mardi 8 avril 2014

Sainte JULIE BILLART, catéchète, religieuse et fondatrice


Sainte Julie Billiart
1751 - 1816 

Fondatrice de la Congrégation des Soeurs de Notre-Dame de Namur.

Sa devise:
"Une grande foi,
vivre un amour sans borne,
une simplicité d'enfant".





 Prière
Avec sainte Julie Billiart, proclamons la bonté de Dieu.
Elle se donna entièrement à sa mission d'éducatrice auprès des jeunes
et partagea les soucis des plus pauvres.
C'est pourquoi le Seigneur l'a mise au nombre de ses élus.

En bref

Julie Billiart est née le 12 juillet 1751 au bourg de Cuvilly près de Compiègne dans le diocèse de Beauvais, de parents modestes. Très pieuse dès son plus jeune âge, elle est admise à la première communion à l'âge de neuf ans.

Miraculeusement guérie d'une paralysie l'ayant clouée au lit durant de longues années, elle fonde la congrégation des Soeurs de Notre-Dame en 1804, dont le but principal est l'enseignement et l'éducation chrétienne des jeunes filles pauvres. 

En 1809, des difficultés l'obligent à transférer sa communauté d'Amiens à Namur où elle décède au milieu des sœurs le 8 avril 1816.

Elle a dit

- " Je dois bien mettre ma confiance en Dieu dans mes voyages ; je vois si visiblement la Providence dans tant d'événements dont je ne saurais comment me tirer et, toutes les fois que je suis embarrassée, le Bon Dieu vient à mon secours ; aussi je ne m'inquiète de rien. Vous savez que je n'ai pas d'esprit ; il faut que le Bon Dieu fasse tout ".

- " Je serai bien heureuse d'aller un grand nombre d'années en purgatoire ; je ne pense guère aller au Ciel tout droit, chargée comme je le suis d'une si grande responsabilité "

- "Quand je me réveille, ce qui se présente d'abord à moi, c'est un sentiment d'admiration et de reconnaissance de la bonté de Dieu qui veut bien me donner encore un jour pour le glorifier ".

- " Oh ! Quand on a fait l'acte de contrition tous les jours au soir, on doit être bien tranquille. Dieu pourrait-il ne pas nous pardonner, quand on le fait de tout son cœur. "

- " Le bon Dieu peut détruire ce qu'il a établi. Nous devons rester bien tranquilles dans tous les événements ; n'est-il pas maître de faire et puis de défaire ? "

Ils ont dit d'elle

- " les Sœurs de Notre-Dame sont faites pour enseigner le catéchisme" Mère Blin de Bourdon.

- " Cette personne me paraît vraiment inspirée de Dieu et je ne serai pas étonné qu'un jour on parlât d'elle " Mgr de la Rochefoucault, évêque de Beauvais 

- " Une femme qui a su croire et aimer " Cardinal Sterckx

- " … Ce qui chez elle d'emblée m'a séduit, m'a conquis, j'en fais l'aveu, c'est ce RESSORT INTERIEUR, qui a fait d'elle l'infatigable apôtre de Jésus-Christ, ce ressort jamais détendu, jamais brisé, malgré tant d'épreuves et tant de coups, ce ressort, fruit de l'Esprit et de sa foi en la bonté de Dieu, je veux dire : son ESPERANCE. Pour moi Sainte Julie, c'est avant tout la sainte de l'Espérance….. Une espérance qui chez elle brille d'un si vif éclat que parce qu' elle a connu des épreuves crucifiantes et véritablement déconcertantes…… " Extrait de l'homélie de Mgr Desmazières, évêque de Beauvais, prononcée lors des fêtes de la canonisation à Namur, le 5 octobre 1969

- " Ce qui m'a le plus frappé dans Mère Julie, c'est un don d'oraison tout à fait extraordinaire et je crois qu'elle était parvenue à un très haut degré de contemplation " Père Sellier SJ

- "….Son oraison était presque continuelle….. Un grand amour pour la pauvreté, un entier dégagement d'elle-même, une parfaite soumission à la volonté de Dieu, une union intime avec Notre-Seigneur qui dirigeait toute sa conduite, donnant l'exemple de toutes les vertus à ses filles, communiquant partout la bonne odeur de Jésus-Christ. Il suffisait de la voir, de lui parler pour être convaincu que l'esprit de Dieu réglait ses pensées, ses sentiments, sa conduite." M. de Lamarche, prêtre, directeur des Dames du Sacré-Cœur de Beauvais

1- Sa vie à Cuvilly - 1751-1790

Marie Rose Julie Billiart est née le 12 juillet 1751 à Cuvilly, petit village à vingt kilomètres de Compiègne, niché dans un gracieux vallon resserré à l'est par un tertre que couronne un bois.

Les parents de Julie tiennent un petit commerce d'épicerie et de lingerie dont le produit, joint à celui d'une parcelle de terre, leur permet de vivre dans une modeste aisance. Ils auront sept enfants dont quatre vont mourir en bas âge. Julie, qui est la sixième, grandit entre une sœur plus âgée de sept ans et un frère, né trois ans après elle.

Tout enfant, Julie aime prier ou se retirer dans le silence de sa chambre pour parler à Dieu. Enfant douée, elle apprend à lire et à écrire à l'école du village dirigée par son oncle Thibaut Guilbert. L'étude du catéchisme surtout l'attire tant que, dès huit ans c'est elle qui l'apprendra à ses petites compagnes, commentant naïvement le texte mais avec beaucoup d'intelligence.

Elle préludait ainsi à sa mission de catéchiste. Ce sera d'ailleurs la grande œuvre de sa vie et le principal but donnée à la congrégation qu'elle fondera plus tard.

En juin 1759 M. Dangicourt est nommé vicaire à Cuvilly, puis curé en 1765. Surpris par la valeur de l'enfant, il s'intéresse à elle et lui apprend à faire oraison et à suivre fidèlement les mouvements de la grâce. Il l'autorise d'ailleurs, dès l'âge de neuf ans, à communier en cachette.

Le 4 juin 1764, la jeune Julie âgée de treize ans, est confirmée par l'évêque de Beauvais et l'année suivante, désireuse de se consacrer entièrement à Dieu, elle fait le vœu de chasteté perpétuelle. A l'âge de vingt ans elle obtiendra la faveur de communier quotidiennement, fait très rare à cette époque encore fortement teintée de jansénisme.

Elle a seize ans lorsque suite à un vol de marchandises et des calomnies qui éloignèrent la clientèle du magasin paternel, la famille est réduite à la pauvreté. Pour subvenir aux besoins de ses parents et pour aider sa sœur presque aveugle et son frère boiteux, elle décide de louer ses services aux fermiers des environs.

Un soir d'hiver 1774, sa famille est agressée. Personne n'est blessé, mais la frayeur ajoutée à la fatigue déclenche chez Julie une maladie des nerfs très douloureuse qui la rendra peu à peu paralysée. Malgré cela jamais elle ne se plaindra, ne se lamentera, ne se découragera.

2- Compiègne 1791-1794 : la vision

Quand éclate la Révolution de 1789, M. Dangicourt, ayant refusé le serment de fidélité à la constitution civile du clergé, est obligé de se réfugier à Paris. Julie reste seule. Bientôt, elle doit fuir aussi, menacée par les révolutionnaires depuis qu'ils savent qu'elle aide le séjour clandestin de quelques prêtres. Elle trouve refuge chez Mme de Pont-l'Abbé, châtelaine de Gournay sur Aronde, à six kilomètres de Cuvilly qui l'héberge avant de s'enfuir elle-même à l'étranger. Les révolutionnaires se lancent à la poursuite de la " dévote ". A nouveau, elle s'enfuit du château, cachée ainsi que sa nièce qui la soigne dans une charrette remplie de paille. Elles sont abandonnées à Compiègne, dans une cour d'auberge. 

Les demoiselles Chambon les recueilleront mais toujours poursuivies et indésirables, elles devront changer très souvent de domicile.

C'est à Compiègne, en 1793, que Julie a une vision qui lui montre au pied du calvaire un groupe de femmes portant un habit religieux qu'elle ne reconnaît pas. Puis elle entend ces paroles : " Ce sont les filles que je vous donne dans l'institut qui sera marqué de ma croix ". Son infirmité s'accroît, elle perd l'usage de la parole qu'elle ne retrouvera que plusieurs années plus tard.

3- La rencontre avec Françoise Blin de Bourdon

A Cuvilly, La comtesse Beaudouin se rendait souvent au chevet de Julie, devenue infirme. Aussi lorsqu'elle vient, en 1795, trouver refuge à Amiens chez le vicomte Blin, elle n'oublie pas sa petite protégée réfugiée à Compiègne et la fait venir près d'elle.

C'est là qu'elle, la paysanne, et Françoise, l'aristocrate, sœur du vicomte Blin, vont se rencontrer providentiellement. "le Bon Dieu, écrit Julie à Françoise, en février 1797, vous a présentée à moi sans que j'y contribue en rien. C'est bien Lui qui nous a unies si intimement ". Françoise, qui a préparé son entrée au Carmel, est séduite quant à elle, par la profondeur de la foi de Julie Billiart, son courage, sa bonté, sa générosité, sa passion pour la Parole de Dieu.

Elles ne vont plus jamais se séparer.

Depuis longtemps la sainte malade, éclairée de lumières particulières, savait l'intime union que Françoise allait contracter avec elle en vue d'une œuvre : travailler au salut du prochain et surtout, donner aux enfants une éducation chrétienne dans ce milieu déchristianisé par les idées révolutionnaires.

Mais Julie a quarante-six ans et est infirme. Que peut-elle faire ? De son côté Françoise entrevoit clairement sa future vie : partageant les idées de Julie, elle décide de consacrer sa vie et sa fortune personnelle à la réalisation du projet de son amie.

C'est au château de Bettencourt, près de St Ouen, où elles se sont installées en 1799 que le Seigneur leur montre la voie. L'infatigable animateur d'une restauration chrétienne qu'est le Père Varin, supérieur des Pères de la Foi, en est le promoteur. Frappé par l'aptitude extraordinaire de l'infirme pour la catéchèse, il lui suggère lors d'une visite, d'établir une école pour l'instruction religieuse des enfants du peuple qui sont abandonnés.

4- L'oeuvre à Amiens 1803-1809

Au mois de février 1803, Julie et Françoise s'établissent rue Neuve à Amiens, pour commencer l'œuvre sous la conduite spirituelle du Père Varin.

Le 2 février 1804 alors qu'elle est encore sur son lit, Julie se consacre à Dieu avec deux de ses compagnes. Quatre mois plus tard elle guérit miraculeusement pendant une neuvaine au Sacré-Cœur. Elles prennent alors le nom de Sœurs de Notre-Dame, nom attribué par le Père Varin. Elle qui ne marchait plus depuis vingt-deux ans se remet à marcher. Infatigable elle se met alors à voyager.

Au cours d'un voyage en Flandre, elle est invitée par Mgr Fallot de Beaumont, évêque de Gand, à fonder une maison dans son diocèse. Ce sera le point de départ d'une série de fondation en Belgique et en France.

En juillet 1807 Mère Julie qui vient d'établir la maison de Namur, y apprend la nomination du Père de Sambucy comme supérieur de la communauté. Ce dernier, pernicieusement, va s'opposer aux idées de Julie, réussir à l'éloigner d'Amiens, s'emparer de ses ressources financières, la discréditer auprès de Mgr Demandolx. Ces manœuvres aboutissent à l'expulsion de la congrégation !

5- L'oeuvre à Namur 1809-1838

Monseigneur Pisani de la Gaude, évêque de Namur ouvre son diocèse aux exilées. Désormais Namur sera la maison-mère et les sœurs en porteront le nom.

Grâce à l'intervention de Mgr De Broglie, évêque de Gand, Salency reconnaît ses torts et Mère Julie est réhabilitée.

Pendant ces années d'épreuve, elle avait fondé plusieurs institutions :

Jumet en 1807 ; 


Saint-Hubert en 1809 ; 


Gand en 1810 ; 


Zele en 1811 ; 


Andenne et Gembloux en 1813 ;


Fleurus en 1814 suivis plus tard par Liège et Dinant.

Par sa volumineuse correspondance et par ses visites, elle communique à tous sa foi, sa confiance, sa charité, son zèle, son courage et sa sérénité, même dans les plus violents orages, car elle est sûre de son Dieu. De ses lèvres s'échappent, en toute circonstance, ces mots sans cesse répétés : " Ah! qu'il est bon le Bon Dieu ! ".

Le 7 décembre 1815, Mère Julie fait une lourde chute qui lui occasionne de violentes douleurs de tête et un malaise général.

Le 14 janvier 1816 elle s'alite et le 8 avril elle meurt paisiblement.

C'est une grande peine pour Françoise, en religion Mère Saint-Joseph, sa fidèle compagne de toujours. Supérieure de la maison-mère de Namur, elle est élue supérieure générale le 2 juin 1816 et continue, jusqu'à sa mort en 1838, l'œuvre entreprise par son amie Julie Billiart.

Peu après la mort des deux fondatrices, la vision qu'avait eu Mère Julie que ses filles iraient dans le monde entier se réalise. Elles partent aux USA en 1840, en Grande-Bretagne en 1845, au Guatemala en 1859, au Congo en 1894, en Rhodésie en 1895. Au cours du XXième siècle, l'expansion continue : en Belgique, en Italie, en France, au Japon, en Chine, au Brésil, au Pérou, au Nigeria, au Kenya, aux îles Hawaï.


Partout les Sœurs de Notre-Dame portent le message de l'Evangile, s'adressant à tous, avec une préférence marquée pour les pauvres, et leur confirmant combien Dieu est bon.

6- L'approbation suprême

Le 13 mai 1906, Rome célèbre la béatification de l'humble servante de Dieu, Julie Billiart, sous le pontificat de saint Pie X. 

Le 22 juin 1969, se déroulent les fêtes de la canonisation sous Paul VI qui déclare dans son panégyrique : " nous apercevons en Julie Billiart, cette conformité à l'image du fils de Dieu, Jésus-Christ, laquelle nous dévoile une prescience et une prédestination de la part de Dieu à l'égard de cette âme…… Sa biographie laisse transparaître une splendeur de grâce et un exemple de vertu chrétienne : l'humilité, la pureté, la patience, la douceur, l'intériorité dans l'agir et toujours, d'une manière quasi connaturelle, l'aspiration à l'apostolat, l'amour de l'église au milieu de tant d'épreuves et d 'amertumes, l'assiduité dans la prière, la dévotion à la Vierge, l'art de se faire aimer et obéir, le talent d'organisatrice ……. " 

Sources et liens

sources : 

- Vie de Julie Billiart par sa première compagne Françoise Blin de Bourdon ou les Mémoires de Mère Saint-Joseph 

- Des gens de chez nous : Ste Julie Billiart par le père Jean Le Guen - Eglise de Beauvais 1989 p278 


- Julie Billiart collection "les Origines" ( Maison Mère des Sœurs de Notre-Dame - 17, rue Julie Billiart - Namur - Belgique )

liens :

- la paroisse Ste julie Billiart, du Ressontois, dans le secteur missionniare du Compiègnois.

- Le site de Notre-Dame de Namur : www.ndnamur.be/juliebilliart

Textes et photos recueillis et mis en forme par Martine Mainguy


Sainte Julie Billiart

Fondatrice de l'Institut des Sœurs de Notre-Dame ( 1816)

A 7 ans, elle transmettait déjà le catéchisme à ses camarades. 

A 16 ans, elle travaillait aux champs pour venir en aide à ses parents. 

Paralysée à 22 ans, elle fonda, malgré cela, la Congrégation des Sœurs de Notre-Dame pour l'enseignement et l'éducation des jeunes filles pauvres. Des difficultés avec les autorités diocésaines l'obligèrent à transférer sa communauté d'Amiens à Namur. 

"Julie Billiart est née le 12 juillet 1751 au bourg de Cuvilly près de Compiègne dans le diocèse de Beauvais, de parents modestes. Très pieuse dès son plus jeune âge, elle est admise à la première communion à l'âge de neuf ans.

Miraculeusement guérie d'une paralysie l'ayant clouée au lit durant de longues années, elle fonde la congrégation des Sœurs de Notre-Dame en 1804, dont le but principal est l'enseignement et l'éducation chrétienne des jeunes filles pauvres.

En 1809, des difficultés l'obligent à transférer sa communauté d'Amiens à Namur où elle décède au milieu des sœurs le 8 avril 1816."


À Namur en Belgique, l’an 1816, sainte Julie Billiart, vierge, qui suscita l’Institut des Sœurs de Notre-Dame, pour l’éducation chrétienne des jeunes filles et propagea beaucoup la dévotion au Sacré-Cœur de Jésus.

Martyrologe romain

Sa devise: 

"Une grande foi, vivre un amour sans borne, une simplicité d'enfant".



Saint Julie Billiart

Born in Cuvilly, France, into a family of well-to-do farmers, young Marie Rose Julia Billiart showed an early interest in religion and in helping the sick and poor. Though the first years of her life were relatively peaceful and uncomplicated, Julie had to take up manual work as a young teen when her family lost its money. However, she spent her spare time teaching catechism to young people and to the farm laborers.

A mysterious illness overtook her when she was about 30. Witnessing an attempt to wound or even kill her father, Julie was paralyzed and became a complete invalid. For the next two decades she continued to teach catechism lessons from her bed, offered spiritual advice and attracted visitors who had heard of her holiness.

When the French Revolution broke out in 1789, revolutionary forces became aware of her allegiance to fugitive priests. With the help of friends she was smuggled out of Cuvilly in a haycart; she spent several years hiding in Compiegne, being moved from house to house despite her growing physical pain. She even lost the power of speech for a time.

But this period also proved to be a fruitful spiritual time for Julie. It was at this time she had a vision in which she saw Calvary surrounded by women in religious habits and heard a voice saying, “Behold these spiritual daughters whom I give you in an Institute marked by the cross.” As time passed and Julie continued her mobile life, she made the acquaintance of an aristocratic woman, Francoise Blin de Bourdon, who shared Julie’s interest in teaching the faith. In 1803 the two women began the Institute of Notre Dame, which was dedicated to the education of the poor as well as young Christian girls and the training of catechists. The following year the first Sisters of Notre Dame made their vows. That was the same year that Julie recovered from the illness: She was able to walk for the first time in 22 years.

Though Julie had always been attentive to the special needs of the poor and that always remained her priority, she also became aware that other classes in society needed Christian instruction. From the founding of the Sisters of Notre Dame until her death, Julie was on the road, opening a variety of schools in France and Belgium that served the poor and the wealthy, vocational groups, teachers. Ultimately, Julie and Francoise moved the motherhouse to Namur, Belgium.

Julie died there in 1816. She was canonized in 1969.


St. Julie Billiart

 (Also Julia). Foundress, and first superior-general of the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Namur, born 12 July, 1751, at Cuvilly, a village of Picardy, in the Diocese of Beauvais and the Department of Oise, France; died 8 April, 1816, at the motherhouse of her institute, Namur, Belgium. She was the sixth of seven children of Jean-François Billiart and his wife, Marie-Louise-Antoinette Debraine. The childhood of Julie was remarkable; at the age of seven, she knew the catechism by heart, and used to gather her little companions around her to hear them recite it and to explain it to them. Her education was confined to the rudiments obtained at the village school which was kept by her uncle, Thibault Guilbert. In spiritual things her progress was so rapid that the parish priest, M. Dangicourt, allowed her to make her First Communion and to be confirmed at the age of nine years. At this time she made a vow of chastity. Misfortunes overtook the Billiart family when Julie was sixteen, and she gave herself generously to the aid of her parents, working in the fields with the reapers. She was held in such high esteem for her virtue and piety as to be commonly called, "the saint of Cuvilly". When twenty-two years old, a nervous shock, occasioned by a pistol-shot fired at her father by some unknown enemy, brought on a paralysis of the lower limbs, which in a few years confined her to her bed a helpless cripple, and thus she remained for twenty-two years. During this time, when she received Holy Communion daily, Julie exercised an uncommon gift of prayer, spending four or five hours a day in contemplation. The rest of her time was occupied in making linens and laces for the alter and in catechizing the village children whom she gathered around her bed, giving special attention to those who were preparing for their First Communion.

At Amiens, where Julie Billiart had been compelled to take refuge with Countess Baudoin during the troublesome times of the French Revolution, she met Françoise Blin de Bourdon, Viscountess of Gizaincourt, who was destined to be her co-laborer in the great work as yet unknown to either of them. The Viscountess Blin de Bourdon was thirty-eight years old at the time of her meeting with Julie, and had spent her youth in piety and good works; she had been imprisoned with all of her family during the Reign of Terror, and had escaped death only by the fall of Robespierre. She was not at first attracted by the almost speechless paralytic, but by degrees grew to love and admire the invalid for her wonderful gifts of soul. A little company of young and high-born ladies, friends of the viscountess, was formed around the couch of "the saint". Julie taught them how to lead the interior life, while they devoted themselves generously to the cause of God and His poor. Though they attempted all the exercises of an active community life, some of the elements of stability must have been wanting, for these first disciples dropped off until none was left but Françoise Blin de Bourdon. She was never to be separated from Julie, and with her in 1803, in obedience to Father Varin, superior of the Fathers of the Faith, and under the auspices of the Bishop of Amiens, the foundation was laid of the Institute of the Sisters of Notre Dame, a society which had for its primary object the salvation of poor children. Several young persons offered themselves to assist the two superiors. The first pupils were eight orphans. On the feast of the Sacred Heart, 1 June, 1804, Mother Julie, after a novena made in obedience to her confessor, was cured of paralysis. The first vows of religion were made on 15 October, 1804 by Julie Billiart, Françoise Blin de Bourdon, Victoire Leleu, and Justine Garson, and their family names were changed to names of saints. They proposed for their lifework the Christian education of girls, and the training of religious teachers who should go wherever their services were asked for. Father Varin gave the community a provisional rule by way of probation, which was so far-sighted that its essentials have never been changed. In view of the extension of the institute, he would have it governed by a superior-general, charged with visiting the houses, nominating the local superiors, corresponding with the members dispersed in the different convents, and assigning the revenues of the society. The characteristic devotions of the Sisters of Notre Dame were established by the foundress from the beginning. She was original in doing away with the time-honored distinction between choir sisters and lay sisters, but this perfect equality of rank did not in any way prevent her from putting each sister to the work for which her capacity and education fitted her. She attached great importance to the formation of the sisters destined for the schools, and in this she was ably assisted by Mother St. Joseph (Françoise Blin de Bourdon), who had herself received an excellent education.

When the congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame was approved by an imperial decree dated 19 June, 1806, it numbered thirty members, In that and the following years, foundations were made in various towns of France and Belgium, the most important being those at Ghent and Namur, of which the latter house Mother St. Joseph was the first superior. This spread of the institute beyond the Diocese of Amiens cost the foundress the greatest sorrow of her life. In the absence of Father Varin from that city, the confessor of the community, the Abbé de Sambucy de St. Estève, a man of superior intelligence and attainments but enterprising and injudicious, endeavored to change the rule and fundamental constitutions of the new congregation so as to bring it into harmony with the ancient monastic orders. He so far influenced the bishop. Mgr. Demandolx, that Mother Julie had soon no alternative but to leave the Diocese of Amiens, relying upon the goodwill of Mgr. Pisani de la Gaude, bishop of Namur, who had invited her to make his episcopal city the center of her congregation, should a change become necessary. In leaving Amiens, Mother Julie laid the case before all her subjects and told them they were perfectly free to remain or to follow her. All but two chose to go with her, and thus, in the mid-winter of 1809, the convent of Namur became the motherhouse of the institute and is so still. Mgr. Demandolx, soon undeceived, made all the amends in his power, entreating Mother Julie to return to Amiens and rebuild her institute. She did indeed return, but after a vain struggle to find subjects or revenues, went back to Namur. The seven years of life that remained to her were spent in forming her daughters to solid piety and the interior spirit, of which she was herself the model. Mgr. De Broglie, bishop of Ghent, said of her that she saved more souls by her inner life of union with God than by her outward apostolate. She received special supernatural favors and unlooked-for aid in peril and need. In the space of twelve years (1804 - 1816) Mother Julie founded fifteen convents, made one hundred and twenty journeys, many of them long and toilsome, and carried on a close correspondence with her spiritual daughters. Hundreds of these letters are preserved in the motherhouse. In 1815 Belgium was the battlefield of the Napoleonic wars, and the mother-general suffered great anxiety, as several of her convents were in the path of the armies, but they escaped injury. In January, 1816, she was taken ill, and after three months of pain borne in silence and patience, she died with the Magnificat on her lips. The fame of her sanctity spread abroad and was confirmed by several miracles. The process of her beatification, begun in 1881, was completed in 1906 by the decree of Pope Pius X dated 13 May, declaring her Blessed. [Note: She was canonized in 1969 by Pope Paul VI.]

St. Julie's predominating trait in the spiritual order was her ardent charity, springing from a lively faith and manifesting itself in her thirst for suffering and her zeal for souls. Her whole soul was echoed in the simple and naïve formula which was continually on her lips and pen: "Oh, qu'il est bon, le bon Dieu" (How good God is). She possessed all the qualities of a perfect superior, and inspired her subjects with filial confidence and tender affection.

"St. Julie Billiart." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 8 Apr. 2016<http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08559a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by H. Jon Thomas.


Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.


THE BLESSED JULIE BILLIART, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME—1751-1816

Feast: April 8

It was a common remark among well-informed, sympathetic publicists at the beginning of the nineteenth century, that after the overthrow of religion and settled government, the greatest disaster brought upon France by the Revolution was the almost entire destruction of the system of education that existed in 1789. Old France had more universities, colleges and schools than any other country in the world. The vast majority of these time-honoured, and generally very efficient, institutions were swept away by the Jacobins, and their material resources seized and squandered by the promoters of the new "enlightenment."

But if the losses were enormous, the recuperative genius of the French character was never more conspicuously seen than in the restoration of the homes of learning that so speedily followed after the establishment of the Concordat (1802). Among the many and deservedly illustrious names associated with this noble work, that of Julie Billiart will ever stand forth conspicuous. Nor are the circumstances of her career less noteworthy than her achievements. The sixth child of a poor shopkeeper of Cavilly in Picardy, named Jean Francis Billiart, and his wife, Marie Louise Antoinette Debraine, she was born 12th July, 1751. She only received a common education at the village school kept by her uncle, Thelbault Guilbert, but her youthful piety was such, that she was allowed to make her first Communion at the age of nine. The usual age for this ceremony at that time in France—no doubt owing to the influence of Jansenism—was about the age of twelve, but apart from her solid piety, Julie was no ordinary child. She aided her parents strenuously and cheerfully in their combined shopkeeping and agricultural work, and in her spare time gathered the children of the village about her and explained the Catechism to them.

Then a seeming great misfortune occurred. One night in the winter of 1774, a robber discharged a pistol into the house of the Billiarts, and the report so frightened the sensitive girl, that Julie henceforth for many years suffered from severe paralysis. Instead of repining, the now, apparently, hopeless cripple redoubled her prayers and spiritual exercises, received Holy Communion daily, and soon became known far and wide for the depth and wisdom of her conversation and the penetration of her perception. She supported herself as well as she could by making altar linen, and very soon her humble abode became the object of a sort of pilgrimage, many persons in spiritual and temporal trouble coming to seek the prayers and wise advice of "the Saint of Cavilly," as these zealous folk would persist in terming the poor invalid, to her great grief and manifest embarrassment.

Among those who conversed with her at this time were Monseigneur Francois Joseph de la Rochefoucauld, and his brother, the Bishop of Saintes, both of whom subsequently perished in the massacre at the Carmes, in September 1792. After the interview, which took place at the episcopal palace, his Lordship said to the assembled ecclesiastical dignitaries: "This young girl seems to be inspired by God Himself. I shall be much surprised if we do not hear her spoken about later on!"

During the Revolution, Julie had much to suffer from the "Constitutional" Cure—whom the revolutionary authorities had thrust upon the parish—and his republican abetters. She sojourned for a while at the Chateau of Gournay-sur-Arondre, and thence journeyed on to Compiegne, where she lived near the holy Carmelite nuns, who, in 1793, went from their prison to the guillotine chanting the <Te Deum>—another glorious band of martyrs of holy Church.[1]

Julie Billiart's next place of abode was Amiens, where she arrived in October, 1794, at the request of the Vicomtesse Francoise Thin de Bourdon, who was desirous of instituting some kind of good work that might help to restore religion and social sanity after the blood and nightmare of the recent "Terror" (1793-94). The Viscountess herself had been in the hands of the Jacobins, and had only escaped the common fate of thousands of so-called "aristocrats," by the death of the Arch-fiend, Robespierre himself.

Not only was Julie installed in the house of her benefactress, but her room became a chapel where Holy Mass was said daily by a more or less disguised priest, the Abbe Thomas. In spite of fiery harangues from imported demagogues, the planting of trees of liberty, and even an ominous parade of the awful "Red Widow "—the guillotine!—Amiens, thanks largely to its sturdy Norman common sense, had been less affected by the revolutionary madness than most towns of France.

Still, the actual situation there was bad enough. From the official report of Jacques Silher, member of the Municipal Council of Amiens, we learn that most of the children of the city, owing to the absence of good schools or teachers were growing up in vice and insubordination. The writer bitterly deplored the loss of the excellent primary and secondary schools, which existed before the Revolution under religious teachers, where, for the most part, the instruction was free and open to all! The teachers, who have taken the place of the brothers and nuns, continues our informant, were indifferent to their work, often without moral character, and seemingly desirous only of making money.[2]

"The pious ladies who gradually formed a circle" around the Viscountess, gradually came to learn the principles of the interior life from the saintly invalid, Julie Billiart, and to love through her "the cause of God and His poor." These devout souls were powerfully aided by the wise counsels of Pere Joseph Desire Varin (1769-1850), of the famous "Peres de la Foi," one of the many new religious foundations that arose during the Revolution itself.

By the advice of Fr. Varin, and with the approval of the Bishop of Amiens, Mgr Demandolx, formerly Bishop of La Rochelle, a society was formed to promote the welfare of poor children, chiefly as to their religious and moral education. A school was opened in the Rue Neuve which soon became too small, and another and larger house was taken in 1806, in the Faubourg Noyon. The new foundation was much assisted by a certain Madame de Franssu—widow of the Messire Adrien Jacques de Franssu—who later established the "Congregation of the Sisters of the Nativity" for the education of girls.[3] It was about this time, too, that Julie Billiart at the conclusion of a Novena, was completely cured of her long paralytic malady and on 15th October, 1804, she, together with Francoise Thin de Bourdon, Victoria Lebeu and Justine Garson, took the first vows in the Congregation of Sisters of Notre Dame.[4]

The foundation had not been made without a severe trial. As in the case of St. Alphonsus, who was abandoned by nearly all the early Redemptorists, so all the "circle" of devout ladies already referred to had fallen off one by one from Mere Julie and Mere St. Joseph (Mme Thin), thus proving yet again that religious vocation is not given to every one, however spiritually minded. The Congregation not only vowed itself to the Christian education of girls, and the training of teachers, but further, held itself ready to go wherever its services might be required. No distinction was made between Choir-Sisters and Lay-Sisters, but in view of the increasing educational requirements of the age, and their very probable great extension in the future, much stress was laid, from the first, on the importance of turning out always a body of really well-equipped teachers—an ideal that has ever since been carefully maintained.

Within ten years of its commencement, the foundation had already more than justified itself even from the point of view of those practical "results" which have such a fascination for the publicist and even the "man in the street." Houses existed in various parts of France and Belgium, notwithstanding the world-war which raged around the tottering throne of the imperial Colossus.

On the 15th of January, 1809, the Mother-House was transferred to Namur, owing to an unfortunate episode that occurred at Amiens. During the absence of Fr. Varin, the confessor of the nuns, the Abbe de Sambucey de St. Esleve, with more zeal than discretion, endeavoured to assimilate the Congregation to the ideals animating the ancient orders of women, regardless of the fact that times and requirements were utterly changed! Rather than see nearly the whole object of the Congregation destroyed, Mother Julie resolved to leave Amiens and go to Ghent, where the Bishop, Mgr Jean Maurice de Broglie, greatly wished to have a branch of the, by now, well-known teaching order.[5]

The new Mother-House, as the "branch" at Namur soon became, was quickly regarded as something more than a centre of excellent collegiate education. The saintly character of Mother Julie and her magnetic influence, exercised by voice and   pen, soon had their effect over countless souls, and became, in fact, a real "apostolate." The departure of the nuns from Amiens was regarded as something of a calamity by the Bishop of that city, Mgr. Demandolx, and his advisers, who did all they could to retain Madame Julie in their midst, but as she said in a letter to M. de Sambucey, the cause of all the trouble: "My Bishop is at Namur, and my choice is made! I hope God will bless it, for my intention is upright."

The last years of the Foundress were clouded by two anxieties, war and severe illness, Belgium, which in 1814-15, became once more the "cockpit of Europe," saw its territory overrun by the French and allied armies, but happily no harm came to the convents of the religious, and the result of the ever-memorable campaign was the establishment of a peace for the country that was not to be seriously disturbed for a hundred years.

In January, 1816, seven years after her quitting Amiens, Mother Julie was taken ill, and after three months of suffering borne with the patience and resignation begotten of years of real devotion and submission to God's will, she died sweetly in the Lord,   just after repeating the sublime heart-pourings of the <Magnificat>, on 8th April, 1816.

The fame of her holiness which had commenced even with her early childhood, increased all during the nineteenth century, and finally in 1881, the long-delayed cause of her beatification was introduced at Rome. It was completed in 1906, when Pius X enrolled her venerable name among the Blessed.

Of the numerous houses of the Congregation de Notre Dame in England, the most famous is that for the training of school-mistresses at Mt. Pleasant, Liverpool, the management of which was entrusted to the Sisters by the Government in 1856. The "Centre-System," or concentrated instruction of pupil-teachers, which the Sisters introduced, is now adopted by all the more important education committees in this country.

[<Life of Blessed Julie Billiart>, by a Sister of Notre Dame. (London 1909.) Much information also in <Madame de Franssu Fonda trice de la Congregation de la Nativite de N.S.>, by the Abbe L. Cristiani. (Avignon Aubanel Freres, 1926).]

Endnotes

1 See the account of the Carmelite Nuns of Compiegne, martyrs. under July 16th.

2 Darsay, <Amiens et le departement de la Somme pendant la Revolution>, ii. 144, etc.

3 Jeanne de Croquoison, Mme de Franssu (1751-1824), Foundress of the Congregation of the Nativity, is regarded as one of the restorers of Christian education in France. There are two convents of the foundation in England, one at Eastbourne and the other at Sittingbourne.

4 The Rule of the Congregation de Notre Dame was approved by Gregory XVI in 1844.

5 The Bishop (1766-1821) was the son of the famous Marshal Duc de Broglie who advised a "whiff of grape-shot"-"pour la canaille il faut la mitraille!"-as a short and sharp cure for the rising Revolution, or rather the anarchic part of it. The remedy unfortunately was not applied till 1799, when Bonaparte used it with complete success on the mob, that sought to revive the disorders of 1791-1792 and the carnage of 1793-1794.

(Taken from Vol. V of "The Lives or the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints" by the Rev. Alban Butler, (c) Copyright 1954, Virtue and Company, Limited, London.)

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Julia (Julie) Billiart V (RM)

Born in Cuvilly (near Beauvais), Picardy, France, on July 12, 1751; died on April 8, 1816; beatified in 1906; canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1969. Julia, baptized Marie Rose Julia Billiart, was born to prosperous peasant farmers who also owned a small shop in Cuvilly. Early in life she evinced an interest in religion and helping the sick and the poor. At 14, she took a vow of chastity and dedicated herself to the service and instruction of the poor.

She was paralyzed by shock when someone shot a gun at her father, while she was sitting next to him. Thereafter, she was an invalid for 22 years. Although she was in pain, this malady gave her the luxury of spending more time in prayer.

In 1790, the curé of Cuvilly was replaced by a priest who had taken the oath prescribed by the revolutionary authorities, and Julia rallied the people to boycott him. She also helped find safe houses for fugitive priests, and for this reason was taken to Compiegne, where she had to change addresses often for her safety.

A friend brought her to Amiens to the house of Viscount Blin de Bourdon after the Reign of Terror. There she met Frances Blin de Bourdon, Viscountess de Gézaincourt, who became her friend and worked with her. Daily the viscountess and a small group of pious women gathered in Julia's sickroom for the sacrifice of the Mass. Throughout the French Revolution (1794-1804), Julia encourage the group in their works of charity. Heightened persecution forced Julia and Frances to move to a house belonging to the Doria family at Bettencourt, where, with a group of women, they conducted catechetical classes for the villages.

At Bettencourt Julia met Father Joseph Varin, who was convinced that the saint was meant to achieve great works. When Frances and Julia returned to Amiens, they laid the foundations of the Institute of Notre Dame, whose objects were to see to the religious instruction of poor children, the Christian education of girls of all classes, and the training of religious teachers. They also opened an orphanage.

The rules of the institute were somewhat innovative, requiring the abolition of the distinction between choir and lay sisters. At a mission held by the Fathers of the Faith of Amiens in 1804, the teaching of women was given to the Sisters of Notre Dame. At the end of the mission, Father Enfantin asked Julia to join him in a novena without telling her why, and on the fifth day, the feast of the Sacred Heart, he ordered her to walk. After 22 years as an invalid, at the age of 44, she got up and realized that she was cured.

Now fully functional, she worked to extend the new foundation and to assist at missions conducted by the Fathers of the Faith in other towns. She did this until the work was halted by the government. The educational work continued, however, and convents were opened at Namur, Ghent, and Tournai.

Unfortunately, Father Varin's post of confessor to the sisters was filled by a young priest who estranged Julia from the bishop of Amiens, and the bishop pressed for her withdrawal from his diocese in 1809. She moved the mother house to Namur, joined by nearly all the sisters, where she was well received by the bishop.

Soon she was vindicated and invited to return to Amiens, but since it was too difficult to restore the foundation there, Namur became the motherhouse. As of 1816, it was clear that Julia's health was failing rapidly. While repeating the Magnificat, she died. By the time of her death 15 convents had been established (Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Gill, Walsh, White).