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Bicentenary 2002

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As we celebrated our bicentenary we looked back…

Louis-Marie Baudouin ’s
signature from one of his many letters

The beginnings of the Congregation

"My dear Mother, this afternoon I had a dream….
I dreamed of the house confided to us by Providence…
We are perhaps the architects, the masons…
And the stone which we laid first…..
I see the little house caught up in the storm……"

In the wooded countryside of Vendee where the shouts of counter-revolutionaries resounded, everything had to be rebuilt!
In 1797, Louis-Marie Baudouin, a young priest, 36 years old, returned from Spain where he had been exiled for five years. He disembarked on the beach at Sables-d’Olonne, but he had to go into hiding once more. At night he risked danger and began a new mission.

Charlotte-Gabrielle Ranfray, a former cloistered sister of the Hospitalier Order in La Rochelle, also took refuge in Sables-d’Olonne. She heard that this priest was there and told some others

Louis-Marie had spent three years in prayer, discernment, studying Scripture and devotion to Mary. He was completely caught up in the wonder of the mystery of the Love of God who came to dwell with us:
the Mystery of the Incarnation.

These were three fervent years, similar to life in the catacombs.
But God always has a wider vision……
A word received in faith can bring the future to birth.

The cachette
in Sables d’Olonne
which is still there.

"We are entering into a new era one which the revolution has brought to birth.
You must forget the sweet solitude of your monasteries
You must live in the midst of the world and live a poor, hardworking, apostolic life."

How would that be done?

"Our spirit will be the Spirit of Jesus, Word Incarnate
Spirit of Love, Spirit of Offering, a hidden Spirit"

It took three years for this project to come to fruition… Charlotte-Gabrielle was 46 years old….she had to make a choice….was she going to commit herself fully to this venture….with a priest who appeared shy and contemplative?

"I see how necessary this project is, but, does God want what we
want? And are we the foundation stones?"

Charlotte-Gabrielle experienced months of interior struggle, but she realised the needs…she was ready! On 2nd July 1802, with five companions, she arrived at Chavagnes, where she rejoined Louis-Marie Baudouin who had been parish priest there for a year.

The Congregation was born…. Priests heard of of what was happening and asked for Sisters. New foundations called for 3 or 4 Sisters and they were available to go wherever they were needed.

1812 : 15 small communities had already been sent out into the countryside. Mere Sainte Madeleine was alnost always the leader of these groups. Just like Teresa of Avila she founded "in poverty, fervour and joy"
These small communities attracted both young girls and older women. Their life was truly missionary.

"My aim in founding you was, first of all, to instruct the poor in the countryside and then in the towns to care for the sick poor in their homes, and thirdly to educate young girls who are better off"
It was to be a life lived in community….
"Three times daily, together, you will adore Jesus, the Incarnate Word.
In him, you will adore the Father, give thanks, and offer yourselves for the world"

In the evening, the Sisters, conscious of the sin in the world, will give themselves up to the mercy of the Father and offer up their day.

Louis-Marie had to go to La Rochelle. The seminary which he had founded in Chavagnes, and where he was the rector, was the only one in this large Western Region. An edict issued by Napoleon decreed that all the seminaries had to be transferred to the large towns. The bishop summoned Louis-Marie to La Rochelle. Charlotte-Gabrielle, who was now called Mere St. Benoit, remained in Chavagnes, but Louis-Marie wrote to her, sometimes every day, and his letters were a guide and a support for the communities.

They lived in poverty, but in trust. They worked hard, but in joy…and the family grew in numbers.
The Congregation also knew difficult times: false penitience; difficult obedience to the Church; Fr. Baudouin choosing to leave La Rochelle; the Bishop of the new diocese of Lucon was waiting for him. He named him vicar general and the rector of the senior seminary.
Requests for foundations increased
"Many children ask for bread and there is no one to give it to them!"

In his letters Fr. Baudouin continued to encourage the Sisters, awaken their zeal and remind them of the priorities:

"Charity must be your hallmark
Oh! How I wish that the little Congregation would be known by this characteristic, not just charity, but an eminent charity."

The priorities?

"Love greatly, again I repeat, love greatly the poor, the destitute, strangers, the sick. Our Saviour loves them. Love the poor. I have set you an example."
1825 :Saintes! Division: the greatest test. Division within the community .

came to light. Mother St. Benoit left Chavagnes to be with her Sisters in their great distress…with prudence, gentleness, forgiveness…all this became her legacy...
She died on 19th July 1828.
The same year Fr. Baudouin returned to Chavagnes. He had time to listen, to comfort, to recall the way :
"The Gospel is the way…May the Spirit of Jesus speak for me...and say to us:
"Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart…"
Be simple, do not be domineering…Do everything with joy and liberty of heart!
Let the one who is first be the servant of all…Have the zeal of the Lord."

A seed he had thought was dead flourished again: his Congregation of
religious men: today, the Sons of Mary Immaculate, the Fathers of
Chavagnes, our brothers.

1834 : He could not resist an appeal made by the Church in Scotland.
He sent Sisters to form a community in Edinburgh; the first foundation
outside of France.
Several months later, on the 12th February 1835, was Louis-Marie Baudouin’s final departure. We remember his last words:

"Mary is your Mother
Love one another, I repeat, love one another"

The statue before which
LM Baudouin spent many hours in prayer in the cachette in Sables d’Olonne.

"Today as in the early days of the Congregation, the love of Christ spurs us on to look at the pressing needs of our time in order to be at the service of life"

Two hundred years of journeying within the Church. We responded first of all to the appeals of the French dioceses, then in the light of events in history we crossed frontiers.

At a time when the Church called for the evangelisation of all peoples, we like many others went to Africa, the Americas.
And the mission continues. The Mission of Incarnation, of presence, of being among people, of solidarity with them wherever we are sent….
We are involved in education, formation, care of the sick, support of human and christian communities.
Mission of Incarnation which, following in the footsteps of our founders, keeps us mindful of the poor. In the schools, in the areas where we work, within groups to which we belong, Sisters have awakened in the people the desire to live by the same spirit which animates them.

We could not keep this richness for ourselves. Today it gives life to men and women, young people and families.
In Chile, in 2001, lay people celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the foundation of the first fraternity of the Incarnation. Other fraternities and similar groups live the spirituality of the Incarnation in France, and in other countries.

Together, in the Congregation, every five years, we look back at the road we have travelled, and, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we decide on our priorities:

"Dare to take another step forward to live more in Gospel unity.
Live the richness of internationality."

"Women of communication, risking the step towards interculturality,
Women of compassion, let us set out with the excluded,
Women of contemplation, let us reveal the God of life…."

(General Chapter Orientations 1995)

"We are entering a new era,
Let us take this time just as it presents itself today…!"

prenons ce temps