trade, ideas, and sciences. New names came to the fore: Pierre Proudhon, Auguste Comte, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Charles Darwin, David Strauss, Ernest Renan, but also Louis Pasteur and Claude Bernard. Workers gained rights. Children were no longer exploited as before. This simple but random list illustrates the importance of making a precise inventory of these changes in order to correctly situate our founders in their time.

A synthesis

But it is not feasible, in the little time we have, to describe all of the great changes that took place in society, the main events, and the major evolutions that characterized the period between 1830 and 1900. We must therefore content ourselves with highlighting the main features of these changes, stressing the aspects that influenced especially the lives of the founders and that prompted them to give their congregation a specific orientation and to choose their particular apostolates. Indeed, underlying these realities, there were often personal experiences through which they analyzed the situation from the point-of-view of evangelization. Hence, our various references to their lives and writings, hence also the title of this talk: The Founders of the Assumption Family, their times and challenges (1830–1900).

I have organized this data under nine headings, highlighting in each a number of major events which, when placed in succession, will help us understand the entire period and provide the backdrop to which we will constantly refer and which will be completed by your personal contributions. This exposé is therefore not closed to other ideas but open to your own work upon which it is based. For instance, I noticed that, in the meetings of the Fraternity of Our Lady of Salvation (Fraternité Notre-Dame de Salut), the lectures and discussions dealt not only with the life of the Church but also with scientific discoveries, contemporary events, social advancements, and, indirectly, with current politics.8

Major event of the period

But before beginning this study, I want to insist on the omnipresence of an inescapable event for both society and the Church, viz. the French Revolution of 1789, an event that was praised to excess by some for its many benefits, but categorically condemned by others for its “innumerable wrongdoings.” It was blamed for everything, both good and bad. As a result of these divergent positions, there were two antagonistic camps in France. The persons we will be speaking about fell into the camp of those who were relentlessly opposed to 1789. The Revolution was therefore implicitly present in everything they said and did, and will be present in everything we will say.

The position of Emmanuel d’Alzon is well-known: “All-out war against the Revolution until we get back everything it took from us,”9 or again, “There is a duel to death between the Church, which has eighteen centuries of promises behind it, and the Revolution, represented here by the University, (Note: The University: Napoleon began the system of lycées and restarted the University. Education at the beginning of the century was entirely in the hands of the State. The University was a hotbed of atheism and anticlericalism which were always insinuated and often directly taught to the students who drank it all in with the rest of what their professors were teaching. When Ozanam (now a Blessed) was a student in the 1830's, he was always open about his Catholic faith and started the St. Vincent de Paul Conferences with fellow Catholic students whom he managed to bring out of their timidity. Later he returned as the first openly Catholic professor. As professor of literature, he often found ways of explaining the religious heritage of Europe. He supported Catholics, made converts, and tried to win his students away from atheism.) which is not yet seventy years old.’’10 If France no longer had any principles, only the Revolution was to blame.

Father Emmanuel Bailly went even further when he asked Father d’Alzon to obtain from the pope “his approval of the 4th vow,  ... the vow to fight to the bitter end the Revolution, its ideas, its books, and its undertakings. What Saint Dominic did against the Albigenses, could we not ask God to be able to do the same thing against the Revolution and Freemasonry?”11

In Nîmes, a certain Charles Bigot, who crossed swords with Father d’Alzon, represented the other tendency: “We date from 1789.” “To authority,” defended by religious people, he opposed “liberty; to revelation, science; to the idea of a fallen human nature, the mind and heart of human beings capable of and desiring good and truth.”12

I. French politics: a century of confusion

The founders lived in a politically unstable France, tossed about by changes of regimes and revolutions within the country, and by wars abroad. Very often, they found themselves involved and uncomfortable in the face of these events:

1.  France, between 1830 and 1900, underwent no less than five revolutions or serious crises:

o  The Revolution of July 1830

o  The Revolution of 1848

o  The Days of June 1848

o  The Coup d’Etat of December 2, 1851, with its numerous deportations, particularly in southern France (Languedoc)

o  The Paris Commune13 (1871) which became a time of anguish and trial for all the Assumption communities.

2.  There was also a series of conflicts abroad that directly affected France:

o  The Crimean War (1854–56), with the siege of Sebastopol in 1856

o  Italy, with the victories of Magenta and Solferino (1859)

o  Mexico (1860–67)

o  The Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

3.  During this period, there were six regime changes:

o  1830 to 1848: the July Monarchy with Louis-Philippe. The Legitimists (or Carlists) placed their hopes in the grandson of Charles X, the Count of Chambord. The Founders felt quite strongly about this change of dynasty.

o  1848 to 1851: the Second Republic,14 with two periods:

§  One marked by the February Revolution15 and the social measures that were enacted at that time.

§  The other, conservative, during which Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte was President of the Republic.

o  1852 to 1870: the Second Empire, also with two periods: the authoritarian Empire and the liberal Empire. Catholics, at first, were pleased with the Emperor, but then rejected him when the Papal States were threatened. Father d’Alzon, we know, supported the Papal Zouaves.16

o  Starting in 1871: the Third Republic, with two periods:

§  The first period, conservative, ended with the failure of the restoration over the question of the flag (1873).17

§  Then, with the crisis of May 16, 1876, the Third Republic swung to the left with Gambetta, Jules Ferry, and Camille See. Crises and scandals of all kinds marked this period: the resignation of Jules Grevy (1887), the Boulanger Affair (1889), the anarchist killings and attempted killings with Ravachol and Vaillant (1893), the Panama Scandal (1893), the assassination of Sadi Carnot (1894), and the first trial in the Dreyfus Affair (1894), all of which stirred up the Assumption family and kept its Bonne Presse supplied with news.

Father d’Alzon was tempted to go into politics himself, even to the point of presenting himself for elections. He got personally involved at the local and national levels in political issues, particularly regarding education.18 It is surprising to see how much Mother Marie-Eugénie was also interested in politics. She hoped that the desires of Catholics would become a reality, and she wanted to understand what was going on, especially in 1848, as was pointed out by Françoise Mayeur.

II. Transformations in Europe

Father d’Alzon’s interest in Bulgaria, Poland, Russia, Prussia (“one of the three enemies of the Church”), and Italy, inter alia, is sufficient justification for our taking a moment to examine this question. Europe was undergoing just as many convulsions as France, convulsions which led to profound transformations. The map of Europe changed considerably as revolts, uprisings, and armed conflicts, whether successful or not, followed one another. There were revolutions in a number of places in 1830 and 1848: Vienna, Berlin, Milan and Venice with uprisings against Austria, and Rome where the pope had to flee to Gaeta in 1848 and where the Italian Republic was proclaimed in 1849. Rome was then captured by the French on July 1, 1849. One political assassination after another shook the world, for example, Lincoln (1865), Alexander II (1881), as well as the failed assassination of Orsini in France (1858).

In the midst of all this turmoil, new States appeared on the map:

  • Greece in 1830.
  • Belgium, also in 1830, which later became a place of exile for a good number of your religious.
  • Hungary, in 1848, sought to have its independence recognized. It later adopted the system of the double crown.
  • The two Romanian provinces were united in 1859 (Couza, then Charles of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen).
  • Italy, in 1871, completed its unity to the detriment of the Papal States and of Papal Rome. The Popes then considered themselves as prisoners in the Vatican and received the warm affection of conservative Catholics.
  • The German Empire came into existence at Versailles, in the Gallery of Mirrors, on January 18, 1871.
  • Bulgaria emerged in 1878 with the Treaties of San Stefano (Greater Bulgaria) and the Congress of Berlin which downsized its territory.
  • Poland, which flared up on several occasions, particularly in 1831 and in 1863, though not a State at this time, posed a serious problem for liberal-minded states.
  • Russia crushed several revolts and imposed an intense Russification program on the country.

For some time, Father d’Alzon counted on making the most of these new developments for his own purposes.

III. Changes brought about by progressive colonization and missionary expansion

While South America was decolonizing itself with the emergence of new States, colonization progressed in Africa (Algiers in 1830). Following various explorations, the European powers installed themselves all over the continent.

In Asia also, various treaties imposed on the Chinese the transfer of ports and legations (Treaty of Peking in 1860, with the right to propagate the Christian religion). In Indochina, after Emperor Tu-Duc manifested his hostility toward Christianity by massacring missionaries (1861), Saigon was occupied and, in 1862, Tu-Duc had to give up Cochin China to France. From there, the French moved up the Mekong River and made Cambodia their protectorate (1863). Riviere again occupied Hanoi, and his death led Courbet to impose a second protectorate treaty and to occupy the valley of the Red River in 1884. The Treaty of Tientsin gave official status to the French occupation of Indochina.

France became the most missionary country of the 19th century

Catholic concern for these nations, which were often being discovered for the first time, translated itself into intense missionary activity, first by Protestants (e.g. the Paris Mission), then by Catholics who gave money and other gifts for the missions and prayed intensely for them. The French were in the forefront of this activity. They furnished most of the missionaries around the world: two-thirds of all the missionary priests in 1900, i.e., 4,500 out of 6,000,19 plus 2,600 teaching brothers and 10,000 religious sisters. The Propagation of the Faith started by Pauline Jaricot was the soul and symbol of all this. Between 1822 and 1922, half the money it raised came from France, as did nine-twentieth of the total Holy Childhood contributions from 1843 to 1923. These donations as well as those made by l’Œuvre des Ecoles d’Orient testify to the country’s generosity. The Annates (1822), which had a circulation of 145,000 in 1845, spread the missionary spirit even to remote rural areas.

Did this movement have anything to do with the Assumption Family? “Yes, foreign missions are our ambition,” wrote Father d’Alzon. In his third letter, he mentioned the missions in Australia: “By what providential design has it happened that, few as we are, we already have so many missionaries?”20 In his Instructions of 1873, he noted that, though he had to abandon Australia, “real good is being done in Bulgaria. Our Oblates are efficiently supporting us. ... What a precious outpost against the Greek and Russian schism!” He later wrote: “You were founded to be our lay-sisters in the missions.”21 But the Bulgarians were Christians. Was this really mission country? According to the thinking of that time, yes. It was a question of having them enter the bosom of the Roman Catholic Church.22

We must not forget that, except for Europe and Latin America, all the remainder of the world depended on the Congregation of Propaganda, even Holland, until 1853, on the same basis as the mission countries.23 It was a question of converting the East, the Slavs and, through them, Russia, and of bringing these “schismatic” countries back to Roman Catholicism.

The attraction which the Religious of the Assumption had for the missions is well known: South Africa, New Caledonia, and their union of prayer with missionaries leaving for China—along with the temptation to go there themselves—or for Madagascar. The map of the missionary foundations of the Little Sisters of the Assumption is no less impressive.

In 1845, the Holy See encouraged the development of indigenous clergy and the evangelization of local cultures.24 Father d’Alzon made it a priority for Bulgaria. The directives called upon missionaries to increase the number of territories and bishops, ``to train from among the indigenous Christians or the inhabitants of these countries well-tried clerics, to elevate them to the priesthood, ``and to open seminaries and train their students with care and in such a way that they can eventually “assume all the ecclesiastical functions, even the direction of the missions, and eventually be elevated to the dignity of bishop.” “We must completely reject and abolish the custom of employing the local clergy in the missions only as auxiliary priests, a situation which they rightly consider humiliating.”

After 1880, colonization and evangelization went hand-in-hand. But as G. Cholvy concludes: “In general, caution carried the day because the missionaries found themselves in conflict with the plan to completely Frenchify these countries, a policy which underpinned direct colonization but which ran counter to the desire of the missionuries to defend the indigenous languages.”25 It was one way of respecting the local people at a time when colonization was bringing them into subjection and when, at the same time and in other parts of the world, human rights were gaining momentum.

IV. Advances in the field of human rights

The 19th century saw the abolition of slavery, first by the English in their colonies in 1834, then by the French in 1848 with Victor Schoelcher, and finally by the Americans in the USA in 1860, which caused the terrible War of Secession (1861–65). Russia abolished serfdom in 1865.

The Assumption Family was in no way opposed to these evolutions. But when Father d’Alzon spoke about the rights of man, he did so from another perspective, that of the Church denouncing the abandonment of the rights of God. Was he not the founder of the League of the rights of God? He referred to the angel’s famous refusal, “non serviam.”26

IV. Social problems and the first successes

The first Industrial Revolution proletarianized the working class which grew constantly at the detriment of the rural areas, or, to say the least, by absorbing their overflow. Women and children, more than men, were exploited, regardless of their age or their physical condition. Working hours were excessively long. Workers in the large industrial areas lived in precarious conditions: bad housing, long distances, difficult work, sickness and unemployment. However, there was also a progressive advancement of the working class during this period. Villerme’s book, Tableau de l’état physique et moral des ouvriers dans les fabriques de coton, de laine et de soie,’’ (“Description of the physical and moral condition of workers in the cotton, wool and silk factories”) denounced in 1840 the hiring in workshops of seven and even six-year-old children and the fact that some textile workers had to spend up to seventeen hours a day in certain cotton mills, fifteen of them hard at work. He wrote, “A convict’s workday is only twelve hours and is reduced to ten because of meal breaks.” Demands were increasing everywhere but were stronger among the working people, labeled “the working class” at the time.

Victor Hugo wept over the fate of children in 1838:

Where are all of these children going.
Laughter banished from their faces,
Submissive, pensive, thin with fever?
The girls of eight you see walking;
They will work for fifteen hours in the mills ...
Innocents in a penal colony, angels in a hell.
They work ... 27

In reaction to these abuses and to these unacceptably low salaries, there was a series of revolts and uprisings, such as the revolt of the silk-weavers of Lyons in 1831, as well as serious incidents during various strikes.

Working conditions were appalling but improved little by little. First, those of children for whom new work standards were progressively drawn up: in 1834 in England, then in 1841, 1874, 1881, and 1893 in France.

Under Napoleon III, in 1864, workers won the right to strike and the right of association and assembly, and trade unions began to be formed.

In this context, the social question constantly arose, as did possible cures for this social sickness. Churches did their best to respond to these situations by encouraging charity. Lay people and religious tried to find solutions to the poor living conditions and the misery of the working class. Countless good works addressed the needs of the various categories of the disenfranchised: organizations to help infants (linen for the newborn, bedding and accessories); day-nurseries; youth clubs (Father Pernet cared for 200 boys from working-class families in Nîmes); apprenticeships; orphanages (remember Antoinette Fage in 1861); shelters for the homeless; and later on, summer camps for children with Pastor Lorriaux in 1881. For women: ministry to servants, sewing rooms, help with wedding trousseaus, places of refuge for prostitutes ... and, more broadly, care of the sick, care of the indigent, and concern for prisoners and the mentally ill.

Preachers reminded the faithful of their duty to come to the aid of the poor and to make good use of their wealth. Sisters became nurses and social workers. The Sisters Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul served Jesus Christ in the person of the poor. The Little Sisters of the Poor, founded by Jeanne Jugan in 1839, practiced “joyful service of the elderly up to the moment of their death.”

In 1865, the Little Sisters of the Assumption, founded by Father Pernet and Miss Fage whose thinking and work will be described in subsequent talks, assumed their share of the burden by serving “the poor, the workers, and their families” in order to show them God’s love. “Apostles in the midst of the working class,” said Father Pernet. These nursing sisters were to assist the suffering, help them, and provide them with health care, without taking any timeout for themselves and without accepting anything in return.

Among the lay people, the members of the Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul, one of whose early leaders was Ozanam, visited the poor. The conferences had 10,000 members in 1848 and 32,500 in 1861.28

As for the Little Sisters of the Assumption, they settled directly on rue Saint-Dominique, “an area chosen for its poverty.” Father Pernet insisted: “A Little Sister is a missionary, all the more so that she must live in the midst of the poor and devote herself charitably to the poor working-class.” He listed the poor he had in mind: “the little people, the illiterate, the sick, the abandoned, the infirm, the debilitated, the displaced, the underprivileged, and the dying.”

In addition to this category of Christians who brought immediate help, there was another, that of Christians and philanthropists, often intellectuals, who were aware of the fact that charity, in the sense of direct aid to individuals, in and of itself, was not sufficient to solve social problems. Justice must step in. They collected data and assessed the phenomenon in lengthy surveys, describing the miserable life of the industrial workers in large cities (Lamennais, de Bonald, Villeneuve de Bargemont, Villerme, and the Christian Association of Mulhouse).

In 1832, in L’Avenir, de Coux criticized the social system at the root of the problem, viz., the type of liberalism that considers the worker as nothing more than a machine among an employer’s capital assets. De Coux placed social considerations above economic ones. Around 1839–40, his disciple Ozanam appealed to the moral conscience of people. Contributions like these from thinkers reflecting on a Christian vision of social justice ultimately led to the extraordinary encyclical that appeared in 1891, Rerum Novarum, with all of its radical newness.

Where did Father d’Alzon fit into all of this? According to G. Cholvy, he was social in his own way. He admitted that there was a “worker problem.”29 What did he think was the solution? He thought that “individual reforms” were highly desirable, but also “more general reforms.” He expected “superabundant intelligence” on the part of his disciples. He believed the wealthy should take the first steps. He denounced “the haughty despotism of employers toward their workers and the deep hatred of workers toward their employers.” He noted that “wherever employers took the first steps toward their employees, not just with alms but also with measures inspired by intelligent charity, there was a threefold result: production rose, morals were strengthened, and profits increased, and, as a bonus, hatreds disappeared and reconciliation took place.”

He seems to have done his homework: “If I am speaking with assurance about factory proletarians, it is because I have studied the question a little more closely.” And he concluded: “We must think about, examine, and especially study these questions, first, because today more than ever, at a time when charity is facing great obligations, it needs to be enlightened, and secondly, because, despite the humility and silence befitting all charitable work, you must, by the nature of things, enlighten the poor classes, thereby offering them the most precious fruit of charity.”

Another Assumption-Family example: during the meetings of the Fraternity of Our Lady of Salvation, the major problems of workers were discussed on a regular basis. Schools were also thought to be part of the solution of the social problems.

VI. Education

The subject of education concerns more or less all of the congregations of the Assumption, and this, at all levels.

Mother Eugénie was struck especially by the de-Christianization of the ruling classes and the bourgeoisie, and by the inadequate secondary education given to young girls, hence her boarding schools.

She said: “In the social class I am speaking about, i.e. to say, among the families of bankers, notaries, lawyers, etc., there are a thousand prejudices against the education given in the convents ... Included among these prejudices are their political orientation, their poor education, and their lack of good manners.”30 She sought to “Christianize intelligences” and to “expand the intelligence of young girls” (Combalot). Hence, this extraordinary sentence about the type of candidates to be recruited as Sisters: “With time, piety evaporates but stupidity remains.”

At this point, it would be interesting to develop the topic of the lack of faith among the bourgeoisie of the 1830’s, a problem that arose in the lycées and colleges31 and that Y.M. Hilaire calls “the prolonged predominance of the sons of Voltaire.”32 The Constitutions of the Religious of the Assumption were clear on this subject: “It is through education, which is the very work of Christianity, that the Religious of the Assumption are called to carry out their mission of extending the frontiers of his Kingdom.” And she wrote elsewhere: “Education is our share, our service, our ministry in the Church.”

Father d’Alzon was actively involved in secondary33 and higher education. For him, the aim of Christian secondary education was to form elites. But he also insisted on “the need to retake all levels of education from the lowest to the highest, consequently, from the universities at the top level to the elementary country schools at the bottom level.”34 There were many similarities between Marie-Eugénie and d’Alzon on this point: “Christian education has only one aim: to form souls in the knowledge, love, and resemblance of Jesus Christ” (Marie-Eugénie)—“The Christian teacher must sculpture Christ into the souls of young people” (Father d’Alzon).

The Oblates of the Assumption founded by Father d’Alzon were, by and large, destined for the popular elementary schools of Bulgaria. They were to be at the service of Bulgaria, above all as teachers. It was therefore an important question for your founders, hence the need to be well-acquainted with these mechanisms, even beyond what is said in the studies already made regarding one or another aspect by F. Mayeur or Sister Clare Teresa for the Religious of the Assumption.35

Let us recall a few facts regarding education in France during the 19th century:

1.  This century was characterized by a progressive expansion of primary education:

Year  Schools  Students
1815  20,000  860,000
1820  27,000  1,120,000
1831  49,092  1,939,000
1847  63,028  3,500,000
1863  68,761  4,336,000
(1/4 of the children did
not attend school in 1863)

Three important facts characterized the period between 1830 and 1890:

o  A rapid development in the education of boys.

o  A significant development in the education of girls throughout the century.36

o  A decreasing number of illiterates as 1880 approached (28% of the adult population in 1864). In decreeing obligatory education, the secular nature of schools, and the fact that education was free-of-charge, the laws of Jules Ferry completed the structures that enabled everyone to receive an education. Le Pèlerin called the obligatory law “the monstrous law against childhood.”37

2.  This century was also the one in which freedom of education38 was won on three levels: elementary, secondary, and higher education, after long battles in which Father d’Alzon was personally and fully involved:

o  The Guizot Law of 1833

o  The Falloux Law of 1850

o  The Law on Higher Education of 1875

These various laws had important consequences regarding our topic:

o  The creation of numerous Catholic secondary schools for boys run either by diocesan priests or more especially by religious. Recognition of Assumption College in Nîmes slightly preceded the law of 1850.39

o  The creation of private Catholic elementary schools which developed as a result of the secular laws but which opposed the secular schools where “God no longer has his place.”

3.  This century also saw the beginning and development of secondary education for girls, which took place in stages:

o  In 1867, the secondary program for young girls offered by Victor Duruy had little success.

o  In 1880, the Camille Sée Law provided lycées, colleges, and secondary education for girls, but their programs did not lead to the baccalaureate, and therefore did not open the doors of the universities to women. In order to provide them with competent teachers, normal schools of higher education were founded in Fontenay and Saint-Cloud.

Catholics reacted to each new initiative and to each new law. They strongly opposed these new institutions which they thought would pervert young girls and compete with their own institutions. They therefore increased and developed the number of boarding schools for girls. Among them were those of the Religious of the Assumption and of the Oblates, particularly in Montpellier and Nîmes. We will speak more about them later.

4.  This educational policy caused considerable problems for religious institutions:

In 1828, strong brakes were applied to the activities of minor seminaries. Rulings limited their number and that of their students. Measures were taken against the Jesuits, then against the other religious congregations regarding the enforcement of Article 7 and the decrees of March 1880. Non-authorized teaching congregations were told to align themselves with the new measures, but they resisted passively, which provoked the government to use force. Father d’Alzon died at the moment when the Assumptionists risked being expelled from Nîmes. A significant part of his work seemed threatened.

A good number of elementary teachers in the public sector were men and women religious. In 1863, 70% of the public school elementary teachers were religious women. In passing, let us underline the important role played by women in the church of the 19th century. “Women have a very special mission to fulfill,” wrote Father Pernet. The Goblet Law of 1886 barred them from teaching in the public schools, though the most senior among them were allowed to continue until they retired. The secularization of schools was supposed to be completed by 1897. But, there were still 7,000 sisters in the public schools in 1901. The law of 1904 struck another blow at religious teachers because all members of a religious congregation, even those authorized, were deprived of the right to teach. More than 2,600 schools were closed for lack of authorization. In 1914, there remained only 25 schools run by religious congregations, compared with 13,000 in 1880.

VII. A century of important inventions that changed people’s lives

There were countless inventions. Let me mention just a few:

  • The railroad (1831).
  • Photography.
  • The telephone (Graham Bell, 1876).
  • Electricity went from the laboratory to the factory with Gramme’s dynamo (1869). Hydro-electric power was used for the first time for industrial purposes, and the incandescent lamp was discovered by Edison in 1879. The alternator dates from 1877, and the transformer from 1886. In 1883, Deprez brought electricity to the factories.
  • The phonograph made its appearance in 1877.
  • The Bessemer converter in 1855 allowed industry and construction to make great progress.
  • Iron structures began to appear, e.g., the covered markets (the Halles) of Baltard in 1853.
  • The use of aluminum became common.
  • Petroleum became a major source of energy (in the USA, Rockefeller in 1870).
  • Many mechanical appliances were perfected, e.g., the Singer sewing machine (1863) and the Tellier refrigerator (1867). The Remington typewriter (1872) had a promising future.
  • Important art museums were built, and works of art were created.

In the world of science:

  • Pasteur developed the anti-rabies vaccine in 1885.
  • Claude Bernard wrote L’Introduction a l’etude de la medicine experimental (Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine) in 1865. He believed that experience was the only way to attain truth.
  • Bringing electricity, photography, and engineering together led to the invention of motion pictures in 1895.

VIII. The development of thought and art through basic research and publications

Here, I will mention only a few works in passing:

  • Auguste Comte, Le Catéchisme positiviste (The Catechism of Positivism) (1852).
  • Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species (1859).
  • David Friedrich Strauss (1835), followed by Ernest Renan, The Life of Jesus (1863).
  • Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Das Kapital (Capital) (1874).
  • Art evolved profoundly, passing from Romanticism to Realism, to Symbolism, and to Impressionism.

IX. Religious phenomena: aspects of the Church in France at that time

Various currents of thought prevailed throughout Europe and particularly in France. The Church of the 19th century condemned liberalism and religious freedom, as set forth in the Rights of Man: no distinctions were made in the texts of Pius VI and Gregory XVI. After losing its States, the papacy saw Christendom as the model to be followed in organizing society. In 1864, the Syllabus and the Encyclical Quanta cura condemned modern errors. Vatican Council I, with its definition of infallibility, seemed to favor a monarchical structure.

In France, there were a few liberal Christians, but the Church in this country overwhelmingly spearheaded the conservative battle against the Republic. It provided society with less and less personnel to the extent that the State substituted itself for the Church. In the process, secularization took over in the schools, hospitals, prisons, and cemeteries. Internally, however, Gallicans and Ultramontanes were at loggerheads with each other.40 Father d’Alzon wrote to Father Picard: “It is impossible to treat Gallicans and Romans in the same way. We have the truth; they are in error and will soon fall into heresy.”41

Certain influential people permanently marked this Church of France, despite the strong barriers that divided it. Suffice it to recall Lamennais’ considerable influence on young d’Alzon and Marie-Eugénie, and Lacordaire’s influence on the youth of that time. Also noteworthy is the role of very committed laypeople in the work of evangelization (cf. Frédéric Ozanam by G. Cholvy). Father Pernet, for example, was well aware of this when he founded three associations for laypeople.

In this context, it is important to note that certain Catholics, even among those who were hostile to modern ideas, tried to adapt and respond to the world around them by updating and renewing existing works, or by starting dynamic new ones.

There was a renewal of religious life: old orders were reestablished (Benedictines and Dominicans), and new congregations like your own were founded with clear purposes: teaching, missions, nursing, and charitable works. There was a revival of confraternities, such as your own Confraternity of Penitents. There was a desire to re-conquer or more precisely re-evangelize the people by increasing the number of parish missions. There was also a renewal of the clergy with the development of seminaries and a substantial increase in the number of priests.

Moreover, the 19th century also witnessed the development in mystical spirituality (cf. the article by Sister Marie-Hélène: Marie-Eugénie, a Spirituality for Today42), the re-focusing on Christ of a religion based not only on fear but also on love, and the rediscovery of prayer, contemplation, and basic devotions like that of the Blessed Sacrament and the Eucharist, the Sacred Heart, the Blessed Mother (this was the century of apparitions), and other devotions like those of the souls in purgatory and of the holy angels.

Devotions, pilgrimages, and Marian practices found the Assumptionists in the forefront. In Father d’Alzon’s Ecrits Spirituels, Mary holds an important place (cf. the dossier on the spirituality of the Little Sisters of the Assumption). From Nîmes, he often made pilgrimages to Our Lady of Rochefort. Pilgrimages were for him acts of collective penance, “huge processions, all the more effective the longer and harder they are.” And he had a real love for the Church and the pope, and he was devoted to Pius IX. When it came to defending the pope, the Assumptionists were there without fail (the Papal Zouaves). One of the main purposes of their founder and of the Congregation itself was to defend the Church against the combined effects of the Reformation, the Revolution, the University, and Freemasonry.

The Assumptionists also played a leading role by creating a large popular publishing house which became one of their weapons (its common style displeased Father d’Alzon). Nevertheless, they did not neglect more intellectual and specialized publications like L’Enseignement chrétien. Parish youth clubs (patronages), the first form of Catholic Action, and youth movements outside the parish environment also marked the Church during this period.

A considerable spiritual reawakening manifested itself during this century among intellectuals like Ozanam, and there was an important movement of conversion. Marie-Eugénie considered herself to have been part of that movement: “In her faith as a convert,” someone wrote about her. Your founders did their share by working with the lowliest, particularly through their social work.

Politically, the first to accept the Republic were Leo XIII and Lavigerie43 in 1892. But, that was very late in terms of the timeframe we are working with. Nevertheless, we should remember Father d’Alzon saying that the Church does not fight any political regimes, except those that forget the rights of God. “The Church is republican in Switzerland and in America. It is not against republicanism but above it. It cannot be repeated enough: the battle is not between the Church and this or that institution. It is between God and man who wants to make himself God. We are its enemies insofar as it is anti-religious and anti-social.”44 Christians could therefore accept whatever was not anti-Christian in the Republic.

The rise of secularism and the creation of secular institutes of higher education, schools, and charitable agencies, as well as all of the laws on education, provoked many debates which, to say the least, had nothing academic about them. Their style was often violent; polemics raged. Adversaries hurled insults at each other. Later, Le Pèlerin accentuated and even systematized this tendency. Cartoons were used to illustrate a point, like the one on Gambetta45 or the one on the lycées for young girls. This last one shows their students entering a place of choice, with Satan lurking as he waited for them at the door of hell.


Your founders, therefore, lived in a world that was constantly evolving and completely immersed in controversy, with strong resistances and significant advances. Faced with changes that were often hostile to them, they took a stand on many of these issues when they affected them directly, either in their personal existence, their apostolates, or their concerns as Christians involved in a society they had not chosen as it existed at that time. Along with many others, each in their own way, they participated in all of the battles, some on one front, others on another, but all together on all fronts: religious, political, social, educational, and charitable. Often on the front line.

The data we have gathered will help explain and perhaps clarify some of their behavior we will hear about during this colloquium. We must take note of this behavior, without judging it according to our modern criteria. When Father d’Alzon explained that increasing the number of chaplains in the lycées was an incentive to impiety for the students, we must make an effort to follow his logic in order to understand his reasoning, which does not necessarily mean agreeing with it. However, we must make this effort because history does not allow for anachronisms, especially on the subjects you will be covering. This way of thinking is essential to our reaching calm and healthy conclusions. And is that not, in final analysis, the purpose of your research?

Louis Secondy

9, rue de la Frégate
34080 Montpellier


  • 1974 – “Les petits séminaires et les établissements secondares libres de l’Académie de Montpellier (1854–1924)”, thèse de 3eme cycle, Université Paul Valéry, Montpellier, typescript, 1974 (essentially on the Collège de l’Assomption and on Father d’Alzon’s pedagogy).
  • 1980 – “Aux origines de la maison de l’Assomption à Nîmes (1844–1853)” in Emmanuel d’Alzon dans la société et l’Eglise du XIXe siècle, Colloque d’histoire (December 1980), Le Centurion, 1982, pp. 233–258.
  • 1981 – “L’éducation des jeunes filles en milieu catholique au XIXe siècle,” Cahier d’Histoire, vol. XXVI 1981, pp. 336–352.
  • 1981 – “Cent ans dans le premier lycée de jeunes filles de France,” Montpellier, C.R.D.P., 1981, pp. 26–64.
  • 1982 – “Question religieuse et enseignement au lycée de Nîmes entre 1850 et 1900,” Annates du Midi, vol. 94, no. 159, October–November 1982, pp. 387–402 (d’Alzon criticized the chaplain of the Lycée in Nîmes, Father Aza?, originally from Le Hérault).
  • 1985 – “L’enseignement secondaire féminin public dans l’Acadèmie de Montpellier (1867–1939),” Études sur l’Hérault, no. 2, pp. 43–50.
  • 1990 – “Le protestantisme, la franc-maconnerie, la Révolution et l’Université selon le Père d’Alzon,” Actes du colloque de Montauban: Révolution et contre-Révolution dans la France du Sud-Ouest, 1990, pp. 119–123.
  • 1990 – “L’enjeu de la formation des demoiselles au XIXe siècle: pour la terre et pour le ciel,” Les Cahiers du Cerf, no. 4, Les enjeux éducatifs, 1990, pp. 95–115.
  • 1991 – “Le scandale de l’enseignement des religions au lycée de Nîmes, selon Emmanuel d’Alzon,” in Enseigner l’histoire des religions, Actes du Colloque de Besancon, November 20–21, 1991, pp. 185–190.
  • 1992 – “Le Père d’Alzon et la Pologne,” Actes du Colloque de Montpellier, June 22–24, 1992, Paris, Champion, 1994, pp. 137–152.
  • 1998 – “Marie-Eugénie, une spiritualité pour aujourd’hui,” in Mère Marie-Eugénie Milleret, fondatrice des religieuses de l’Assomption, Actes du Colloque du centenaire, 1998, Paris, éditions Don Bosco, 1999.
  • 2000 – “De Saint-Pons à Saint-Roch, Histoire des petits séminaires et des écoles presbytérales du diocèse de Montpellier,” Syndicat ecclésiastique, 2000 – (École de Saint-Guilhem, alumnats de Poussan et de Vérargues).
  • 2000 – “Le Père d’Alzon et ses proches collaborateurs face à leur temps,” conference given in Nîmes, at Assumption, for the Blue Penitents of Montpellier.
  • Gérard Cholvy, Histoire religieuse de la France contemporaine 1800–1880.
  • Gérard Cholvy, Histoire religieuse de la France contemporaine 1889–1905, Bibl. Historique Privat, 1986.
  • Gérard Cholvy, Frédéric Ozanam, 1813–1853, Fayard, 2003.

Bibliography (English)

  • 1955 – Man of Fire, Father Emmanuel d’Alzon and the Oblates of the Assumption, Malachy G. Carroll, Mercier Press, 1955.
  • 1955 – The Swallows of the Garret, the story of Etienne Pernet, Malachy G. Carroll, Mercier Press, 1955 (about the Little Sisters of the Assumption).
  • 1958 – The Catholic Church in the Modern World, A survey from the French Revolution to the present, E.E.Y. Hales, Doubleday, 1958.


The Role of history

Richard Lamoureux, A.A.:

You gave us a very good suggestion: we must understand history without judging it in order to grasp the logic behind it. But must we not also understand it in order to learn from the lives of the founders about their intuitions and to learn from their 19th century experience? Do you have any suggestions about this?

Louis Secondy:

What can we take from the 19th century for our own time? History never dies (cf. the Balkans). History is like a spring gushing from a deep underground aquifer. In 1980, how did the Assumptionists rethink their founder? That colloquium gave d’Alzon his share of modernity. In addition to the character of each individual, intuitions also emerge enriched by a modern-day perspective. For example, justice will never destroy charity (cf. the Little Sisters of the Assumption). It’s really a question of understanding what all these things mean today by discovering what they meant in their own time.

The fourth vow

Lucas Chuffart, A.A.:

I am pleased to have heard you speak about the “fourth vow” that strongly marked the charism and spirituality of the Congregation. It would be interesting to know why it was abandoned.

Louis Secondy:

Why did Rome refuse this fourth vow? I have the impression that such a commitment was too conditioned by its time. It was something that was too tied to the circumstances of the day. Would this vow have any meaning today?

Lucas Chuffart, A.A.:

The formulation of the vow was changed. The first one was counter-revolutionary and too dated.

Jean-Paul Périer-Muzet, A.A.:

The first formulation was “the extension of the Reign of God and the education of youth.” It should be noted that the institutional Church opposed making religious vows too specific. It wanted no more than three vows. However, some congregations wanted to attain the status of an order.

Thérèse-Maylis Toujouse, R.A.:

On Christmas 1844, the Religious [Sisters] of the Assumption, inspired by Father d’Alzon, added a fourth vow to the three they were already making. This vow continued to be made in the Congregation by a few sisters as they left for the missions. The Church asked that it be suppressed when the Constitutions were submitted in 1866. The reason for the suppression was not clear because “it was left to the sole judgment of the Superior General.” For its part, the Congregation noted at the time that the suppression of this vow would be regretted by many Sisters. The Constitutions of 1888 did not mention the fourth vow, though its spirit was stated in the purpose of the Congregation: “To extend by our whole life the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.” This aspect is still part of our formula of vows. Consequently, a fourth vow, expressing in general terms the specificity of the Congregation, became pointless.

Clare-Teresa Tjader, R.A.:

The fourth vow did not have a clear content. I believe that is the reason why the Church suppressed it.

Claire Rabitz, O.A.:

Father d’Alzon had us make a vow regarding the foreign missions. When the Oblates were united into a single Congregation in 1926, the fourth vow was suppressed.46

Georgette-Marie Fayolle, O.A.:

I agree with Claire Rabitz. It is the vow regarding missions that was retained by the Bordeaux branch.


Richard Brunelle, A.A.:

How can we explain Father d’Alzon’s opposition to public education?

Louis Secondy:

Father d’Alzon was interested in secondary and higher education. His major battle was first of all to obtain freedom for secondary education. When Father d’Alzon fought the University, it was because he deemed it to be the daughter of the Reformation, of the Revolution, and of Freemasonry. It transmitted a world hostile to God.

In 1881, when elementary public education was secularized, Father d’Alzon was already dead. It was his disciples (Le Pèlerin) who fought to create a new situation in order to oppose this godless school. The fact that there were still religious teachers in the public schools did not prevent these teachers from being forbidden to talk about God. In the cities, the Brothers of the Christian Schools lost their schools. The secularization of the schools began long before the Law of 1881.

Jean-Paul Périer-Muzet, A.A.:

What did our founders think of progress? Very often, weren’t they simply critical of it?

Louis Secondy:

Regarding material progress as such, they did not reject the idea outright. However, they rejected ideas that explained the meaning of the world and of life in society without leaving room for religion, ideas that explained the world in ways that were contrary to the Bible and to the faith. This was also the reaction of intransigent Christians to these ideas of progress.

Anne Huyghebaert, Or. A.:

Father d’Alzon and other Catholics did not favor the presence of women in higher education. Did this prepare the crisis of Modernism? What was the basis for giving a different education to boys and to girls? Was Le Pèlerin the only publication at the time to adopt its particular style in treating these subjects?

Louis Secondy:

This perspective did not represent the Christian view of women. Jules Ferry believed that the role of women in society was different from that of men. The difference was one of nature, private life, family life, and education. Women were thought to be teachers par excellence (cf. Marie Rouanet who portrays a woman holding the keys, the accounts, the family memory, the education of children, and the tradition of God). Women exercise this role from the first moment a child begins to be educated in the home. In Christian milieus, women gained their independence once they were able to say no to men. Was the Superior General to obey a man? Marie Correnson and Marie-Eugénie of Jesus affirmed their femininity.

Educators, they began teaching the poor. They created day-schools. And in order to subsidize these schools, they created boarding schools. If we take into consideration only the hierarchical Church, we cannot understand the place of women in the Church in the 19th century.

Jean-Paul Périer-Muzet, A.A.:

Father d’Alzon obtained full freedom for his college two years before the passage of the Falloux Law. He therefore took not only collective actions but also personal ones in favor of his Congregation.

Father d’Alzon did not like the style of Le Pèlerin. However, his disciples realized that it was the means by which they could reach people in the popular milieus and bring them a strong message, a combative message. Conquer and reconquer in order to crush the work of the Revolution and free themselves from it, and in order to re-give the Church its role in society by reestablishing a sort of Christendom.

The popular press launched offensives to bring these ideas to the common ordinary people because France was being turned into a godless country. The role of images in Le Pèlerin was to catch the attention of its readers by using very simple vignettes. Le Pèlerin became the Church’s bombardiers, the Church’s artillerymen.

The place of the laity

Monique Blondel, L.S.A.:

In my work at the present time, I am rereading the minutes of the meetings of the Fraternity [Our Lady of Salvation] founded by Father Pernet. They shed light on the role played by the laity at these meetings, on the counter-Revolutionary trend, the school issue, the worker problem, and the invitations extended to various leaders to attend these meetings (Leon Harmel, missionaries, etc.). The participants were workers who came from areas that were far from Paris. As for their active participation in the meetings, very often, only lay-people spoke up, including at times for the commentary on the Word of God. Among these laypeople, there were various tendencies, including those who accepted the Republic (the ralliement). The problem of work on Sundays was approached in the following way: in some cases, was it not better to go to work rather than to church in order to feed the family? It would be interesting to see the place given to the laity by other congregations.

Thérèse-Maylis Toujouse, R.A.:

Laypeople tried to combine intelligence and social involvement. Frédéric Ozanam and a group of academics asked Bishop de Quelen to create the Conferences of Notre-Dame. The Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul were also created at this time. Additionally, there were groups of young intellectuals who wanted to know how to adapt the traditional teaching of the Church to young people in the wake of the Age of Enlightenment. In all of these undertakings, intelligence and heart always worked together.

Gisèle Marchand, L.S.A.:

The 19th century was also marked by immigration, i.e., by an exodus from the rural areas (the French abandoned the rural areas for the city), as well as by the arrival of Italians and Germans.

In 1865, workers represented no more than 30% of the active population. It was to these workers who had come from the rural areas that Father Pernet addressed himself.

Jean-Paul Périer-Muzet, A.A.:

The book Prier 15 jours avec le P. d’Alzon (Praying 15 days with Father d’Alzon) dedicates a certain number of chapters to laypeople and to the importance of collaborating with them, especially in our colleges. The Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul figured among the works of education. Father d’Alzon founded a youth club (patronage) in Nîmes. He had great admiration for Pauline Jaricot who founded the Propagation of the Faith, and for Agathe Thavet who founded the Military Apostolate. In the agricultural orphanages, laypeople educated the working class. Likewise, they got involved in the press which would not have been founded or developed without their input. In the words of the Count of L’Épinois, “We are there to support you. When will you start doing something about it?”

Louis Secondy:

Concerning the place Father d’Alzon gave to laymen in his colleges, he did not require children to attend Mass every day because he thought that laymen should not be educated like alumnists (minor seminarians).

As for the Fraternities and the Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul, their creation, animation, etc., were entrusted exclusively to the laity. But, in the Church, there was a certain fear on the part of the hierarchy that the laity was acquiring too much importance. At the time, there were tens of thousands of catechists who were teaching catechism to children (cf. Montpellier in 1907, Colloquium on apostolates). In 1845, Lacordaire wrote from Notre-Dame: “All you who have been baptized, you are the light of the world ...” We must therefore reconsider the 19th century as not having been only the century of clerics. In the elementary schools, committees of parents were created to keep a watchful eye on the teachers and on the contents of the textbooks.

Occasionally in the Church, what was granted to one congregation was denied to another, e.g., Pierre Valdo and Francis of Assisi. Rome’s decisions sometimes depended on a combination of circumstances ... (e.g., the decision against contraception by Paul VI). The history of the Church is made up of contradictions.

Thérèse-Maylis Toujouse, R.A.:

Concerning the education and formation of committed laypeople, Marie-Eugénie said that we must always educate our students, not as religious, but in function of their future life in the world and their social involvement therein. She founded day-schools to allow young girls to be more in touch with their society.

The influence of Lamennais

Clare-Teresa Tjader, R.A.:

Can you situate Lamennais and his influence?

Louis Secondy:

An image: Lamennais began as a defender of the established regime, rather conservative and classical. He evolved very quickly, passing from his initial conservatism to an opening onto the major freedoms, the six freedoms he extolled in his newspaper L’Avenir: freedom of conscience, freedom of the press, freedom of nations to govern themselves, etc. They were well-received by young intellectuals: de Coux, Gerbet, and Montalembert. Think-tanks and prayer groups sprang up. Converts and converts-of-sorts proclaimed God and freedom. A new vision of the world emerged for the Christians of France. Young people were marked by an enthusiasm that influenced the liberal-minded throughout the entire 19th century. But then came the tragedy: Lamennais was twice condemned by Rome. As his friends distanced themselves from him materially, he took an anti-clerical direction. Lamennais’ ideas nevertheless made their way. Young people were marked as if they had been branded by them, and they never gave them up.

The Church in the 19th Century, Its Geopolitics and Strategies

Claude Prudhomme

I would like to reflect with you about the way in which the Catholic Church in 19th century dealt with the question of globalization. Today, the word is fashionable, but it makes historians smile because, since the 15th and 16th centuries, i.e., since the discovery of America, we in Europe have been involved in an extraordinary globalization.

In any case, the 19th century was another remarkable time in this process since it was the period of European expansion and of what can be called a true Europeanization of the world.

We must therefore re-examine this question in order to see how it came about, how the Catholic Church perceived these changes, and how it tried to respond to them, and then try to make an initial evaluation of it, the first self-critical examination having been made after World War I.

By way of introduction, I am supposing that you have in mind the first great debate of the 19th century about the Church’s response to secularization, which included the question of the Papal States, the emancipation of science, and various political issues.

You have seen that, when confronted with the question of secularization, the Catholic Church had two positions, two responses: one was to refuse certain aspects of this evolution (of which Father d’Alzon was a perfect representative), e.g., the French Revolution and the principles of 1789 as they were interpreted at that time. The first step was to “deny” that an evolution was taking place. But then, there quickly arose an awareness of the fact that, if Catholics did not become part of this history in-the-making, they would not be able to influence it or give it another direction. When the will to conquer and reconquer turned to missionizing among the pagans, it was always accompanied by a denial which came across as an opposition to the ideas and ideals of the French Revolution.

This combination of denial and re-conquest gave rise to a new type of commitment, which strikes anyone interested in studying the missions, because, for the Catholic Church, the 19th century was the great period of missionary reawakening. Though the first major experience—the founding experience—took place in the 16th century, the current position of the Church, except for the advances made in the 16th century, is based on what took place in the 19th century.

Globalization in the 19th Century

Political freedom

When the Catholic Church awoke from the shock of the Revolution, the first thing it discovered was that, henceforth, it was facing ideologies that pretended to be universal in scope. The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens affirmed straightaway its intention to serve as a kind of charter, a statement of principles that are applicable everywhere and always. It was meant to be broader than any particular culture or any particular period. This was a real shock for a religion that considered itself to be the sole vehicle of true universality. From then on, it had to deal with a competitor, which brought about a first type of confrontation. And throughout the entire 19th century, this confrontation continued, particularly over the major question of freedom. In this regard, the history of the Assumptionists and of Father d’Alzon was closely tied to this demand: exactly what was this desire for freedom that was gaining ground among the nations of the world, first in Europe but also elsewhere? Not to be forgotten was what was happening in countries where slavery still existed, particularly where movements were fighting for and eventually won the emancipation and freedom of slaves.

Then, after this big wave of yearning especially for political freedom, came a desire to participate in the life of the country, particularly through voting. This wave was followed by another, especially in the middle of the century (1848 and after), a desire for social freedom, each case claiming to have universal dimensions. The wave in favor of social freedom was supported by international socialist organizations that were red and truly international. To the point where, within the Catholic Church, there was an effort to organize, toward the end of the pontificate of Pius IX, a black international organization, which was meant to be a response of sorts to the red one.

There was definitely new competition, which helps us understand that the stakes involved were worldwide.

Consequently, it must be understood that, especially from Rome’s perspective, the problems were international, not just local issues pertaining to a particular country.

The first point: there were henceforth important collective aspirations that were developing internationally, aspirations with which the Catholic Church had to come to terms.

Industrial Revolution

The second reality that completely escaped the Catholic Church as well as all the other religious groups was the Industrial Revolution.

What consequences did this have on the life of the Church?

Transportation was being revolutionized: railroads were being built in the East. It is not possible to understand the Near Eastern Missions without understanding the development of the railroads, nor is it possible to understand the history of the missions without taking into account the regular steamship lines which developed and allowed people to travel much more inexpensively and to communicate much more rapidly.

It was also thanks to these means of transportation that communications became easier by mail and by telegraph.

One example: the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 suddenly created a new balance of power. Constantinople and Turkey were now very close to Europe.

This meant that, for people who belonged to an international organization, there were brand-new means of internal communication. We can sense this today: the Internet is changing our ways of working within our communities as well as within all other organizations.

The Industrial Revolution also meant the globalization of capital: money began to circulate. If the circulation of money became possible for international capitalism, it also became possible through banking systems and available to the churches. Without this banking revolution, the work of the Propagation of the Faith, born in Lyons, would never have been able to establish itself in Latin America and progressively in Africa and Asia, to collect funds in all parts of the world, and, by means of bank transfers, to centralize their operation and distribute these funds according to needs and the choices of the organizers.

Some churches were closely tied to this banking revolution.

It was also a period of demographic change, to Europe’s advantage. It was Europe that sent its surplus workers elsewhere and that blames others today of doing what it did to solve its own problems. 40 million Europeans went to the United States (32 million stayed there); 12 million Europeans went to Latin America. Therefore, massive movements of people became possible by boat. This meant that Europe saw itself as a demographic power that was expanding, a fact which undoubtedly changed its relations with other countries.

Finally, a fourth aspect of the Industrial Revolution: the trade revolution, the demand for free trade, GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade—1947), the great American ideology according to which the happiness of humanity is tied to the liberalization of trade. This was precisely the aim of the free trade treaties of 1860 which, at the time, applied to the major Western powers of Europe, but whose purpose was to eliminate tariffs on traded goods everywhere in order to bring prosperity to all nations.

The major powers thought that this would solve their internal problems.

Additionally, it must be said that the West did not simply export technical knowledge, people, and capital. Europe also exported its culture.

Exporting European culture

It was undoubtedly one of the most spectacular and most decisive changes of the 19th century. Europe had already exported itself before, but it was during the 19th century that it exported its knowledge to the entire world. Since the 19th century, the knowledge and science that are exported come from Europe or the United States. In short, they are Western.

They were exported thanks to an increase in the number of schools. The missions were one of the key factors.

As Europe exported its knowledge, it naturally exported at the same time the values upon which it believed its own success was based. It is not surprising to discover that, regardless of who was writing—explorers, capitalists, politicians from the left or the right, missionaries or not—all of them spoke of the need to work, of the importance of the family, and of the need for savings. These values were thought to be the keys to development, success, and progress.

And without giving it a second thought, people also exported their way of living as soon as they arrived somewhere, even if they had to adapt themselves minimally by making do with local materials and the weather.

The implications of exporting Western culture were not known in the 19th century. However, there was already a debate about whether or not it was possible to take from the West its technology and science without taking all of the culture that went with it. The same question has arisen more recently, particularly within the Catholic Church, regarding the notion of enculturation.

That issue had not yet come to the fore in the 19th century, but the problem of knowing whether or not there is a link between science, knowledge, technology, and culture-in-general was already posed.

At the time, what were the Chinese thinking about? Their great plan was to accept Western science but not its philosophy and culture. The Japanese made a more complicated choice and kept the forms of their traditions.

From an historical point-of-view and regarding the expansion of the Catholic Church, I want to mention a fourth point: imperialism, a term that was used to describe this Western expansion. Invented during this period, the term appears just before the war of 1914–18, at the end of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century. It was used by English, then German, then French writers because nobody knew how to describe this domination which was so total and so global, and which Europe was establishing throughout the world. At the outset, this concept was not a Marxist concept but one used by liberal economists who simply wanted to state that, in fact, the European economy was in the process of dominating all others.

At the same time, European expansion took two forms: direct colonization (Asia, Oceania, Africa), and indirect colonization of which China was the prototype. China was not conquered because China cannot be conquered. However, various treaties imposed conditions on China in order to bring it in line with European policies.

There was therefore an ideological context that wanted to legitimize this domination. Europeans realized they had to furnish arguments to those who wanted to defend colonization or imperialism.

The Catholic Church also had to take all of this into account.

Finding Answers within Catholicism

Consolidation of Roman centralization

At this time, the government of the Catholic Church was becoming more and more centralized, and the person of the pope was becoming more and more central. Things had not always been that way in the Church. For many European churches, the pope was in Rome and, to be sure, he was listened to. However, except for very particular doctrinal disagreements and in final analysis, each church had its own traditions, had its own organization, and operated without referring very much to Rome.

The change brought about in the 19th century was the affirmation of the authority of this center and of the pope, and the recognition of the pope’s right to exercise authority over the whole system.

For historians, it is very clear that at the center of the Roman system is the person of the pope (in France, people spoke of ultra-montanism), which translated itself in the 19th century by a very new attitude on the part of believers toward the pope, by a devotion to the pope.

I am sometimes surprised to find in certain encyclicals affirmations on the borderline of orthodoxy. For example, the pope does not define himself as the successor of Peter, but as the successor and the representative of Jesus on earth. Today, no pope would say that. At the time, Rome was trying to enhance the function of the pope, which led to a few exaggerations in its description.

But Rome was not just the pope. In studying the missions, we are surprised to note, sometimes with admiration and sometimes with irritation, the extraordinary efficiency of the government that surrounded the pope. When we see how the Curia was able to operate with so few people, we are struck by its efficiency. And all of this, because the members of the Curia had a long administrative experience based on their ability to communicate and collect information. They put technical progress to very good use. Progressively, throughout the 19th century, in all of the countries around the world, all of the apostolic vicars were obliged and finally accepted to make annual reports, even those who were living in the bush and who wondered what purpose the reports would serve. Every five years, they also had to submit a five-year report which replaced a visit to Rome, deemed to be too complicated for those living in distant countries. And they had to submit their report in proper form because those who read them in Rome checked off the incomplete answers and asked for explanations.

For example, there was a standard question in the questionnaire: “do you prepare indigenous priests?” If the apostolic vicar did not explain what he did, or if it was thought that he did not do enough, he was sure to receive critical remarks.

Rome therefore oversaw what was going on and made corrections.

The Curia was a complicated organization. An historian can never really know what came from the pope and what came from the Curia. The Curia consisted of a Secretary of State, whose functions were very hard to pin down, and of the Roman Congregations: the Holy Office and the various Congregations responsible for certain areas, e.g., bishops, religious, education, etc. The strength of Rome was its ability to invent inter-Congregation structures, whose status was not very clear, e.g., the Propaganda which was responsible for the missions throughout the world. But when a problem of doctrine arose, was it to be brought to the Propaganda or to the Holy Office? This question has really never been resolved.

The Curia felt the need to create inter-Congregation structures. And after the French Revolution, it had to add yet another service: the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, which was not a real Congregation. It brought together those responsible for the principal Congregations so that, together, they might deal with the problems that depended on two or more of them.

The Curia also knew how to present the Roman model as an example for everyone to follow: the Latin model is the best.

Questions about the Eastern Churches were raised. It was said at one point: let us respect the specificity of the Eastern Churches without imposing uniformity. This was possible because these Churches were ancient. But for the younger Churches (Africa, Asia), Rome felt that this was not possible: they had to follow the Roman model in its Latin form. For example, there was a debate over the Ethiopian Rite. The conclusion was a compromise of sorts: this rite was ancient and should not completely disappear, but the texts specify very clearly that it was meant to be a “temporary measure.”

This desire to impose the Roman model stemmed from the fact that, in a world in transition, strong unity was needed, and, at that time, unity was not possible without uniformity. The notion of pluralism was not a 19,h century concept.

All of this was possible provided everyone accepted the idea of centralization. And this is precisely what took place.

Rome did not simply want to invent answers. It waited until it received questions. All of this was done by correspondence. Rome legislated only after it had received a question. Consequently, there were different strategies. There were those who knew that, the fewer questions one sent to Rome, the more peaceful one would be. But there were also those who did not want to change a piece of clothing without consulting Rome.

That was the risk of a system that wanted to centralize everything: legislate about everything.

Intransigent Catholic model

This concept was used especially by some Italian, then by some French historians. It meant two things: first, to be intransigent in the sense of refusing to compromise on certain aspects of modernity, especially regarding the anti-religious philosophy inherited from 1789 (the spirit of the Syllabus and of the encyclical that accompanied it in 1864).

But this model was not just one of refusal and defense but also of re-conquest: Catholicism must be something integral. It implies putting all of faith into all of life. Faith must impregnate all of life, whether personal (by accompanying the faithful from birth to death, as was always done in the past), or collective. Consequently, there was a proliferation of associations, works, regroupings, and structures that allowed people to have an impact on society itself. This model had a very strong social orientation. It was this model that was very openly exported to the missions because, in leaving for the missions, missionaries had the feeling that, precisely, they were going into virgin territory to be with populations which could be transformed, because more malleable, and in which some sort of Christian society could be established.

It is essential to grasp this idea of a Christian society exported overseas in order to understand not only the manner in which missionaries developed their centers but also the reason why they often regrouped their Christians in villages, and the reason why they increased the number of their activities (to transform society).

There was therefore some sort of universal Catholic model which we still follow today and which, I believe, is presently in crisis not only because of secularization and but also because of other reasons particular to the mission countries themselves.

Catholic strategy of the 19th century: to be part of history in order to make history

There was a Catholic awakening in the 19th century. Catholics were undoubtedly tempted to withdraw from the holy mountain (Lamennais). Their response could have been: this world is rejecting us, this world does not understand us, so let’s withdraw. However, it was just the contrary that happened, first under Pius IX, then under Leo XIII, and it has continued until this day.

What did it mean for the Church to reposition itself and to seek to be part of history-in-the-making? The first objective was to show that true universality was found in the Catholic Church. Since everyone pretended to be universal (the French Revolution, the Enlightenment, Protestants, Freemasons, etc.), it had to constantly repeat that true universality was found in the Catholic Church and that, without it, the world was headed for a catastrophe.

This idea was conveyed by a theology that provoked great interest in the missions because, at the heart of this universality, was this deep conviction that what was at stake was the salvation of mankind. That was the great concern of the 19th century, and that is what I find so hard to have my students understand today. People were truly haunted by the idea of Salvation, with this essential particularity: I can save myself only if I share in the salvation of others. The notion of interdependence was part and parcel of the universality of salvation which was at the heart of Catholic spirituality and which was constantly found in the texts and on the images.

The second characteristic of the period: people were convinced that salvation was taking place in the here and now. There was a sense of the time in which they were living, which was something new in the 19th century, the fruit of the French Revolution. It was for this reason that the reawakening of the missionary spirit took place in France. Theoretically, it was the country that was the least prepared to send missionaries abroad; it was the one that had suffered the most from the consequences of the Revolution. Yet, at the end of the century, around 1900, most of the missionaries were French: 2/3 of the men, 90% of the women. Why was that possible? Because since the French Revolution, French Catholics, more than others, had understood that faith is not something that one inherits or that is automatic, but something that requires choices and personal commitment. That thought keeps coming back in the texts of the missionaries: Salvation is not something that will take place in the future; it takes place in the here and now. Pastoral programs were therefore set up to prepare people now for their death which could come unexpectedly at any moment.

This salvation was in keeping with a culture, viz., the European culture which is a modern culture. This means a culture that stresses not only the present moment but also the things of this world. From the 18th to the 19th century, a reversal took place in our relation to the hereafter. This can be seen especially in the iconography (votive offerings) of the time: heavenly concerns decreased in favor of earthly ones. A new attitude emerged: people were no longer willing to wait for a happiness that would only come in heaven. Consequently, the speeches that were formerly addressed to workers were no longer acceptable: “you are poor and miserable, but that is not important. Obey your employers, and you will have a place in heaven.” More and more, for the people of the 19th century, their earthly existence took on an importance of its own. It was no longer a simple passage or a valley of tears while waiting for paradise. The Catholic Church, which was part of the culture of the time, directly shared this view regarding the importance of life on this earth. It felt that it had something to offer society, and the missions were a fantastic demonstration of this belief.

Had religion become useless? Look at our missionaries! Who is taking care of the lepers? Who is opening schools, dispensaries, hospitals, etc.?

To be sure, there was a desire to attract believers in these countries. Yes, there was a form of proselytism, but there was more than that. There was also a desire to demonstrate that religion is necessary. Religion has something to say and to do about transforming our earthly existence.

This was a new way of relating to others which stressed especially, though with a few ambiguities, earthly activity carried out through charitable works. A new question arose: how far should the Church go in developing such works? Is the purpose of the missions to increase the number of schools, charitable institutions, etc.?

This overall perspective quickly became part of a specific strategy. We have seen its general principles, but, once on the spot, missionaries needed more specific guidelines.

In the 19th century, things went very well because everything was directed from Rome. For example, when the founder of the Foreign Missions of Lyons went to see the pope for the first time in his life, he had just returned from the Indies. Pius IX received him with a globe of the world in his hand and asked him where he was coming from, how he had come, etc. His vision was therefore thoroughly international.

Moreover, the authorities in Rome had a plan. Their idea was to progressively divide the entire planet. They systematically and methodically divided it according to simple principles: once the boundaries of a territory were determined, it was assigned to a missionary congregation of men, and to only one so as to avoid future internal conflicts.

The male congregation then chose the congregations of women that it wanted on its territory.

If Rome had also been responsible for the distribution of the congregations of women, there might never have been any problems!

Missionaries felt that Rome understood nothing of their situation. They had the impression that the “Roman” authorities at the Vatican had never set foot in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. However, this was not certain because they had people on the spot: synods, local councils, apostolic delegates. When these people returned, they wrote reports of 100 to 150 pages which contained a lot of information, including details.

The Vatican tried to put order into the situation and, at least since the creation of the Propaganda in 1622, had set three objectives which never changed and which proved to be effective in the long run:

  • The priority of priorities: missionaries must train local clergy (and they were called to account in this regard).
  • Missions must be independent from all political powers (local, foreign, etc.).
  • Missions must be self-sufficient. However, this caused problems very quickly because it prompted the missions to enter into the particularly colonial economic system with brickyards, plantations, gardens, etc. And it was embarrassing when missionaries became businessmen.

But very soon, in order to operate the missions, there was a need for support. However, Rome had officially declared that they should not seek the support of political powers. Nevertheless, it spent its time encouraging missionaries to seek political support. Was this an internal contradiction? Not necessarily, because Rome did not mean obtaining the support of the colonists but of the local authorities.

In the real world of the 19th century, the true interlocutors were the major European powers. And this became more and more true as the century advanced. At the outset, there was a certain amount of conniving that took place (same country, same language, and mutual services). Then conniving led to convergence: the parties wanted the same thing; both wanted to civilize the countries involved. But little by little, this led to confusion because, after a while, it was hard to distinguish between the government official and the missionary. Both parties publicly proclaimed their separate allegiances but, in fact, worked hand in hand. Given the proliferation of institutions, there was a reaction: if you want to develop your institutions, you need a special type of property, and you need a guarantee that you will be able to hold on to this property and that your investment will be profitable. Therefore, the best way to assure all of this is to address yourselves to the colonists in order to obtain laws that will provide you with titles to your property and that guarantee their security.

From the point-of-view of efficiency, this attitude was unimpeachable, but it tied the Church to political authorities more than it might have wanted in the beginning.


Evaluation of the Catholic missionary experience of the 19th century.

In 1914–18, the war aggravated the difficulties that were already emerging. It traumatized the missionary world. In Cameroun, for example, the French missionaries had the German missionaries arrested. How could the people understand this? After the war, German missionaries were expelled from the former German colonies because the latter became French. Rome’s immediate reaction was to restate the old guidelines and to forcefully insist upon them: the missions were not to be tied to any particular country and were to have nothing to do with national policies (the encyclical Maximum illud of 1919 did not invent anything new; everything had been said before; it merely said it in a particular context and in a very forceful manner).

What were the problems we discovered?

  • How to insist on internationalization at a time when the dominant powers and nationalisms were affirming themselves? This was a very complicated problem for the Catholic Church to solve.

How could the Church be both universal and inserted in local cultures which, at the time, were becoming more and more national? How to demonstrate that Catholic missionaries were really devoted to their country? The tendency was therefore to say that we are more French than you. But at the same time, they had to explain that they were not first of all French but missionaries of the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ. They were constantly torn between these two positions.

Some missionaries realized this more rapidly than others, e.g., certain Lazarist Fathers (Vincentians) in China at the end of the 19,h century. The Belgian Vincent Lebbe clearly realized that if the Catholic Church continued to tie itself closely to France, as it did, its chances of establishing itself in China were nil.

  • The question of Church institutions. The logic behind them obliged the local churches to enter into negotiations and alliances that became difficulty to manage. Two examples: in 1908, an agreement was signed between the Belgian Congo and the Vatican which gave advantages to missionaries. But later on, it took a long time to withdraw from this agreement. In Portugal, the missions were protected by very advantageous accords that were signed by Rome, but these accords eventually put Rome in an awkward position during the war in Angola and Mozambique.
  • The most fundamental question: the Utopia of a Christian society. The missionary world developed all of its strategy around the idea that, in foreign countries, it would finally be able to establish the Christian societies it had dreamed about, societies administered under the moral and spiritual guidance of the Catholic Church through its priests.

But the idea of a theocracy began to be questioned shortly before World War I. In fact, there were societies that would never become Catholic, e.g., China. What then was the purpose of our presence? To create Christian enclaves? And what about the Muslim world where the Church was not allowed to convert anyone? Should missionaries go back home or invent something else, as Father Charles de Foucauld tried to do?

  • The problem of local culture? How should it be dealt with? Should the Church impose its own model on these people (obligatory celibacy)?

We must recognize that the 19th century was able to introduce into the Catholic Church an awareness of the universal and a willingness to be part of it, and that it succeeded to a certain degree. If things changed so rapidly, especially in terms of the number of faithful (statistics), it was because of these choices. In 1800, Catholics in Africa were 1% of the population; in 1914, they were 3.5%, and the increase had only begun. Today, including Protestants, Christians are 30% of the population. Today, missionaries claim that Islam has invaded Africa, but Islam was 37% of the population in 1800 and remains at 37% today in 2003. In overall terms, Islam has not progressed.

The solutions that were found were based essentially on directives that came from the center and that tried to give everyone a number of common characteristics. For example, in just a few years, all of the programs of all of the seminaries throughout the world were changed, obliging everyone to teach Thomistic philosophy and theology.

Finally, the 19th century was already trying to reconcile the idea of being rooted in a particular society with, at the same being, the fact that the Catholic Church cannot be identified with a particular society. Enculturation is one aspect of the question, but it is necessary to know what this word means and what it implies.

Claude Prudhomme

André Latreille Center – LARHRA
18, Quai Claude Bernard
69007 Lyons

Historical Landmarks

General History & Catholic History & Other facts
1789: French Revolution & August 26, 1789: Declaration of the Rights Man & of Citizens 1795: first separation &
1815: Congress of Vienna & 1800–1823: Pius VII & 1817: Lamennais: Essai sur l’indifférence en matière de religion
1830: Expedition against Algiers & 1822: Work of the Propagation of the Faith (Lyons), Society of Evangelical Missions of Paris, 1824: Leo XII condemns Liberalism (Ubi primum) &
1830: Liberal revolutions in Europe & 1831–1846: Gregory XVI &
& 1832: Mirarivos & 1834: Paroles d’un Croyant
1842: Unequal treaties with China & 1839: In supreme Apostolatus & 1845: Fr. d’Alzon founds the Assumptionists
1848: Liberal revolutions in Europe & & Circulation of Les Annales: 150,000 copies
1852–1870: Napoleon III & & 1856: African Missions of Lyons
1859: Capture of Saigon & & 1859: Charles Darwin, Origin of the Species
& 1864: Quanta cura and the Syllabus & 1863: E. Renan, Vie de Jesus
1867–1912: Meiji Era in Japan, 1869: Suez Canal & & 1867: Karl Marx, Das Kapital, 1868: Lavigerie founds the White Fathers
1870: Defeat of the 3rd French Republic, Unity in Italy and Germany & 1869–1870: Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus (Infallibility) & 1873–1878: Kulturkampf
& 1878–1903: Leo XIII & 1880–1904: Measures against the Congregations in France
1885: Berlin Conference on Central Africa (Art. 6: protection of the missions) & 1879: Aeterni patris, 1891: Rerum Novarum, 1892: Ralliement (In the midst of problems), 1893:  Ad extremas, 1894: Orientalium dignitatis, 1901: Graves de communi & 1883:  La Croix becomes a daily, 1886: Albert de Mun founds the Catholic Youth Movement, 1890: Lavigerie: Anti-slavery Crusade
1895: Madagascar becomes a colony, 1896: Aduwa & &
1900: Foreign intervention in China to put down the Boxer Rebellion & 1903–1914: Pius X &
1904–1905: Russian-Japanese War & 1905: Decree on frequent communion, 1906: Vehementer nos against Separation, 1907: Condemnation of Modernism (Pascendi) & 1905: Separation of Church and State
1905–1911: Balkan and Moroccan Crises & &
1914–1918: World War I & 1914–1922: Benedict XV, 1919: Maximum illud & 1919: Treaty of Versailles

Foundation of the Congregations belonging to the Assumption Family and their Respective Founders and Foundresses

Foundation of the Religious of the Assumption

Thérèse-Maylis Toujouse

Founder, foundress, founding, foundation: all these words indicate the beginning of something. When that something is a religious congregation, who (or what) are we talking about?

The man (or woman) who had the original idea?

The person who implemented it?

The first group to come together for this purpose?

Someone who was very influential?

The spiritual director?

The ecclesiastical superior?

The local bishop?

In the case of the Religious of the Assumption, the term founder was used differently in different circumstances, and subsequent interpretations and misinterpretations were sometimes transmitted in ways which bore little connection to reality. Today, in chronological order, I would like to recall the three most important persons connected with the foundation: Father Theodore Combalot (1797–1873), Mother Marie-Eugénie Milleret (1817–1898), and Father Emmanuel d’Alzon (1810–1880). By examining their respective roles, I hope to clarify the term founder as well as our history.

The Religious of the Assumption

Date of birth: April 30, 1839.

Place: Paris, in a small flat on rue F6rou near the church of Saint-Sulpice.

Characters: a young girl, Anne Marie-Eugénie Milleret, born in 1817, and her first companion, Anastasie Etevier, born in 1816. In August and October, two other young girls joined them: Catherine O’Neill, Irish, born in 1817, and Josephine de Commarque, born in 1811. The four comprised the first community, and all four had been directed to this “work” in a surprising way by Father Combalot.

Father Combalot

Born in 1797 at Chatenay in the Isere region of southern France and ordained a priest in 1820, Father Combalot liked to “attribute his vocation to the priesthood and his ultramontane convictions to the blessing of Pius VII, received in 1804 when the Pope was on his way through France to crown Emperor Napoleon in Paris.”47

As a disciple of Lamennais, he spent time at La Chesnaie and espoused the ideas of the great master, in particular on the transformation of society.48

But after Rome’s condemnation of Lamennais in 1832, then in 1834, Combalot broke with him, then tried with all the ardor of his eloquence and the fervor of his friendship to persuade him to be humble and return to his original fidelity to the Church, but in vain.49

An apostle of the parish and diocesan missions, with an immense devotion to Our Lady, he traveled the length and breadth of Galilean France sowing the seed of ultramontanism. His thinking on the transformation of society fit into the general spiritual renewal of France and into the eagerness for new foundations after the Revolution.

There is no doubt about this: Father Combalot was the founder of the Religious of the Assumption in all that concerned the original inspiration as well as the will to found and to find “his foundress.”

While on pilgrimage to St. Anne d’Auray, he had had the inspiration to found a new congregation, and in 1831–32, with a few girls who included his own two sisters, he had made “an attempt that was a complete failure.”50 His first foundation bore no resemblance to anything Mother Marie-Eugénie did later on:

In fact, he understood so little about our present institute that, in an experiment he made a few years earlier with his own sisters, there were none of our rules and nothing of our way of life. It resembled what some people are trying to found today under the name of Deaconesses.51

In 1837, when he met Anne Eugénie Milleret in confession at the church of Saint-Eustache in Paris, he was delighted to have found someone so suitable.

I was the first of our sisters to be told about the work. At a time when I was begging God to send me a confessor who could teach me how best to serve Him, I thought there were signs from Providence that I should go and talk to Father Combalot. This holy missionary had, for several years, thought about a religious association which, under the patronage of Mary, would be dedicated to the education of young girls with the aim of giving them a totally Christian education. During a pilgrimage to St. Anne d’Auray, he thought he had received special insight about the future success of his project; and, in particular, he thought he had understood that these new daughters of the Blessed Virgin would be named after her Assumption and be dressed in purple.52

Two years separated this occasion from the foundation, two years of preparation and uncertainty for Anne Eugénie, and two years of preaching and long absences for Father Combalot. Their correspondence reflects the relationship between father and spiritual daughter, director and directed (although the roles were occasionally reversed), as well as the differences in character between a levelheaded, realistic young woman and an impetuous missionary always on the move.53

During these two years, the project, which would be refined after the foundation, was thought out and expressed in an Introduction to the Constitutions of the Religious of the Assumption (1839–1840) attributed to Father Combalot.’’54

Here, in a powerful fresco of the history of the Church and of religious life since the apostolic era, he sets out the principal needs of the times and the validity of a new congregation for the Christian education of young girls, the future mothers of families.

Aim: to transform society through the Gospel and through the influence of women, the wives of young men from well-to-do families, who are seeking a broad, modern education.

Model: Mary, in her mystery of the Assumption, a woman completely regenerated by grace, which calls for a reflection on the “social mystery of the Assumption.”

The need: a fundamental revolution in the hearts of the rich in order to awaken them to their responsibilities toward the poor, and to form in them “sisters” to care for the poor.

Basic policy: all subjects to be taught from the Catholic point-of-view.

Spiritual foundations: evangelical poverty, humility, solid religious studies, Latin, the Vulgate, the Roman breviary, the liturgy.

Why the Assumption?

Father Combalot began by suggesting that the Assumption, the name which he heard in prayer at St. Anne d’Auray, filled a gap in the list of the mysteries of Our Lady used by existing religious congregations: the Immaculate Conception, the Presentation, the Annunciation, Nazareth, etc.55

In this beautiful history of the glories of the Mother of God, the mystery of the Assumption is left for you, my dear daughters. It seems to have been reserved for you by the merciful goodness of Mary, whose virtues you wish to imitate and whose glories you wish to honor here on earth ... When the Blessed Virgin was taken up body and soul to the Kingdom of heaven, Christ honored in his noble mother, the woman transformed by grace ...

Before the foundation, in a note dated April 4, 1838, Anne Eugénie expressed her thoughts as she “meditated on the mystery of the Assumption while reciting her rosary.” She reflected on its relation to education and the needs of her times, “under the patronage of the Assumption of the Virgin most merciful, a mystery of glory which fills us with joy and hope, and supports us in our weakness.”56

Already in these words, there seems to be a connection between the name and the mission.

The motto “Maria Assumpta est” (M.A.E.) was first used by Anne Eugénie at the top of letters she sent to Josephine de Cornmarque (the future Mother Marie-Thérèse) on November 21, 1838, and to Father Combalot on November 25.57

To Josephine she explained:

I asked Father’s permission to take as our motto the text from the Office of the Assumption which, he says, must summarize our work, Maria Assumpta est. You are the first person with whom I am using it. Indeed, to honor the glories of Our Lady on the day of her Assumption, to renew our courage and hope through her mystery which she wants us to share, to learn from her example to rise from virtue to virtue following the measure of grace given us, and finally to work to raise the girls in our care above their small preoccupations, lack of purpose, and vanity—that is precisely what we are destined to do.

The Separation

Despite his firm determination to make the foundation, Father Combalot lacked the qualities of a founder in terms of continuity. Marie-Eugénie had experienced this even before the foundation, as she thought about its future organization. She wrote to him:

I can’t help thinking that you may not be the right person for this kind of foundation. I would be relieved if someone else, under your direction and with the same ideas, could assume the responsibility of getting it started and regularized. I’m afraid you do not have enough continuity, or calm, or prudence, or sense of leadership.58

And again she wrote:

The exact observance of the rule and consistent guidance from you during the novitiate year will be the only things which can create the spirit of the house ... It seems clear to me that that is the price of success ... The entire novitiate year will require your presence at least once a week. I am too young for you to make me superior before my sisters have seen me obeying and humiliating myself very often.59

After the foundation, his continual changes in the guidance he gave the sisters as well as in the overall orientation of their religious life quickly caused difficulties.

As soon as we established some form of community life, Father Com-balot’s inability to govern became evident. I had never had any desire to found; I was doing it out of obedience. I had seen a complete and well-ordered form of religious life; I could not see how that could ever materialize.60

Insurmountable difficulties and tensions led to a separation in 1841. Father Combalot wrote a letter to the Archbishop recommending “the nascent work” to him.

I hand over to you the authority which my position as father and founder gave me over this work. I was quite happy to create the first community. The idea which led to its creation still seems necessary and opportune, but my direct co-operation in it would be an obstacle to its development.61

Nonetheless, he felt resentful towards the community.

At that point, Marie-Eugénie still hoped that the separation would not be definitive:

In a few years time, you will return to a peaceful and real friendship with me, without the recent irritations, or the enthusiasm of the first days.62

In August 1841, about the time of her first profession, she replied to a letter of rebuke:

None of us, my dear Father, had the least desire to make this foundation. We all came out of obedience to your advice. Do not be surprised that we have continued to write to you and remember you before God. We were convinced, as I still am, that upon reflection, when you are alone in your soul with God, you will be very pleased that we have continued to work for something you once longed to see accomplished for the glory of God.63

She remained grateful:

I am and I always will be your daughter, and we all say the same thing.64

As their relationship developed, Mother Marie-Eugénie speaks first of “your work,” then of “our work,” and finally of “God’s work.”

After Father Combalot’s departure, writing to Father de Salinis, Marie-Eugénie spoke of Father Combalot as “our founder” and reflected on the future of “the work he founded.”65

The following year, writing to Father d’Alzon, she confided her weariness in the face of

the responsibility placed on shoulders so young in age and virtue, because this responsibility is more than just being a superior. It includes a foundation, and a foundation without a founder (or even worse than that).66

It was in Jesus Christ that she put her hope:

I feel that only Jesus Christ has the right to found something in his Church, to govern souls, to educate souls redeemed by his blood.67

Already, in 1837, faced with her hesitations, Father Combalot had said:

It is Jesus Christ who will be the founder of our Assumption.

However, the memory of Father Combalot remained in the heart of the community:

I think that in recent times the sisters have become fond of Father Combalot again. We prefer our spirit and our dedication to Jesus Christ to anything we see elsewhere, and we are grateful to Father Combalot for his influence in this regard. We are also better disposed towards him now that we feel completely sure we will no longer have too much contact with him.68

Marie-Eugénie Milleret

Introducing herself to Father Gros, Father Combalot’s successor as ecclesiastical superior, Marie-Eugénie wrote:

Daughter of a family which, unfortunately, was unbelieving, brought up in a society which was even more unbelieving, I was able to realize, from a Christian point-of-view, the misfortune of the class to which I belonged. I admit, Father, that even today I know of no sadder thought than this recollection.69

Anne Marie-Eugénie Milleret was born in 1817 in Metz, France, of a bourgeois family opposed to the Restoration. Her father’s family came from Italy (Miglioretti) and Lorraine, and her mother’s from Belgium.

Historically, the family motto was connected with the faith, Nihil sine fide (Nothing without the faith). At this point in time, however, whatever faith they had was that of the century of the Enlightenment; it was the faith of the philosophers and of reason. Her father, a financier and politician, considered himself a disciple of Voltaire, and as a child her education was marked by this. On the other hand, the strong presence of her mother, who was taken from her so early, made a deep impression on her.70 Many of her principles in later life stemmed from her mother’s example. She treasured the memory of the grace of her first communion, at Christmas 1829, as “God’s first call to her soul.”

After a happy childhood came a time of trial: her father suffered financial ruin, her parents separated, and her mother, who meant everything to her, died suddenly. At the age of 15, she found herself alone, “not knowing whether she could ever again become interested in anything.”71

She lived successively with two different families, one rich and worldly, the other pious and, she thought, narrow-minded. She had plenty of time to herself and struggled with the great questions of life and death. In 1836, listening to Father Lacordaire in the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris transformed her inner confusion and answered her questions.

I was really and truly converted. I developed a longing to devote all my strength or rather all my weakness to the Church which, from that moment on, I saw as the only one having the knack and power of achieving what is good.72

From her first meeting with Lacordaire, Anne Eugénie came away with an unforgettable definition of religious life:

A gift of self to God in order to save souls.

He advised her to pray and wait, and he suggested a serious reading list which, she said, led to her “intellectual renewal.”73

A year later, in the church of Saint-Eustache in Paris, she met Father Combalot. She was 19, he was 38.

Some months after their meeting, when she had begun working in view of the foundation, he wrote to her:

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that Providence has predestined you to become the cornerstone of a work all His own. God has given you the strength to answer my call and to break energetically and wisely all the ties which kept you in the world.

A distinguished ecclesiastic of this country, to whom I showed your little work on education, was most amazed, and could only exclaim after reading it: “Father, that’s the woman God has chosen for the important work you have undertaken. Do not look for anyone else” ... So take courage, my dear daughter. (Turin, November 21,1837)

Having been co-opted into a work not of her own choosing, Anne Eugénie began to toy with the “notion of apostolate” which, later on, became the reason she gave for the foundation and allowed her to face the difficulties that awaited her.

To the founding intuitions of Father Combalot, Anne Eugénie brought all that she was and all that she owed to her mother in her early formation: a good education, well-developed natural virtues, an open heart and mind, a sense of the woman’s role in the family and in society, and a godless humanist formation. Extremely gifted with a lively intelligence and a great facility for study, she was driven by a longing to know and a need to understand “which nothing could satisfy.”74

From her mother, she had also picked up a passion for politics:

I can tell you that three minds have in fact had a transforming effect on me which I still feel: my mother, then two men toward whom I experienced the feelings I mentioned to you once before ... What I found so exciting was the social mission I thought they had. In my view, they represented and championed this idea ... . These two minds still seem to me to have been outstanding as well as my mother’s: both were enthusiasts for democracy, not for the useless details of day-to-day politics, for which I have little interest, but for the future, the destiny, and the high moral ideals of our country.75

Here we should mention the influence of Buchez76 (his early conversations and his writings) and Boulland, an “enthusiastic follower of Buchez and a prophet of social transformations that are easier to dream about than to carry out.”77

At 19 or 20, she expressed this passion of hers, prompted by the prevailing climate of her day:

Thus, all this last year, my heart throbbed at the names of my contemporaries who are illustrious defenders of the Faith: Lamennais before his fall, Lacordaire, Montalembert, and all the others. I dreamed of being a man so as to be really useful like them, because I said to myself that they were saving our country by re-connecting it to the source of truth. And I never thought that it might perhaps be granted to me, with all my faults and failings, to be associated in any way with their great destinies. And yet that is the case, because my humble sacrifice, if it is complete, will be just as blessed by God as are their dazzling ideas. Perhaps I will do great things, perhaps I will have saints for children, and perhaps they in their turn will have great influences for salvation.78

On a later occasion, she came back to Lamennais’ idea:

Only yesterday, someone brought me a copy of Lamennais’ Voices from Prison. There is more than one thing, as you know, which made my heart throb as I opened this little volume, but more calmly. Fundamentally, it is just not possible that the earthly transformation of humanity and its social order should not come from the Word of Jesus Christ.79

However, even though Father Combalot’s plan tied in well with her experience, she felt incapable for the moment of going any further with it. A stay at the Benedictines of the Blessed Sacrament in Paris—from October 1837 to August 1838—helped her to discover the Office and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Her novitiate at the Visitation at Cote-Saint-Andre—August 1838 to April 1839—gave her time to study and deepen her prayer life:

My studies are having an effect on my meditations, and I am surprised to see how everything St. Thomas is teaching me enters into my devotions, giving them life and influencing them. I do not like to base myself on anything erroneous or uncertain. My soul takes flight more freely and surely when it feels certain of the ground under its feet, and when it is guided by the expert faith of the Angelic Doctor.80

She appreciated the spirit of Francis de Sales and community life, and she longed for the sisters God would give her later on. It was there that she found confirmation of her attraction for a monastic religious life in the tradition of the great Orders.

Having been converted by the preaching of Lacordaire, she chose a form of life very similar to that of the Dominicans who would soon be re-established in France. It was “the only Order we felt attracted to.” These foundations were laid from the very first years of the Congregation:

I love to talk about St. Catherine of Sienna, that great saint of your Order. God permitted that our Congregation should begin on her feast day. Since we found her to be such a perfect model of apostolic life combined with prayer life, she is also a special patron of ours.81

At much the same time, faced with what appeared to be doubts emanating from the chancery about this little group of young women, Marie-Eugénie wrote to Father Gros, the Ecclesiastical Superior. In her letter, she affirmed her belief in the need for this new work: “sooner or later it will be done,” perhaps “by holier hands.” As for herself, “my only vocation is to devote myself to it, whatever suffering or difficulties this may entail.”82

But at the same time, she asked for the help of Father Lacordaire who was at the origin of her conversion:

It was to your preaching alone that I owed my new life and my desire to share in the sacrifice of Christ. No one else had taught me to recognize its power, and I must admit that I found no notion of it in the minds of most Christians.83

And she resumed a correspondence begun earlier with Father d’Alzon, Vicar General of the diocese of Nîmes.

Father Emmanuel d’Alzon

Born in Le Vigan in southern France in 1810, Father d’Alzon was 28 when he first met Anne Eugénie Milleret at Chatenay, the estate of Father Combalot’s mother. At the time, she was at the Visitation at Côte-Saint-André.

The d’Alzon family motto was Deo dati (Given to God), which was an affirmation of a living faith. Here, we can only mention in passing his native soil, his family, Lamennais and his followers, his ideas about restoring the Catholic faith, Rome, his ordination, and the diocese of Nîmes. His roots were very different from those of Marie-Eugénie, whether family, social, religious or political. Nevertheless, their first meeting, recorded by both, was a meeting of minds and engendered instant mutual esteem.

Mother Marie-Eugénie wrote:

It was towards the end of the summer of 1838 that I saw Father d’Alzon for the first time. I had just turned 21. lather d’Alzon questioned me closely about the way I understood the work and my dispositions towards it, but without touching on anything to do with my conscience.84

She also wrote:

Without discussing matters of conscience in such a fleeting encounter, I immediately felt great esteem and confidence in him. It was there that, as the three of us talked, he told me in front of Father Combalot that the greatest obstacle to the work this good priest wanted would be himself, and that I had to expect it ... Father d’Alzon began directing me in December 1840 ... Once I became a religious, I did not see Father d’Alzon again until 1843.85

From Father d’Alzon (conversations in 1874–1875):

I got to know Father Combalot at Lavagnac, at my father’s home. In 1838, he was staying there for a short time and talked to me about his plan of founding a new religious order for the education of young girls. He told me that for this purpose he had discovered someone highly intelligent: she had learned Latin in three months, was doing astonishing translations of Virgil, and had written a remarkable essay on education. There was certainly no other woman in Europe who could compare with her. “I’ll introduce her to you,” he told me, because he already regarded her as his property ...

When they met:

This girl’s every word bore the stamp of solid judgment and of a soul not only of great worth but in the habit of conversing with God. I can still hear her telling me about the Catholic attitude to develop in souls. She told me things that were so penetrating that I was struck and, in one stroke, she put into words what I was secretly thinking about education and religious life. Every one of her words seems to have been maturely thought out and weighed before God.

When Father Combalot explained his plans to me and told me that things now had to move quickly and openly, I admit I was very worried about your poor Mother, and I turned to Father Combalot and told him that I could see just one obstacle to his work. “And what is that?” he asked. “You, my dear friend.”

At the time of the foundation:

This relationship lasted four years without my ever seeing your Mother or any of the Religious of the Assumption. Everything took place by correspondence. At the end of that time, I wanted to see the faces of these people ... I arrived in Paris in August 1843.

In the midst of the difficulties with Father Combalot, Marie-Eugénie obtained his permission to consult another priest. After refusing several names, he accepted Father d’Alzon, perhaps because of the distance between Nîmes and Paris. At the very outset, in December 1840, Father d’Alzon wrote:

No, you cannot leave the success of your work to Father Combalot. Remember what I told you at Chatenay in his presence. If I had relied only on him, I would not have encouraged you, even then, to go ahead ... Father Combalot will not change. He is a little too old for that, and he is set in his ways.

Such a painful situation cannot go on forever. But for now, we can only prepare the way. It is up to Providence to loosen your ties, and you may be sure they will be loosened sooner than you think. In hastening to answer you, I have wanted to prove the interest I have in your work.

A period of uncertainty followed Father Combalot’s departure, and Mother Marie-Eugénie consulted Father d’Alzon often about the Constitutions she was writing: how best to express the charism and the spirituality of the Assumption. The references would be too numerous to enumerate. Suffice it to look at their correspondence between 1842 and 1844, the date of the final vows of Mother Marie-Eugénie and the first sisters.

In October and November 1844, Mother Marie-Eugénie went to Nîmes to consult Father d’Alzon in person about the basic topic of their correspondence over the previous two years (the handwritten text of these Constitutions, in the Assumptionist Archives in Rome, shows the extent and nature of their collaboration). Father d’Alzon replied to her questions and gave his advice, but never imposed his opinion. The main ideas and the thinking behind them were always those of Mother Marie-Eugénie.

While she had hoped that someone else would take over as superior, he recognized her role as foundress and reminded her of that fact.

Their correspondence of 1844–1845 is very important because it shows how the work matured. It is full of reflections on the spirit of the Congregation in general, and it broaches the possibility of the foundation of a male branch with “a similar spirit, in order to give young Christian men and especially young priests a character that is stronger, broader, more intelligent, more Christian in one sense, and especially nobler and freer in another sense.”86 Father d’Alzon started his much hoped-for foundation in 1845. From then on, they spoke of “our double Assumption,” and of “our two Assumptions.”87

“Your work,” “our work,” “the work of God”: these expressions which alternated in the letters of Marie-Eugénie and Father Combalot now alternated in the correspondence between Marie-Eugénie and Father d’Alzon. Many examples over the years could be cited.88

As disciples of Lamennais and lovers of Jesus Christ and his Church, the two founders had much in common. This same spirituality is found throughout the Assumption family. It is difficult to attribute the central ideas to either one or the other.

In 1855, referring to the possible vocation of Father Gay to the Assumptionists, Mother Marie-Eugénie expressed what she saw as the characteristics of the male Assumption. Since she was speaking about the Assumption in general, we can conclude that these were features she considered common to both our Congregations:

He is the one who conceptualizes what the Assumption is all about. That is why even the Dominicans and Jesuits don’t suit him ... Recently, a sort of premonition prompted me to speak to him a lot about what I like so much about your ideas ... : knowledge about Jesus Christ who sheds light on everything; love of the Church; the spirit of dedication to and zeal for the Holy See; the Christian perspective on education, on art, and on the way we conduct our entire lives; our attachment to tradition, the Office, and the Liturgy; our disinterestedness as an Order; and finally all these things which you know better than I, and which are always Jesus Christ, either in himself, or in his Vicar, or in his saints, in our worship of him, and in everything he has inspired to his Church.89

There were differences as well. Expressions such as God alone, the Christianization of the intelligence, joyful detachment—so important for the Religious—do not have their parallel in Father d’Alzon. The way she understood the mystery of the Assumption, the love of truth, the contemplative spirit, all of which are fundamental to our spirituality, are also particular to Marie-Eugénie.

How to live the contemplative spirit was a point of difference. Mother Marie-Eugénie gave her sisters a life modeled on that of the cloistered Orders (all the while refusing full enclosure), whereas Father d’Alzon gave the Assumptionists a more priestly form. Their ideas on monastic spirituality were also different and complementary (cf. the Instructions given by Father d’Alzon to the Religious of the Assumption in Nîmes in 1870, and those Mother Marie-Eugénie gave her Religious in Paris in 1878). Father d’Alzon’s spirituality was more active and apostolic, while Mother Marie-Eugénie’s was more contemplative, always with an emphasis on the link between the apostolate and the life of prayer.

Mother Thérèse-Emmanuel

In our account of Mother Marie-Eugénie and of the origins of the Congregation, we cannot forget the part played by Mother Therese-Emmanuel. Catherine O’Neill was born in 1817 in Limerick (Ireland) to a profoundly Christian family. Brought up by two religious congregations (the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Bar Convent, York, and the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulcher at New Hall), she went to France on a temporary visit to the Abbaye-aux-Bois, where, in a surprising fashion, she became entangled in Father Combalofs meshes during Lent of 1839. She assured him, however, that she was not “wholly his,” but “wholly God’s.” In spite of differences in upbringing, temperament, religious leanings, and ideas on education (at the beginning), she and Mother Marie-Eugénie developed very close ties, which the trials of the early days with Father Combalot only served to strengthen. More than any of the others, she suffered from the continual variations which he imposed in their formation. A mystic and profoundly contemplative, mistress of novices until her death in 1888, she trained generations of sisters for the Assumption religious life. Father d’Alzon reproached her for steering the sisters too strongly towards the contemplative life. In the midst of difficulties, both internal and external (the role of the Fathers in the government of the Congregation), she was always Mother Marie-Eugénie’s faithful, clearheaded assistant, anxious to maintain communion around the Foundress. When she died, soon after the approval of the Constitutions, Marie-Eugénie said of her:

You all know what Mother Thérèse-Emmanuel was for the Congregation: how, by her religious spirit, her work, her faith and her dedication, she founded this work of the Assumption.90

I would like to add something about Mother Thérèse-Emmanuel by underlining her great love for the Liturgy. You have all witnessed it, and those who lived with her remember her great love for the Office. There is no doubt that, at the beginning of the Congregation, she insisted more than anyone else that we should say the Office. She desired it ardently, and she was always strongly attached to it. She inspired the novices with love and devotion for the Office of the Church all the time she had charge of their formation. She taught them to say it with respect and attention and to make it the foundation of their spiritual life.91

The Title of Founder and Foundress

Thus far we have seen Father Combalot as the inspiration behind the Congregation, and Mother Marie-Eugénie as the Foundress who implemented his ideas, with Father d’Alzon as a friend, adviser and spiritual director. With respect to the title and role of founder, there exists some confusion. Even today it is said and written, both inside and outside our Congregations, that Father d’Alzon founded the Religious of the Assumption. It is a fact that, as a rule, congregations of women were usually founded from pre-existing congregations of men, but that is not our case. The confusion stems in part from what Mother Marie-Eugénie herself said. She had a great love for the Fathers and their Congregation and always wanted to stress the relationship. Her humility also made her withdraw in favor of Father d’Alzon, treating him as the founder, and even on occasion naming him as the founder. We can also discern a desire to escape from the clutches of the bishops and to avoid all possible conflict with them.

In reality, there were juridical stages in the use of the term founder.

In 1854, referring to a questionnaire addressed by the Archdiocese of Paris to its religious sisters, Marie-Eugénie asked Father d’Alzon: “Do I put Father Combalot or Bishop Affre for our beginnings?”92 Father d’Alzon advised her to reply: “Founded by a priest friend of Bishop Affre who wished that the first act of his episcopate be your investiture (August 14, 1840)—don’t put anything about Father Combalot—(the soberest truth possible).”

Marie-Eugénie’s official reply is found in Volume VI, No 1509. About herself, she simply said “the one who was chosen as superior,” without giving her name.

On several other occasions, when introducing the Congregation, even as late as April 1880, at a period when the political climate was difficult for religious congregations, she referred to Bishop Affre as to a founding authority.

Our Congregation, founded by Bishop Affre, under the Rule of St. Augustine and the Constitutions which he had kindly examined ... 93

The important thing is to say that we depend on the Bishop and that we are recognized by the Government. If asked, we should give the name of Bishop Affre as founder.94

Most of the time, Marie-Eugénie did not speak of herself as the foundress. She was “the first of our sisters to be told about this work” and the “first stone to be laid ...” “I want to be like those foundation stones which hold up the building without anyone seeing them or thinking about them.”95

At the same time, she recognized that she was the foundress.

To Father d’Alzon she wrote: “I am a foundress, but I see that I am not even a religious.”96 “I am trying to see before God what I need most in order to finally resemble a foundress.”97 Writing from Rome in 1866: “The Pope will refer the matter to the Bishop of Nîmes, and if through him he is sure not only of the Institute but of my person as Superior General and Foundress, since that is what they consider me,  ...” 98

Thinking about the first sisters who bore the burden of the foundation, she wrote to Mother Therese-Emmanuel at Richmond in 1851: “We are all foundation stones.”99

Regarding the application of the title to Father d’Alzon:

In 1866, when they were presenting the Constitutions to Rome for the approbation of the Institute, Marie-Eugénie mentioned the title “founder”:

In Rome, I would very much like that we be listed under the heading of Nîmes (Nemausensis) and that, from now on, it be clearly understood that you are our Father, so that neither you nor I will deny it when people say that you are our founder.100

He did not reply to her immediately, but at least three letters were sent to Father Picard about its implications in terms of authority (letters of September 3, 18 and 25, 1866).

In 1868, in the midst of a tense situation, Mother Marie-Eugénie seriously considered resigning.101

On August 26, Father d’Alzon took up the question again from Bagnères de Bigorre:

You are telling me about decisions you must take and are asking whether I accept the idea of continuing to be involved with our work as in the past. Please note that I accept to continue doing everything you desire. Let me explain. When I established 23 or 24 years ago what I would do for you, there was no question of giving me the title of founder, which you have since come back on. The title implies something. What part of that something do you want to give me? This is why I have been embarrassed by various remarks you have made. I don’t want anything more than you want to give, but does what you want to give include the title of founder? For me, that is the question. Since you find that, in the greater freedom that I have here, I am coming back on what I said earlier (which is not quite correct because there is no need for me to come back on it), you can at least see that I am quite happy to go along with your ideas, as long as I know what they are.

This is not the place to study the evolution of their personal friendship and of the relationship of authority that existed between them.

Father d’Alzon’s Death

Mother Marie-Eugénie was in Nîmes at the beginning of November 1880, waiting for a sign from Father Picard in the hope of seeing Father d’Alzon, which took place on November 14.

When Father d’Alzon died, Mother Marie-Eugénie, questioned by Bishop Besson about the beginning of our Congregation, spoke of Father d’Alzon as our founder. A letter the Bishop wrote to the clergy of Nîmes repeated her remark, causing a great stir among the sisters. Several wrote to Auteuil asking for an explanation. Mother Thérèse-Emmanuel replied in a note dated January 20, 1881:

You are asking how we understand here the sentence that refers to us in Bishop Besson’s letter. We see it, not as saying something contrary to the truth, but simply as a sign of respect and affection at this moment for Father d’Alzon.

The Bishop had asked Mother about the beginnings of our Congregation, which she recounted to him. “So,” he went on, “Father d’Alzon founded only the Oblates?” Mother replied: “That is not the case, your Excellency. Because of all the services he rendered us, because of the vocations he gave us, Father d’Alzon can be regarded as our founder. Wc arc mourning him ...” Faced with such a direct question, our dear Mother must have been very embarrassed. She has always been reluctant to say herself that the major role in the work of the Assumption was hers. She has never wanted to call herself the foundress. She thinks she is unworthy of that title. It is God, she repeats, who did it, we were only his instruments. It is He who had the idea and who brought us to put it into effect.

She would hide herself among the “us” of the first sisters, as if she had not had a more important role than the others in all that was done. Also, her humility and her nobility of soul have kept her from attributing anything to herself, but we who know she was the foundation stone chosen by God, who have been built upon her from the beginning, who have relied on her, and who have been supported in the arduous work of those first years by the strength, energy, and stability we found in her, we cannot give anyone else the title only she deserves. For no one else shared with her the hardships and difficulties of the beginnings or administered on a daily basis the remedial measures of light, support, and gift-of-self as she did.

The work was already in existence when Mother began having closer contacts with Father d’Alzon. Later on, he had long conversations with her on all the great religious questions which had inspired our work that he found so beautiful. She was so close to his thinking and to his point-of-view that, with her help, he got the idea to found a similar congregation for education, and when he got back to Nîmes, he bought a [secondary] school already called Assumption.102 That was how, in actual fact, Mother was instrumental in helping Father d’Alzon develop the plan he then put into effect. He also helped our work grow by his advice and dedication. That is why we have always had great gratitude, affection and respect for the assistance he gave us. It is in that sense that Mother could give him the title of founder when she was with the Bishop. In any case, the Congregation would not use it in any other sense. We jealously keep for Mother General the title that is hers, both because it is the truth and because of the affection we have for her in our hearts. You are perfectly right in saying that our relationship with the Fathers is one of friendship and mutual help, and nothing more.

I hasten to finish this very long letter. I will be pleased if it throws some light on the point you asked about. You see, the Fathers know nothing about how we began. Having come well after us, they saw the relationship that already existed between us and them, and they took it for granted that we did not exist before them. But we believe that, in order to show the real plan of God and what he did for our Assumption, we must tell the facts as they are, along with the dates which show how things happened and what Mother has been for our Assumption, truly its foundress. Farewell. Sister Thérèse-Emmanuel.103

In December 1880, Mother Marie-Eugénie had herself written to Mother Marie-Marguerite, superior in London:

Have you read the pastoral letter of the Bishop of Nîmes about Father d’Alzon? It is very beautiful, though he should not have compared him with Lacordaire nor exaggerated what I told him about his influence on our foundation.104

In addition, when there were serious difficulties regarding the government of the Religious of the Assumption, at the time of the special General Chapter of 1886 and of its consequences, another series of documents must be taken into account.

Thus, Mother Marie-Eugénie wrote to Mother Jeanne-Emmanuel:

It is not Father d’Alzon who is the founder ... . With respect to the life written by Father Timon-David, it seems to me that His Excellency the Bishop would do us a great service if he brought this mistake to the author’s attention without our having to intervene ourselves. It is a flagrant mistake. M. Mermillod says clearly that all who were there when we began say it is not Father d’Alzon who is the founder. However, we should not raise a question that would be resented even more by the Fathers of the Assumption.105

Shared Intuitions—Mutual Inspiration

While the Religious of the Assumption do not use the word founder for Father d’Alzon, they recognize their great debt toward him. It was he who led Marie-Eugénie to a human and spiritual maturity which the young girl, endowed with a supernatural instinct, did not have when she was chosen by Father Combalot. Between Marie-Eugénie and Father d’Alzon, there was a long history of forty years of friendship. It had its ups and downs, but on both sides the friendship was stronger than any passing mishap.

They were two attractive personalities with very different talents and inclinations which they developed in association and by sheer osmosis. Two personalities who left their mark on their Congregations simply because of all they were. And the two foundations differ, not just because the Religious of the Assumption were founded six years before the Augustinians of the Assumption, but because their respective foundations were marked by these founders and by their particular spiritual tendencies: those of a religious priest who was passionate about the Kingdom of God, and those of a woman religious who was both contemplative and apostolic.

They had common intuitions, they spurred each other on, and their respect was mutual.

Father d’Alzon gave expression to this in a letter to Mother Marie-Gabrielle, the superior in Nîmes. After his series of conferences in 1870–71, in the presence of the novitiate of the Religious of the Assumption in exile in Nîmes, Father d’Alzon answered the words of gratitude that had been expressed to him: “If I have given something, I have also received enormously. This type of intercommunication is what enabled me to say what I said. We have bought in the Cévennes Mountains a small property where there are two ravines. Each has a little spring that flows into a single stream. Once the waters intermingle, who can say where the stream really originated?” (July 11, 1871).

Where does the stream originate? The spring? Reflecting on their foundation, both could say, as did Marie-Eugénie:

At Assumption, everything comes from Jesus Christ, everything belongs to Jesus Christ, and everything must be for Jesus Christ. (May 2, 1884).

There is only one rock which is Jesus Christ. It is on Jesus Christ that we are built (August 1, 1880).

Sister Thérèse-Maylis Toujouse
Archivist of the Religious of the

17, rue de l’Assomption
75016 Paris

Appendix: The Meeting of Anne Eugénie Milleret and Father Emmanuel d’Alzon in 1838

Marie-Eugénie’s Memories of Father d’Alzon (1880)

The first contacts I had with Father d’Alzon were in 1838. He had already been Vicar General in Nîmes for some time. I was at the Visitation in Cote St. Andre. Father Combalot, having come to preach a no-vena, I don’t know where, spent some time with Father d’Alzon, perhaps at Lavagnac. He spoke to him about me and his work, and he showed him a letter in which I told him I was afraid about what might be said if I had too many contacts with Father Combalot. He begged him to write and reassure me. That letter from Father d’Alzon, the first I received, was stolen along with a certain number of others in a robbery we had at Impasse des Vignes ... Some time afterwards, Father Combalot asked the Sisters of the Visitation to let me spend a little time at his mother’s house at Chatenay. Father d’Alzon came, and it was there that I saw him for the first time. We did not have many one-on-one conversations because Father Combalot watched jealously so as not to give me that opportunity except that, on one occasion, while visiting a shrine in the mountains, Father d’Alzon finished his office and I my rosary before Father Combalot, and we were able to chat a little. Without discussing matters of conscience in such a fleeting encounter, I immediately felt great esteem and confidence in him. It was there that, as the three of us talked, he told me in front of Father Combalot that the greatest obstacle to the work this good priest wanted would be himself, and that I had to expect it ... . Father d’Alzon began directing me in December 1840 ... . Once I became a religious, I did not see Father d’Alzon again until 1843.106

Conversations of Father d’Alzon in 1874–75 about his first meeting with Miss Milleret:

I got to know Father Combalot at Lavagnac, at my father’s home. In 1838, he was staying there for a short time, and he talked to me about his plan of founding a new religious order for the education of young girls. He told me that for this purpose he had discovered someone highly intelligent: she had learned Latin in three months, was doing astonishing translations of Virgil, and had written a remarkable essay on education. There was certainly no other woman in Europe who could compare with her! “I’ll introduce you to her,” he told me, because he already regarded her as his property ... We went together to Mon-tauban, where Father was to preach a retreat. There, he asked me to write to Miss Milleret, which I did, but it was a very strong letter in which I pointed out that the work she was undertaking seemed very difficult to me, and that she would need to invoke the Holy Spirit a lot. During our trip, I got to know this good Father Combalot much better, and I no longer had any confidence in him as a practical man. He went to preach a diocesan retreat, then I saw him again in Lyons where he persuaded me to come and see him in Chatcnay, at his mother’s. “Come, I will introduce you to Miss Milleret. You’ll see what a fine woman she is! You can back her up. You can encourage her ...” I took up his invitation, and that was when I met your Mother for the first time. She was already wearing a purple dress, although she was still in the world ...

This girl’s every word bore the stamp of solid judgment and of a soul not only of great worth but in the habit of conversing with God. I can still hear her telling me about the Catholic attitude to develop in souls. She told me things that were so penetrating that I was struck and, in one stroke, she put into words what I was secretly thinking about education and religious life. Every one of her words seems to have been maturely thought out and weighed before God.

We agreed we would make a pilgrimage to a chapel on a mountain not far away. I was struck by your Mother’s beautiful expression as she recited her rosary on the way; and I said to myself that this was someone who would not give of herself in half measures. I had several very serious conversations with her, which convinced me more and more that she had the makings of a foundress.

When Father Combalot explained his plans to me and told me that things now had to move quickly and openly, I admit I was very worried about your poor Mother, and I turned to Father Combalot and told him that I could see just one obstacle to his work. “And what is that?” he asked. “You, my dear friend.”

Once, your Mother wrote to me at the end of 1839, telling me that the difficulties that had been foreseen had begun to develop between Father Combalot and herself. I thought that I should not attempt to answer her without Father Combalot’s permission. She wrote to me again in 1840 telling me that she had obtained his permission. I was happy to think 1 could be of some service to your Mother for whom I had had the highest esteem after seeing her for the first time at Chatenay. Furthermore, I could not help pitying a new young community, in which 1 saw so many fine candidates left almost completely to their own devices. I realized that here were some precious people whom God wanted to use to do a lot of good. This relationship lasted four years without my ever seeing your Mother or any of the Religious of the Assumption. Everything took place by correspondence. At the end of that time, I wanted to see the faces of these people ... I arrived in Paris in August 1843.

The Title of Founder. At the death of Father d’Alzon

Besides the text quoted earlier about the conversation between Mother Marie-Eugénie and Bishop Besson, the Assumptionist Archives contain a text entitled: Note dictated on November 22, 1880 by Madame the Superior General of the Ladies of the Assumption.107 The handwriting is that of Mother Marie of Christ. The text cannot be Mother Marie-Eugénie’s.

It was in 1838 that, in quite providential circumstances, Father d’Alzon met for the first time the soul with whom he was to begin the work which formed his religious family. These brief initial contacts produced a warm feeling of mutual esteem and confidence. One year later, Mother Eugénie, finding herself together with a few young women for a foundation she was accepting only out of obedience to her confessor, obtained permission in the midst of inextricable difficulties to have recourse to Father d’Alzon. She placed her entire confidence in him. By his advice and dedication, he formed the work that God had blessed with such remarkable growth. During his trip to Paris in 1843, a great deal of his time was dedicated to Mother and her daughters, and in 1844, Mother came to Nîmes to the Ladies of Marie-Therese to write a first draft of the Constitutions. The contemplative life, so dear to Father d’Alzon, was for the most part combined in the Institute with apostolic works. The Roman Office was adopted, and the first house of adoration within the Congregation was the one that Father d’Alzon established in Nîmes in 1855. Thus the devotions dearest to Father d’Alzon had their place in this semi-cloistered Institute which was the first to consider him as their Father.

But if Father d’Alzon was the Father, he never wanted to be the Superior. He always refused to have any greater authority over the Congregation of the Ladies of the Assumption and invariably told the foundress that her Institute consisted of houses where the religious were numerous enough to form regular Communities with semi-enclosure, and that these communities were as close as could be to the life of fully cloistered orders. He told her that the Institute was one of those which, according to the Council of Trent and the recent decisions of the Congregations, ought in each diocese to be placed under the authority of the bishop and depend on Rome as their center. He also told her that the relationship of spiritual direction and mutual help between her Congregation and ours were the most suitable. He was convinced that no bishop would ever oppose the activities of religious men who professed the same rule and could better than anyone preserve their spirit.

For the Missions, his principles were quite different, lie thought that the Religious could have spiritual security there only if they were able to find support in a congregation of religious men in terms of both spiritual direction and government.

Perhaps one ought to say here that later on, when Father d’Alzon, now responsible for the Near Eastern Missions, felt the need in Bulgaria to have women religious who were less cloistered and more active, it was a Religious of the Assumption, Mother Madeleine, whom he first placed at the head of a small house of humble, dedicated girls that one of his sons had gathered at Le Vigan for this purpose. Later on, the growing work took on a life of its own and established itself in Nîmes where Father d’Alzon showered it with his solicitude.

There is another copy of this document in the Archives of the Religious [Sisters] of the Assumption. It is complemented by yet another document which explains the remarks made in the margin, in pencil, by “Mother Therese-Joseph of Jesus Mary, assistant general of the Assomptiades from 1927 to 1939, and then archivist until her death on January 15, 1948.”108

This document, which we owe to the hand of Mother Marie of Christ, is ambiguous. In reading the first sentence, “In 1838, Father d’Alzon met for the first time the soul with whom he was to begin the work which formed his religious family,” it would seem that the Institute of the Assomptiades was part of the religious family of Father d’Alzon and had been begun by him. This interpretation runs contrary to the facts. (It was Father Combalot who was the inspiration behind it and, in this sense, the real founder with Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus. All of Volume I of the Origines de l’Assomption is proof of it).

And, later on, one gets the impression that the establishment of “the contemplative life, so dear to Father d’Alzon, was for the most part combined in the Institute with apostolic works” was due to Father d’Alzon; so also for the recitation of the Office of the Church. In fact, the Religious of the Assumption began to recite the Office of the Church as early as Advent 1839, in the time of Father Combalot.109

Mother Therese-Emmanuel’s letter of January 20, 1881 to Sister Marie-Antoinette explains clearly in what sense we should take the title “founder” given by Bishop Besson in his beautiful Pastoral Letter on Father d’Alzon. Mother Foundress herself complained that he exaggerated what she had told him about Father d’Alzon’s influence on our foundation.110 It says: “Have you received the Pastoral Letter of the Bishop of Nîmes about Father d’Alzon? It is very beautiful, although he has exaggerated what I told him about his influence on our foundation.”

All are foundation stones

From Mother Marie-Eugénie to Mother Thérèse-Emmanuel:

I am like someone trying to tidy up for those who will come after me. Not that I have any revelation about my death, but human life goes so quickly that I am thinking a great deal about the degree of obedience due to God and not to persons, and about the level of poverty, of charity towards those we don’t like, of humility, of attachment to the congregation for the glory of God whose instrument it is—and not to this or that house, place, or employment which we like—of love for the community, of dedication, of regularity, which each one of us must have if the Congregation is to flourish ... . We are all foundation stones. When some of us, you, me, etc., are dead, everything will depend on the young sisters. The Congregation is lost if they do not have all of the spirit which must animate it. The more we, the first sisters, have been poor in virtue, the more they will need to be virtuous, so much so that, at the present time, I prefer having fewer sisters than admitting some who are too weak. I am afraid of growing so rapidly that it would prevent us from insisting above all on candidates who are solid.111

This week we celebrate the anniversary of the day we first came together. It was a small and fragile group. One thing that astonishes me as I look back is that none of us thought of founding anything. I certainly did not, neither did Mother Thérèse-Emmanuel nor Sister Marie-Augustine. Yet in those early days, we never doubted about the future of the work God had given us to do. Truly, Father Combalot, the only one who wanted to found a work and who had taken us as his instruments, never doubted for an instant. His confidence was communicative.112

The spirit of the foundation

Our Congregation had such weak and powerless beginnings, out of all proportion with the good that Our Lord has seen fit to draw from it, that one would hardly dare recount them, if it weren’t precisely for the fact that, in the absence of all human effort and wisdom, its works have shown themselves to be purely from God, and that, as a result, we have the consolation of knowing that it was Our Lord Jesus Christ himself who wanted to bring our institute into existence and, in so doing, wanted to instill in us a very special spirit of dependence on his sacred person. The spirit of Faith, the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the desire for his Reign, dependence on his guidance, and confidence in His Providence are, in fact, our work’s only foundresses. Please God, they will never be far from its spirit.113

Everything comes from Jesus Christ. Who else, my sisters, outside of Him who called us, had a clear idea of what we would become? No one. Neither he who at St. Anne d’Auray had what he believed to be the revelation of a desire on the part of the Blessed Virgin to have daughters consecrated to the mystery of the Assumption, nor those of us who were the first sisters. All contributed something according to their particular ability. Their greatest merit was to have given themselves unreservedly to purposes still unknown ... . Our Lord alone knew what they were.114

Relations between the Assumptionists and the Women's Congregations of the Assumption Family

Jean-Paul Périer-Muzet

Historical Introduction

The question of formal relations between the Assumptionists and the religious congregations of women of the Assumption family,115 as it existed before and after 1876, calls first for an examination of the context in which this question was debated at the time.

Father d’Alzon, in wanting to found an Assumption Order in 1845, evidently had the same idea as Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus: a first Order, an Assumption Order of men; a second, an Assumption Order of women; and a Third Order, a tertiary association of the faithful, laypersons and priests, modeled on those of the medieval Orders. Since the Church no longer favored the creation of new Orders, Assumption was organized into autonomous congregations with spiritual ties and a shared spirit: 1839, the Religious of the Assumption; 1845, the Augustinians of the Assumption (Assumptionists); 1865, the Oblates of the Assumption and the Little Sisters of the Assumption; 1896, the Orants of the Assumption who, from some points-of-view, can be considered a re-foundation as a religious congregation of Father d’Alzon’s Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament (Adoratrices du Saint Sacrement).

This concrete situation prompted the religious families of the Assumption to search for several possible models of closer institutional ties according to the possibilities foreseen in church or canon law and in civil religious law, and according to the desires or expectations of each Congregation, its status, and its respective Constitutions. We must therefore take into account the date on which each Congregation was officially recognized as well as each one’s particular status.

The Religious of the Assumption

were founded in 1839, recognized by a pontifical Laudatory Decree on January 19, 1855, and recognized in civil law by imperial decrees on March 5, 1856 and May 6, 1858. The decree of approval was received from Rome on September 14, 1867, and confirmed on April 11, 1888 (approval of the Constitutions).

The Augustinians of the Assumption,

founded in 1845, did not request civil recognition. They received a pontifical Laudatory Decree on May 1, 1857 and the decree of approval on November 26, 1864. They had to wait until 1923 before receiving definitive approval of their Constitutions.

The Oblates of the Assumption

were founded in 1865. The group in Nîmes received the Laudatory Decree on February 14, 1893. After the Oblates were reconstituted as a single Congregation, their approval was confirmed and extended to the entire Congregation on July 3, 1934. Their Constitutions were definitively approved on October 27, 1947.

The Little Sisters of the Assumption

became a Congregation of pontifical right on April 10, 1897 and were definitively approved on July 30, 1901.

The Orants of the Assumption,

founded in 1896 and of diocesan right, were approved by Cardinal Richard on June 29 and November 21, 1906.

We can already understand that, in the 19th century, our Congregations were all in the process of being formed and organized, though all were not concurrently at the same stage of development.

A word about the specific origins of each of the five Congregations:

The Religious of the Assumption

are indebted to Father Combalot and Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus. Father d’Alzon cannot be considered their “founder,” despite the efforts that were made along these lines after the withdrawal of Father Combalot. This issue therefore merits an explanation.116

The Augustinians of the Assumption

depended directly and solely on Father d’Alzon.

The Oblates of the Assumption

were founded by Father d’Alzon who chose from among the souls he directed the person who became the cornerstone and the foundress, Marie Correnson (1867).

The Little Sisters of the Assumption

see themselves as the daughters of Father Pernet and Mother Antoinette Fage, Marie of Jesus, both of whom are considered to be the founders.

The Orants of the Assumption

also have two founders, Father Picard and Mother Isabelle.

Given these diverse origins and foundations, it already seems evident that any attempt or proposal to unite them all could not be carried out in the same way.

Civil religious law at that time was also in its formative stages. Sister-orders or congregations did exist: Dominican Friars-Dominican Sisters, Vincentians-Daughters of Charity, etc. Each order/congregation found ways of obtaining brotherly help, according to the special characteristics of its life, spirit, and apostolate. There was no single model, only various types of experience or experimentation.

Given the clerical male structure of the institutional Church, the preponderance of religious-priests and bishops in religious life created procedures that allowed them to intervene or interfere in the government of a congregation of women of pontifical right, procedures that were more or less accepted, more or less limited, and more or less complicated:

  • The bishop appointed an ecclesiastical superior whose interventions in the life of the congregation or the convent did not depend necessarily on recognized rights and duties but more on the personality of the men in question, which gave rise at times to unwarranted interference in the congregation’s internal affairs in terms of appointments, formation, foundations, visitations, etc. Sometimes, decisions were even reversed.117 The list of the ecclesiastical superiors and chaplains in and around Paris is found in the footnote below. Sister Therese Maylis is the only one who can provide you with a complete and accurate list of those who served in all of the other historical RA communities: Cape Town in 1849 (Bishop Devereux), Richmond in 1850, Sedan in 1854, Nîmes in 1855 (Father d’Alzon), London in 1857, Auteuil in 1857, Bordeaux in 1860, Lyons in 1862, Malaga in 1865, Poitiers in 1866, Saint-Dizier in 1868, New Caledonia in 1873, San Sebastian and Sidmouth in 1882, Lourdes in 1884, Rome in 1888, Leon (Nicaragua) and Manila (Philippines) in 1892, and Santa Ana (El Salvador) in 1895. Additionally, in August 1876, Father Picard who had been the confessor at Auteuil since 1857 was appointed “Visitor of the Congregation” of the Religious of the Assumption. We know the main features of this position from the General Chapter of 1876 of the Religious of the Assumption.
  • The Superior General of a pontifical congregation of women tended to escape, by virtue of religious exemption, the interference of a bishop or his delegate by invoking the directives of the Roman Congregations.
  • At the end of the line, the simple ordinary sister retained a margin of maneuverability regarding the directives of her Local Superior (appeal to the Superior General), those of the Superior General (appeal to the Ecclesiastical Superior), the counsels of her ordinary and extraordinary confessor, and the counsels of her spiritual director. Concretely, given the fact that these various instances were more or less in contact with each other, there were many possible sources of friction and reconciliation, and of cooperation and dysfunction in religious life. Examples are not lacking.
  • Behind all of these persons and functions, a number of concrete questions emerged about the direction, government, and animation of a congregation: novitiate formation, awakening and discernment of vocations, appointments and transfers of sisters, new foundations, choice of superiors and of those responsible for important positions in the fields of public relations, finances, apostolates, spiritual life, administration, and the preparation of provincial meetings ...

It was within this overall and constantly changing context that a series of inter-Assumption events took place which are generally called, more or less accurately, the Chapters of Union of 1876 and which had already been prepared by the Assumptionist General Chapter of 1868.

The question of a union: an old and recurring question between the Assumptionists and the Religious of the Assumption

A close examination of the correspondence between Father d’Alzon and Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus quickly reveals that this question was an old one and that it had been discussed by several religious: Father d’Alzon, Father Picard, Father Vincent de Paul Bailly, and Father Hippolyte Saugrain. I refer especially to Letters No. 25222 (vol. V, p. 314), no. 2530 (vol. V, p. 323), no. 3081 (vol. VI, p. 328), and no. 3388 (vol. VII, pp. 151–152). The ideas were always the same: freedom, real relations of trust and friendship, followed by requests and questions: what do you want?

Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus had an interesting answer to this question. She wrote to Father d’Alzon from Ems on August 9, 1867:

For a long time now, I have thought that the question you asked me could be solved in the manner I described in a memo of which Father Picard surely has several copies. To assure the future and to strengthen the Congregation, I would like you to be our Fathers rather than our Brothers. You have always held a different opinion. I see that very learned and serious men like Father Vitte have generally been very opposed to this type of organization, and for all congregations. I would like to hear your reasons and to give you mine. How long will your meeting last? Will you finish it in Paris? It would please Father Laurent very much if it did, and I think this could be done without inconveniencing anyone.

Chapter of the Augustinians of the Assumption of 1868

Naturally, therefore, the question of the relations between the Assumptionists and the Religious of the Assumption was discussed at the Assumptionist General Chapter of 1868. These were its two conclusions:

1.  The religious shall accept to direct and even govern religious communities of women.

2.  They shall maintain reciprocal freedom.

This measure was accepted by the Oblates of the Assumption and the Little Sisters of the Assumption.

Regarding the Religious of the Assumption, a special paragraph was inserted:

If the Sisters who occupy a more influential position or who desire a life more in keeping with that of the nuns of ancient times, as for example the Religious of the Assumption, were to find it more difficult to unite themselves with the Religious [Priests] of the Assumption, it would be advisable to study how this union could take place. Nevertheless, as of today, we declare that such ties and relations are desirable, if the Sisters request them.

Four points were particularly important: the distinction between “directing” and “governing,” the hard and fast rule of freedom, the introduction of the possibility of adopting different positions according to the age or situation of the sisters, and finally the formal desire expressed by the Sisters themselves to establish such relations.

Then came Vatican Council I in which Father d’Alzon participated indirectly, but about which he had high expectations regarding the issue of religious congregations. His disappointment is well-known: the Council was adjourned.

From her point-of-view, Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus, who was in favor of a union, understood that such a status would need to be in conformity with the laws of the Church. She hoped that this union would come about during her lifetime, but she did not want to bind the future of her religious family or to impose rules on those who would succeed her at the head of the Congregation, particularly rules that would diminish the authority and independence of future Superiors General. Father d’Alzon, for his part, did not waver: he said yes to whatever was requested and whenever it was requested. He insisted on freedom and preferred ties of friendship and direction rather than of government. One of his conferences on the spirit of the Assumption given in Nîmes to the Religious [Sisters] of the Assumption (between November 1870 and March 1871) was on the subject of inter-Assumption relationships.

Chapters of the Assumptionists and of the Religious of the Assumption in 1876

The years went by, and the wishes and intentions of one and all were made manifest and expressed. It seemed like an opportune moment to conclude this haunting question. The opportunity seemed well-chosen: 1876 was a capitular year for everyone.

From August 16 to 23, Father d’Alzon preached the retreat to the Religious of the Assumption at Auteuil, giving three instructions each day, one of them to the members of the Chapter. On August 24–26, their fourth General Chapter was presided by Father d’Alzon, except for the session on August 24 during which Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus intervened personally and read the decisions of the Assumptionist Chapter of 1868 which were as follows:

While preferring the works of men to the works of women, the Augustinians of the Assumption recognize that most of the religious communities of women were founded by religious men and that the spirit of the foundation has been maintained by these men. They also recognize that, today, the influence exercised by women on these works and on society can become in their hands a powerful source of good which they would be mistaken to neglect. They shall therefore accept to direct and even govern some communities of women. But, before all else, they must remember that the best way to attain this objective is never to induce these communities to place themselves under their dependence but to wait until they spontaneously desire it and request it. They must respect the freedom of each and must always be ready to give up the authority they have if this authority becomes an odious burden or simply difficult. For example, if it happened that, at a General Chapter of the communities they govern, one third of the members objected to living under their dependence, they must immediately withdraw. Applying these principles to what already exists, the Chapter decides:

The Sisters destined for the Missions, like the Oblates, shall be under the dependence of the religious priests. Authorization shall be requested from the Propaganda at the appropriate time.

The Sisters destined for external works of charity may also depend on the Institute.

If the Sisters who occupy a more influential position or who desire a life more in keeping with that of the nuns of ancient times, as for example the Religious of the Assumption, were to find it more difficult to unite themselves with the Religious [Priests] of the Assumption, it would be advisable to study how this union could take place. Nevertheless, as of today, we declare that such ties and relations are desirable, if the Sisters request them.

Once these general questions have been settled, it remains to be seen by whom and how the authority of the religious priests will be exercised over the sisters. Authority is in the hands of the Superior General of the priests. But, in order not to be completely absorbed by the government of the women’s congregations, the Superior General shall not exercise this authority himself but shall delegate it to one of his religious. This religious shall be known as the Vicar General in charge of this or that community.

He shall be presented by the religious priests to the General Chapter and accepted by the Superior General before the meeting of the General Chapter. The Superior General of the Sisters will speak with the Superior in order to be apprized of the religious who are eligible. From among these religious, the General Chapter shall present three names or three lists of three names, but it shall leave the choice of the appointment to the Superior General [of the priests]. If the General Chapter persisted in wanting to present religious whom the Superior General cannot accept, the union shall be dissolved and the community of women shall cease to be governed by the Institute.

The jurisdiction of the Vicar General shall be valid only from one chapter to another of these communities. If, in the interim, the Superior General has need of this religious, he must come to an understanding with the Superior General of the Sisters.

The required jurisdiction shall be requested for this Vicar.

His authority over the members of the community shall ordinarily be exercised through the Superior General of the Sisters. He shall respect the Sisters’ freedom of the confessional, but, as much as possible, he shall reserve the spiritual direction of the Sisters to Assumptionist priests in order to maintain the particular spirit of the Institute.

No new foundation and no closing of houses shall be carried out without his approval.

He shall also conduct regular visitations at fixed times. In the Rule of each of these congregations, there shall be a chapter on the application of the above-mentioned principles.

Special regulations shall determine the relations between the religious priests and the sisters regarding the various functions that involve both parties.

The second session of the Chapter was presided by Father d’Alzon who in his address presented the advantages that the Assumptionists could offer their Congregation. He concluded by suggesting that the Sisters choose as the delegate of the Superior General either Father Picard or Father Vincent de Paul Bailly.

On August 26, the Minutes of the third session were very carefully drawn up by Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus and Father Picard:

The members of the Chapter voted unanimously to accept the proposal to request a delegate from Father d’Alzon. The duties of this delegate shall be First and foremost to direct and help the central government of the Congregation by providing it with the knowledge that priests possess but that women do not have. He shall take orders from Rome for everything that must be reported to this sovereign authority as well as from the bishops for everything pertaining to their diocese. He shall help to Finish the Rule and obtain its approval, and to draw up the Directory, the statutes, the customaries, and the ceremonials of the Institute. As in the past, his authority shall remain one of trust, of which we are in need for the direction of the Sisters, for the visitation of the houses, for the support and counsel of the government, and finally for everything concerning the development of the Congregation, the general spirit of the communities, the organization and running of the boarding schools and the direction of studies. He shall counsel and support the Superior General. He shall always be consulted about new foundations, the suppression of existing works, important temporal matters, etc., so that he can submit reports on these matters to Rome or to the bishops.

Father d’Alzon accepted these general principles but insisted once again that the relations that had just been defined be freely accepted, that they be in force only from one Chapter to another, and that each General Chapter be called upon to ratify them.

Father d’Alzon then asked the Sisters which religious they wanted. Father Picard was named by acclamation.

The simple reading of this document naturally raises an obvious question: in this context, what happened to the ordinary Council of the Superior General of the Religious |Sisters| of the Assumption which seemed duplicated by this outside counselor? It was not surprising that the Sisters on Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus’ Council accepted it begrudgingly: the unity of the Congregation, carried on two wings, resembled the two-headed eagle of the Byzantines!

Reactions of the Religious Families

For the Oblates of the Assumption, a union between the two Congregations founded by the same Father d’Alzon seemed to be the natural thing to do and to be backed up by the needs of the Near Eastern Mission where Father Galabert was the delegated Ecclesiastical Superior, assisted by the Superior of the Sisters and her local delegate, Mother Chantal Dugas. In Nîmes, Father d’Alzon, the founder, supported Mother Emmanuel-Marie Correnson, though Father Emmanuel Bailly also functioned as his delegate.

In 1876, she signed the document sealing the union of direction and government,118 but she added the clause “for six years.”

The Little Sisters of the Assumption, also founded in 1865, were asked as well to express their preference regarding the names of three possible delegates. That of Father Pernet was naturally proposed and accepted by Father d’Alzon. However, the Sisters seem to have had a certain number of misgivings about the procedure that was followed.

For the Religious of the Assumption, what in August seemed to be agreed upon between Father d’Alzon and Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus119 soon posed problems. The clearest evidence is the letter from Father d’Alzon to Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus dated September 18, 1876.120 Father d’Alzon concluded: “Let’s simply remain good friends. In that way and without any discussion whatsoever, we’ll always be in agreement.”

It would seem that Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus had rushed to judgment basing herself on her personal feelings in favor of the union without sufficiently taking into account those of her council which favored assistance in direction but not in government.

On the one hand, Father d’Alzon was strongly suspicious of Mother Thérèse-Emmanuel.121 On the other hand, once the title of delegate was emptied of all authority, it no longer suited Father Picard who withdrew his candidacy.

The Assumptionists, for their part, held their eighth General Chapter in Nîmes in September 1876. It decided by a 9 to 2 vote with 1 abstention to divide the Congregation into three provinces. It also discussed the question of a union with the congregations of women,122 and it adopted on a trial basis for six years the draft of a Canonical Directory for the Little Sisters of the Assumption and the Oblates of the Assumption who are requesting to be governed by us, and for the R.A.s [Religious of the Assumption] who are asking only to be directed. The distinction drawn between being directed and being governed inspired Father d’Alzon in 1879 to come up with an astute formula which he confided to Father Vincent de Paul:123

I showed little inclination to govern them [the Religious of the Assumption] and even to direct them. I told her [Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus] that in final analysis she was not part of the small group of her Sisters who wanted us only in order to use us and that, consequently, it was better to simply remain good friends. She begged me to write to her. I did write mentioning that she was already aware of the repugnance I had had in accepting to govern her Congregation and that I had understood that it would be the [AA] Superior who would govern. But when I realized that they had adopted the modern maxim that the king reigns but does not govern, I was more convinced than ever that it was better to simply remain good friends, that the Sisters could consult us when they so desired, that they could do what they wanted with our suggestions, but that each of us would remain completely free.

This letter used the same terms as those found in a letter he addressed the previous day to Marie-Eugénie of Jesus (no. 6693, vol. XII, p. III) who was seeking a full union. In it, he reiterated his idea of simple friendly relations.

Clearly, it was not possible to duplicate on the congregation-to-congregation level the relations that existed on the personal level between the two founders.

Father Jean-Paul Périer-Muzet
Archivist of the Augustinians
of the Assumption

55, Via San Pio
00165 Rome

Foundation of the Oblates of the Assumption

Hugues-Emmanuel d’Esparron


While visiting Rome in 1862, Father d’Alzon understood that Pius IX wanted the Assumptionists to establish a mission in the Near East and help Bulgarian Christians reunite with the Church of Rome.

In November 1862, Father Victor Galabert went to Constantinople to study the situation.

Father d’Alzon joined him in the spring of 1863 and preached the Lenten sermons.

Very quickly Father d’Alzon and Father Galabert understood that the Assumptionists needed to be assisted by a feminine religious presence.

A first joint project with Mother Marie-Eugénie in February 1864 foresaw the foundation of a community of four women religious in view of establishing a “house of adoration” and creating a normal school to train teachers.

The situation changed during the course of the year 1864.

The Ladies of the Assumption, for reasons which they will explain themselves, did not think it was possible for them to go to the Near East. Mother Eugénie and Father d’Alzon then wanted to create a third category in the Congregation, something like Tertiaries which they would call “The Oblates of the Assumption” (T.D. 41, page 128).

On November 1, 1864, Father d’Alzon wrote to Mother Marie-Eugénie:

Here are my proposals:

1. Give the Oblates something distinctive, a bit below the choir sisters and a bit above the lay sisters. They would be like Dominican Tertiaries living in community.

2. I would take them for the [private] colleges124 in France and for the schools of the lower class in Bulgaria and in the Near Fast.

3. Their habit, outside of your houses, would be black like that of the lay sisters, with the woolen veil or the black veil, as you wish. No mantel, but your long black veil to go outside. It seems to me that this is distinctive enough, and at the same time, I see many external similarities.

4. I have at this moment three girls, two of them are very promising. To begin with, Pauline to whom I have spoken at length at Lavagnac.

5. If you don’t think that you should accept Oblates under these terms, simply tell me, in which case I will start a little congregation separate from yours. But the example of the Dominican Tertiaries proves to me that we can, it seems to me, do something similar.125

The next day, November 2, 1864, Father d’Alzon wrote to Father Galabert:

I will not be writing to Mr. Champoiseau, but I ask you to tell him that I have written to the Superior General of the Religious of the Assumption, and that regardless of what she decides, I have laid the foundation of a small normal school to train teachers for Bulgaria. I already have some people for this project. We would prepare French women and send them to Philippopolis or Adrianople to a house where we would teach them the language of the country and where we would attract young Bulgarian girls. We would then send them into the villages two by two, a French woman and a Bulgarian. This represents my initial thinking, which might be modified later on. Our girls would get accustomed to a harder lifestyle than that of the Ladies of the Assumption, which is necessary for going to live among the uncivilized.126

Since the death of Viscount d’Alzon on October 25, 1864, Pauline Sagnier, who took care of him, was now free.

It seemed as though she had the qualities needed to head the projected foundation because she wanted to go to the Missions.

On January 25, 1865, Father d’Alzon wrote to Father Hippolyte Saugrain: “Pauline has arrived. I will ask Mademoiselle Cazals to come. Mademoiselle Schaller is leaving. Everything might be ready by February first.”

At the end of January, Father d’Alzon wrote to Father Galabert:

“The core group of Oblates for Bulgaria is taking shape. The cornerstone is on retreat. Next week, we will have two others. Pray God that it all succeeds.”127

The points-of-view between Father d’Alzon and Mother Marie-Eugénie differed about the Rules to be given to these Oblates, which prompted Father d’Alzon to found his own Congregation: he retained the name: “Oblates of the Assumption.”

From that moment on, one senses in the correspondence between Father d’Alzon and Mother Marie-Eugénie that their relations were no longer as free as they had been and that the tone was different, though the two always remained great friends.

On the February 22, Father d’Alzon wrote to Mother Marie-Eugénie:

I have a little secret to share with you: Pauline has charmed your Sisters at the Priory in Nîmes. Without realizing it, they painted such a beautiful picture of how happy they are that Pauline wants to enter your Congregation. Something here has gone awry. If Pauline goes to you—and I am not against it—I will be forced to abandon for the moment the work of the Oblates and stop sending to the Priory other promising girls who quite naturally will give in to the temptation of a life less difficult than the one I will impose on my future school teachers.128

On February 28, Father d’Alzon wrote to Mother Marie-Eugénie in his typical style:

I hope to get you out of a pickle, even before I finish reading your letter. If I had written 48 hours earlier, I would have removed from your head the thought that I was angry, because quite candidly I am not. Here is the reason why. After having studied Pauline very well, I noticed that this girl, who is very intelligent, has a big heart, and is really superior from certain points-of-view, also suffers from the effects of her low social class. Accustomed to getting her own way through cleverness, she naturally and unsuspectingly has the habit of being foxy in order to attain her ends which are good. When I noticed this, I wan greatly tempted to let her go because what she does not get in one way she will get in another. I am finding here at Le Vigan some very good vocations. There is certainly a gold mine here to be exploited, and I am thinking about it. I would not want to give the Oblates superiors from elsewhere but persons who will support them in every way possible. And poor Pauline who only dreams of Assumption has somewhat confused the issues. But when I realized the effects that her former life had on her, I did not hold it against her in the least but simply held much less to her as a superior. Can you see my way of thinking and why I am not angry in the least?

This having been said, I return to the reading of your letter. I think that you can accept her without reservation. She will render you precious services, especially if you test her with something or other which has some truth to it, but which is not the whole truth either. Mademoiselle de Regis calls that Jesuit spiritual direction, though I do not completely agree with her. At any rate, you are now forewarned.129

This letter was written from Le Vigan. Father d’Alzon was not angry with Mother Eugénie, and Divine Providence had a consolation in store for him. A letter of March 6, 1865 throws additional light on the subject:

I have just spent a few days at Le Vigan and was amazed at the gold mine of vocations we could find there for the Oblates and the lay sisters if we wanted to. Father Hippolyte could be very useful there.130

During the month of April, the project became clearer, as he explained to Madame de Chaponnay in a letter written from Le Vigan on April 19, 1865:

I am very worried about my [Assumptionist] novitiate as well as about the idea of founding a house of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for some good mountain girls who could live from their work and from penance and prayer, the most fervent of whom would be sent to Bulgaria as school teachers.131

Foundation of the Oblates of the Assumption at Roche-belle and Le Vigan

Father d’Alzon blessed the house of Rochebelle on May 23, 1865, calling it “Our Lady of Bulgaria.” This is where the first six Oblates went to live: Sister Margaret Bernasseau, Sister Madeleine Durand, Sister Marie of the Annunciation Durand, Sister Theresa of Jesus Salze, Sister Louise Damenne, and Sister Veronica Villaret. Of the first six, only Sister Louise Damenne left shortly after the opening.

On May 24, the official date of the foundation day, Father d’Alzon said the first Mass in the small chapel to the left of the main entrance.

About fifteen women from Nîmes were invited to this inauguration. Among them was Marie Correnson, who later admitted that she cried her eyes out because she was not part of this first group.

The following day, Bishop Plantier blessed a statue of the Virgin which had been placed in the garden.

On the Saturday following the Ascension, the Sisters started a retreat, at which time the seventh little rough stone arrived, Sister Marie of the Angels Clavier. She related:

We were without a formal superior. We asked our permissions from Sister Madeleine, the oldest one among us; she was 52 years old.

Each day, our good Father would come to give us an instruction in the community room, and to hold the Chapter of Faults. In his absence, it was Father Hippolyte.

On May 29, 1865, Father d’Alzon wrote to Father Galabert:

Last Tuesday I blessed a house where I installed six pious girls, who will be followed by another twenty who are headed for the Bulgarian Missions. The name of the house is “Our Lady of Bulgaria.” It will be composed of girls who are less distinguished than the Ladies of the Assumption, but who will be able to go into the villages where we would like to put them in charge of schools. The mountains surrounding Le Vigan produce subjects who are more adapted to the life in Bulgaria. We will be able to find many more such vocations in the neighboring villages.

These girls will be less educated, but will at least be sturdier when it comes to fatigue. In that sense, perhaps will they do more good.132

It was the beginning of a three-year novitiate, the time needed to form these girls to the religious life and to give them additional schooling.

Father d’Alzon asked Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus to lend him temporarily a religious capable of forming the new Sisters. He wrote on June 27, 1865:

Would you be able to send me in the near future Sister Marie-Madeleine? Father Hippolyte wants this ardently. If she could arrive as soon as possible, 1 would have a few weeks to sort out the big question of knowing which ones we should make Oblates and which ones we can give you as lay sisters. I think that there would be a number of them for each category. In the midst of certain scandals, not enough is known about the concrete energetic faith of our people in the mountains.

One month later, on July 29, 1865, Father d’Alzon wrote to Father François Picard:

Sister Madeleine has arrived. She made a good impression, and I hope she will do a lot of good.

Nevertheless, I remain the authority in the house because if the Religious of the Assumption do not go to Bulgaria, it will be up to the Fathers to govern them.133

In a letter to Mother Marie-Eugénie on August 8, 1865, Father d’Alzon continued in a similar vein:

Mother Marie-Madeleine is doing marvels, and we deeply appreciate the gift or the loan we have received. Also, while wanting to keep her the longest time possible, we understand clearly that her stay among us is not open-ended. She has established order and the rule, and she has given a direction to the thinking of our girls. She has led them gently and firmly, which I appreciate all the more that, quite obviously, she did not suspect what type of people she had to prepare. Everyday she acts more and more as a superior, and I believe she knows that I am supporting her.

Once she gets to know these young girls in whom honesty, ignorance, intelligence, and faith are intertwined in an extraordinary fashion, at least at first sight, she will come to realize that she can lead them efficiently and influence them extensively for the good. At least, that is my impression, even though it might not yet be hers. They are ten in number. And at this very moment, Father Hippolyte is in the parlor with an eleventh one who has been brought in by her father. Between now and November, we expect seven or eight more. I firmly believe that there will be about twenty before January 1.134

The first investiture took place on August 14 with nine postulants. To the seven already mentioned were added Jeanne de la Croix and Nathalie Dalmier, who left shortly thereafter as did Louise Damenne.

Mother Marie-Gabriel de Courcy, the superior of the Priory of Nîmes, made the pattern for the habits and veils which resembled those of the lay sisters of the Religious of the Assumption.

What do we know about the first Oblates?

The life of the Oblate Sisters was very austere. They got up at 5 AM, maybe even at 4 AM, and then spent a half-hour or three-quarters of an hour in meditation. That is what Father d’Alzon wrote to Mademoiselle Eulalie de Regis on August 21, 1866:

“Can you stay for three-quarters of an hour on your knees in meditation, without an armrest?”135

Their schedule included: the daily Eucharist, the recitation of the rosary, and evening adoration, to which was quickly added nocturnal adoration before the Blessed Sacrament exposed. The Divine Office came only later. In a letter dated August 18, 1871, Father Galabert wrote to Father d’Alzon:

Last year in Rome, you spoke to me several times about your wanting to have the Oblates eventually recite Lauds, the small Hours, Vespers and Compline instead of the three rosaries. If you think it proper, I could introduce this practice on Sundays and holy days of obligation with the Religious in Bulgaria. It so, please send a few diurnals.

Mother Madeleine de Peter stayed until December 1866, at which time Mother Marie-Eugénie needed her in Sedan. She was therefore replaced by Sister Emmanuel-Marie d’Everlange, one of the many persons from Nîmes who had been recruited by Father d’Alzon.

On August 31, 1866, when there were about twenty novices, five Oblates left for the College in Nîmes where they rendered a number of services: Sister Félicité Brun and Sister Thérèse Salze were responsible for the infirmary, Sister Nathalie Dalmier, Sister Pauline Peyre and Sister Marie of the Presentation of Mary Bourrier for the laundry. Father had them wear a black veil and gave them the leather belt.

Their living at the College did not seem to pose a problem. They were not numerous and they are not from Nîmes.

And yet, Father d’Alzon wrote to Marie Correnson on August 25, 1866:

As long as the Oblates will be living in our house, it will be impossible for you to join them.

The experience with Mother Emmanuel-Marie d’Everlange was less successful than the one with Mother Marie-Madeleine, as noted in the following letter from Father Galabert to Father Hippolyte Saugrain on March 15, 1867:

I am not at all surprised by the problems you are having with the Superiors whom the Ladies of the Assumption gave for the Oblates. The Ladies naturally have certain ideas that should not be allowed to develop in our small nascent congregation. There should be no more than good neighborly relations between the two. In principle, it seems to me that three years of novitiate are already enough to form a superior who can stand on her own two feet, albeit with our help, direction, and advice. In this way, there would be more unity in our ways of looking at things.

On June 10, 1867, Sister Emmanuel-Marie d’Everlange returned to Paris. It was time to find another solution for the Oblates of the Assumption.

Eulalie de Régis, on whom Father d’Alzon had counted at one moment, died in Nîmes on April 4, 1867.

Marie Correnson, co-foundress of the Oblates of the Assumption

For months, Father d’Alzon had been preparing her, as confirmed by a letter dated July 20, 1866:

From the psychological point-of-view, my dear, think well about the questions I am asking you:

Do you have the courage to enter little by little into the core of the project?

While remaining a little longer on the outside, do you think that you have what it takes to become one day its Mother-[foundress]?136

A month later, on August 21, 1866, after Marie Correnson had told him of her perplexities, he answered:

How do you want me to decide for you now what you must do? I do not think that you should enter immediately.

I am convinced that you will enter one day, when God’s hour will have struck.

The good you can do to these good girls is immense: the only thing is that you will have to do it more slowly.

I don’t see why you wouldn’t start a little secrete novitiate.137

Marie Correnson replied on August 23, 1866 saying that she would never become an Oblate.138

That very same day Father d’Alzon wrote back:

I’m not the least bit surprised by your letter. I must admit that I expected it somewhat, but I think that your repugnance will one day become for you the subject of a very great humiliation because, while searching to follow in the footsteps of Our Lord, you will think that, after all, in order to unite himself to humanity, Our Lord went further from heaven to sinners than you would have gone from your status in life to that of those poor children of mine.139

She replied on August 24:

With you, it is a bit like with God: all one has to do is to recognize one’s fault and to confess it in order to be forgiven. After reading your letter, I offered myself to Our Lord like I have never done before, telling him that he can do with me as he wishes because to serve God generously does not consist in wanting to do something other than what he wants of us.

Marie Correnson therefore began the little secret novitiate. Always secretly, on April 7, 1867, she took the habit in the chapel of the College, but with a dispensation allowing her to wear it.

The departure of Mother Emmanuel-Marie d’Everlange convinced her that it was time to carry out her secret departure from her parents who would not have allowed her to leave, even though she was 25 years old. For a number of months already, she had been serving as the protector of the Oblates in Nîmes, but always from the outside.

On June 27, 1867, Marie Correnson left the family home as if she were going to Mass.

She put on her habit and took the first stagecoach to Le Vigan in the company of Isabelle de Merignargues and of Louise Coulomb. Isabelle de Meringnargues described the day to Father d’Alzon:

It is impossible for me to let the letter of our Mother leave without adding a few words to tell you that all went extremely well.

Marie was strong. It was a very pleasant trip. Madame Arnal received us warmly. Our arrival at Rochebelle was most touching.

We went to the chapel. Marie took her place as the Superior and we intoned the Magnificat. I cannot adequately express all the emotion that we experienced. Then we went to the parlor where Marie embraced all the Sisters who are now in seventh heaven since her arrival.

That’s about it, Father, for my first impressions. They are excellent. Rochebelle is a charming place. The Sisters are polite, and they will have a treasure as their Superior.

Marie continues to be admirably generous.

Madame Arnal and Father Hippolyte are delighted. They were very nice to us. It is now time for dinner; we will eat with the community. I have just written to my mother. I hope that she was not too chagrined by my departure.

In Nîmes, the Correnson family took Marie’s departure very badly. Doctor Pleindoux, Madame Correnson’s father, was particularly virulent. Mother Emmanuel-Marie Correnson stayed about two weeks in Rochebelle. She then went to Auteuil where she had to complete her formation with Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus. She passed through Nîmes where she received her parents at the Priory of the Religious of the Assumption.

It had been foreseen that Father d’Alzon would join them in August at the thermal baths of Ems. In the end, Mother Marie-Eugénie and Mother Emmanuel-Marie Correnson left without him.

After a brief stop in Nîmes, Mother Emmanuel-Marie Correnson returned to Le Vigan on September 1.

The first Oblates at Assumption College in Nîmes and the Departure for Bulgaria

During the intervening time, people were preparing for a larger contingent of Oblates in Nîmes.

It was at this time that the house at the corner of avenue Feucheres and rue Pradier was given a separate entrance for the Sisters. The entrance has been walled up since then, but its traces are still visible.

About twelve Sisters were expected. They were to staff the kitchen, the laundry, the infirmary, and look after the dormitories. There were plans to open a classroom for little boys on the ground floor.

On October 6, Mother Emmanuel-Marie Correnson returned to Nîmes. From then on, Assumption College became her ordinary residence.

The Oblates were already accustomed to a hard life. At the College, they very simply accepted to sleep in a dormitory which did not seem adequate for the lay brothers. We gather this information from a letter of September 2, 1867 from Father d’Alzon to Mother Emmanuel-Marie Correnson:

I went on the 24th to say Mass for the Oblates and bless the house where they had slept the night before. Imagine that, in order to straighten things out, these good women left their apartment, at least their dormitory, and took the one which Father Vincent de Paul had declared unacceptable. Since it has a wooden floor, they laid their straw mattresses on the floor, and it seems that they slept very well.140

The arrival of Mother Emmanuel-Marie Correnson was not necessarily a panacea. But with much good will on the part of everyone, life began to get organized and moved toward a new development.

1868 was a key year in which the first professions and the first departures for the missions took place.

At one moment, there were rumors of war in the Near East, which made them think of delaying the departure. But Father Galabert played down these rumors and insisted on having the Sisters right away.

The first group was formed.

On April 18, 1868, Mother Emmanuel-Marie Correnson pronounced her first vows, which were at the same time perpetual vows, in the presence of the community.

This profession was the first, as was appropriate for the foundress of the Oblates.

The following day, April 18, 1868, the other five sisters who were to leave for the Near East made their profession: Thérèse Salze, Marguerite-Marie Bernassau, Valérie Sarran, Colombe Balmelle, and Hélène Puech.

Thérèse Salz was the eldest at age 33. Because of her age, she was named Superior. She was an energetic person with good common sense who would be loved by the Sisters and the people in Bulgaria. But she felt handicapped because she had not had much education.

Father d’Alzon suggested to Father Galabert that Father Athanase give her some lessons so that she might better correspond with her Superiors in Nîmes.

On April 25, 1868, Father d’Alzon, Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus, and Mother Emmanuel-Marie Correnson accompanied the Sisters to Marseille where they boarded a steamer for the Near East.

After stopping in Constantinople and crossing the Sea of Marmara to Rodosto, the Sisters pursued their journey by land in an ox-drawn cart that was not very comfortable. When they arrived in Adrianople, Father Galabert awaited them with the French Consul and a few gentlemen of the European community. A mere few weeks after they had settled down, on May 24, 1868, three years after the foundation, they opened their first school. Sister Va?erie Sarran was very successful with the children of the boarding school to whom she transmitted the little she knew. Sister Marguerite was responsible for the free school. Though she was better educated, she was hampered by her timidity. Sisters Thérèse Salze and Colombe Balmelle took care of the sick. Sister Hélène Puech was in charge of the kitchen.

This was the beginning of the Mission of the Oblates of the Assumption in the Near East.

Who were the Founders of the Oblates of the Assumption?

The accepted theory was that Father d’Alzon was the only founder of the Oblates, which is true. But little by little, we paid more attention to the co-foundress, Mother Emmanuel-Marie Correnson.

However, other men and women can be considered as foundation stones, such as Father Hippolyte Saugrain, Father Galabert, Eulalie de Regis, the first Oblates at Rochebelle, Mother Madeleine de Peter, etc ...

Without getting into biographies of all these foundation stones, we will simply mention those who were there at the time of the foundation of the Oblates of the Assumption, that is, in 1865.

Father Emmanuel d’Alzon

At the time, he was fifty-five years old. He was a man who worked very hard and who was constantly undertaking new projects. But he was also a tired man who had suffered enormously both physically and morally. He had been Vicar General of the diocese of Nîmes for thirty years; he had been the director of the College in Nîmes for twenty-five years; and he had been directing the Congregation he founded for twenty years. He was completely given over to Christ and to the Church.

Just when he thought that he would buy the Cenacle and the house of the Dormition of the Virgin in Jerusalem, Pius IX suggested that he work for the unity of Christians in the countries of the Middle East. Without hesitating, he sent Father Galabert there, and a month later he went himself to Constantinople. Very quickly he realized that he needed women religious to help the Assumptionists. After many disappointments, he founded the Oblates of the Assumption, possibly not in the best of conditions.

For about ten years, he was often sick and had to leave Nîmes in order to rest at Lavagnac and to go for treatments at the health spa in Lamalou-les-Bains. These imposed periods of inactivity made him suffer greatly but gave him the occasion to write some very beautiful pages on the spiritual life. As soon as he felt better, he would continue to travel, preach, and engage in a variety of activities.

Assumption College gave him a lot of worries, to the point of almost having to close it. Fortunately, a solution was found, though he always walked a tightrope and suffered the martyrdom of not having enough money.

He lost nearly all the members of his family in a short period of time: his brother-in-law, Count Anatole de Puységur (1851); his sister, Augustine d’Alzon, whom he loved dearly (1860); his Mother, Madame Henry d’Alzon, to whom he was not able to give the last rites (1860); and lastly his Father, Henri d’Alzon (1864). If we add the death of his friend, Jules Monnier, professor at the College (1865), we can say that Father d’Alzon suffered greatly from an emotional point of view.

His Congregation was also a source of worry for him: the closing of the College in Clichy, the purchase of the property on rue François Ier, the departure of the brothers for Australia, recruiting problems ... and, more recently, the difficulties that preceded the foundation of the Oblates: the withdrawal of the Ladies of the Assumption and difficulties in finding the right person to lead the new Congregation ...

But Father d’Alzon was not stopped by all these difficulties. He pursued his way because he sensed that it was the will of the Lord.

Father Hippolyte Saugrain (1822–1905)

In a broad sense, the term co-founder can also be applied to Father Hippolyte Saugrain.

Starting in the summer of 1864, he was the master of novices of the Augustinians of the Assumption at Le Vigan. He did not limit his sphere of activity to this. In February 1865, he preached and confessed in the whole region of Le Vigan, which put him in con tact with numerous young women who were possible candidates for the religious life.

When Father d’Alzon went to Le Vigan after his set-back in Nîmes, Father Hippolyte let his Superior know that there were many possible vocations in the region.

When in June 1865 Mother Marie-Eugénie was preoccupied about the heavy burden the new Oblates might represent for Father d’Alzon, he responded:

As for the Oblates, it is a work which, until further notice, will occupy Father Hippolyte more than me. I only know the young girls he has brought in. As for those who will follow I don’t think that I will have to send him any in the immediate future.141

During the very first days of the foundation, even if Father d’Alzon went to Rochebelle every afternoon, Father Hippolyte went there every morning, at least until the arrival of Mother Madeleine de Peter on July 25.

In 1868, when the time came to send the first Oblates to the Near East, Father Hippolyte Saugrain wrote to Father Galabert (1830–85) to inform him about those who were going:

I am very pleased to see that you are preparing good positions for the Oblates in Adrianople, but be careful not to promise too much so as to avoid real disappointment. These poor girls are all very good people, but there has been no one to form them and it will be a long time before there is anyone available to do so ...

Sister Thérèse Salze (1835–1905), who is to be the superior according to the latest decision, is a young girl for whom I have much esteem and affection. She has good common sense, but has had little schooling. She is hard-working, thrifty, virtuous, and solid; you can trust her. I told her that she should let herself be directed in everything by your advice.

Sister Marguerite Bernassau (1840–69) is also an excellent person whom I know very well. She is a pearl, but has little initiative; she also has good common sense. She is the most educated of all (the others know nothing).

Sister Colombe Balmelle (1843–78) is quite naive, has a good character, is pliable and obedient, but is incapable of studies.

Sister Valérie Sarran (1843–1916), who was to be the superior, needs to be directed firmly, is proud and pretentious, has a difficult character, and does not know much but can learn.

Sister Hélène Puech (1843–78) is a good person, a hard-worker, virtuous to the tip of her fingers, has an excellent character, and is able to study, but she has a tongue defect, which is her only defect that I know of.

All in all, I am sending you five fine people. Tomorrow, I will be present at their profession.142

Father Victorin Galabert (1830–1885)

By his requests, his advice, and his numerous reflections, Father Galabert had a great influence on the new Congregation of the Oblates of the Assumption.

During the years 1864–65, Father d’Alzon often spoke about the foundation of a normal school to train teachers for Bulgaria. But in 1865, Father Galabert mentioned that he also needed nursing sisters. He wrote to Father Vincent de Paul Bailly (1832–1912) saying:

The Oblates can become very useful helpers, but they will be almost useless unless, as I suggested to Father d’Alzon, he makes nursing sisters out of them.143

In 1868, Father Galabert informed Father d’Alzon of the situation at hand:

Do not harbor any fears about the level of schooling needed the first year. The Oblates will only have to learn to read and write and to teach the basic elements of grammar and spelling; the teachers will learn their lessons and do their homework like the students, and they will be considered knowledgeable by local standards. What is important, as I have told you, is to send me a superior who has common sense, who is intelligent and of a certain age, and who can inspire respect.144

This is what determined the choice of Sister Thérèse Salze, age 29, who had good common sense but very limited schooling. Sister Valérie Sarran, more intelligent and able to teach, was only 25 years old, but her character scared people somewhat.

After one year in Adrianople, Father Galabert was able to offer a personal evaluation of the small community. He generally agreed with what Fathers d’Alzon and Saugrain had written:

To be sure, God is blessing the work of your people in a very particular way ...

Good Sister Valérie is doing marvels as a school teacher. She does not have much schooling, but she communicates very well the little she knows. Here, she is considered to be an educated person and quite capable.

Sister Margaret, with her crippling timidity, will never be anything more than a mediocre teacher. She has much more depth than Sister Valérie, but she does not know how to communicate what she knows. Everything embarrasses her, everything becomes a problem ...

Sister Thérèse is very well liked as superior, both by the Sisters insofar as I can judge, and especially by the people on the outside. She knows how to put a lot of life in the weekly meetings with the Ladies, and she has won over the sympathy of all those who know her. It is unfortunate that she did not receive more schooling and education. But no one here notices it. She is called, I think, to do a lot of good.145

Marie Correnson (1842–1900)

At the time of the foundation, Marie, a young girl from the bourgeoisie of Nîmes, had known Father d’Alzon for seven years. Father d’Alzon was her spiritual director. She was considering religious life. If Father d’Alzon had encouraged her in the least, she would have joined the Ladies of the Assumption, whom her parents very much appreciated.

However, she did not go to school at the Priory. A private tutor came to the house for her and her sister Augustine.

Marie’s health was not good, which was true of almost her entire family. Her parents would not have agreed that she join a congregation that was just beginning and, consequently, that had not yet proven itself.

When Father d’Alzon suggested to her that she head the Oblates, since the others he had foreseen for this position were not available for one reason or another ... (Eulalie de Regis, Pauline Sagnier, and Isabelle de Merignargues), she explained her objections to Father d’Alzon, telling him that they were of a personal, family and social nature. And she refused categorically:

Decidedly, I will never be an Oblate because the more I think of it the less I find the strength in me to undertake such a work. I will help you on the outside as much as I can unless you think that I should enter the convent, in which case I will arrange to enter the Ladies of the Assumption. I prefer to obey rather than command. Besides, I have often said this to you. The hard life is not a problem for me. It is the context in which I will be obliged live, for it is something else to visit them in passing when one has the option of returning to another center of interest after leaving them.

Furthermore, I do not have the courage to ask my parents for permission to enter a group which is not yet well-established. I am sure that their answer will be “no.” Therefore, do not count on me any longer. God does not want it since he is letting me see all the difficulties that would arise if I were to make that blunder.146

I have always greatly admired the response of Father d’Alzon who thought that he was solely responsible for her refusal:

Must I tell you, dear Marie, that I blame myself for your discouragement? If I had preached more by example the authentic apostolic life, you would have better understood the beauty of this way of life for which Our Lord began by taking simple and uneducated Fishermen, just as we have begun with our mill-workers and mountain people. Since I do not deny that I am very attached to you, this makes me suffer somewhat. I would be lying if I told you the contrary. But, Marie, there is someone I love one-thousand times more than you, and that is Our Lord ... 147

Moved by his response, Marie pulled herself together:

I have consecrated myself to Our Lord telling him to take me as he wishes ...

She regretted her former attitude, but added:

It is good that you saw me in such a state, for you have a too high opinion of me.148

Marie became the co-foundress of the Oblates of the Assumption on June 27, 1867, at which time the Congregation had already been in existence for two years! It is easily understandable that the first generation of Oblates was less attached to her than those who knew her from the very moment they entered. This was all the more true that, after spending a few weeks at Le Vigan, she left for Auteuil so that Mother Marie-Eugénie could give her a fast-track formation to the religious life. When she returned in 1866, she rejoined the community of Oblates living at Assumption College in Nîmes. Mother Emmanuel Correnson did not go very often to Le Vigan.

Father d’Alzon often had a tendency to consider her as his daughter, often as his little girl, in the sense that he had a hard time refusing her certain things, even though he might not have completely agreed with what she was asking.

On the other hand, he considered Mother Marie-Eugénie as his spiritual sister.

Marie Correnson was 25 years old in 1867 when she became an Oblate of the Assumption. Mother Marie-Eugénie was 50 years old at that time.149

We sometimes forget this difference in age, which undoubtedly explains certain things.

During the lifetime of Father d’Alzon, she gradually became more independent from him and was no longer the submissive little girl we met when she began corresponding with him.

After he died, she scrupulously followed the least of his directives, sometimes too closely.

We can consider as co-foundresses the first six Sisters who entered at Rochebelle on May 23, 1865: Sister Madeleine Durand (1813–1900); Sister Marie of the Annunciation Durand (1823–1905); Sister Margaret Bernassau (1840–69); Sister Theresa of Jesus Salze (1835–1902); Sister Louise Damenne who left in 1868; and Sister Veronica Villaret (1832–1911).

Other people also played an important role at the beginning of the Congregation.

Between 1865 and 1867 at Le Vigan, there was often mention of Madame Arnal who, from the outside, watched over the Sisters. She had lost her husband and lived alone with her three young boys. Therefore, she could not enter the Congregation. The arrival of Mother Emmanuel-Marie Correnson in 1867 did not please her very much.150

From Nîmes, we must not forget Eulalie de Régis (1829–1867) whom Father d’Alzon had foreseen to lead the Oblates but whose health declined from day to day. She died in 1867.

From Nîmes, also, there was often mention of Louise Coulomb, whose name as an Adorer was Marie de Saint Jean. She wore the religious habit and replaced Mother Emmanuel-Marie Correnson when she went to Vichy for a cure. She spent some time at Le Vigan and at l’Espérou before leaving without any problems since she had not taken any vows.

Sister Hugues-Emmanuel d’Esparron
Oblate of the Assumption

30, rue Séguier
30000 Nîmes


Principal Persons Involved

Alzon, Emmanuel (1810–1880)

151 Founder of the Augustinians of the Assumption (1845) and of the Oblates of the Assumption (1865).

Vicar General to three bishops of Nîmes. Director of Assumption College in Nîmes, avenue Feucheres.

Bailly, Emmanuel (1842–1917)

Entered the Assumptionists in 1861. Master of novices (1880 in Osma), Assumptionist Procurator in 1892, and Assistant General to Father Picard. He collected the documents that served to write the biography of Father d’Alzon. Third Assumptionist Superior General, succeeding Father Picard in 1903.

Bailly, Vincent de Paul (1832–1912)

Brother of Father Emmanuel Bailly. Founder of the Bonne Presse.

Besson, Louis (1821–1888)

Bishop of Nîmes. Priest and professor in Besanfon, he was appointed to the see of Nîmes on August 3, 1876. Father d’Alzon appreciated his competence but had reservations about his character. He remained his vicar general until 1878 when he finally succeeded in convincing the bishop to accept his resignation. Bishop Besson made a beautiful panegyric of Father d’Alzon.

In 1882, he took under his protection Mother Emmanuel-Marie Correnson and the Oblates of Nîmes.

Chamska, Marguerite-Marie (1842–1926)

Directed by Father d’Alzon, she entered the Oblates of the Assumption in 1875. After making her perpetual profession, she became an assistant to Mother Foundress and mistress of novices. She succeeded Mother Emmanuel-Marie Correnson as Superior General in 1897. At the time of the exile, she went to the Netherlands. She returned to Nîmes in 1920 and worked very hard to get back the chapel on rue Siguier and the buildings that are part of that property.

Helped by Father Gervais Quénard, she took the necessary steps to reunite the Oblates of Nîmes with the branch in Paris. She died in Nîmes on rue Roussy on April 15, 1926, just a few months before the union she had so desired took place on June 22. Apparently, she was Father d’Alzon’s second cousin.152

Correnson, Marie (1842–1900)

153 Co-Foundress of the Oblates of the Assumption with Father d’Alzon.

In 1882, she refused to follow Father Picard to Paris. This brought about a schism among the Oblates.

In 1891, Mother Eugénie, Father Picard, and the Oblates of Paris brought her to court in order to stop her Congregation from bearing the name “Assumption.” She lost the case in Nîmes but won it in Rome in 1893.

Dugas, Jeanne de Chantal (1848–1940)

The human and spiritual portrait of this great Oblate is outlined in Pages d’Oblation, vol. III, page 6, and in the booklet of the Orsay session, Aînées et Fondatrices, July 1990.

Galabert, Victorin (1830–1885)

Doctor of medicine and canon law. Founder of the Near Eastern Mission. Father d’Alzon sent him at the very beginning to Adrianople. He took care of the first Oblates who were sent to Bulgaria.

Guéranger, Prosper (1805–1875)

Dom Guéranger was the one who restored the Benedictine Order in France and who was the first Abbot of Solesmes. He initiated the renewal of the Roman liturgy.

Lamennais, Félicité de (1782–1854)

French writer of the 19th century, priest. Deputy in 1848. Ultramontane. Apologist in defense of freedom-of-religion against the Gallican Church. In 1830, he rallied the liberal Catholic youth around the newspaper L’avenir. He published Paroles d’un croyant.

Condemned by Pope Gregory XVI, he broke with Rome.

Lombard, Mathieu (1858–1951)

One of the first alumnists at Notre Dame des Chãteaux. He did his novitiate in Paris with Father Picard. He was a professor at Assumption College in Nîmes and faced all the problems posed by the government. He became an Assistant General in 1923. He always remained favorable to the Oblates of Nîmes.

Mauvise, Esther de (1845–1922)154

Known in religion as Mother Marie of Christ. Religious Sister of the Assumption loaned to the Oblates at the request of Father Picard. She was the Major Superior of the Oblates of the Assumption for 36 years until her death.

Milleret, Anne-Eugénie de Brou (1817–1898)

Known in religion as Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus. Foundress of the Religious Sisters [Ladies] of the Assumption, big friend of Father d’Alzon who helped her with the foundation of her Congregation. Their relations became less close after the foundation of the Oblates of the Assumption and especially after the installation of the Oblates on rue Séguier.

Pare, Berthe-Marie (1860–1946)

155 Third Superior General of the Oblates of the Assumption, but first of the Paris branch from 1924 to 1936 when she resigned for health reasons. Mother Michael succeeded her until her death in 1942.

de Peter, Sister Marie-Madeleine (1832–1888)

Religious [Lady] of the Assumption, she received the religious habit from Father d’Alzon. She was prioress in Sedan and Saint Dizier.

From July 1865 to November 1866, she helped with the formation of the first Oblates at Le Vigan.

She was Assistant General of her Congregation for six years.

Picard, François (1831–1903)

A student of Father d’Alzon at Assumption College. He became an Assumptionist in 1850 and succeeded Father d’Alzon as Superior General in 1880.

He founded the Orants of the Assumption in 1897. He contributed to the development of the Assumptionists and of the Oblates in Paris as well as to the creation of La Bonne Presse.

Quénard, Gervais (1875–1961)

Superior of the Near Eastern Mission, then Superior General of the Assumptionists. It was thanks to him that the Oblates of Nîmes and the Oblates of Paris were reunited.

Régis, Eulalie de (1829–1867)

156 Father d’Alzon would have liked her to be the co-foundress of the Oblates, but her poor health did not allow it. She died before the foundation, bequeathing to the Oblates almost all of her estate.

Saugrain, Hippolyte (1822–1905)

Professor at Assumption College, then master of novices at Le Vigan and General Treasurer. He did a lot of apostolate in and around Le Vigan. He recruited the first Oblates and actively participated in their formation.

Serre, Augustin (1850–1910)

Assistant Pastor at the Church of Saint Perpetua in 1879, he was Mother Emmanuel-Marie Correnson’s lawyer during the trial in the 1890s. He won the case in Rome after having lost it in Nîmes. ther Emmanuel-Marie Correnson was very grateful to him and visited him at his residence on rue Roussy.

  • Father Emmanuel d’Alzon, Écrits Spirituels, pp. 1182–1184 (1,503 pages), Rome, General House, 1956.
  • Father Emmanuel d’Alzon, Lettres, vol. V, VI, VII (red books), XV (yellow book).
  • Father Emmanuel d’Alzon, Lettres à Mère Emmanuel-Marie Correnson et aux Oblates de l’Assomption (green book), (490 pages), Brussels, 1993. (Invités à un renouveau spirituel — Anthologie, 1880 — November 21, 1980).
  • Siméon Vailhé, A.A., Biographie du Père d’Alzon, 1934, vol. II, chap. XVI, pp. 380–415 (539 pages), Paris, Bonne Presse, 1925.
  • Victorin Galabert, A.A., Journal et Lettres.
  • Hippolyte Saugrain, A.A., Lettres.
  • André Sève, A. A., Christ Is My Life, The Spiritual Legacy of Emmanuel d’Alzon, New City Press, New York, 1988, 175 pages.
  • Emmanuel d’Alzon, Dossier sur la vie et vertus, vol. II, Rome 1986, chap.22–30.
  • Le Père d’Alzon et Le Vigan, by the Orants of the Assumption (24 pages), 1980.
  • Sister Thérèse-Marie Foy, O.A., Une vie chevaleresque: Emmanuel d’Alzon, (275 pages), 2000.
  • Pierre Touveneraud, A.A., Sister Marie-Leonie Marichal, O.A., La fondation des Søe urs Oblates de l’Assomption, 1978, Rome – Centennial Series 1880, no. 4.
  • Mother Emmnuel-Marie Correnson, Lettres.
  • Mother Emmanuel-Marie Correnson, Extraits de correspondance et de résumés de chapitres.
  • Marie Correnson et les premières Oblates, Colloquium 2000.
  • Aînées et Fondatrices, Session Orsay, 1990.
  • Les Oblates de l’Assomption en France, vol. I (monograph)
  • Les Oblates de l’Assomption en Bulgarie, 1980 (monograph)
  • Pages d’Oblation, Memorial et souvenirs, vol. I, II, III.
  • Mother Marguerite-Marie Chamska, O.A., Lettres a Mere Correnson 1891–1893.
  • Sister Marie des Anges Clavier, La septième petite pierre brute: souvenirs d’une Oblate contemporaine des origines, 1911, General House, Paris, 1965.
  • Marie-Michel Cornillie, A.A., L’Oblate de l’Assomption (330 pages), General House, Paris, 1951. Sister Mireille Garde, O.A., Oblate de L’Assomption, que dis-tu de toi-même? 1981.
  • Mère Emmanuel-Marie de la Compassion, d’après ses lettres au Père d’Alzon, 1987, General House, Paris.
  • Maria de Crisenoy, Les Oblates de L’Assomption (257 pages), Grasset, 1955.

Foundation of the Little Sisters of the Assumption

Gisèle Marchand

The Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Assumption, visiting nurses of the poor (Garde-malades des pauvres à domicile) was founded in Paris in July 1865 by Father Claude Etienne Pernet (1824–99), one of the first five Assumptionists, and by Mother Marie of Jesus, Marie-Antoinette Fage (1824–83).

We are already acquainted with the political, economic and social history of the time. Consequently, I will recall here only a few important points of the context that are particularly important for the history of the Congregation.

Etienne Pernet was born in Franche-Comté in 1824 and Antoinette Fage in Paris that same year. This date calls to mind the Restoration of the monarchy (Reign of Charles X).

Our founders, who were born 35 years after the French Revolution, lived during a complex period, one that was seething with ideas and confrontations. They experienced five political regimes.157

They also saw the development of the industrial mechanization. It was the beginning of economic development. Daily existence was transformed, but this industrial revolution took place at the expense of human lives. It provoked the birth of the proletariat, which came into existence as a result of the migration of workers from the less prosperous rural areas to the cities.

It was also a period of ideological fermentation which gave rise to various socialist trends.

In the Church, as in society as a whole, it was a period of contradictions and contrasts.

The Church took positions regarding the three main currents in French society: the liberal, republican and socialist movements.

As a whole, it took a defensive position. Nevertheless, there were some who wanted to welcome the world that was being formed. It was the beginning of social Catholicism.

The Church was sensitive to the extreme poverty of the poor

In order to respond, many religious congregations were founded and initiatives such as the “Conferences of Saint Vincent of Paul,” “worker cells,” and “youth clubs” were launched.

A movement of spiritual renewal spread throughout the Church in France during this same period of the 19th century with missionary expansion, the awakening of the laity to an active faith, and the Marian trend (apparitions of the Blessed Virgin: rue du Bac, Lourdes).

Influences and Preparations

In 1865, the year of the Foundation, Father Pernet wrote to Mother Marie of Jesus: “Remember that you must be an apostle and mother to all the women who will come to you to also become apostles among the poor and the working class.

Father Pernet had the intuition of an evangelical response to the miserable situation of the workers of his time. Mother Marie of Jesus, with her sisters, would “give concrete form” to Father Pernet’s charism.

The assistant general of the time, Mother Marie-Madeleine Tomkowicz, testifies to this:

She was Father Pernet’s support as well as his tireless fellow-worker; they must never be separated. What our Father says in the rule, the directory and the customary come from their mutual experience. This does not diminish the Father. When you hear him, you also hear the Mother.158

The personal and family experience of the Founders was certainly a determining factor in preparing them for their mission among the “poor and the workers,” and for their undertaking the adventure of a religious foundation.

Both were marked by the trials of life, both came from disadvantaged families. Both had experienced poverty, loneliness, illness, and an uncertain future. They underwent these experiences in distinct life situations which we do well to recall briefly.

Claude Etienne Pernet

was born in a small village, Vellexon (Haute Saône), on July 23, 1824, into a rural, very simple Christian family. He was 14 when his father died. From then on, the family gradually became poorer, even to the point of destitution. His mother worked as a midwife to provide for her five children then alive. A deeply Christian woman, she let Etienne, the eldest, leave for the seminary in 1838, some months after Mr. Pernet’s death.159 In 1844, having doubts about his vocation to be a diocesan priest, he left the seminary, in agreement with his superiors, for a time of reflection. He was 20 years old.

After those six years of study, he worked for four years at Dole in Franche-Comté at the “home for orphans” as a supervisor, and then became the private tutor of Joseph de Fontenelle.

In 1848, unemployed like so many other country people, he migrated to Paris to look for work and experienced the trials of all those who arrived in a big city with no relatives or experience. Completely at a loss, he became quite ill. He went to the church of Notre Dame des Victoires every day to ask for light on his vocation; he was thinking of going to distant countries as a missionary. At Notre-Dame des Victoires, he met Father Morcel,160 a Marist, who sent him to Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus so that she might introduce him to Father d’Alzon. A series of letters in May 1849 enables us to see the unfolding of events and the climate in which the successive discernments took place. Finally, Father d’Alzon agreed to accept him in Nîmes. He advanced the money for the journey. Etienne Pernet arrived in Nîmes on June 5, 1849. He was a supervisor at the college and continued to seek his vocation.

On October 19, 1849, after a pilgrimage to Notre-Dame de Rochefort, he entered the novitiate of the Augustinians of the Assumption and, on December 25, 1850, he pronounced his first vows. He was ordained a priest on April 3, 1858 by Bishop Nanquette,161 bishop of Le Mans.

During his religious life, which lasted fifty years, Etienne Pernet had two different apostolic experiences: teaching, either in Nîmes or in Clichy, for fourteen years, and then pastoral ministry for thirty-six years.

A fervent Assumptionist, he imbued himself with the spirit of his Congregation, the directives Father d’Alzon gave to the community, and the openness shown by the persons he came in contact with at the Assumption.

Having a deep rather than a brilliant mind, Etienne Pernet reflected, assimilated and interiorized things as he adjusted to life, letting himself be guided in his faith response by Father d’Alzon, his “beloved Father,” as he said later.

Father d’Alzon had an important influence on Etienne Pernet. He offered him a strong and understanding friendship, very human and warm, and this throughout all his life. Etienne Pernet found in him the father whom he had lost too early in life.

It was in terms of holiness, and not of apostolic activities that they sought together the will of God for the life of the young religious. Father d’Alzon helped him to spell out his vocation more clearly and to evolve confidently toward accepting himself and seeking new challenges.

While he showed him trust and friendship, he also gave him a firm accompaniment that communicated to Father Pernet his own passion for Christ and love for the Church.

Thus, a young countryman uprooted from his environment, he found his way in life after a long and difficult discernment.

In 1862, Father Pernet was again in Nîmes. For health reasons, Father d’Alzon relieved him of his teaching responsibilities and told him to rest. On October 17, he returned to Paris and joined the community at rue François Ier which, at that time, was engaged in pastoral activity. From the time of his arrival, Father Picard gave him a ministry that was thought to be suited to his frail health: preaching, confessions, and hospitality.

Very soon, he scoured the poor districts of Paris, visited the sick and the dying, intervened on people’s behalf, drafted letters of petition, etc.

Father Picard wrote to Father d’Alzon: “Pernet is working wonders; he’s the father of the poor and the consoler of the afflicted in the neighborhood; he is in his element.”162

For fourteen years, he had been haunted by the condition of so many working-class families, what he eventually called “le mal de louvrier” (the evil afflicting the working class). It was in Nîmes, in 1850, at the beginning of his religious life, that he had an experience that was decisive for himself and for the congregation he was to found. A supervisor at Assumption College, he assumed responsibility at the same time for a youth club linked to the charitable activities of this college. The club had 200 working-class boys, some of whom were working already. It was by visiting their families, particularly those in the “Enclos Rey” district, that he felt the decisive shock:

I saw there distress that I hardly knew existed. It was in Nîmes that I got the idea of founding the Little Sisters.163

From 1850 to 1864, this question haunted him painfully. At the same time, his family was experiencing great poverty and isolation. After his mother’s death (1857), his infirm brother, unemployed and in utter deprivation, came to him in Paris.

His personal experience, what he had lived himself and what his family was living tied in with what he had seen in Nîmes.

He was startled by the suffering and the dehumanization of the workers, the break-up and de-Christianization of the working families, and their helplessness, particularly when the mother was ill.

It wasn’t simply his kind and generous nature that was moved. He believed that every person, however poor, is important in the eyes of God. In them, his faith recognized “the suffering members of Jesus Christ.”164 .

Marie-Antoinette Fage

was born in Paris on November 7, 1824. Unlike Father Pernet who was from a rural background, she grew up among the Parisian working class. Her mother165 was 20 when Antoinette was born. She was a seamstress, like a lot of young women from humble backgrounds. Antoinette’s father, Jean Fage166 was a soldier; he was 24. Her parents were separated at the time of her birth.

Her childhood was spent in poverty and suffering. When she was about 12 years old, she suffered a severe health problem which stunted her growth and left her infirm. Her mother died in 1838. An orphan at the age of 13, she was taken in by neighbors, friends of her mother.

In turn, she became a seamstress and, for almost 24 years, carried on this trade in sewing workshops, earning her living by hard work.

She was attentive to her fellow workers, particularly the apprentices, to their situation and their future. According to what Father Pernet said,

She knew how to devote her life and strength to supporting others. I don’t know how many times she had to replace her household belongings, which she gave to the young girls she helped to get married.167

In her capacity to love and to give of herself, she tended to go especially towards the people in humble circumstances, the weak, and the neglected. The more one was to be pitied, the more one had a right to the tenderness of her heart and to her services.168

Around the age of 18 or 19, she discovered the strength of a living faith. During her childhood and adolescence, suffering had opened her to others, and she turned towards God. Proud, sensitive and fervent, she was eager for the Word of God and had a deep love for the Virgin Mary.

In 1853, she joined the Association of Our Lady of Good Counsel. At that time, she came in contact with the Dominicans at the Priory of Saint James in Paris: Fathers Lecomte,169 Faucillon,170 Manuel,171 Chocarne,172 etc. It was through a Dominican tertiary173 that she met Madame de Mesnard174 and her daughter175 who were thinking of founding an orphanage for young teenage girls of the working-class in the Paris suburbs. In March 1861, she agreed to run it. That same year, she herself joined the Dominican Third Order and made profession on April 24, 1862, taking the name of Sister Catherine of Siena. Through the Third Order and the orphanage, she came in contact with people involved in charitable works, with priests, and with Father Gaspard Mermillod,176 an advisor to the Ladies of Mesnard and the future Bishop of Geneva, who was interested in social questions and the author of La question ouvriere (1872).

Of puny appearance and in constant pain, she was nevertheless cheerful, full of drive and loved by the young girls. A conflict arose with the foundresses of the orphanage. It was in these circumstances that Antoinette Fage met Father Pernet in 1864. It was the beginning of a lasting relationship.

For almost 20 years, Etienne Pernet and Antoinette Fage worked together for the foundation of the Congregation. At the time of Mother Marie of Jesus’ death in 1883, Father Pernet said to the community:

We never had but one mind and one heart. There was never the least disagreement between us.177

The Circumstances

May–June 1864: two decisive encounters

In 1864, Etienne Pernet and Marie-Antoinette Fage were both 40 years old. Father Pernet was in contact with a small group of nurses and with Miss Fage. For a year, he reflected, prayed, and remained attentive to events.

At the beginning of June, two young women whose confessor he was, Marie Maire178 and a friend, both nurses, asked if he could find work for them. After searching for some, he responded with two questions:

My daughters, do you love Our Lord? Do you feel you have the courage to do something for Him?

On receiving affirmative answers, he proposed the following:

Let’s agree that you will continue to look after the sick. If rich people need care, you will ask for payment, it’s only just. But you will never refuse the poor, whom you will nurse free-of-charge.

Only Marie Maire agreed to this. She rented a room at 73 rue Vaneau, first with one, then with two young women179 who agreed to share this form of life.

In a report dated March 7, 1867, Father Pernet wrote:

During the month of June, “consecrated to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus,” we prayed very hard for the little undertaking, and the three young women got down to work. They had some paying patients, but very few, and it wasn’t long before they accepted only poor people ... 180

In May 1864, Father Pernet met Marie-Antoinette Fage for the first time. He came to ask her for work and lodging for a teacher who had no money. Shortly thereafter, Antoinette asked him to become her spiritual advisor.

Father Pernet quickly sensed that she could bring to fruition the apostolic call he was feeling. Ever since he came in contact with her, he appreciated her simplicity, her straightforwardness, her frankness, and her generosity in view of the Glory of God and of the Apostolate.181

1865: The Foundation

In May 1865, he learned by chance from the Religious of the Assumption that the Ladies of Mesnard were seeking to replace Miss Fage in her position as directress. He asked her to assume responsibility for the community of nurses. At first, she rejected this unexpected call, but then discerned in this proposal a call from God. At that point, she committed herself wholeheartedly. At the origin of the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Assumption, there was this act of faith made by Antoinette Fage.

In June, Marie-Antoinette Fage spent some time at Auteuil. In her notes, she recounts the event. Father Pernet said to her:

This is what I am proposing after discussion with my superior, Father Picard, namely that you accept the direction of this work. But since, before all else, you need to have some preparation and to know something of religious life, Father Picard is of the opinion that you should spend a few months at the convent in Auteuil.

[ ...] It was decided that I would go to the Assumption on June 1st.

Miss Fage prepared for her mission with Mother Marie-Eugénie and Mother Françoise-Eugénie (de Malbosc). Father Pernet came to see her every day in Auteuil and together they prepared a little rule for the community.

Because of various circumstances, Miss Fage stayed only one month in Auteuil.

The first community

On July 17, 1865, the first community gathered in a little rented apartment at 233 rue Saint-Dominique, in the Gros-Caillou district, chosen because of “the countless number of poor people living there.” This house was very close to the Champ de Mars where a world trade fair was being held.

The community had a specific rule for its common life and a prayer schedule that the Congregation followed as a matter of fact for a century. There was also a daily study of the catechism. The nurses called one another “sister” and regarded Miss Fage as the superior, “the Mother” who later took the religious name of Marie of Jesus.

Care of the abandoned sick, in their own homes, was the point of departure of Father Pernet’s foundation. The work of the Little Sisters sprang from ordinary practical life and from simple friendly personalized relations in order to attain the aim of “refashioning a people for Jesus Christ.”182

The sisters went into the homes, cared for the sick, did the housework, and looked after the children and all that makes up family life. By these simple acts of service, the Little Sister sought to be close to the people and to act in a sisterly fashion, thus testifying to the love of God by which she lived.

From the very beginning, the Congregation’s project went beyond the charitable aspect of “care of the sick.” It was an apostolic project.

In fellowship with the poor

The “little nurses” were poor in the midst of the poor. Practicing poverty in terms of their location, equipment, and daily budget, the first sisters had enough money only to cover the needs of that day. And this lasted for more than two years. They were hungry at times and used tickets issued by the soup kitchens, like the other poor people of the district. “We had only Providence in the cash box,” Father Pernet was to say later!183

Whe rever they worked, they shared the life of the families in the slums, which were numerous at the time. They were given help by Father Picard (Father Pernet’s superior), Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus, the Dominican Tertiaries, and some friends. Later on, at Monceau, the superior of the Daughters of Charity, Mother Bigour-dan,184 also helped them. Mother Marie of Jesus’ notebooks enable us to follow all this from day to day.

In March 1867, the “little work,” as it was called, was adopted by the former pupils of Auteuil at Father Picard’s instigation. They organized a fundraising campaign.

In this precarious situation, Mother Marie of Jesus and her sisters also practiced a simple sharing with those around them, responding to the events that challenged them. “She often invited the community to do without necessities so as to help the poor.” Many people in difficulty came to live with the community.

During the war of 1870, Father Pernet and Father Vincent de Paul Bailly served as military chaplains. They were taken prisoners at Metz and transferred to Mainz where they lived with Bishop Von Ketteler,185 who was very open to the social questions of the time. This contact must have interested Father Pernet.

From the beginning of the foundation, Father d’Alzon as well as Father Picard, who was Father Pernet’s immediate superior, encouraged him in his project.

Father Picard supported Mother Marie of Jesus and the first community, sharing in all that was happening in Father Pernet’s life and standing in for him when he had to be absent.

For over 30 years, as the Congregation developed, Father Pernet sought the advice of Father Picard and submitted his problems to him.

In 1896, when Pontifical approbation of the Congregation was being sought in Rome, Father Picard wrote to Father Emmanuel Bailly:

Since there will be question of me in connection with the Little Sisters, I want to remind you of two things:

1. At the time of the foundation, I laid down the principle of offering entirely free services and the unshakeable rule of never caring for the rich. I therefore participated in the foundation.

2. When I asked Father d’Alzon for the authorization to establish this new work, he replied: “Will you take responsibility for it?” – “Yes!” – ‘‘Will you answer to me in the future?’’ – “Yes, Father!” – “In that case, I give full authorization, but it is your responsibility.” I therefore accepted responsibility for it.186

The Little Sisters and the Assumptionists

From the time of their foundation, the Little Sisters made private vows. They followed the Rule of Saint Augustine and the “little rule” written by the founders during Antoinette Fage’s stay at Auteuil. After the war of 1870, with the return of peace and the group’s increasing numbers, it became necessary to establish clearly its relationship to the Assumptionists.

Father Pernet insisted on the support and direction of the Little Sisters by the Fathers. A note dated 1877 and preserved at the archbishopric of Paris reads as follows:

The work of the Little Sisters of the Assumption is a work that is full of difficulties and dangers. [ ...] Until now, I have only encouraged them to count on the Religious [Priests] of the Assumption for matters of government and direction. But, if this support were lacking, my conscience would oblige me not to encourage them to remain in a state from which they might fall into the abyss.187

1873: Election of the Delegate of the Assumptionist Superior General

On September 16, 1873, Father Pernet wrote to Mother Marie of Jesus:

[ ...] We finished the work of our General Chapter today [ ...] The Chapter members will be giving me the responsibility of communicating to you some resolutions that will be of greatest importance to your little Congregation. From now on, if you wish, you will no longer have to fear being considered as strangers to the Assumption. The bonds between you and us will be as close and lasting as you wish. But I won’t say any more to you on that particular subject. I’ll explain everything to you when I have the paper in my hands.188

He knew that he had the agreement of Mother Marie of Jesus and of the sisters, who gratefully welcomed this orientation and proceeded with the election on December 26, 1873. Father Pernet received the absolute majority and became the “Delegate of the Superior General of the Augustinians of the Assumption” to the Little Sisters.

Here is an extract of a letter written on December 26, 1873 by Mother Marie of Jesus to Father Picard:

[ ...] We could not wish for anything better for the general good of our work than for you to assume its government and direction. That is why, as soon as our Reverend Father General, Father d’Alzon, asked us to choose as superior either Father Vincent de Paul Bailly, or Father Germer, or Father Pernet, we moved very quickly to do as he wished.

The first Rule and the question of the name

The Congregation was officially recognized by the Church in 1875. The first Rule of the “Little Sisters of the Assumption, Visiting Nurses of the Poor” (“Garde-malades des pauvres à domicile”) was presented to Cardinal Guibert,189 Archbishop of Paris, in April 1874 after it had been submitted to Father Picard.

“It is understood that my response will be one of obedience,” wrote Father Pernet on April 24, 1874.

This obedience was to be accompanied by a great deal of patience because, from July 1874 to February 1875, he had to write five letters to Father Picard asking him for the draft of the Constitutions of the Little Sisters of the Assumption which he had submitted to him and which the Archbishopric was asking him for.

In the end, Father Pernet managed to retrieve it:

I found it, almost accidentally, in a little corner of your cell, lost in the middle of a pile of other papers to be thrown out.190

This draft, examined by Father Picard, was approved by the Archbishop.

In writing it, Father Pernet had consulted the Rule of the Sisters of Saint Thomas of Villanova because, in the same letter, he wrote:

Unfortunately, the Rule of the Child Jesus (Ladies of St. Thomas of Villanova), from which I had taken a lot of ideas, was not there.

The name of “Little Sisters of the Assumption” was ratified by the General Chapter of the Assumptionists in 1873.

On September 13 of that same year, Mother Marie of Jesus, writing to Father Pernet, then in Nîmes for the General Chapter, signed for the first time: “Sister Marie of Jesus of the Little Sisters of the Assumption, Nurses of the poor.”

It is difficult to say when this name was given to us on a regular basis. As a rule, until 1873, we were called the “Nurses of the Poor.” Some Assumptionists spoke of the “Pernettes,” or of “Father Pernet’s sisters,” or of “Miss Fage’s daughters.”

On the other hand, already in 1865, there was a young woman, Laurence, who wanted to become “a Little Sister of the Assumption.”191

On September 22, 1866, Antoinette Fage was the first to pronounce her vows of religion and to consecrate her life [ ...] “to the work of the Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion, Sisters of the suffering Jesus, dedicated to the care of the poor and of the abandoned sick.” On the same page, a note was added the following year:

Renewed forever: August 15, 1867

Antoinette Fage, in religion, Marie of Jesus, Little Sister of the Assumption, nurse of the poor.

In fact, the name “Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion”192 was never given to the nurses, and it is found nowhere in the voluminous correspondence of the period.

However, many years later, in 1896, in the Directory, Father Pernet was to take up this mystery in the chapter on the “Characteristics of our love for the Blessed Virgin.”

The Little Sister, like Mary, will wish to share in the Cross of Jesus [ ...] for the salvation of the world. And this life of compassion will be one not only of desire and feeling; it will be expressed in generous acts of immolation, penance, work, and devotedness.193

In a talk to the sisters on February 11, 1892, Father Pernet said:

You could have been called something quite different from “Little Sisters of the Assumption”: for example, Sisters of St. John the Baptist, of the Compassion, etc. You were almost called the Servants of the Poor. The Blessed Virgin did not want that. She wanted you to be of the Assumption because she wanted to have you close to her heart.194

Sister Gisèle Marchand
Little Sister of the Assumption

57, rue Violet
75015 Paris

Appendix I: Sources

  • Correspondence
  • Report to the benefactresses (1867)
  • Account written by Mother Marie of Jesus on her meeting with
  • Father Pernet Accounts of the Foundation LSA Directory
  • Lectures and talks given by Father Pernet Testimonies (on the Founders)
  • Father Etienne Pernet, yesterday and today, Father Pierre Touveneraud Pages d’archives A.A., April 1966)
  • From the human family to the People of God, Sister M. Humberte Molliere, Ed. St. Paul, 1967

Appendix II: Additional Information

In discussing the Foundation of the Congregation, I emphasized the circumstances, the influences and what prepared our Founders to undertake the adventure of this Foundation. However, in order to grasp what the foundation meant in terms of its relations with the families of the Assumption, and in particular with the Fathers of the Assumption, it is necessary to touch upon two aspects:

  • Father Pernet, the founder: initiative and dependence
  • Mother Marie of Jesus Fage, co-foundress

1.—Father Pernet, founder: initiative and dependence

Among the founders of the families of the Assumption, Father Pernet was the only one not to have been a superior.

Etienne Pernet was an unassuming man, a little bit brusque by temperament, sensitive, but at the same time, moderate, reflective and tenacious. At the time of the foundation, he had learned to master the anxious side of his character, and he knew how to be firm and courageous.

The unanimous testimony of those who were in close touch with him underlines his humility. He had experienced the rough path of humiliations. As he said himself, the search to find what was God’s will for him was long, and for a long time he also suffered from a feeling of being “ineffective.” His correspondence brings out his kindness, his willingness to help, and the warmth of his fraternal relations.

This religious who used to say, ``we will not aim to dry up our heart but, on the contrary, to make it bigger, stronger, and more alive,195 had a reputation for kindness. He never despaired of others. This kindness was allied with common sense and discernment.

Because he was one among many other religious, it is important that we examine his thinking concerning the relations of the Little Sisters of the Assumption with the Assumptionists and his attitude towards his superiors.

1.—His thinking on the relations between the Little Sisters of the Assumption and the Assumptionists

Father Pernet had made his own the spirit of the Assumption. He was impregnated with it. At the same time, he had interiorized his own grace as a Founder.

He wanted the Little Sisters to be supported and directed by the Assumptionists. He expressed this in his correspondence with Baroness Reille196 in 1877.197

And on July 2, 1879, in a talk to the Little Sisters, he said:

[ ...] I confess that I would suffer greatly if I thought that one day you would have to be under the direction of this or that diocesan priest, or under the control of bishop so and so. [ ...] You see, I want you always to have real Fathers leading you.198

2.—His attitude towards his superiors

Although a founder, he was also a religious belonging to a community and to a congregation. We read in Telle fut son ante: “In order to achieve the difficult balance between the initiative of a founder and the dependence of a religious, he opted for obedience” (p. 51).

As a founder, he ran things by consulting the Little Sisters of the Assumption and his superior.

He was very careful about how the Congregation progressed, and he worked in close collaboration with the first two superiors general, Mother Marie of Jesus Fage and Mother Marie of the Blessed Sacrament Jacobs,199 without ever taking their place. He had the same attitude toward the superiors of the communities which he visited regularly. He never interposed himself between the sisters and their superior, keeping to his task as guarantor of the charism and as spiritual animator. With them, he had to study situations, risk innovations, and take decisions, but always in obedience to his superi ors. His local superior was kept informed and, through him, the superior general of the Assumptionists.

As a religious, he had a conviction that marked his whole life. He knew he was “sent” and that he had been given a mission. He never spoke of “his” work, but of the “work of God,” and he resisted all attempts to attribute it to him.

For him, obedience was the guarantee of doing the will of God. It was a spiritual dimension that he transmitted insistently to the Congregation.

As an Assumptionist, Father Pernet, the spiritual son of Father d’Alzon, had Father Laurent as superior of the community in Clichy from 1852 to 1860; in Paris at rue Francis ler, he had Father Picard from 1863 to 1880, and then Father Vincent de Paul Bailly.

Father Picard was a support and a guide for him, which is not to say that everything was easy. For example, there were two questions, among many others, that they had to deal with:

The renting of a house for the community.

In 1867, in agreement with Father Picard,200 Father Pernet looked for and found a little house on Passage Gaillard201 in the parish of Chaillot. After consulting several persons, Miss Fage took the necessary steps to rent it. On August 7, Father Picard ruled out the transfer of the community to Chaillot because the Assumptionists were having problems with that parish.

Father Pernet replied:

Because the prohibition was quite formal, I wrote immediately to Miss Fage to suspend all the transactions and to call a halt to the affair. You can see that I obeyed you, and I did so as promptly as I could. Having said that, let me explain my actions to you.202

There are some ten letters about that affair.

Finally, the Little Sisters of the Assumption rented that house before moving to Monceau the following year. For a year, in order to avoid difficulties with the parish clergy, Father Pernet, in agreement with Father Picard, refrained from visiting the sisters in that community.

1891: A foundation in New York

Father Picard insisted on a foundation by the Fathers at the same time as that of the Little Sisters. Father Pernet’s request to found a community in New York received two formal negative answers because the Archbishop’s203 Council wanted to accept only the Little Sisters. This position risked putting into question the foundation that had been projected with the support of American friends. In a letter to Father Picard, Father Pernet wrote:

We have prayed and we are still praying, and I am still confused, while being disposed to say no, if you request it.204

At that time, Father Pernet was in Nîmes. In February, Mother Marie of the Blessed Sacrament, on receipt of a letter from the Archbishop of New York, went to see Father Picard. Here is an extract from the letter she then wrote to Father Pernet:

[ ...] After telling him that, upon receipt of his letter, we had refused for the reasons he was familiar with, I added: “Father, you told us that the Good Lord would bless our obedience and that is what He has done. The obstacle is removed. The Archbishop agrees to accept a Father of the Assumption.” He replied: “I expected that.” That comment didn’t surprise me. Father believes he has obtained everything and, in a way, glorifies himself for having refused. But, no matter.

I translated the letter for him. He said to me: “He doesn’t accept a foundation by our Fathers?” “No, Father, at least not for the time being, but I am convinced that when the Little Sisters have settled in and their work is known, that will facilitate a lot of things in the future.” I continued with the translation. When I was finished, I looked ques-tioningly at Father Picard and he said: “Well then, go ahead.”

In order to clear the matter up, I wanted him to hear once again the whole story of this foundation so that we might not be accused of having acted on our own.

After re-tracing the history of the foundation, Mother Marie of the Blessed Sacrament, still in the same letter, continued:

[ ...] When he said to me: “I was convinced that your refusal would bring about this solution,” I said to him: “I must say, Father, that I did not think so and that I was deeply distressed. Moreover, our good Fa ther has often edified me but never so much as on the day when he had to submit in that way, and I must tell you, Father, that I thought the Founder was indeed supplanted by the religious.”

He replied: “it was necessary,” still alluding to the good that was to come of it. Then, picking up on my words, he said to me: “Oh, for that matter, the Founder must never be supplanted by the religious, otherwise it would create an impossible situation for him among our religious.” I said to him: “That is what I have always thought.”

Finally, to finish with this question, Father Picard said: “Well then, write to Father Pernet and let him know how things stand. As for me, I will write to Father Brun telling him to prepare to leave. [ ...]” 205

2.—Mother Marie de Jésus: co-foundress

As has been said, the Congregation was founded by Father Pernet and Mother Marie of Jesus. Father had the evangelical intuition and Mother Marie of Jesus “gave body” to his charism.

“She was the Father’s support and his tireless helper.” “They must never be separated,” said Mother Marie-Madeleine.206

The words support and tireless helper must be noted.

In 1864, Marie-Antoinette Fage was a little woman of 40, frail in appearance, deformed, but radiating obvious charm: “That little woman is very great,” Father d’Alzon said in 1867.

We can detect a strong, rather independent personality. She was an active, enterprising and spontaneous person.

When God brought about our meeting,’’ said Father Pernet, ``she was surrounded by orphans who adored her and to whom she was a mother.207

Father Pernet sensed the depth of Antoinette Fage whose first letters in 1864 show both frankness and excessive timidity, her emotions having probably suffered from the harshness of her existence. He perceived her sense of education, along with her “superior and decisive intelligence in thinking out problems and her strong will in implementing decisions,” said Father Manuel, O.P., the Dominican novice master, in 1883.

An innate poverty of heart was the grace that was common to both founders. Their life and the history of the Congregation at the outset were marked by their abandonment to God.

After her death, Father Pernet said to the Little Sisters of the Assumption:

Among all the persons I have ever met, your Mother was the one who was most at the mercy of the Good Lord. She was the child of Providence.208

Antoinette Fage’s kindness, her sense of justice and her compassion struck all whom she met.

Your first Mother combined great energy with a big heart. She supported her subjects, corrected them without ever discouraging them, and trained them in virtue.209

And again,

Your Mother was a soul of great faith. ... At the same time, she was very humble and had a great love for Our Lord, the Church, souls, and above all the poor ... 210

The starting point for the common work and the strong spiritual friendship that linked Etienne Pernet and Antoinette Fage was a great love for Our Lord that was concretized by their love for the poor.

You are afraid of nothing when it comes to devotedness and the salvation of souls, Father Pernet wrote to her in 1871.

“Forgetful of herself, very simple, very modest,” she went ahead, with daring and humility, leading her sisters by her example. “She is a woman who stands on her own two feet, who doesn’t get flustered, who is able to suffer,” said the parish priest of Saint John the Baptist in Grenelle211 in 1876.

The writings that have been preserved are few but of great value for getting to know the beginnings of the Congregation. In her humility, Mother Marie of Jesus did not wish that her works be preserved. She used to say to the novices:

No, my children, that would not be appropriate. I have never permitted it for the older sisters, and I do not permit it for you either. Only the words of our Venerated Father should be preserved. He is the one whom God enlightened regarding what was needed for our work. It is for him to instruct us, to teach us, you and me, and we should keep all that he says carefully for the generations that will come after us. As for me, I am nothing, my children. I simply try to help you put into practice the counsels of our Father, as occasions arise and my advice becomes necessary.212

As Superior general, she was Father Pernet’s “tireless helper.”

  • 1865: When Father Pernet asked her to join the first group of sisters, he also asked her to take on the responsibility of the community and placed her as superior. Mother Marie of Jesus showed her qualities of heart, intelligence and organization amid all sorts of difficulties. Her strength in times of trial came from her faith.
  • When war was declared in 1870, Father Pernet signed up as a voluntary chaplain and left for Metz.

On the initiative of Mother Marie of Jesus, a military treatment center with 42 beds was set up in Grenelle. The sisters were in charge of four other military treatment centers in Paris,213 for a total of ninety beds. They themselves lodged in attics, and Marie of Jesus sheltered some twenty persons from the neighborhood who were hungry and cold.

In 1871, during the Commune uprising in Paris, the gunpowder store on rue de Javel exploded. Mother Marie of Jesus offered hospitality to all who needed it. “Our house could be called the house of refuge.” The sisters nursed both the wounded soldiers and the insurgents.

The years 1870–71 were important for the institute which underwent the trial of the Founder’s absence, yet it held firm. Mother Marie of Jesus faced up to the difficulties caused by the war and the Commune. Immediately afterwards, the sisters resumed nursing the sick in their homes. From that date forward, the Congregation took on its specific character adapted to the society of the time. Mother 162

Marie of Jesus had to struggle to safeguard the aim of the Institute.

– Convinced that the young foundation needed the impetus given by Father Pernet, she succeeded in having him appointed ecclesiastical superior by the diocese of Paris, strongly opposing the plans of Cardinal Guibert. She managed this difficult negotiation with tack and sensitivity.

– She had a sense of her responsibilities with regard to the sisters and the communities. She closely followed especially the foundations in Creil, Sèvres, Perpignan, and London. In all: fourteen in twelve years. She supported the young superiors “day after day” amid their difficulties. Their correspondence, which has been preserved, testifies to this.

She was on the road and on the building sites, and she had to cope with financial difficulties because, at Grenelle, the house had to be enlarged in order to accommodate everybody. In 1877, the novices went to Sevres while two new stories were added to the motherhouse and the building of the chapel was begun in 1880.

At her death on September 18, 1883, the Congregation numbered 119 sisters and 15 communities in France and England.

– With Father Pernet she founded the Lady Servants of the Poor (1876) and the Fraternity of Our Lady of the Assumption (1881). “She was the soul of our group,” said the Lady Servants.

Every month at Grenelle, she held a meeting for the group called “the Children of Salvation.” She went to Lourdes eleven times with the National Pilgrimage and she helped with the foundation of other congregations.214 All her life, Mother Marie of Jesus showed herself capable of shouldering her responsibilities as superior, leaving to Father Pernet his place as Founder. Their missions were complementary.

When Father Pernet spoke of this conversation, he added:

... and she would become very enthusiastic when I pointed out to her that the mission I was proposing would make her and those who would come to join her apostles among the working class. [ ...] and she accepted it willingly. [ ...] she was so supernatural, so faithful, and so generous in carrying out what had been asked of her.215

The slowly matured wisdom of Father Pernet found in her a dynamism that complemented his own solid qualities. He always recognized this. It was an aspect of his simplicity. Father Pernet, through his spiritual direction, made it possible for the fine personality of Antoinette Fage to free itself. She herself recognized this and said to the sisters during her last illness:

Oh, my daughters, what a good guide! Don’t ever leave him!

Additional Sources

  • Correspondence
  • Talks given by Father Pernet to the Little Sisters of the Assumption about Mother Marie of Jesus.
  • Mère Marie de Jesus, cofondatrice des P.S.A. (For the centennial, Sister Gisèle Marchand, 1983).
  • Force dans la faiblesse: deux pauvres au service du Projet de Dieu, Sister Myriam Rabia (PCN, February 11, 1999).

Foundation of the Orants of the Assumption

Isabelle de Clermont-Tonnerre, Countess of Ursel, and François Picard, as they grew increasingly aware of their role as founders during the years preceding the foundation of the Orants of the Assumption

Marie-Jacques Sevent and Anne Huyghebaert

On December 8, 1896, the chapel at the novitiate of the Oblates of the Assumption on rue Berton in Paris was the scene of a very simple event: the birth of the Orants of the Assumption. Father François Picard, the Assumptionist Superior General, announced:

The Assumption family included almost all types of activity, strength and energy: it lacked this little family dedicated to prayer, study, and sacrifice ... Rejoice children of the Assumption!

In the choir of the Oblates, four prie-dieux had been prepared for Isabelle de Clermont-Tonnerre, Countess of Ursel, for two young girls, Sister Anna who would stay only a few months and Sister Thérèse who, on the contrary, would leave for some time then return permanently, and for Mother Marie of the Compassion, Oblate of the Assumption, who had been chosen by Father Picard to initiate them into the religious life. All four took their places.216

“Everything took place with great simplicity and profound humility,” wrote Sister Thèrése-Emmanuel 25 year later, a simplicity and poverty imbued with the profound joy that radiated from Father Picard and marked by the total self-effacement of Isabelle: “What bothers me most is when people speak of ‘the work of Madame d’Ursel,’ when I appear to be something, even the head of this work.”217

For both founders, this day was the culmination of a long process of maturation. It was the inauguration of their common work.

Genesis and Evolution of the Foundation of the Orants in Isabelle

At the end of her annual retreat in 1893, Isabelle reflected on what had been accomplished up to that point concerning the foundation she was still working on:

“God is patient with souls. For 30 years, he has constantly let me feel that one day I will be entirely his and that, through the trials of my life, he has led me to a goal which he alone knew about ...”

A young vocation

“Thirty years,” ... this traces the beginning of her vocation back to 1863 when Isabelle was only 14 years old. The previous year, her mother had remarried in the region of Lyons, which, for the young girl, was both an emotional and cultural choc. After leaving the fashionable districts of Paris, Isabelle spent her youth in the region of Saint-Etienne, at the chãteau of Feugerolles which had all the appearances of a fortress. Its terrace overlooked the village of Chambon and the entire Ricamarie Valley. Today, there is still a striking contrast between the two places, but it was much greater when mines and blast furnaces bristled throughout the valley with their columns of smoke ... As soon as she could, Isabelle went to live with the community of the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul, who were very active in the village, in order to help them in one or another of their works.218 It would seem that she had decided to enter the novitiate in 1869 because she wrote to her mother about “the day when I will wear the cornet” (the white coif worn by the Sisters of Charity) ... 219

This love for the poor, a concrete and committed love, will mark her whole life.

Her poor health—all her life Isabelle suffered from frequent fainting spells—delayed the decision. A Christian marriage was planned. She was to meet Henri d’Ursel at the home of one of her aunts when the war of 1870 broke out. The plans were suspended but questions remained. Before what the family called Isabelle’s indecision, another aunt of hers, the Marquise of Vallin, a faithful supporter of the nascent works of the Assumptionists, put her in touch with Father Picard.220

His support and direction will prove to be decisive.

Under the direction of Father Picard

We can follow her from 1872 to 1903 thanks to an abundant correspondence.221 From the outset, Isabelle showed herself to be frank and lucid. Sensitive and spontaneous, she did not hide any of her doubts or any of the graces that stand out as landmarks in her spiritual life and that eventually led her to a mystic union. Father Picard’s answers were generally brief, wise, and firm, which did not exclude a certain tenderness when painful events took place. For both of them, the only thing that mattered was to recognize the will of God and to carry it out, hence intransigencies that might appear excessive to our present-day mentalities.

On June 16, 1873, Isabelle became Countess Henri d’Ursel. Her daughter Caroline was born on Christmas Eve 1874 while her husband was already seriously ill. He died on Madeira Island on September 9, 1875. Her decision was immediate and absolute:

At the foot of my husband’s death-bed, I made the vow of perpetual chastity and of consecrating myself to God as soon as my daughter would no longer need me. I had only one reservation: to seek your approval.222

That marked the beginning of her inner struggle. In spite of family or even worldly obligations, she never came back on this total gift of herself to God. Quite to the contrary, her spiritual life was deepened through trials and mystical graces. At the same time, Isabelle, the great grand-daughter of Saint Jeanne de Chantal through her mother, refused “to walk over the body of her child” in order to respond to that irreversible call. She knew inwardly that that was not her way of life. She had to reconcile the two, but how? Father Picard witnessed and guided this tension as well as the crises that followed from it.

Toward the religious life

A member of the Third Order of Saint Augustine since October 1876,223 Isabelle went many times to Auteuil where she became imbued with the spirit of the Assumption. Highly considered by Mother Marie-Eugénie, she was admitted to the Grand Couvent and participated in some aspects of the life of the community. But, as a rule, she lived with her in-laws. She experienced great tension between these two places: the way of living was very different and critical remarks were made about her choices.

The autumn 1880 marked an important step forward. In agreement with Father Picard and Mother Marie-Eugénie,224 Isabelle became a resident member of the convent in Cannes which had recently been founded. Caroline was able to receive there a normal education, while she herself was able to benefit a little more from religious life, not only from choral office but also from meals, recreations, the wearing of the habit on feast days ... and, above all, from regular submission to the superior, Mother Marie of the Nativity (Florence Dillon). Her desire for religious life increased. Then, in the autumn of 1883, when Mother Thérèse-Emmanuel, co-foundress of the Religious of the Assumption, came to Cannes with a few novices, Isabelle committed herself even more:225 “Mother Thérèse-Emmanuel is so good. She accepted me in the novitiate, which means that I am living an almost complete religious life ... I believe that my formation will take place.” She was therefore thinking of joining the Religious of the Assumption.

The Crisis

Isabelle often spoke of her retreat of April 1884 as a time of revolt and rebellion. We have only a few facts on which to base ourselves because there are no documents from that period, probably because she destroyed them herself. There are nevertheless telltale signs in letters and notes drawn up later that allow us to put this revolt in context:

Is it right for a mother to subject her child to a vow of obedience? ... I realize that your order, which was based on her advice (Mother Marie of the Nativity), had nothing imprudent or excessive in itself, except that it substituted religious authority for maternal authority.226

Father Picard responded that God’s rights take precedence over maternal duty:

“The only thing that made sense was that a grace was being wasted and that the treasure of a good part of the retreat was being lost.”227

Today, we would say: who are we to judge? But times then were different.

Seemingly, the crux of Isabelle’s personal problem was the extension of her vow of obedience to include the education of her daughter. In addition to the apparently theoretical question that Isabelle had asked, this vow implied submitting the education of her daughter not only to Father Picard but also to the Superior in Cannes (Mother Marie of the Nativity) whose authority seems to have been exercised in an excessive and uncalled-for manner over Isabelle and particularly over the education of her daughter Caroline, and without Father Picard being aware of it.228 From April to July, it was one thing after another, which prompted her to revolt and subsequently to question. As Isabelle saw the need to purify her motherly love, she nevertheless decided to hasten her entry into religious life:229

God wants me in the religious state ... Difficulties will be surmountable only if I wear the habit in the convent ... the habit brings about an admission of sin, and therefore a more complete practice of dependency and poverty ... What will be the result? Would a family council not be able to free me from my daughter’s guardianship? ... But God knows that I want his will, only his will.

In June, even though her family was waiting for her, Isabelle delayed her departure from Cannes, at the request of the superior, in order to take a few days vacation with her daughter in a nearby house in the country. Caroline came back from there with a very bad sore throat that turned out to be diphtheria, often a deadly sickness at that time. The correspondence of both Father Picard and Mother Marie-Eugénie testifies to everyone’s anxiety. Prayer became very intense. Thanks to a successful tracheotomy, Caroline was saved, but Isabelle remained shaken. In August 1884, she wrote:

I want to be loyal and to keep my promises faithfully, but the thought that my daughter has been sacrificed to my spiritual life is a thought that haunts and tortures me. Also, since I had the feeling that I was about to walk over the dead body of my child in order to join religious life ... , I no longer have a desire for the novitiate that I am supposed to begin next year.

She recognized her great reluctance to go back to Cannes but continued to progress in her union with God.230

“I eventually promised to offer up and accept everything in a spirit of atonement for the infidelities during my retreat.”

Later on, however, in November 1886, Isabelle wrote:

“I am pleased that I am no longer under obedience concerning Caroline as I was with Florence.”231

After a year during which there was no major event and about which we have few documents, a serious crisis arose at the end October 1885 with the departure of the Superior in Cannes, Mother Marie of the Nativity or Florence Dillon. I will not retrace here the history of this departure, which falls within the competence of the Religious of the Assumption, but merely its repercussions on Isabelle’s resolve to enter religious life.

Learning of the drama while she was on her way back to Cannes, Isabelle stopped in Auteuil where she stayed until December, supporting Mother Marie-Eugénie in her decisions and involving herself personally so that Mother Marie of the Nativity might come back to religious life. Upon returning to Cannes, she faced all the moral and financial repercussions of what had happened.232 Under obedience and for the good of Florence, the former superior, and of the sisters, she did not hesitate to assume the debts and the other financial questions left by Florence. However, doubts and discouragement about religious life haunted her:

“A month ago, I blamed myself for not taking the step I had the occasion to take ... I thought I had grabbed the branch of religious life, but it broke in my hands.”233

Shortly thereafter, she wrote:

“Religious life is deflowered ... . In it, I saw many of the feelings that I have myself but that I would prefer not seeing in those who belong to God.”234

But she soon pulled herself together:

“I would be ungrateful if I were to pass severe judgments on a religious family that welcomed me so well. But in religious life, one would like to find only things that can be admired.”235

It was from the depths of this suffering and deception that the call to become a prayerful soul “purified by the fire of atonement” would grow and that the perspective of another kind of religious life would take root.236

But already, a third crisis was looming. Tensions at Auteuil between the Assumptionists and the Religious of the Assumption were leading to a conflict of authority and influence which the special Chapter of the Sisters would settle in July 1886. The great majority of the Sisters refused to be governed by “the Fathers” and, consequently, and to be subjected to any type of interference on the part of Father Picard in their decisions. Father Picard concluded that he must completely step aside. There was much suffering on both sides, as reflected in the correspondence of Father Picard and Mother Marie-Eugénie. In Cannes, Isabelle was sufficiently integrated into the life of the community to notice these tensions. For a long time, she thought they might be temporary,237 but her choice was clear:

Madame Superior told me that if ever I had the misfortune of being separated from the Congregation during her lifetime, she would always keep a place for me so that I might return as quickly as possible ... There is no doubt in my soul that she will keep track of me ... And I see myself as never reaching the port of arrival ... Every time I thought I saw land, it escaped me ... 1 have worked to reach religious life, but it too has escaped me.238

This same letter tells us that what she called phantasmagoria did not leave her:

“ ... or else God has special plans for me that I know nothing about.”

Did the words she heard at Fourviere during her thanksgiving resonate anew?

“I need you for something big, but I will use you only if you forget yourself.”239

It was March 21, 1881 and Isabelle did not attach much importance to it. She only retained the conclusion: “Out of obedience, you must forget yourself completely.”240

Toward a new foundation

As the separation between Father Picard and the Religious of the Assumption became irreversible in the summer of 1886, Isabelle saw that the ideal religious life she had dreamed of was crumbling and that a call to some type of contemplative life was becoming more and more precise:

“At one moment, Our Lord seemed to be telling me: And if what you have in mind became a reality, you know what you would then have to suffer ...”241

Instinct played an important role in the long evaluations she made of her meditations, which were always very sincere. Isabelle hid nothing of the demands of a deep spiritual life and no less of her weakness to respond:

“I will wear the bracelet during the vigil. This will help me to stay awake because I close my eyes in spite of myself. Really, what a beautiful contemplative soul!”

Father Picard made no mistake about it. To be sure, he watched over Isabelle’s poor health but noted:

“The grace you are talking about is very luminous. Remain in this light and let yourself be carried by the one who is calling you.”242

From the first days of January 1887, everything was becoming clearer:

Our Lord told me that it was not enough that he should give me souls, but that I must give him some, that the fruit of heavenly nuptials is the spiritual birth of souls ... that he would not tell me anything more, but that he would give me a place, a mission in the Church ... He added that there is no life more exposed to suffering, humiliation, and all of the rest than that of a foundress, which he seemed to be talking about.243

Replying to Father Picard who encouraged her to let grace do its work, Isabelle added:

In view of the Tact that you did not laugh when you answered me and that you are possibly taking seriously what I told you, I think it more conscientious to add that, the day you ask me to do so, I am ready to outline the main characteristics of the work I believe God is asking for ... If you want to pursue it, you can then look for souls who are the direct opposite of what I am ...

As soon as Father Picard told her to write down her ideas about the project she had in mind (“Take your pen in hand. Jot down your ideas ... then shut the door”244), Isabelle wrote some strong pages from January 23–27, 1887, giving the broad outline of the life of the future Orants:

Jesus Christ first and foremost, life, vitality and strength of every undertaking, therefore a contemplative order dedicated first of all to prayer, then to religious studies ... Prayer as the first duty through adoration, meditation, and the choral office ... Study, with God as its only goal and under the direction of the Assumptionist Fathers so as not to get bogged down in useless pursuits, because the ( ... ) will be apostles, apostles by their prayer, apostles also by work on the outside, which will be limited, nevertheless, so that prayer might always be the first of their various works ... The Good Lord probably sees other works, but I see only three: elementary schools, boarding schools, and retreats.

Marked by her time and by her long association with the Religious of the Assumption, Isabelle insisted on Christian education for young girls who are often neglected. She hoped that retreatants would come to drink at the well of Christian austerity:

“Customs change and, consequently, so do religious practices, while vitality never changes and gives a person the light needed to cope with different situations.”245

Two notes written in February clarified what she meant by vitality and austerity:

“We want educated religious, we also want them to be humble and, as much as possible, to feel small and abased. Accordingly, we will not have any lay sisters.”

A confraternity of apostolates with the Oblates of the Assumption was envisaged as an opening onto the reality of the world, an opening that was necessary in order to maintain the apostolic spirit as well as the spirit of poverty. Remembering the hardships of others teaches us to deprive ourselves so that we can give more importance to the apostolate.

Are those not the main themes of the vocation she spoke of as a young girl and which she expressed to Father Picard in 1872?

I will never have the physical strength needed to be a serious Sister of Charity ... What would I have left to offer to God? ... The more I belong to God, the more I will be completely devoted to him, and the happier I will be. I do not feel attracted to any particular Order ... I am searching for an Order in which I can rediscover my attraction for the poor as well as a complete abandonment of myself and of my weaknesses, all the while not harming my health ... 246

Love for the poor was something that Isabelle never stopped putting into practice throughout her life, and not solely as a generous provider of charitable works and of a whole variety of people.

Separation from the Ladies of the Assumption—Rapprochement with the Oblates

Upon returning to Cannes, Isabelle was no longer under the complete obedience of the superior. She had difficulty retaking her place in the community:

“I do not know what you will decide about my residing in Cannes ...”247

She felt she was in an awkward position, which did not stop her from taking to heart the difficulties stemming from the local situation and from Florence’s intrigues.248 From now on, she was certain that she was “no longer made to be a Religious of the Assumption.”249 In March 1887, a visit to Cannes by Mother Marie-Eugénie allowed her to explain herself frankly:

It is understood that I will never enter the Religious of the Assumption, even if things settle down among you. The position is clear. Madam the Superior General nevertheless expressed the desire that I remain here on the same terms, ... 250

Mutual respect remained but the differences were definitive. In May 1888, Isabelle and Caroline left Cannes permanently. From then on, they rarely returned to Auteuil.251

The rapprochement with the Oblates took place during the summer of 1886 through Mother Marie of Christ, General Councilor of the Religious of the Assumption and Superior of the school on rue Lübeck in Paris. Isabelle began to rely on her because of the confidence Father Picard had in her.252 On loan to the Oblates of Paris, Mother Marie of Christ became their Major Superior. It was therefore to the Oblates, at Cours-la-Reine, that Isabelle would go for her annual retreats and other stays in Paris.

The years of waiting

In the autumn of 1888, Isabelle went to live in Belgium with her in-laws where she participated in family life and sometimes in the worldly life that Caroline needed as an adolescent. But, retaining her deep conviction, Isabelle continued to live in an intense union with Our Lord from whom she soon received confirmation of her call to establish a new form of contemplative life: “You will found and you will have many daughters.”253 This would now allow her to respond to an old yearning.

In 1875, Isabelle had been attracted by the work of Calvary founded in Lyons and Paris by Jeanne Gamier, and she remained in touch with the Calvary of Lyons. In 1886, thanks to the support of Adolphe Petit, S.J., and to the generosity of other widows of the Belgian group, she succeeded in opening a dispensary in Brussels to care for women with cancer. In 1888, she committed herself to work there as a volunteer:

I was welcomed yesterday by the Cross of Calvary ... This work so obviously blessed by God strengthens my faith ... May I add that over and above the chapel of Calvary I am looking beyond? My faith in that future is being strengthened not by the desire but by the belief that it is God’s will for me.254

The form of that future continued to take shape in her. During her annual retreat in April 1891, Isabelle vowed “to remain open to dedicating herself under the responsibility of Father Picard, to the external formation of this work,”255 a vow that she renewed annually. Yet, she continued to say that she was incapable of carrying out the project and asked Father Picard to find the right person to do it  ... . 256

The transmission of the charism

To commit herself to work on the project, yes, but with whom?

In 1893, Father Picard put Isabelle in touch with Madame de l’Epinois, the widow of a great friend of the Assumptionists.257 Isabelle doubted she could count on her. Nevertheless, it was with her that she shared her intuitions for more than two years.258 It was then that a young girl, Miss Dienne, a teacher in 1891 in the Ursel family who was questioning her own vocation, placed herself under Father Picard’s direction and became Isabelle’s spiritual daughter in 1895.259 But she was young. Between them it was more a question of formation than of sharing ideas.

Isabelle’s thinking is summed up in several letters of that period.260 She also drew up a questionnaire meant for Father Picard and showed it to two possible candidates asking for their ideas. Only Madame de l’Epinois suggested a few additional details. Father Picard had no comments. Therefore, on the eve of the foundation, its inspiration was very concretely that of Isabelle.

A Project Nurtured over 14 Years by Father François Picard


We have no personal notes from Father Picard who, contrary to Father d’Alzon, spoke and wrote little about himself. To better discover him, we had to have recourse to known facts, his accomplishments, a few reports made to Father d’Alzon, asides mentioned in some of his lettesr, a few testimonies that were made, and the advice and teaching he gave in his letters and talks. The study is far from complete.

“I have been nurturing this secret for fourteen years; I need a lot of time to think things out.”

It was with these words that Father Picard concluded his announcement of the foundation of the Orants on November 22, 1896.262 According to this piece of information, his inspiration to found the Orants goes back to 1882. That was several years before Isabelle told him of her own idea about founding a congregation.263 Exactly what information is available to substantiate the origin of Father Picard’s idea?

Accident and conversion274

Almost day for day, 14 years earlier, on November 25, 1882, he had had an accident on the road from Osma to Madrid that crippled him for the rest of his life.

... Father left on November 25 for Catalayud. The community accompanied him during the morning hours on an all-day outing. Father traveled this part of the trip in the carriage of the Bishop of Osma which was graciously put at his disposal. Around midday, we had lunch together, then said farewell to each other.

For the remainder of the trip to Catalayud, Father’s entire equipment consisted of no more than a kind of primitive cabriolet drawn by a mule ... Fearing he would miss his train, he asked the coachman to push his mule more rapidly. The animal stubbornly refused to advance ... Annoyed, Father Picard took over as coachman, grabbed the whip, and beat that stubborn animal with a volley of blows. The latter took it badly and took off so brusquely that Father Picard who was standing fell forward, violently hitting his leg against the apron in front of the seat. He paid no attention to it at the time, very happy to see the mule finally trotting. He stayed in Madrid for few days until the 29th with Father Brun who was preparing to open a day-school there. Then, accompanied by Brother Jaujou, henceforth his secretary until his death, he returned to France stopping in Saint Sebastian, Lourdes, and Toulouse where he preached, and arriving in Nîmes on December 6.

In Nîmes, the aggravation of his wound immobilized him until the beginning of 1883. He returned to Paris on Saturday January 13. His leg became swollen and the wound painful, which necessitated a complete rest.264

Ignored by biographers, these events remained unknown to us for a long time. Once compared with later testimonies, they seem to be a key to an understanding of the life of Father Picard. From that date forward, all testimonies stress an astonishing, constant, perfect, and rather joyful patience.265

However, in his youth, on the eve of his ordination in 1856, he “asked the Good Lord for more patience and equanimity.”266 His correspondence with Father d’Alzon shows the evolution of his youthful impatience but makes no mention of it after 1866.267 It was undoubtedly to this quick-temper that Father Gery referred when he arrived in the Paris community in November 1883. On the 28th, he wrote to the novices in Osma:

Father is always stretched out on a chaise longue. It is there that he receives his visitors. He can nevertheless walk a little inside the house, but very little. Now and again, he also has himself transported by carriage to the Ladies of the Assumption [and to the Oblates in Sèvres] Tuesday a fire broke out in his fireplace. He must now spend the entire day in the little parlor next-door. This inconvenience, embarrassing in the state in which he finds himself, leaves him as calm as does the strong pain he sometimes experiences.

I had nevertheless known him years ago at the novitiate, but I found him as I had not known him before. He spoke words of faith that were stronger and more penetrating than ever and that moved me deeply. Everyone who approaches him says that since his illness he is sanctifying himself in an extraordinary manner. With that in mind, this ordeal is a blessing for himself and for his children.268

His injury did not heal and would not heal. His doctors did not understand why, but without the shadow of a doubt he knew the reason: was not his illness the cure for his impatience?

He had complete control over himself and his initial reactions. Father Picard was quick by nature, but from the day he injured his leg, he fully accepted the life of dependence that he had to live for 21 years. He never complained nor let it be known that it bothered him in the least as he went about his duties as Superior General. He remained calm, serene, abandoned to the will of God, attentive to use anything that might make him practice mortification. Alone or in the company of others, he remained the same ... he was at peace, troubled by nothing.269

Everything seems to indicate that for Father Picard this accident was the source of a grace of conversion linked to a greater self-awareness. From this small incident full of serious consequences, did he not want to master or even force events to bring them under his control? As a matter of fact, in one way or another, all anger, all impatience, anxiety and detours involve this type of independence of the will.

He said of himself: “God held me by the leg to stop me from running around the world”270 ... to do as he pleased.

That wounded leg was for him a constant reminder, even to the point of being a genuine and concrete sign from God.271 Henceforth, the natural abilities of the Father Picard were strengthened by a constant effort to unite himself to God and to do his will. That obliged him to accept reality which did not depend on him as coming from the hand of God, even when it was most unpleasant. This gave him a great serenity which was noticed by those who were close to him.272

Several other important events also occurred in 1882.

The first pilgrimage to Jerusalem was decided in January, and it was Father Picard who led the 1,013 participants in a memorable fashion from April to June. He returned with a deep attachment to the Garden of Olives: “Pay a visit for me to the Garden of Gethsemane; I left my heart there.”273 Mystery of Voluntas tua, dear also to Mother Isabelle and that marked our Congregation.

It was also in 1882 that letters and meetings between Father François Picard and Mother Marie Correnson led to the painful division between the Fathers and the Oblates of Nîmes, accompanied by the painful schism that followed and by the simultaneous opening of a novitiate in Sèvres (the future Oblates of Paris). While in Spain, Father had learned a few days before his accident that, with the visit of the Bishop of Nîmes to the Oblates on rue Siguier, the division was finalized. These events only accentuated the spiritual experience he had had on the road in Spain: “God is the Master!”

God is the Master

Father Picard began to use this expression borrowed from Father d’Alzon and others, particularly in the face of adversity or of simple mishaps. “God was above everything else in his thought and in his heart. And in all circumstances, he had only one desire: to be sure of God’s will and to carry it out without reservation or weakness, because God,” he often said, “is the Master.” Aware of God’s presence and constant action, he wanted to “render homage to his absolute mastery and to serve him relentlessly.” He would repeat very often that “we should do God’s will before all else.” On his death bed, his last words were none other than: “We must want only what God wants ... Can we desire anything other than what God wants?”275

Given that state of mind, it is not surprising that

“the dominant impression of all those who were close to him is that Father Picard lived in constant union with Our Lord, which explains his invariably hearty welcome, his unruffled calm amid all types of circumstances, and the fruitfulness of his works.”276

Although people saw in Father Picard especially his works and activity, witnesses say that this constant union with God was clearly nourished with intense prayer:

“For hours and hours, we could gaze at him absorbed in a divine conversation.” “In the midst of a very active life, he gave a lot of time to prayer. It was in that intimacy with God that he found his light and his admirable energy.”277

Conscious of his infirmity and of his weakness, he would say very often, for his own benefit and in spiritual direction, Infirma mundi elegit Deus, God chose the weak according to the world. Father Picard found his strength in God; he only lived through, with, and in him. It is not surprising that he wrote:

“Prayer is indispensable. It alone can bring to fruition among us the plans of Our Lord; outside of it, I find weakness, sickness, and powerlessness.”278

Father Gervais Quénard testified:

After the Commune, he launched a true crusade of prayer throughout all of France.—At the same time, he launched great pilgrimages, solemn demonstrations of public prayer.—The creation of the newspaper La Croix was itself inspired by prayer.—Father really believed that prayer could “obtain everything” according to the promise of Our Lord. He was before all else a man of Catholic deeds based on prayer.—Prayer always had to precede and accompany his undertakings. It was to permanently guarantee all of his works that he founded the Orant Sisters.

And Father Gervais added:

“His personal charism was to unite prayer and action,”279

a conclusion which Father Picard himself had reached:

“Let us be men of prayer and apostles. Everything else is of little value.”280

Disciple of Father d’Alzon

“A man of prayer and an apostle”—If his constantly developing union with the Lord indicates that he was eminently contemplative, he was no less and first and foremost a disciple of Father d’Alzon. He was steeped in his teaching which he made his own. And—if it is not already done—it would be easy to develop how much he had assimilated, lived, and handed down the d’Alzonian and Assumptionist ideas.281

Besides fully living the three Assumptionist trilogies, he was zealous about working to extend the Kingdom of God in himself (as mentioned above) and around himself. His works and various foundations concretely testify to the fact that he had what was called at the time a “zeal for souls.”

During the “Trial of the Twelve” in 1900, he stated publicly to the State Prosecutor:

“We are religious and nothing else but religious. Our goal is to extend the Kingdom of Our Lord in souls, and that is our sole ambition.”

One of the forms of this constant search for the Kingdom of God was his total respect for and defense of the “Rights of God,” preoccupations that had such broad implications in his life that it would be interesting to study them more systematically. They are particularly interesting in terms of his charism as a leader, of his spiritual direction, and of the choices he made. Since this last point does not directly concern his role as the founder of the Orants of the Assumption, I will mention it only briefly.

What we know about Father Picard’s childhood and youth is that he was headstrong, combative, and absolute. If the work on himself and later the “grace of Osma” submitted him to the will of God to the point that he became patient, even-tempered, and kind, his manners nevertheless remained so straightforward that, especially with those closest to him, they often appeared to be blunt, clear-cut, or even curt, which at times contributed to his charism as a leader.282

Disturbing positions have been easily attributed to his temperament, positions that had unpleasant consequences but to which he held tenaciously. Besides causing him profound personal pain, they were, in his estimation, no more than a duty of conscience and a mark of respect for the absolute primacy of the rights of God. “If Father Picard believes that it is his duty, he will never give in,” said Mother Marie-Eugénie in 1886.283

Did he push too far the absolute nature of the rights of God? Did he inject them with an intransigence that was all too human? It is not up to me to judge. I would only like to underline here that, in order to analyze these unpleasant questions and situations, I think it indispensable to look for, situate, and shed light on everything that—rightly or wrongly—might have provoked Father Picard to want to “defend the rights of God.” Whatever the other causes and aspects of the problem, I believe that we will never obtain reliable results if we do not examine this question.

His qualities of leadership and spiritual direction stemmed from the same art of knowing how to mobilize people for God’s service. Instead of personal “aura,” it was a question of spiritual “unction” based on his personal adoration of God and on his adherence to God’s will.

Spiritual direction

Father Picard’s art of spiritual direction was very well known, and his confessional, like Father Pernet’s, on rue François Ier was kept very busy. From the time of his arrival in Paris, he was appreciated by Mother Marie-Eugénie because of his precision, his firmness, and his supernatural views. She wrote to Father d’Alzon:

“Father Picard is proving to be an excellent confessor, which surprises me at his age. He may be a bit harsh, but that is not a fault. Besides, he is doing well enough so as to satisfy his penitents, children as well as religious. He is, I keep saying, the best confessor we have ever had.”284

Mother Isabelle used to say of him that

“above all, he made sure that souls remained faithful to and did not deviate from what God intended for them.—And that was the secret of his extraordinary ascendancy over souls. People saw him as God’s mediator.”285

Once again, we see here how much his charism was linked to his service of God’s wishes, plans, and “rights.” In the same way, he detested subterfuges, dissimulation, and underhanded procedures, but he also brought peace to people of good will who came to him worried, in revolt, or troubled. He pacified them, not by diplomacy, but by frankness, encouragement, and light on the path leading to God.

Father Picard’s first role in the foundation of the Orants was that of spiritual director, particularly of Mother Isabelle, but also later on of the first sisters:

“It was not long—but the response was precise, enlightening, and always calming. Father’s spiritual direction was austere, but it was also accompanied with great simplicity, kindness, trust, and broad-mindedness. One could say anything to Father: he wanted complete frankness. He greatly respected whatever appealed to a soul. He knew how to patiently wait a long time for a soul to see the light, but as soon as it did, he brought the fruit to maturity without procrastinating.—In the face of cowardice, Father remained inflexible and his will, united with God’s, would triumph over the resistances of nature.”286

Father Picard had a profound influence and a definite ascendancy over Mother Isabelle whom he directed from 1872 to 1903 and who vowed obedience to him in 1877. He formed her in the spirit of the Assumption, and he trained her to be always more generous and to develop a love that was more and more delicate, faithful, and pure for the Lord. He supported her in her intimate struggles and in her terrible moral suffering, but he never let himself be moved by her complaints about his ways, and he held firmly and affectionately to the divine demands. Very often, Our Lord inwardly enjoined Isabelle to confide to Father Picard the demands she had heard interiorly so that he might affix the seal of obedience on them. In fact, obedience was her salvation, and Father Picard knew how to have her carry out all of God’s plans.

Walking along paths so extraordinary as a result of what she was told or of what was prescribed during her prayer, Mother Isabelle surely benefited from a particularly enlightened direction about the ways of God and about mysticism. Some of her words are revealing: “Father Picard was himself frightened [about the great distress I went through]. Father seems so afraid that I am not letting this light penetrate ...”287

The direction of Father Picard was not less admirable for wisely putting the brakes on the impulses of her soul, for pushing her towards a dreaded self-sacrifice, and—even more delicate—for astonishingly going beyond human prudence so she could lead, according to God’s calls, a kind of life that entailed separations and decisions that went against common sense and human wisdom. Towards the end of his life, she would marvel at the ways in which he had helped her to walk.

A common project

We said about Isabelle that Father Picard had welcomed her first intuitions about a future foundation. He even showed great keenness in doing so, qualifying them two days later as a “luminous grace” despite their imprecision. He then invited her to write down her ideas for him, which she did in January-February 1887. Then there was silence for a year because Father held dearly to the silence in which the work of God matures. Great was Isabelle’s astonishment when, after his retreat of 1888, he came back and said to her: “I am telling you this for your consolation. I expected that. I knew in advance what you would write to me.” These words, which she repeated many times, understandably marked Mother Isabelle because they let her know that Father Picard had had a similar inspiration. For her, it was not only a consolation but a source of strength for the rest of her life.

There are no letters or records of conversations describing how they worked together on this project. However, Mother Isabelle did say:

I spoke to Father about it at times, but rather rarely. In principle. Father Picard could not imagine a ready-made undertaking. He would think, act under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, study the circumstances, seek to discover God’s intentions in their regard, listen patiently to what he was told, to both the pros and the cons, and above all, make sure that the soul was faithful. Also, he used to say that a work was never completely carried out just as it was first conceived.288

We note especially that there was a great communion between the two of them in terms of respect and mutual admiration,289 as well as perfect agreement in their thinking:

I want you to know how happy I am to hear you describe the way in which you are developing the spirit of our work in perfect harmony with all that I received about it in prayer over the last few years. I would not have known how to say it in those words, but it is the development, the explanation, the blossoming of all that I have in my soul regarding this work. I do not understand it otherwise, and I understand it only in this way.290

Decision and organization

Father Picard has often been presented as a “leader” and a good organizer. He did have these qualities and charisms whose fruit he gave to his Congregation. That fruit, often lasting, must not be attributed first of all to his natural abilities, which Father d’Alzon had already discovered in Nîmes. In creating or managing his works, communities and missions, Father Picard did not neglect the needed reflection and preparation.291 However, he did not rely primarily on the latter, but on searching for God’s will and on trusting in divine help. In their creation and later in their daily unfolding, his works were first of all acts of obedience and faith. This can easily be verified in the narratives describing the foundation of the pilgrimages and of the daily newspaper La Croix.

Once Father Picard was sure he was doing God’s will, his faith pushed him to boldness. He personally mentioned this tendency only when speaking about the foundation of La Croix and of the Orants. In creating both of them without any human guarantee of security, he admits having hesitated, but then adds: “I have faith; you must have it also, and I take responsibility for everything.”292

Father Picard was certain that this foundation was in conformity with God’s will, and he repeated it throughout the first difficult years:

I have the firm conviction that Our Lord wants the little work we are starting, and that he inspired it. He leads us along obscure paths, but toward a goal that is sure ... Let us abandon ourselves to God’s plans, let us proceed slowly at the present time, since that is what he wants, and let us be ready to go forward rapidly when it pleases him ... 293

Because he was that sure of what he was doing, neither circumstances nor the lack of candidates stopped him. He organized the foundation and concretely set it up. For her part, Mother Isabelle always remained aware that

“this work would never have been continued or begun if he had not seen in it God’s will for me.”294

Two Founders

Though Mother Isabelle would occasionally express her embarrassment about being a foundress, she did not deny that reality.

Until 1903, Father Picard spoke and acted as the superior with the full consent of Mother Isabelle.

Many texts and the oral tradition testify to this: during her lifetime, Mother Isabelle always referred to Father Picard as “our Founder” or as “the one who founded us,” and she spoke in this way to the other sisters.

Sister Thérèse-Emmanuel, incidentally, believed for a long time that Father Picard was the principal founder and that Mother Isabelle was simply directed by him.

Father André, who knew very well the part each one played in the foundation, called both of them founders.

The sisters fully discovered Mother Isabelle’s real-life experience only progressively after her death through her writings which became known in 1932. They were unaware of her mystical life and did not know to what extent she was the foundress of the Congregation, even in its very first inspiration.

Long before discovering these facts, the older sisters continued to call Mother Isabelle “Our Mother Foundress” or more often, in its shorter form, “Our Mother.”

Although Father Picard was called the co-founder of the Orant Sisters of the Assumption when his Cause was introduced in 1959, that fact was rather quickly forgotten and the sisters spoke instead of “our two founders.”

Mother Isabelle’s responsibilities as a foundress were clear:

  • She unquestionably received from God on several occasions the decisive words, and it is in her writings that we find the first formulation of the founding intuitions.
  • She completely surrendered herself to God in this work through a long obedience and a total sacrifice of herself.
  • In 1899, she became Superior General. The progressive separation, then the death of Father Picard led her to take over, in collaboration with Father Andre Jaujou, the ecclesiastical superior, the formation of the sisters and the organization of the community, then of the nascent congregation by setting up its structures and preparing its Rule.

Father Picard, for his part, had a very important personal role in the foundation:

  • He assured the spiritual formation and the enlightened direction of the foundress.
  • He transmitted to her the spirit of the Assumption and confided it to the sisters who contributed to this transmission.
  • He assumed responsibility for the work under particularly difficult conditions.
  • He collaborated in determining the way of life of the projected institute.
  • He concretized and shaped the work at the very beginning.

Father Picard, who died too soon, had nevertheless accomplished his mission by forming the foundress in a way that enabled her to carry out her own. However, if she had been left to herself, the foundress would undoubtedly not have dared to undertake the creation of a new religious family: the humility God had so deeply implanted in her inclined her to a distrust of herself that gave way only to obedience.

All of this, in addition to their common inspiration and project, allows us gratefully to consider both of them as our founders.295

Sisters Marie-Jacques Sévenet
and Anne Huyghebaert,
Orants of the Assumption

6, Sentier Henri Dupuis
94230 Cachan



Two documents shed new light on the period 1881–1882.

These letters from Mother Marie of the Nativity, Superior of the convent in Cannes, were addressed to Mother Marie-Eugénie (HSP X All):

Just between you and me, my dear Mother, I wonder if Father Picard has decided anything about the future of Madame d’Ursel. Is he thinking of using her for some project of his own? Do not speak to her about this, or especially to Father Picard. We must be prudent about all this. He met Isabelle in Lyons where she is still staying with her mother for a while. She wrote to me saying that she had had a conversation with him which left her with painful impressions ... I would not be pleased with Father Picard if he stands in the way of this vocation ... 297

There is a serious difference of opinion between Madame d’Ursel and Father Picard. She is asking him to speak to you about it, but play innocent. She wanted him to allow her to put her heart and soul in the Assumption, i.e., to consider herself as destined to join us. He answered that that was enthusiasm, and that he had counted on her for a work, etc., etc. However, if she did not like that work (note that she did not know what work he was talking about), he would drop it.298

These letters give a new meaning to Isabelle’s letter to Father Picard:

I was so overcome by fatigue and a headache that I did not tell you the other day half of what I had to say. I am counting on God to make up for this since he tells you directly things that concern me. You know that I am shattered by your words. Shattered is the right word because it is neither a revolt against obedience, nor some sort of fear of what God will ask of me. But I am afraid of myself; it’s a horrible fear. I feel I do not have the strength or the virtue to make whatever sacrifices I will be called to make, and I wonder how I will manage when the time comes for me to obey. ( ... ) 299 At Fourvière, during my thanksgiving, Our Lord said to me: I need you for something big, but I will use you only if you forget yourself. ( ... )300

We always understood from Mother Marie-Madeleine de Dain-ville301 that the word received at Fourvière on March 21, 1881 was like a distant interior announcement of the foundation, the entire letter having been interpreted nevertheless as a reflection of Isabelle’s great fear of the spiritual demands that Father Picard would have laid out before her (there are other similar examples in his correspondence).

In 1881, it was a question of a fixed idea about the future ... about something of his, but in 1882, it was clearer that he counted on her for a work ...

But which work was he talking about? Was it already a future foundation of contemplatives?

We can conclude nothing at the present time. Besides that letter,302 no other one sent to Father Picard during that same period mentioned this project. (Between November 1881 and June 1883, Isabelle sent only 9 letters to Father Picard, and he sent even fewer to her, the most precious ones being those which she kept with her at all times but which were stolen during her trip to Germany in 1885.) A study would be needed to systematically identify in the writings of Father Picard possible references to this desired work.

We presented Father Picard’s accident in November 1882 on the road to Osma as a spiritual turning-point that might have been at the origin of a project to found a contemplative community. As it turned out, it did occasion a spiritual conversion and a transformation in his behavior, but it should be noted that the letters about entrusting a work to Isabelle date back to many months before that event and to several days before the first pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Which work was he talking about? Isabelle herself was not informed about it.

Even without knowing if the letters we have just discovered already refer to a contemplative work to be founded, they invite us to qualify what we have just written, first about Father Picard, then about Isabelle having had the same intuition to found a community.

On the one hand, Father Picard’s idea to found a contemplative congregation probably came to him shortly before his accident in Osma. On the other hand, before this accident, in 1881–1882, Father Picard’s silence about the nature of his project did not prevent him from speaking about a work for which he relied on Isabelle, nor did it prevent him from seemingly having had the tendency, at first, to dissuade her from joining the Religious of the Assumption. Isabelle, nevertheless, kept this idea until 1886, without any disagreement on the part of Father Picard.


Chairperson: Bernard Holzer, A.A.:

Now that we have spent a significant amount of time trying to understand another century, another society, and listening to stories and adventures that we know more or less well, the Coordinating Committee suggests that we continue our effort to understand the period of our Founders and Foundresses. But before proceeding, the Committee invites each participant to express what has struck him/her the most until now.

Maureen Connor, R.A.:

I was struck by three things: the open and friendly atmosphere; we sense that we are at home at Assumption and among family. I learned a lot, especially about the place of women in the 19th century. Finally, I discovered a thread running throughout: everyone we have spoken about was trying to do the will of God.

Marie-Françoise Phelippeau, L.S.A.:

I felt the depths of human nature and the daring of each of the Founders. Each one took his/her destiny in hand and trusted in God.

Concerning our group, we are increasing the trust we have in each other by pointing out our wounds, our faux pas, and our support throughout history. This allows us to go forward.

Richard Brunelle, A.A.:

I was struck by the desire of all the Founders to do the will of God, and by their humility ...

Georgette-Marie Fayolle, O.A.:

Throughout history, each Congregation has experienced difficult times. I was struck by something Father d’Alzon said about a person who went to him with a bundle of troubles: “The Lord does what he did for Adam: he blows on that person and brings forth something very good.”

Richard Lamoureux, A.A.:

I was very impressed by the communications that took place among our Founders and Foundresses: letters, conversations, and very regular contacts. They stimulated each other and inspired themselves mutually.

Irene Mupitanzila, O.A.:

Our Founders always listened to the Lord and let themselves be guided by him. Marie-Eugénie of Jesus participated in the foundation of the other Congregations.

Leela Kootlor, R.A.:

I am struck by the diversity among the Assumption families, as well as by the ties which these families developed as a result of their specific charisms. I have also sensed a positive attitude among the members of this assembly.

Cristina-Marie Gonzalez, R.A.:

I was struck by the words of Louis Secondy: “Our Founders did not choose the time in which they lived, but they entered into their time in order to change it.” After the presentation on each Founder, I better understood what they did to try to change their times. Transforming society is part of our perspective. Yesterday, we accepted the challenge of this colloquium, which is to listen to each other so that we can start talking.

Marie-Aline Vauquois, O.A.:

A Founder is the depository of a charism. In order to concretize this charism, he/she needs help. This means that each of us is called if we want to give life to the Assumption Family.

Marcel Poirier, A.A.:

I liked yesterday’s fraternal atmosphere. I learned a lot. I was struck by the fact that the Founders were not people living in isolation. In each case, there were male and female influences. It was a community that was being created, not just an individual who was bringing individuals together. They were not alone.

Their deep-rootedness in the society of their time, whose limits they had calculated, struck me, as did, for example, their militant tone in a besieged Church. They felt it was impossible to build a world without God.

The self-effacement and the humility of the Founders who refused to be given the title of “founder” also struck me.

Michele Ropp, Or.A.:

It is an opportunity to be able to speak about the things that have hurt us and fashioned us ... . It is a source of the support we are called to give each other.

I strongly felt the influence of Marie-Eugénie of Jesus, the grace of formation she gave us.

I sense that today she wants us to help each other in order to advance the coming of the Kingdom.

Lucie Licheri, L.S.A.:

It is a pleasure to feel that we are a family Discovering the personality of Marie-Eugénie of Jesus makes us want to know more about her. We can sense suffering in the midst of some of the conflicts that were briefly mentioned. I was very surprised to hear that Sister Gelsomina was the foundress of an Assumption Congregation. What are the criteria for deciding that a new congregation has come into existence?

Mercedis Martínez, L.S.A.:

I very much appreciated the rich contribution of Louis Secondy about the realities of the 19th century. I can now better understand how our Founders and Foundresses were shaped by the social and political realities, and I admire the way in which the strong personality of Marie-Eugénie was presented.

I discovered the human side of each Founder/Foundress with its riches and weaknesses as well as their desire to do the will of God.

Henri Kizito Vyambwera, A.A.:

I am very happy because I learned many things. Louis Secondy said that our Founders lived in a period of crisis. Such periods therefore existed long before today. Our Congregations were born in a crisis situation. This encourages me and allows me to hope that even in today’s crisis situation, which we believe is more critical than the one experienced by our Founders, we can still do something worthwhile.

Lucas Chuffart, A.A.:

Our Founders worked with laypersons. Why can’t two or three laypersons participate in this colloquium?

Micaela de Wilde, L.S.A.:

I liked the historical contribution and I learned a lot from each speaker. I discovered the human side of our Founders with their qualities and their faults, thanks to which we exist today.

I discovered the influence of Marie-Eugénie on our male and female branches.

Thanks to this mutual help, God’s work was done. By helping each other, and despite our shortcomings, we can continue to do God’s work and to do it in today’s historical context.

Monique Blondel, L.S.A.:

I very much appreciated the humility of each of those who spoke about their Founder/Foundress. It is a quality of the Assumption.

Eugenia Guadalupe Acosta, R.A.:

I am very pleased to be here and to hear about the richness of all the Congregations. This opens up possibilities for responding to today’s situations. This is the moment for us to pray hard to the Holy Spirit so that we can do even more.

Céline Héon, L.S.A.:

I felt God’s grace. In listening to what was said, we were able to discern what our Founders were like; we were able to discern the human element in what they did. This is a key to understanding them today. Fortunately, we have hope.

Elodie Tsongo Bota Nashe, Or.A:

From now on, we will be able to understand our Founders in their society. We must love our Founders, understand them, and not judge them.

Marie-Claude Prat, L.S.A.:

In this history, I noted the weight of the human element and the work of the Spirit at the heart of our human nature.

I was struck by the place of laypersons, which is something that must be pursued today. I was also struck by the importance of forming intelligences.

Chairperson: Bernard Holzer, A.A.:

We will now take time to clarify certain points in order to build the future. We will first try to understand what we were told yesterday, and then ask questions. After that, we will try to underline and identify a certain number of difficulties and problems which arose at the beginning of our Congregations and about which we would like to have an explanation.


Tomas Gonzalez, A.A.:

I was struck by the illnesses of our Founders and of their first disciples. It is said that Father d’Alzon was sick all his life.

According to the biography of Marie-Eugénie, 209 sisters died before she did.

How many religious left our Congregation during the life of Father d’Alzon?

Éliane de Montebello, L.S.A.:

In the presentation of the Oblates, I noted that there were four Founders. In final analysis, who are their Founders? Were there really four?

Céline Héon, L.S.A.:

In the presentation of the founders of the Assumption, I am surprised to find Sister Gelsomina as a Foundress. That’s really overstated. What is a Founder, what is a foundation?

Micheie Ropp, Or.A:

Regarding the Orants, there were tensions between our institutes due to the influence of the Assumptionists in their capacity as priests on our Foundresses. This tension existed in Auteuil. There was a conflict of authority. What were the lines of authority in the 19th century?

Luc Fritz, A.A.:

I did not know the history of the Orants. Some points still seem rather vague to me. What were the relations between the Religious [Sisters] of the Assumption and the future Orants in Cannes?

Mercedis Martínez, L.S.A.:

I am surprised by the comment made by Jean-Paul Périer-Muzet. What are the criteria for deciding that a congregation belongs to a religious family, and who decides this? The Sisters of Charity in Italy have kept the name of Assumption but have nothing to do with the Assumption. They are part of the movement of Communio e Liberazione. They have their own formation and a community school. Who is their Founder?

Georgette-Marie Fayolle, O.A.:

Could someone clarify the relations between the Religious [Sisters] and the Oblates after 1882, in Paris and in Nîmes?

Jean-Michel Brochec, A.A.:

Can someone explain the role of Marie-Eugénie in the birth and development of the Assumption family? If some religious are Founders, others are “super-Founders.” Marie-Eugénie and Emmanuel d’Alzon formulated ideas, plans, and a spirituality that are very rich and very complex. Were the other foundations not created in order to develop certain aspects of their plans and to implement them?

Marie-Claude Prat, L.S.A.:

What is the history of Cannes? What were the divisions?

Monique Blondel, L.S.A.:

Concerning Father Pernet’s relations with his own Congregation and given the fact that he was the Founder of another Congregation, what type of dependence did he have on his own Superiors? At the beginning of our Congregation, we had difficulties with certain Sisters who left their mark on us and who were not mentioned yesterday. I am alluding to the very first community on rue Saint-Dominique and to Sister Marie of the Cross and, shortly after her, Sister Marie of Jesus. There were difficulties which were subsequently overcome, but with difficulty. I am also alluding to a certain Léontine [Martin]303 who created enormous difficulties for Mother Marie of Jesus, especially at a time [1879] when a mistress of novices [Sister Marie Lucie]304 left with several novices.

Concerning the Orants, have I understood correctly the founding roles played by Father Picard and Isabelle? From what I just heard, it was Isabelle who got the idea to found the Congregation, whereas I thought that it was Father Picard.

Clare-Teresa Tjader, R.A.:

In the midst of all our difficulties, the name “Dames de l’Assomption” (“Ladies of the Assumption”) that was given to the Religious of the Assumption also came into play.

Antonio Echàniz, A.A.:

Father Pernet was both a Founder and the member of a Congregation. The other Founders were autonomous. Pernet had to ask permission.

During his fourteen years of teaching, he suffered being among the children. He was very happy to discover the youth center (patronage). He also suffered as treasurer in Clichy. Because he was sickly, he had to abandon teaching. He went to Fran?ois Ier which was a pastorally-oriented community. There, he began to do what he liked, that for which he felt he was called. It was through all of this that Pernet was able to do what the Holy Spirit was calling him to do. All the stages of one’s life are what constitute one’s calling!

Richard Lamoureux, A.A.:

What is a Founder, a Foundress: the one who gets the idea first? Who has the charism of government?

Who started the first Community? It would be worthwhile re-flecting on this question because our Congregations have several Founders. It is a thought that needs to be deepened. It could shed light on certain difficulties in our history.


Jean-Paul Périer-Muzet, A.A.:

Father Remi Kokel wrote a book about Father Bailly, not about Father d’Alzon.

340 Assumptionists left during the lifetime of Father d’Alzon. There were 70 religious at his side as he was dying.

As for the question of knowing who were our Founders, was Saint Bernard a founder when he left Cluny and founded Citeaux? Was Marie Correnson a foundress when Father Picard provoked the foundation of the Oblates or when he refused to accept the title of Founder? We will come back to this question when we discuss the court trials in Nîmes over the name “Assumption.”

Concerning the comment about the different Congregations of the Assumption, a distinction must be made between the 19th and 20th centuries. The congregations of the 19th century are recognizable by a constitutional link among them. That is not the case for those of the 20th century. Among the Founders, we must distinguish three tutelary figures: Father Combalot, Mother Marie-Eugénie, and Father d’Alzon. If you remove one of these three persons, the Assumption families no longer exist. In making this comment, I simply wanted to underline that we do not have a monopoly on the name Assumption. It is a difficult point in history: the name Assumption does not belong to us exclusively.

Clare-Teresa Tjader, R.A.:

To speak of “Congregations of the Assumption” is a recent historical development. When we decided which Congregations would be invited to the meetings of the “five Assumption Families,” we excluded the Missionary Sisters, not because they did not share in the basic charism described by Jean-Paul Périer-Muzet, but so as not to be obliged to invite all the other Congregations founded by the Assumptionists (a condition imposed at the time). Nevertheless, they recognize themselves and we recognize them as sisters of “the Assumption.”

Thérèse-Maylis Toujouse, R.A.:

For a long time, the Missionary Sisters of the Assumption considered themselves to be Religious of the Assumption, and Marie-Eugénie maintained all her life hopes of a reunion. It wasn’t until 1932–34, when it became clear that the Sisters were living something different from the Religious of the Assumption, that the then-Superior General of the Religious, Mother Marie-Johanna, asked them to draw up other constitutions and take another name.

Mercedes Martínez, L.S.A.:

For the Sisters of Charity of the Assumption, things were different because they were born from Communio e Liberazione. They were not trained as Little Sisters of the Assumption, though they place the photo of Father Pernet and Mother Marie of Jesus in their communities. They do not have the Assumption spirit. We maintain fraternal relations with them.

Céline Héon, L.S.A.:

Mercedes underlined the differences in formation and spirituality. The living tradition of the Little Sisters of the Assumption has historically ended. Since 1962, that tradition is no longer their point of reference. The international dimension was a sticking point for them at the time when we undertook a discernment. We had to recognize that we were not on the same wave lengths because their Foundation depended on Communio e Liberazione.

Eliane de Montebello, L.S.A.:

In their constitutions, they mention Father Pernet more than we do. That is part of the difficulties I have with this story.

Louis Secondy:

When people speak of the Missionary Sisters of the Assumption, what are they talking about? Is the Assumption family the same thing as the spirituality of Assumption?

Céline Héon, L.S.A.:

The constitutions of the Sisters of Charity have troubled us. They clearly state that Father Pernet was the founder of this Congregation in 1993. This surprises everyone. Between 1987 and 1993, we conducted a discernment among ourselves in a climate of charity. We tried to understand what we had become. Sister Gelsomina was honest with herself. She discovered the Lord within the movement Communio e Liberazione, and since then the Sisters have remained attached to the movement.

Clare-Teresa Tjader, R.A.:

God carries out his work with sad stories such as these (cf. Esau and Jacob). Let us be thankful that, today, these Congregations are solid and love the Lord.

Céline Héon, L.S.A.:

I do not think it necessary to say that we belong to the same family, even though I recognized that the Holy Spirit is at work in this Congregation. There is something great here that escapes us. Should we look forward to a rapprochement? I see it more in terms of a hope and a desire. We must be Church before all else.

Mercedes Martínez, L.S.A.:

We are presently living a fraternal relationship that still needs to be deepened, but their view of things still remains very different from ours. They are another Congregation.

Michelle Barrot, L.S.A.:

I was very involved in this reality, very close to what happened. I had many fraternal ties with the Sisters. All of a sudden, we were no longer speaking the same language. The pain was so deep that we both needed to take our distance. We were not happy when our brothers said that this was the Assumption. There is so much pain that we cannot accept this tie to the Assumption family.

Appendix: Founders and Foundresses of the Assumption

From the origins to today

19th century:

  • Father Theodore Combalot (1797–1873).
  • Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus, born Anne-Eugénie Milleret de Brou (1817–1898): Religious of the Assumption.
  • Father Emmanuel d’Alzon (1810–1880): Augustinians of the Assumption and Oblates of the Assumption.
  • Mother Marie-Gertrude de Henningsen (1822–1904): Missionary Sisters of the Assumption.
  • Mother Emmanuel-Marie of the Compassion, born Marie Correnson (1842–1900): co-Foundress of the Oblates of the Assumption.
  • Mother Marie of Jesus, born Antoinette Fage (1824–1883): Co-foundress of the Little Sisters of the Assumption.
  • Father Étienne Pernet, A. A. (1824–1899): Founder of the Little Sisters of the Assumption.
  • Mother Isabelle-Marie of Gethsemane, born Isabelle de Clermont-Tonnerre, widow of Henri d’Ursel (1849–1883): Orants of the Assumption.
  • Father François Picard, A.A. (1831–1903): Co-Founder of the Orants of the Assumption.

20th century:

  • Father Marie-Clement Staub, A.A. (1876–1936) and Mother Jeanne de la Croix, co-Foundress: Sisters of Saint Joan of Arc.
  • Bishop Henri Piérard, A.A. (1893–1975): Brothers of the Assumption, Little Sisters of the Presentation of Our Lady.
  • Father Elpide Stephanou, A.A. (1896–1978): Sisters of the Cross.
  • Father Niklaas Nicolaes, ex-A.A. (1913-?): Secular Institute of the Little Missionaries of the Cross.
  • Sister Gelsomina Angrisano: Sisters of Charity of the Assumption.

Date of foundation:

  • Religious of the Assumption: 1839—Paris
  • Augustinians of the Assumption: 1845—Nîmes
  • Missionary Sisters of the Assumption: 1852—South Africa
  • Oblates of the Assumption: 1865—Le Vigan (Nîmes)
  • Little Sisters of the Assumption: 1865—Paris
  • Orants of the Assumption: 1896—Paris
  • Sisters of Saint Joan of Arc: 1914—Worcester
  • Sisters of the Cross: 1939—Athens
  • Brothers of the Assumption: 1951–1952—Beni (DR of the Congo)
  • Little Sisters of Our Lady: 1952—Beni (DR of the Congo)
  • Little Missionaries of the Cross: 1955—Colombia
  • Sisters of Charity of the Assumption: 1993—Milan

1.  Poland was partitioned in 1815. Part of its territory went to Prussia and Austria, but the largest part went to Russia. A first insurrection against Czarist oppression began on November 29, 1830 but was violently put down.

2.  Charles X abdicated on August 2, 1830 in favor of his grandson, the Duke of Bordeaux. Louis-Philip ascended the throne. The supporters of Charles X, called Carlists or Legitimists, could not tolerate the revolutionaries during the Revolution of July 28–29, 1830.

3.  Gregory XVI, in the name of established law, condemned the Polish insurrection and told the Polish people that they should submit to the Russians. Emmanuel d’Alzon did not hesitate to write: “Saint Peter, after all, did not ask the prefect of the praetorium to countersign his epistles,” Le Père d’Alzon et la Pologne, Acts of the Franco-Polish Colloquium of Montpellier, June 22–24, 1992, Paris, Champion, 1994, p. 139.

4.  Ibid.

5.  Resurrectionist Fathers: a Polish religious congregation with whom the Assumptionists worked in Bulgaria.

6.  Cf. article by Françoise Mayeur and Sister Clare Teresa in Mère Marie-Eugénie Milleret, fondatrice des Religieuses de l’Assomption, Acts of the Centennial Colloquium, 1998, Paris, Don Bosco Publications, 1999.

7.  Bulgaria was still until Turkish rule. It became independent in 1878.

8.  Cf. below the talk given by Gisèle Marchand on the Little Sisters of the Assumption.

9.  L. Secondy “Le Protestantisme, La Franc-maçonnerie, la Révolution et l’Université, selon le Père d’Alzon,” in Révolution et contre-Révolution dans la France du Sud-ouest, Comité du Bicentenaire de la Révolution dans le Montalbanaist, pp. 119–123.

10.  La Gazette de Nîmes, August 6, 1871.

11.  Ecrits Spirituels, p. 1090.

12.  Charles Bigot, Le R.P. d’Alzon et l’Université, published by Roger et Laporte, Nîmes, 32 pages.

13.  The Paris Commune: During the Franco-Prussian War, Napoleon III surrendered at Sedan. The Legislative Assembly met in Paris, deposed the emperor, and proclaimed the Third Republic. However, to make peace, the Germans demanded such humiliating terms, which the Republican government was accepting, that the country revolted against the Republic, and the Commune (city government) was set up in Paris. It lasted two months. The French army attacked and retook Paris, slaughtering thousands of Communards.

14.  The Second Republic: Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was a nephew of Napoleon I and the organizer of the Bonapartist opposition to Louis Philippe. In December 1848, he was elected President of the Second Republic. In 1851, he assumed dictatorial powers and in 1852 became Emperor of the Second Empire, taking the name Napoleon III (there was no Napoleon II).

15.  The February Revolution: When the Republicans gained power in February, they arranged National Workshops to give work to the jobless. The workers voted themselves wages so high that money ran out and the workshops were closed. As a result, civil war broke out in Paris—the Paris mob v. the Army. Peace was finally made by Archbishop Affre who walked to the barricades alone to discuss with the insurgents. Sadly, a stray shot was fired. He was shot and died of the wound, but he had won the peace by his courage and determination. There were two tendencies among the liberals, those who simply wanted political power, and those who wanted a social transformation. In final analysis, the former were the more powerful.

16.  Papal Zouaves: soldiers in the pope’s army, volunteers (mostly from France, Holland, and Belgium), organized in 1860 in France at the request of Pius IX. (There was also another corps, the Roman Legion, which was placed at the disposal of the Holy See by the French government.) In 1867, when Garibaldi attacked the Papal States, Father d’Alzon sent as many as he could from the diocese of Nîmes. He mentions at one moment that he had already sent one hundred and that there were still more to come. An Assumptionist went to Rome with them and remained as their chaplain. They were still there when Father d’Alzon went to Rome for Vatican I in 1870.

17.  Before the French Revolution, the Bourbon royal family ruled France. Louis XVI was guillotined during the French Revolution, and by 1800 Napoleon was in charge and governing France as a Republic, until he made himself Emperor. However, when Napoleon was exiled to St Helena in 1815, the monarchy was brought back with Louis XVIII (brother of Louis XVI) who reigned from 1814 to 1824 and carefully respected the gains made under the Revolution and Napoleon. He was followed by Charles X (another brother of Louis XVI) who reigned from 1824 to 1830 and who was far too royal. After the July Revolution of 1830, Charles X offered to abdicate in favor of his grandson, the Comte de Chambord (and Due de Bordeaux). In fact, the Orleanist candidate, Louis Philippe, succeeded him as a constitutional monarch. Though France had not yet rebecome a Republic, he brought back the flag of the Revolution, blue, white and red. The Comte de Chambord went into exile in 1830 with his grandfather.

Once the air had cleared after the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune, there was a genuine monarchist majority in France. Lavigerie started a campaign in favor of the Comte de Chambord, advocating that he should reign under the name of Henry V. He took part in conversations between the Legitimist and Orleanist factions, and undertook a visit to the Comte in exile to urge him to come to a quick decision. He told him there was a large majority in the Assembly who were in favor of the monarchy, and it was only a question of his return. The Comte declined this invitation and pleaded his determination never to abandon either his principles, or the white flag of the French monarchy, quite apart from the fact that he did not consider this opportunity propitious for the restoration.

In 1875, the French Provisional Assembly pronounced in favor of a republic, by only one vote. In 1876, a popular vote established a republic. (Adapted from The Cardinal of Africa, Charles Lavigerie, by Josi de Arteche, trans. Mairin Mitchell, Sands, p. 91, and The Catholic Church in the Modern World, E.E.Y Hales p. 230).

18.  J.M. Mayeur, “Les idées politiques du P. d’Alzon,” in Colloquium of 1980, p. 144 et seq.

19.  G. Cholvy, Histoire religieuse de la France contemporaine. 1889–1905, Bibl. Historiquc Privat, 1986, p. 218 et seq.

20.  Ecrits Spirituels, pp. 141 and 160.

21.  December 27, 1874.

22.  These facts explain why, when Father d’Alzon arrived in Rome with his Bishop and a group of pilgrims from Nîmes for the canonization of the Japanese Martyrs, Pius IX was thinking very especially about Bulgaria. At the public audience on June 5, 1862, a remarkable thing happened. The Pope turned to Father d’Alzon and blessed his works “in the East and in the West.” D’Alzon was quite bewildered, for he had no works in the East. The following day, the Pope received him in private audience. Father d’Alzon explained later: “I came away with the right—I might almost say the mission—to study the question of the return of those oriental peoples to the faith, and, with the help of some eminent persons, to find the means needed to achieve this goal that had been pointed out to me ...” With characteristic enthusiasm he set about the task. At the Fifth General Chapter of the Priests of the Assumption (Nîmes, September 1862), Father Victorin Galabert was appointed Founder of the Assumptionist Mission in the Near East.

In fact, d’Alzon had recently come into his father’s inheritance and had already shown some interest in using some of it to buy the Cenacle in Jerusalem. He had also been offered the place known as the Dormition of Mary and wanted to turn it over to the RAs, but the Roman Curia thought the money could be better spent for the needs of the Church, particularly on a seminary for the new Bulgarian Catholics.

23.  Emile Poulat, Colloquium of 1980, p. 197.

24.  Neminem Profecto, Sacred Congregation of the Faith, November 23, 1845

25.  G. Cholvy, La Religion en France, op. cit. p. 29.

26.  Ecrits Spirituels, pp. 1434–35.

27.  Quoted by P. Pierrard, Enfants et jeunes ouvriers en France, Les Editions ouvrières, 1987.

28.  G. Cholvy, Frédéric Ozanam, l’engagement d’un intellectuel catholique, Bayard, 2003.

29.  Ecrits Spirituels, pp. 1442–43.

30.  Quoted by Sister Thérèse Maylis.

31.  The lower level of a secondary school is called a collège, while the upper level leading to the bac is called a lycée. The bac (baccalaureate) is the final exam at the end of the secondary cycle. Good grades give automatic entrance to the university. Catholic secondary schools were always called collèges (never lycées).

32.  G. Cholvy, Histoire religieuse de la France contemporaine, 1800/1880, p. 73.

33.  L. Secondy, Aux origines de l’Assomption.

34.  Ecrits Spirituels, pp. 1070–1.

35.  Op. cit., Colloquium of 1998.

36.  The statistics reflect this growth. An example illustrates the point: in 1848, on a total of 63,000 schools, 19,000 were for girls, and on 3,500,000 students, there were 1,300,000 girls. The Parieu Law of 1850 foresaw a school for girls in every town of 800 inhabitants or more; the Victor Duruy Law of 1867 foresaw a school in every town of 500 inhabitants or more.

37.  Le Pèlerin, March 25, 1882.

38.  Freedom of education. This refers to the question whether the Church might own schools of its own. Laws against this, passed during the French Revolution, had been confirmed in 1825. The Guizot Law (1833) gave the Church the right to elementary schools and the Falloux Law (1850) the right to run secondary schools. Universities remained under government jurisdiction.

39.  “Aux origines de la maison de l’Assomption a Nîmes (1844–1853),” in Emmanuel d’Alzon dans la société et l’Eglise du XIXe siècle, Colloquium on History (December 1980), Le Centurion, 1982, pp. 233–58.

40.  Claude Bressolette, Colloquium of 1980, p. 119 on “Maret and d’Alzon.”

41.  Ibid. p. 126, February 25, 1870.

42.  Colloquium of 1998, pp. 113–256.

43.  Cardinal Charles-Martial-Allemand Lavigerie, born in France, archbishop of Algiers, and founder in 1868 of the Missionaries of Africa, known until 1984 as the White Fathers. Many bishops, priests and other Catholics in France were beginning to say that the Church in France had to be realistic and accept the government. They could not go on hoping for a monarchy which would never return. Leo XIII had always held this opinion. In 1890, he sent for Lavigerie and gave him the task of announcing this new position to the world in general and to France in particular. Lavigerie was to choose his moment. On November 12, 1890, he proclaimed before a vast assembly of French officials the obligation for French Catholics to adhere to the republican form of government. The famous “toast of Algiers” was the object of harsh criticisms from the monarchist element. Lavigerie died in Algiers in 1892.

44.  Le Protestantisme, la Franc-maconnerie, la Révolution et l’Université selon le Père d’Alzon,’’ Acts of the Colloquium of Montauban. Révolution et contre-Révolution dans la France du Sud-Ouest, 1990, pp. 119–123.

45.  Gambetta (1838–1882): French prime minister in 1881. In a famous speech of May 4, 1877, he said: “Clericalism, there’s our real enemy.” He later attacked the Church vigorously.

46.  This is not the same vow (cf. Ecrits Spirituels, p. 1090).

47.  Notes et Documents – Origines de l’Assomption, vol. 1, ch. 1, p. 15.

48.  As a professor of philosophy at the major seminary in Grenoble, Father Combalot soon had his students sharing his admiration for the author of The Essay on Indifference in the matter of Religion. One day the Rector told him: “It is impossible for me to tolerate the teaching of these doctrines in my seminary.” He replied: “And I say that it is impossible for me not to teach them.” The only solution was for him to leave. (Origines de l’Assomption, vol. I, chap. 1, p. 20).

49.  1st and 2nd Letters from Father Combalot to Félicité de Lamennais in reply to his book against Rome entitled On the affairs of Rome, 1836 and 1837.

50.  Writings of Mother Marie-Eugénie, vol. VI, no. 1505. Notes on the foundation.

51.  Ibid, vol. VI, no. 1506. Short account of the foundation of our Congregation.

52.  Ibid, no. 1506.

53.  Shortly after their first meeting, Anne Eugénie wrote: “What could have made anyone think that a work would materialize? A poor girl of 19 who did not even know what religious life was and who, when she gave herself to it, only wanted to obey and contribute to giving others an education which was more Christian than the one she herself had received, and a missionary who could never stay in one place.” (Ibid. no. 1506)

54.  Bishop Ricard, author of L’Abbe Combalot missionnaire apostolique (Ed. Gaume et Cie 1892), wrote of this Introduction: “It is superb, in the style of Ambrose and Jerome ... worthy of a place beside the masterpieces of the great founders of the religious life. These are truly inspired reflections on the needs of modern education which has so inexplicably strayed from its Christian, social purpose” (p. 143).

55.  However, before the foundation, Father Combalot had written to Anne Eugénie about some previous congregations dedicated to the Assumption. She replied: ``Reading what you tell me of the earlier Assumption Congregations, I remember seeing something about them in Helyot’s History [of religious congregations]. You will find some information there.’’ February 9, 1839, vol. I, no 74 Feb. 9, 1839.

Also, in a conversation on April 30, 1862 (MOM), Mother Marie-Eugénie mentioned some Religious of the Assumption or “Assomptiades” who disappeared during the Revolution. They lived under the Rule of St. Augustine, depended on the King’s official chaplain, and had the church of the Assumption near Faubourg Saint-Honoré (now a Polish church). These sisters, who were descendants of the Haudricttes founded at the time of Saint Louis, had been restored in 1622 by a Bull of Gregory XV. A copy of their Constitutions is in our Archives.

56.  In this text, we meet for the first time the expression: “Jesus. Mary, the Church; that is all we need for our motto.” Notes Intimes, No. 161/05.

57.  Vol. V, no. 1176 A vol. I, no. 53.

58.  Vol. 1, no. 43, Sept. 23, 1838.

59.  Vol. I, no. 71, February 3, 1839.

60.  Vol. VI, no. 1505.

61.  Origines I, p. 407.

62.  Vol. 1. no. 134, April 5. 1841.

63.  Vol. I, no. 136, August 1841.

64.  Vol. I, no. 135, no date (after May 1841).

65.  Vol. VI. no 502, May 16, 1841.

66.  Vol. VII, no. 1561, Sept. 16, 1842.

67.  Vol. VII, no. 1585, March 16, 1843.

68.  Vol. VII, no. 1579, February 2, 1843.

Father Combalot always had some new project in mind.

In 1849, through an acquaintance, he tried to attract Mother Thérèse-Emmanuel into the contemplative branch of the Congregation of the Incarnate Word, inevitably creating tensions with Marie-Eugénie. (Vol. X, no. 2079, December 10, 1849).

In 1855, he was in Nîmes and tried to make contact with the community, but Marie-Eugénie could not agree (vol. XII, no. 2513, Dec. 5, 1855). And in 1861, in similar circumstances, Marie-Eugénie again said she wished to “avoid this visit” (vol. XII, nos. 2840 & 2841, Jan. 20 & 25, 1861).

During a conversation in 1862, in answer to the question, “Did Father Combalot ever come back to the Assumption?” Marie-Eugénie replied, “No. I have always kept the highest esteem for his virtue. He is a very upright priest, full of faith and fervor. He is an excellent confessor for the people he is not directing. He used to talk a lot in confession but in that way of his, full of apostolic zeal, which touches and gives sinners contrition. His words elevate the soul to God, introducing it into a realm of faith and fervor which carries one away in spite of oneself. He had a very venerable appearance even then; it must be more so now. I am sure he said seven or eight rosaries a day, because he had a great devotion to Our Lady, and he would get up at 3 o’clock in the morning to pray.” (MOl I)

Father Combalot died on March 18, 1873. His last words were: “The Church, the Church, the Church.” He is buried at Chatenay, in the church he himself had built.

Nine years earlier, on August 10, 1864, Father d’Alzon wrote to Marie Correnson after the death of Bishop Gerbet: “My sorrow is even greater when I realize that Father Combalot is the only one remaining of that astonishing group of priests who revived the Catholic spirit at a time, when, alas, it had become very dormant, forty years ago. Let us love the Church of Jesus Christ very much, and make her loved.”

69.  Vol. VI, no. 1504, Nov. 1841.

70.  Vol. I, no. 3. July 14, 1837; vol. I, no. 94, August 15, 1839; vol. I, no 123. July 9, 1840; Notes Intimes, No.178, August 1841; Vol. VI, No. 1515 et seq, on education.

71.  Notes Intimes, no. 178, August 1841.

72.  Vol. VI, no. 501, December 1841.

73.  Ibid.

74.  Notes Intimes. no. 151, 1836–37.

75.  Vol. VIII, no. 1610, March 12, 1844, and Notes Intimes. no. 192/01.

76.  Ibid.

77.  Vol. VII, no. 1556, July 19, 1842.

78.  Notes Intimes, no. 154/10, 1837.

79.  Vol. VIII, no. 1611, March 15, 1844.

80.  Vol. 1, no. 56, Dec. 20, 1838.

81.  Vol. VI, no. 1502, Feb. 4, 1842.

82.  Vol. VI, no. 1504, Nov. 1841.

83.  Vol. VI, no. 1501, December 13, 1841

84.  Vol. VI, no. 1505, no date.

85.  Vol. XV, no. 3636, 1880.

86.  Vol.VIII, no. 1627, August 5, 1844.

87.  From Marie-Eugénie: vol. X, no. 2082, December 24, 1849; vol. XI, no. 2265, August 12, 1852; vol.XII, no. 2454, December 31, 1854; vol. XII, no. 2461, January 31, 1855. From Fr d’Alzon: Letter of June 2, 1855, etc.

88.  In 1859, Father d’Alzon composed a Directory for the Religious of the Assumption. Mother Marie-Eugénie did not accept it, saying that an attractive and encouraging text would be better than one which consisted of examinations of conscience. Later, Father d’Alzon reworked it for his religious and also gave it to the Oblates.

89.  Vol. XII, no. 2469, March 12, 1855.

90.  Chapter Instruction, May 27, 1888.

91.  Chapter Instruction, July 15, 1888.

92.  Vol. XII, no. 2393, March 19, 1854.

93.  Vol. XVII, no. 3959, 1855–1856.

94.  Vol. XXV, no. 7249, April 25, 1880.

95.  Vol. XII, no. 2366, December 8, 1853.

96.  Vol. IX, no. 1798, October 7, 1846.

97.  Vol. XI, no. 2215, January 1, 1852.

98.  Vol. XVI, no. 3740, June 7, 1866.

99.  Vol. III, no. 325, March 22, 1851.

100.  Vol. XVI, no. 3772, August 31, 1866.

101.  Vol. XIV, no. 3186, June 29, 1868: “When I talk of resigning, I am not saying that anyone desires that I do so, but I would rather take this course of action than deviate from what I believe to be the spirit of the Congregation and its good.”

102.  In fact, the purchase of the college, which took place while Father d’Alzon was away, had nothing to do with his plan to found a congregation.

103.  This letter is in both the RA and AA Archives.

104.  Vol. XXVII, no. 8082, December 15, 1880.

105.  Vol. XXII, no. 6360, November 4, 1887.

106.  Vol. XV, no. 3636, 1880.

107.  C.L.D.L., no. 98.

108.  C.L.D.L., no. 100, Assumptionist Archives.

109.  Origines, vol. I, p. 327.

110.  Vol. XXVIII, Letter to Mother Marie-Marguerite, December 15, 1880.

111.  Vol. III, no. 325, March 22, 1851.

112.  Chapter Instruction, April 28, 1889.

113.  Vol. VI, 1506.

114.  Chapter Instruction, May 2, 1884.

115.  File ACR 2 TE 75–122: correspondence, depositions, reports (Boulcsteix). 87 references to the d’Alzon data bank. Biographical data on Father d’Alzon (Documentation biographique du P. d’Alzon), pp. 758–777. D’Alzon Anthology (Anthologie alzonienne), chap. 47, General Chapters 1876.

116.  Of the 43 references to this title in the Letters of Father d’Alzon, only nine refer to the ties between d’Alzon and the Religious of the Assumption, four of them in 1866 after the Véron Affair, three between 1866 and 1870, at the time of Vatican Council I, and two in 1878 on the occasion of the audience granted Father d’Alzon by Leo XIII. It is important to note the context in order to avoid misunderstandings. Father d’Alzon never gave himself the title of founder but accepted it temporarily in order to render service to Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus. Cf. the following letters: no. 2873 (vol. VI, p. 140); no. 2875 (vol. VI, p. 141) no. 2881 (vol. VI, p. 145); no. 2886 (vol. VI, p.150); no. 3388 (vol. VII. p. 151), no 3972 (vol. VIII. p 298); no. 3994 (vol. VIII, p. 325); no. 6302 (vol. XII. p 441). and no 6303 (vol. XII, p. 442).

117.  The ecclesiastical superiors and chaplains in and around Paris were the following: Father Combalot (1839–41), Father Gros (1841–43), Father Gaume (1843–49), Bishop Leon-François Sibour (1849–52), the Abbot of La Bouillerie (1852–55), Bishop Sibour (1855–57), Father Darboy (1857–59), Father Veron (1859–67), Father Jourdan (1867–68), Father Deplace (1868–69), Father Bayle (1870–73), Father d’Hulst (1873–90), and Father Odelin (1890–1907). In Nîmes, Father d’Alzon (1855–80).

118.  Despite the slight difference pointed out by Father d’Alzon to Father Galabert: vol. XI, p. 472 (end).

119.  In her letter to Father d’Alzon of September 10, 1876, she alluded to the union using three words: trust, respect, and gratitude.

120.  Letters, vol. XL pp. 469–470. The same reasoning: vol. XII, pp. 37 and 47.

121.  Letter no. 5681, vol. XI, p. 425 (to Father Picard). The grievances Father d’Alzon had against her amounted to three deviations which, right or wrongly, he attrihuted to her: in the formation of the young sisters, she overstressed the love of Auteuil and did not stress enough that of the Congregation; she insisted more on the monastic forms than on Assumption’s apostolic spirit; she was too “mystical,” which ended up leaving its mark on the young. Little by little. Father d’Alzon came to sec this as a sort of rival undercurrent.

122.  Letter no 5733. vol XI, p. 468 (to Mother Marie-Eugénie of Jesus).

123.  Letters, no 6691, vol XIII, pp. 109–110; no. 6697. p. 115.

124.  College corresponds to secondary school or high school in some English-speaking countries. It represents that level of education which prepares students to enter the university.

125.  Letter 2371, vol. V.

126.  Letter 2373, vol. V.

127.  Letter 2448, vol V.

128.  Letter 2460, vol. V.

129.  Letter 2464, vol. V.

130.  Letter 2465, vol. V.

131.  Letter 2189, vol. V.

132.  Letter no. 2528, vol. V.

133.  Letter no. 2591, vol. V.

134.  Letter no 2601, vol. V

135.  Letter no. 2861, vol VI.

136.  Letter no. 2834, vol. VI.

137.  Letter no. 2863, vol. VI.

138.  Her parents were against her joining a non-established order. Cf. Note 1 of letter no. 2865, Vol VI.

139.  Letter no. 2865, vol VI.

140.  Letter no. 3133, vol. VI

141.  Letter, June 5, 1865, no. 2540.

142.  April 18, 1868.

143.  June 2, 1865.

144.  January 2, 1868.

145.  January 23, 1869.

146.  August 23, 1866.

147.  August 23, 1866.

148.  August 24, 1866.

149.  Letter from Father d’Alzon to Mother Marie-Eugénie, August 25, 1867, no. 1095, Vol VI.

150.  Cf. the correspondence between Father d’Alzon and Lather Hippolyte Saugrain in 1867 Letters nos. 3149, 3151, and 3155, Vol. VI, among others.

151.  Cf. Siméon Vailhé Vie du Père Emmanuel d’Alzon, 2 volumes, B.P., 1934.

152.  Cf. Pages d’Oblation, vol. II, page 62.

153.  Cf. Colloquium Marie Correnson, 2000.

154.  Cf. Pages d’Oblation, vol. II, page 5.

155.  Cf. Pages d Archives, vol. IV, page 47.

156.  Cf. Pages d’Archives, vol. I, page 1.

157.  The Restoration (1815–30); the July monarchy (1830–48); the Second Republic (1848–51); the Second Empire (1852–70); the third Republic in 1870.

158.  Testimony, no. 130.

159.  Claude Louis Pernet (1798–1838).

160.  Father Morcel (1813–92), Marist.

161.  Bishop Jean-Jacques Nanquette (1807–61), bishop of Le Mans (Sarthe) from 1855 to 1861. A friend of the Religious of the Assumption and of Father d’Alzon.

162.  April 25, 1865.

163.  Biographical Notes II, 1897.

164.  Rule of the Augustinians of the Assumption, 1855

165.  Jeanne Suzanne Mutonot (1804–38).

166.  Jean Fage (1800–54).

167.  September 18, 1884, VIII, 90.

168.  January 19, 1896, I, 446.

169.  Father Mathieu Lecomte, O.P., died in 1887.

170.  Father Thomas Faucillon, O.P., (1829–1901).

171.  Father Emmanuel Manuel, O.P., died in 1892.

172.  Father Bernard Chocarne, O.P., (1825–95).

173.  Miss Ermance Gaillardin, sister of Casimir Gaillardin, one of the founders with Father Ledreuille and Mr. Nisard from the society of St. Francis Xavier, an organization dedicated to providing mutual help and education among the poor.

174.  Flora de Mesnard, born de Bellissen (1808–87). Member ol the Dominican Third Order.

175.  Caroline de Mesnard, born in 1830. Member of the Dominican Third Order

176.  Gaspard Mermillod (1824 92), Swiss nationality, bishop of Lausanne and Geneva in 1883; cardinal in 1890.

177.  September 16, 1883, V, 284.

178.  Sister Marie de la Croix, L.S.A. (1828–1905).

179.  Céline Magnoux and Denise Cayzac.

180.  4A1, no. 1.

181.  September 18, 1884, VIII, 90.

182.  January 21, 1894, I, 472.

183.  May 9, 1889, VII, 23.

184.  Suzanne Malina, Mother Bigourdan (1826–87), Daughter of Charity.

185.  Bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel Von Ketteler (1811–77).

186.  February 13, 1896.

187.  February 6, 1877, 1A1D, 870.

188.  1A1C, 191.

189.  Joseph Hippolyte Guibert (1802–86), O.M.I, in 1823, Archbishop of Paris in 1871, Cardinal in 1873.

190.  February 26, 1875. IAIC, 4121.

191.  Letter to Father Pernet, April 20, 1865.

192.  Among the letters sent by Father Pernet to Miss Fage, two are addressed to “The Superior of the Daughters of Mary” (no. 46 on December 22, 1865, and no. 87 on November 19, 1866); another to “The Superior of the Nurses of the Poor” (no. 119 on December 1, 1867). Finally, on the August 17, 1870, from Metz, Father Pernet addressed his letter to “Mrs. Fage, Superior of the Little Sisters of the Assumption, 57 rue Violet Grenelle, Paris.”

193.  Ch. VIII.

194.  VI, 157.

195.  August 2, 1865, 1A1C, no. 36.

196.  Baroness Geneviève Reille born Soult de Dalmatie (1844–1910)

197.  Letters 1A1C, nos. 2873 and 2874.

198.  IX, 322.

199.  Eugénie Jacobs, Mother Marie of the Blessed Sacrament (1853–1922) Superior General in September 1883 after the death of Marie-Antoinette Fage (1824–83), co-foundress of the Congregation.

200.  Cf. 1A4C 114.

201.  Passage Gaillard. This passage no longer exists, it was a narrow lane parallel to rue François Ier

202.  August 16, 1867, 1A1C 4072.

203.  Michael Augustine Corrigan (1839–1902). Archbishop of New York from 1885 to 1902.

204.  January 24, 1891, 1A1C 4164.

205.  1A1B 3056.

206.  Testimony 130.

207.  September 20, 1883, VIII, 644.

208.  September 18, 1884, VIII, 90.

209.  September 18, 1890, XI, 118.

210.  September 17, 1896, VIII, 87.

211.  Father Jacques Théodore Lamarche (1827–92). Bishop of Quimper in 1887.

212.  Biography, p. 280.

213.  These treatment centers depended on the Hospital at Les Invalides.

214.  Little Dominican Sisters of Orleans (correspondence with Madame de Bhc) and Servants of the Poor of Angers (Dom Leduc of Solesmes).

215.  September 18, 1884, VIII, 90.

216.  The History of the first ten years of our religious family, vol. I, Congregation of the Orants of the Assumption, Archive Collection, no. 3.

217.  Letter to Father Picard, no. P39I.

218.  Letters to her grandmother de Clermont-Tonnerre.

219.  Letter to her mother, no. FA91.

220.  Excerpts from the Chronicles of the Little Sisters of the Assumption.

221.  This correspondence is under study at the present time. It includes approximately one thousand typewritten pages of Isabelle’s letters, though not all her correspondence has been preserved. She lost the letters she considered to he most important during a trip she took in 1884 or 1885. Letter no. P3 quoted further on (note 32) gives the general direction of the search she pursued throughout her life.

222.  Letter no. P30, November 5. 1875.

223.  Letter no. P42 and the archives of the Religious of the Assumption in Auteuil.

224.  Letter from Mother Marie-Eugénie to the Superior in Cannes, vol. 24, no. 6741.

225.  Letters nos. P119, P123, etc. from Isabelle, no. PIA 4334 from Father Picard, and letters to Mother Thérèse-Emmanuel.

226.  Letter no P141, July 14, 1884.

227.  Letter from Father Picard, no. PIA 4347, July 20, 1884.

228.  Letters nos. P 182, PI83, P 227 to Father Picard: “Just think a little about the influence this dear Mother has had on my life! Influence and authority. Was he in a position to judge ... ? I really believe that some incidents, if not bad, at least dangerous must have taken place. I never thought they were right, but I nevertheless obeyed.”

229.  Letters nos. P130, 133, 135.

230.  Letters nos. P143, 146, 152, 182 ...

231.  Florence was the former superior in Cannes; cf. letter no. P228.

232.  Numerous letters to Father Picard: nos. PI75 to 215 and 228 to 241, etc.

233.  Letter no. P183, November 22, 1885.

234.  Letter no. P186, December 12, 1885.

235.  Letter no P189, December 18, 1885.

236.  Letter no. P210, May 2, 1886.

237.  Letters nos. P199 and 210, 211, 212.

238.  Letter no. P216, June 3, 1886.

239.  Letter no. P108.

240.  During the present Colloquium, new ideas were expressed which modify this opinion. Cf. the Appendix at the end of this article.

241.  Letter no P231. November 26, 1886.

242.  Letters from Father Picard, nos. PIA 4418 and 4426.

243.  Letter no. P237, January 4, 1887.

244.  Letters nos. PIA 4427 and 4428.

245.  Premières Vues, documents nos. D00001, 2, and 3.

246.  Letter no. P3, September 4, 1872.

247.  Letter no. P221

248.  Letters nos. P234–240.

249.  Letter no P241.

250.  Letter no. P 249, March 28, 1887. Isabelle made no reference to the contents of this frank exchange. The letter she claims she wrote to Mother Marie-Eugénie as a follow-up to this conversation has not been found.

251.  See the correspondence of Mother Marie-Eugénie, the Annals of the Convent of Cannes, and Letters nos. P150, 264, 290.

252.  Letters nos. P221 and PIA 4412.

253.  Letter no. P301, October 4, 1888.

254.  Letters nos. P303, October, and P309, December 9, 1888.

255.  See the volume on Spiritual Retreats, nos. S001 12 and SOOI45.

256.  See in particular letters nos. P367, January 25, P378, May 9, 1894, etc.

257.  Letter no. PIA 4575, March 14, 1893.

258.  Letters nos. P364, November, and P366, December 4, 1893.

259.  Father Picard recognized a contemplative vocation in Miss Dienne and her affinity for the main thrust of the spirit of Assumption. He then entrusted her to Isabelle, cf. letters nos. PIA 4621 and P378, May 1895.

260.  Letters nos. RA3, April 23, 1895, RAI7, RA 25, RA34, RA37, etc.

261.  Only a few aspects of Father Picard’s life are mentioned below, viz., those that seem to illustrate his role as the founder of the Orants of the Assumption. In addition tohis talks to the Orants, his life and work represent a huge fild that is broader than our foundation and that has undersatndably remained util this day somehwat “reserved to the Fathers.”

262.  François Picard, Instructions aux Oblates, vol. V, p. 106 (44th Instruction, Paris, November 22).

263.  We have the testimony of two persons (Sister Thérèse-Emmanuel and Marie-Isabelle herself) to the effect that Father Picard kept silent over the years about this inspiration. However, during this Colloquium, we learned about two letters that seem to suggest the contrary.

264.  This passage was found by Sister Marie-Michaël Laguerie. probably in a copy of the diary of the novitiate in Osma.

265.  See especially the testimonies of Fathers Gervais Quénard, Andre Jaujou, his private secretary, and Octavicn Caron, one of his chamberlains.

266.  Letter to Father d’Alzon, no. PIA0030, May 19, 1856.

267.  Letters to Father d’Alzon nos. PIA0007, 0011, 0032, 0047, 0070, 0074, 0521, Letters of Father d’Alzon. nos. H2I 126, 21129. H 01760, 01774.

268.  Letter of Father Géry, November 28, 1883, quoted from Pages d’Archives – “Le Père André Jaujou,” no. 7, p. 91.

269.  See the testimony of Father André Jaujou as noted in our chronicles, October 5, 1910.

270.  Quoted by Father Gervais Quénard in his testimony.

271.  According to Father André in a testimony found in our chronicles (December 16, 1908), he never asked to be cured, but when other people prayed for that, even without his knowledge, he knew about it from the aggravation of the pain. Only once did he accept at Lourdes to join in prayers said for his healing. The prayer was immediately granted, and Father André testified that he could then touch and hit his leg which was ordinarily extremely sensitive and painful at the least touch. But Father Picard would say that it would not last. In fact, at the end of seven hours, the pain was back as before. But God, by submitting him to this severe trial, gave him at the some time the grace of an unfailing patience. He never complained, not only about suffering but even about the embarrassment that accompanied it as he carried out his duties as Superior General.

272.  For example, according to the testimony of Father Octavien Caron: “One day we said to him: ‘Father, despite all your preoccupations, you do not look preoccupied.’ ‘Do not go by what you see,’ he joyfully responded. ‘It is probably when you see me smiling the most that I am suffering the most.’”

273.  Letter from Father Picard to Father Emmanuel Bailly, May 23, 1889, no. PIA2506

274.  Research done in collaberation with Sister Marie-Salomé Amigon on the basis of notes collected by Sister Marie-Michaël Laguerie, Orant of the Assumption, who died in 2001 before being able to complete her book on the life of Father Picard.

275.  Articles by Father Aubin Colette in view of the Cause of the Servant of God Francis Picard, Bois le Due, Imprimerie Saint-Paul, 1959, nos. 149, 202, 213, 124, 283 ...

276.  Testimony of Father Octavien Caron, Augustinian of the Assumption.

277.  Testimony of Father Aubin Colette.

278.  Letter of Father Picard to the Orants of the Assumption in December 1898. quoted by Sister Thérèse-Emmanuel in her notes on Father Picard written in 1931.

279.  Extracts from the testimony of Father Gervais Quénard about Father François Picard.

280.  Letter CDPIA 1889 from Father François Picard to Father Vincent de Paul Bailly, November 1882.

281.  Inter alia, cf. the lecture given by Father Claude Maréchal, A.A., at Bonnelley December 8, 1996.

282.  Concerning the relations that existed among the first Assumptionists, read for example what is said about Fathers Picard and Vincent de Paul Bailly in E. Lacoste, Le Père V. de P. Bailly, Bonne Presse, pp. 86, 158. See also Letter no. BAD23070 from Father Vincent de Paul Bailly to Father Picard, etc.

283.  Quoted by Mother Isabelle in her letter to Father Picard, May 2, 1886 no. P210

284.  Letters of November 12, 1857 and December 16, 1858, quoted by Father Aubin Colette.

285.  Document no. DN12.10: page from the chronicle of our origins, corrected by Mother Isabelle.

286.  Notes about Father Picard written in August 1931 by Sister Thérèse Emmanuel, Orant.

287.  Letter AB.53 of March 11, 1907 to Father Emmanuel Bailly; Notes of her retreat of 1889, no. SN4.7.

288.  Document no. DN12.10: page from the chronicle of our origins, corrected by Mother Isabelle.

289.  “What a beautiful soul! Thank God for having created such a beautiful soul!” These words were spoken by Father Picard to Mother Marie of the Compassion, Oblate of the Assumption.

290.  Letter to Father Picard, no. P392, classified after those of 1896.

291.  “No one more than he was inclined to consult, and to seek the opinion of those who had his confidence,” words spoken by Father Edmond in a talk on Father Picard given to the Orants on April 16, 1909.

292.  Article 133 by Father Aubin Colette regarding the Cause of Father François Picard.

293.  Words addressed by Father Picard to the first Orants gathered at Livry on July 13, 1899 and quoted by Sister Thérèse-Emmanuel in her notes on Father Picard written in 1931.

294.  Letter no AC22. April 27, 1903, to Father André Jaujou.

295.  Cf. also the well-documented chapter on the respective roles of our two founders given by Mother Marie-Madeleine to the Orants at Sceaux on Febraury 11, 1957.

296.  During the present Colloquium, the Religious of the Assumption gave us these documents which were unknown to us until now.

297.  March 20, 1881, Cannes.

298.  April 12, 1882, Cannes.

299.  P00108, Lyons, March 19, 1881.

300.  POO108, March 21, 1881.

301.  Biography of Mother Isabelle, p. 114

302.  P00108, March 19, 1881.

303.  Léontine Martin, left in 1867.

304.  Léonie Martineau (1854–1918), left in 1882.

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