Part 3A: 1901-1945
The third part of the Story of the Congregation is divided into two:
a) the years 1901 to 1945
b) the years 1946 to 1962
The different foundations which took place during this period paved the way to the realization of Fr. Eymard’s dream: “that the Eucharistic fire may reach the four corners of the world.”
The Congregation seemed to have experienced two facets of the Eucharist so to speak--- (1) the breaking of the bread, and the (2) multiplication of the loaves.
The breaking of the bread perhaps best described the experiences of our communities in Europe during World War I and II. The multiplication of the loaves on the other hand, seemed to have described the pattern that emerged in Europe, Canada and Brazil--- wherein young women who left their native country to join the Congregation would later on return home to start a foundation together with sisters of other nationalities.
The general chapters which took place during these years facilitated a life-giving coordination within the Congregation through the establishment of the different districts which later became provinces.
We continue to journey back in time to the moment when our brothers in the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, took a giant leap to undertake a beautiful project which came to fruition after some years --- the canonization of Fr. Eymard, our Founder.
We now move on with our story...
In Angers, western France the novitiate welcomed Miss Ignacia de Gouvea, the first Brazilian to enter in the Congregation on July 3, 1901. She later founded many houses in Brazil.
For some years, the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament had started to take up the cause of glorification of the Founder. In 1884, Cardinal Monaco De Valetta, the Cardinal Vicar of Rome advised the Superiors of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament to delay no longer the steps to be taken in view of the canonization of Fr. Eymard, since living witnesses were becoming fewer.
In 1885, Fr. Edmond Tenaillon was named postulator of the cause. On September 19, 1899, Cardinal Richard, Archbishop of Paris, established a Tribunal for the Information Process.
--- 1900-1909 ---
On January 20, 1900, Bishop Henry of Grenoble had also set-up a diocesan Tribunal. Inquiry commissions were equally named in Lyons, Fergus-Toulon, Belley, Angers and Rome to gather testimonies.
On December 24, 1902 Fr. Edmond Tenaillon s.s.s., the postulator of the cause transmitted 13 volumes of investigation to the Sacred Congregation of Rites as well as the Information Processes which had amassed an impressive number of testimonies.
On one occasion, Fr. Eymard told Msgr. Sibour, Bishop of Paris: “I don’t want to limit myself to Paris: I want to set fire to the four corners of the world.” This desire of Fr. Eymard became flesh by the departure of two Servants to another continent.
On June 19, 1903, the feast of the Sacred Heart, Sr. Marie Pauline du SS from the house of Angers and Sr. Aimée du SS a Canadian from the house of Paris left France for Canada in view of the first foundation in America. The following day, June 20, the two travellers embarked at Le Havre sur la Savoie. The two sisters arrived in New York, USA and were welcomed by the Rev. Father Letellier, SSS the Superior of New York. On the 30th they went to Montreal, then to Quebec, but the Master has another choice, the town of Chicoutimi - Kingdom of Saguenay, also in the eastern part of Canada. The two Eucharistic missionaries entered the Kingdom of Saguenay, Chicoutimi at 10:00 pm on July 22, 1903. Msgr. Michel-Thomas Labrecque, the Bishop of Chicoutimi welcomed the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament in his diocese. They stayed in the Convent of the Sisters de Notre-Dame du Bon Conseil, for eight and one half months, from July 22 to April 9. On October 2, 1903, the second group composed of three Servants arrived from France. On the 10th of October the third group followed. The arrival of nine more sisters brought the community to fourteen members.
On October 22, 1903 at 8:00 o clock in the morning, a solemn mass was celebrated by Msgr. François Xavier Belly, the parish priest of the cathedral. After the mass the first exposition of the Blessed Sacrament followed in the chapel of the Sisters of Notre-Dame du Bon Conseil. This date marked the foundation of the Cenacle of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus in Chicoutimi.
Some months later, on April 9, 1904 the Servants bade goodbye to the Sisters of Notre-Dame du Bon Conseil, who had graciously accommodated them. They settled at Racine Street in the house of Mr. Jean Guay for one year and eleven months.
In Angers, Western part of France that same year, from June 8-16, 1904 the 15th General Chapter took place. Msgr. Rumeau, Bishop of Angers presided this chapter, assisted by Msgr. Pessard and Fr. Tesniere, SSS. This chapter made the third revision of the statutes and the custom book. For the first time, in a chapter, propositions were either rejected or accepted by a narrow majority.
In Chicoutimi, the construction of the new convent started in 1905. The laying of the cornerstone took place on June 5. There was also the creation of the Adoratrices Juveniles, dénommées Branche des Lys du Très Saint Sacrement.
That same year, in the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament on April 8, 1905, the Decree concerning the revision of Fr. Eymard’s writings was issued.
On August 11, 1905, Fr. Louis Estevenon, sss was elected Superior General in the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament. He succeeded Fr. Jean Joseph Audibert, who had held this office since July 7, 1893. It was he who stood against all odds defending the original charism of the Congregation from becoming a Benedictine Order, during his term as Novice Master in 1886.
On March 10, 1906, the General Council authorized a novitiate in Chicoutimi. Few days later, on March 15 the community left Racine Street and settled in the actual convent, on the Avenue du Saint-Sacrement. The new convent was inaugurated on March 25. Msgr. Labrecque came to bless the chapel celebrated the Pontifical Mass and exposed the Blessed Sacrament in the temporary chapel.
In September 1906, the 16th General Chapter was held. As always, each house was represented by the superior and an elected delegate, except for the house of Canada due to distance. The small number of perpetually professed sisters was represented by the superior Mother Marie Pauline. This chapter reconsidered the statutes and voted on them once more. It examined the finances and re-elected Mother Marie Josephine as treasurer. It also voted that from that time on, a brief notice would be written about the death of each sister. The chapter ended with an exhortation to obedience for responding to the needs expressed by the superiors.
The construction of the chapel in Chicoutimi started in the year 1908 was completed in 1909. It was consecrated on June 18, 1909 by his Excellency Msgr. Michel-Thomas Labrecque.
In view of the eventual canonization of Father Eymard, Pope Pius X, appointed a commission for the introduction of his Cause (Venerable). On August 12, 1908 Pope Pius X, signed the Decree of Introduction to the Cause (Venerable). On September 23, 1908, Pope Pius X received the members of the General Chapter of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament in audience:
“I bless the Cause of your venerable founder, who was divinely inspired in his work...because his glorification by the universal Church will be a further approval given by Jesus Christ to your Rule and will confirm you in your vocation.” .
The project of Brazil which had been pending for six years was reconsidered again in 1909. During the meeting on June 22, 1909 the council members voted favourably to start the process in view of this foundation in Brazil.
In view of the eventual canonization of Fr. Eymard on August 10, 1909 the Decree of “non cult” was issued.
On September 28, 1909, the 17th General Chapter took place. Msgr. Rumeau, Bishop of Angers presided this chapter assisted by Msgr. Pessard. There were 13 members. In this chapter a new Superior General was elected, Mother Marie Adolphine. The chapter continued its work of revising and interpreting certain points in the Constitutions and Statutes which had not yet reached the stage of approbation. Also some minor decisions were made: to shorten the signature of the letters by putting SSS under the name and addressing a circular letter to all the sisters informing them of the diverse resolutions resulting from the chapter sessions.
--- 1910- 1914---
On the subject of the eventual canonization of Father Eymard a Decree for the opening of the Apostolic Process was granted on December 5, 1910. On June 4, 1911, the Postulator, Fr. Tenaillon was found dead in his room; on the working table were the printer’s proof for the Summarium (copy of the authentic Process) which he had started to correct.
In spite of the lack of funds, the project of a foundation in Brazil was finally initiated with the departure of the ‘foundresses’ to Rio de Janeiro on February 23, 1912. The group was composed of Sr. Marie Ignace, Brazilian as directress and Sr. Marie Pierre, both perpetually professed, with two coadjutrix sisters who made their profession on January 9, 1912, Sr. Maria de la Sainte Famille, Brazilian and Sr. Marie Dolores, Tyrolienne. Brazil foundation was realized on March 12, 1912, at 25 Carvalho de Sa Rio de Janeiro. The first Exposition took place on the 25th of March.
The 18th General Chapter was held from August 16 to 19, 1912 in Angers. There were 12 capitulars. It was not a chapter of elections but to fill up a vacancy in the general council following the death of Mother Anne Marie that had occurred nine months earlier. Mother Marie Pauline, the foundress and superior of the house of Chicoutimi, was elected general councillor.
Two important decisions were taken at this chapter. First, the transfer of the Generalate and the Novitiate to Paris, which was decided on August 16, 1912. Second, the decision was made to reunite the community of Lyons where five remaining sisters had been deprived of the regular life since 1903.
In Rio de Janeiro the sisters left 25 rue Carvalho on March 22, Holy Saturday, 1913. They transferred to their new dwelling at 37 Largo de Machado. The Mass was held in their house and the Real Presence reserved, but the chapel was not inaugurated until the first of May.
During the year 1913, two Decrees were issued on the subject of the eventual canonization of our founder, Father Eymard. On April 9, 1913, Décret de Fama Sanctitatis (Cause de Notre Bx. Père)
On June 26, 1913, Fr. Eugene Couet, sss was elected Superior General of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament. He had been named Postulator General when Fr. Tenaillon died in 1911.
On November 11, 1913, the second decree De Validitate Omnium Processesum was issued, in view of the canonization of Fr. Eymard.
On May 26, 1914 the Sisters in the Congregation were united in joy and thanksgiving for the 50th celebration of the house of Angers. But immediately after the days of rejoicing, the Councillors were eager to return to Paris, because a threat of expulsion from France was in the air. It was necessary to prepare for such an eventuality.
From August 3, 1914, the foreign sisters of the community of Paris had to ask the Prefecture for a permit to stay in France or a mandatory passport to return to their country. Things went well for the Belgian sisters. As for the Austrian sisters, their nationality put them in a very delicate situation. They waited for hours to get the necessary documents but returned to the community empty-handed: no permit nor a passport.
The following day, August 4, 1914 the First World War erupted. Belgium was the first to suffer its effects. On the same day, August 4, the Germans crossed the border. The next day, the news reached Binche with an order of mobilization. Mother Marie Nathalie, superior of the community who was on retreat went home immediately to be near her sisters. At Benediction that evening all sang with poignant emotion the “Parce Domine” and the “Miserere” in place of the planned songs.
On August 12, 1914, Sr. Marie Hildegarde, Tyrolienne and Sr. Marie Gebbhard Austrian of the community of Paris were assigned to the internment camp in Saintes, north of Paris. They were the only religious and they were squeezed with the women in a messy haven only furnished with an equally very dirty mattress which was removed few days later. During the six weeks of their detention, they accomplished a beautiful mission of consoling and encouraging their companions in adversity. There were 270 catholics in the camp. The parish priest of Saintes provided them with Masses on Sundays and on feast days, confession on Saturday and holy communion on Thursday. The sisters lived in these conditions until the end of September. Then they were able go to the Cenacle in Angers, thanks to the help of Msgr. Pessard.
On August 12, 1914, the Germans invaded the city of Binche. Fire crackled in the door of the convent, the parade of troops skirted the chapel, cannons were lined up near the sanctuary... then on August 23, the sound of the French bugle had faded completely, and the allies retreated. In these painful hours, the first and the last recourse of the community was in prayer, adoration, supplication and repentance. Reverend Mother was concerned for the sisters who were too sensitive or too weak to bear the hardships that would be expected because of the war, at the end of August, sent a good number of temporary professed and novices to Angers. The Assistant General, Mother Marie Clemence accompanied them to assist the superior, Mother Marie Josephine, especially for the novitiate and thus share the responsibilities
In view of the eventual canonization of Fr. Eymard on November 11, 1914 the Decree of the Validity of “Procès De Vertutibus in specie” was granted.
During the Christmas season of 1914, the Superior General wrote a letter to the communities inviting each one to make reparation just as in 1880. Mother Marguerite had invited each one of the sisters to reflect on their responsibility in the face of the threatening plague.
--- 1915-1919 ---
In 1915, the French government ordered the expulsion of the foreigners belonging to the enemy nations. On February 28, 1915, Sr. Marie Hildegarde, a Tyrolienne, Marie Gebhard, an Austrian and the novice in Angers, Sr. Maria Henri, a Tyrolienne left for Feldkirch in Tyrol, where the bishop, a family friend of one of the sisters received them and arranged for them to stay with the Sisters of Providence until September 1916.
Reverend Mother went to Lyons to try to obtain a permit to stay in France for Sr. Marie Luc, a Tyrolienne, who was sick. She did not succeed. She had to take her to Switzerland in May 1915 where the Sisters in Feldkirch could fetch her.
In Feldkirch the sisters occupied one section of a boarding school run by the Sisters of Providence, were fully independent and did their cooking. They participated in the liturgy and made their adoration in the loft of the chapel where they had access without leaving their apartment. They did some work for the community- washing, ironing and sewing mostly for the cult. They even sewed some gym jumpers that were requested by the parishes. Sr. Marie Luc had to be institutionalized urgently, after which her family took her in. Finally she had to be hospitalized permanently.
In September 1915, the Superior General and the Treasurer General went to Lyons to give the annual retreat to the community. We recall that this community was reunited after the chapter of 1912. Due to the constraint of war, it could not regain its vitality. The house was always unhealthy and detrimental to the health of the sisters. The retreat provided an atmosphere of prayer and the good dispositions so needed for the announcement of the closure of the house, Place Morel, Lyons, France. The sisters were asked to return to the community of Angers.
In Feldkirch at the end of 1915 a clinic was established in the school premises and in January 1916, only two sisters of the community of the Sisters of Providence had remained. The Servants continued to occupy the part reserved for them but they were deprived of the liturgical services and the house was a bit in the outskirts of the city. So, they took counsel and sought a new refuge. In September they moved to Hall, Germany where they occupied a small house adjoining the convent of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart. They went to the parish church where they had the advantage of exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for their adoration.
A study of the “Heroic character of virtues” of Fr. Eymard in view of his eventual canonization took place on April 30, 1918. A few weeks before the end of war, at midnight on October 6, 1918, the Austrian sisters had arrived in Binche after an exhausting voyage with the exception of Sr. Marie Luc. The next day the reception of the community could not have more been cheerful and warm.
In Angers after the war, on November 18, 1918, the general council convened to start the preparations for the next chapter general. On August 4 to 12, 1919 the 19th General Chapter took place and for the first time, it was held in Paris in the Northern part of France. The Ecclesiastical Superior M. le Chanoine Thomas presided the opening session on the first day. The work started by the election of the council members in their charge for two years, meaning, until the end of the term of the Superior General. Then the capitulars tackled the changes of the constitutions to meet the requirements of Canon Law. Reverend Mother could give the correct interpretation of some of the new code numbers but for the others, the interpretation remained uncertain.
The chapter agreed to consult Rome, outlining concerns with supporting examples. The capitulars also sought an indult of exemption for the separation of the temporary professed and the novices. The Finance Commission presented a report which showed the gravity of the situation, the loans and the debts. The capitulars concluded that Providence always takes very good care of the Congregation. However, we must assist God’s Providence by the strict practice of poverty. Further on, the capitulars discussed the question of modifying the religious habit. The Chapter of 1912 has already asked a commission to study the question seriously. This was considered both historically and for practicality. Thus a new habit was proposed.
Sr. Marie Luc, Tyrolienne, one of the exiled sisters and was confined in the hospital of Feldkirch died during the month of November 1919.
During the year 1919, the house of Binche, Belgium celebrated its 25 years of foundation. The community did not want to miss this opportunity to solemnly thank Divine Providence for his protection provided since the foundation and above all during the years of war.
--- 1920-1931 ---
In the beginning of the year 1920, the Superior General and Mother M. Ignace went to Sao Paolo, Brazil. The Archbishop, Msgr. Duarte welcomed them kindly and expressed his joy to receive the daughters of Fr Eymard. They visited the chapel and house which the donor had put at their disposal. The Rev. Mother proposed all that would need to be done to make the chapel and house fit for the life of religious adorers.
On October 15, the Cenacle Notre Dame de la Providence was founded at Tabatinguera St. Sao Paolo, Brazil. The following week the first mass was celebrated in the chapel and on the 25th the Blessed Sacrament was reserved permanently.
In Rome on November 23, 1920, Preparatory Congregation was held, to review the virtues of Fr. Eymard under the direction of Cardinal Vico, pro-prefect of S. C. of Rites.
In Canada on July 16, 1921, feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a second Cenacle was founded. Msgr. Lagueux celebrated the first mass and exposed the Blessed Sacrament for the first time in the little chapel of Fleurie Street, parish of Saint Roch. This date marked the beginning of the Eucharistic life in the Cenacle of St Joseph, Quebec.
On June 11,1922, Feast of the Trinity, the proclamation of Fr. Eymard’s heroic virtues took place.
In the Generalate in Paris, it was decided to establish the novitiate in the vicinity of Paris, a place which would be more spacious and the air fresher. Eventually, they found an old castle which corresponds to all the conditions desired located in Houilles in the diocese of Versailles, close to Paris.
On Ascension Day of the year 1921, the Superior General announced the transfer of the novitiate to the community and to the novices. But it was only on August 16, 1922 that the first group of novices was able to enter into their new residence. The second group arrived on August 20 which brought the number of personnel in the house to 25 with only 11 beds.
On September 14 the chapel was blessed. The next day, September 15, 1922, the first solemn exposition of the Blessed Sacrament took place. This date marked the foundation of the house of Houilles, Versailles, Northern France.
The 20th General Chapter opened on September 30 and ended on October 19, 1922. For the first time it was preceded by six days of retreat through the initiative of the R. Mother Marie Adolphine. This chapter had 18 capitulars. Msgr. Thomas, ecclesiastical superior presided the opening prayer, after a pause they had the election of the secretaries and tellers. He returned for the election of the Superior General. Mother Anne Marie de Jesus was elected on the first ballot, for 12 years. The capitulars came immediately to kiss her hand as a sign of obedience and received her blessing.
1) To convene the General chapter only for six years.
2) To ask for affiliation to Archiconfraternity of the Blessed Sacrament established at Saint Claudio Church in Rome.
3) To adopt the small silver monstrance for all the professed be it choir or be it coadjutrix.
4) To distribute to all the sisters a copy of the Catechism on Adoration, excerpts of the Work of the Venerable Father Eymard prepared by the religious of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament.
On July 4-8, 1923 a National Eucharistic Congress was held in Paris. The chapel of the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament was designated among others as a place for the daily celebration and perpetual adoration during the Congress.
In the beginning of the year 1924, the Superior General, Mother Anne Marie de Jesus, asked all the sisters to make a special prayer to Saint Joseph in order to obtain from the Divine Providence special help to pull the Congregation from the temporal situation she found quite threatening.
On June 17, 1924, the “Ante preparatory commission” met in Rome to study the two miracles attributed to Father Eymard.
In Sao Paolo earlier, in July 1924 a purchase of land at Gloria Street was authorized by the General Council. But due to the political situation during that year in Sao Paolo, this land was not acquired until December 9.
On March 10, 1925, a Decree was issued approving the 2 miracles attributed to Fr. Eymard: (1) Mlle Lucinda Cifuentes of Santiago, Chile, cured of cancer of the stomach, on April 30, 1916, and (2) Mlle Renee Fouchereau of Angers, France, cured of tuberculosis of the left knee on January 17, 1919.
Months later on May 12, 1925, a session with the Holy Father and the Cardinals took place. The Consultors gave their affirmative vote.
On June 2, 1925 His Holiness, Pope Pius XI proclaimed that the Beatification of our venerable Father could proceed. It took place on July 12 at St. Peter’s in Rome. On August 3, the feast of our Venerable Father was made part of the official cult of the Church.
A new foundation took place in, the east of Canada this time in Sherbrooke at Bellevue Dufferin. The inauguration and solemn blessing of the temporary chapel of the convent named Cenacle of our Blessed Father and the retreat house was held on January 13, 1926 which is also the date of foundation. On January 14 the solemn mass with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament took place. The ceremony was celebrated by his Excellency Msgr. Paul Larocque.
On April 30, 1926 the house at Largo de Machado, 37 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was closed. Mother Anne Marie de Jesus made her visit to Brazil. She convened all the sisters in the community of Sao Paolo, as well as Rio de Janeiro. The house was full and there was no possibility to receive new subjects. Two years later on January 25, 1928, the sisters transferred to their new home on Gloria Street.
The 21st General Chapter was held in Paris, on July 2 – 13, 1928. For the first time, a chapter took place under the sole chairmanship of the Superior General. There were fifteen capitulars elected from the houses being re-grouped: Paris-Binche; Angers-Houilles-Sao Paolo; Chicoutimi-Québec-Sherbrooke. Each group elected two delegates. The first task of the chapter was the election of the general councillors for six years. All were re-elected in their respective charges. Then a non-council member, M. Marie Pierre was elected secretary general and M. Marie Desiree maintained her charge as treasurer
The chapter revised the custom book which had been ad experimentum since the adjustments to the amendments of the Constitutions approved in 1926. The chapter studied how to apply a new number in the Constitutions regarding the establishment of provinces in the Congregation.
Other decisions taken:
1) A questionnaire on the personnel and on the discipline of the communities would be sent to the superiors before each general chapter. This would give a general picture to be presented to the chapter before sending it to Rome with the report of the Superior General;
2) The branch des Juvénistes du St. Sacrement which existed in many houses would be affiliated to the Association of the Pages of the Blessed Sacrament in Rome so that young adorers could benefit from the number of indulgences attached to this association.
During the chapter, the council members proceeded to the nominations of all the local charges for three years, following the principle of ‘d’un chapitre provincial à l’autre’. They started by naming Mother Marie Felicité as first superior delegate for North America.
In March 1929, the Holy See approved the establishment of the district of North America. The district council was completed by the nominations of Sr. Marie Olivier and Sr. Marie Antoine as councillors.
The general chapter of 1928 gave a go signal to the house of Quebec to construct a new convent. The ecclesiastical authorities wished to see the community in the other part of the city where they would have more space and purer air for the young religious.
The house at Fleurie Street was sold and vacated in the month of October. Some sisters live in a rented house near the future convent, others were sent either to the houses of Chicoutimi or Sherbrooke. The Sisters settled in their new convent in March 1931. A month later, the Cenacle and the diocese of Chicoutimi grieved over the departure of the novitiate of the Servants which was being transferred to Quebec.
The inauguration and solemn blessing of the convent, Cenacle of Saint Joseph at 18e St. and the temporary chapel took place on April 26, 1931 by his Eminence Cardinal Rouleau. The next day, Msgr. Plante celebrated the first mass and exposed the Blessed Sacrament.
--- 1934-1939 ---
The 22nd General Chapter took place on June 27 to July 5, 1934. It was preceded by a week-long retreat. On June 28, 1934 the election of the superior general was held. The fifteen capitulars re-elected R. Mother Anne Marie de Jesus in the first ballot. The chapter studied an adapted habit based on the experience made since the chapter of 1928. The finance committee noted of the heavy debt which marked the communities in Europe, Canada and Brazil. They admired the wisdom of the administration of the treasurer general.
In the year 1935, the Bishop of Chartres, Msgr. Harscouët, offered the Congregation, a monastery left by the Trappistines who has departed from his diocese. It was a big property situated in Cour Petral. The Mothers accepted the offer and assigned some sisters there as an extension of the community of Paris. The essential work was undertaken and on August 7, the bell from Angers took its place in the campanile. The sisters finally settled there on November 21st.
On June 18, 1937, Fr. Ludovico Longari,sss was elected Superior General in the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament. In 1968, the diocese of Bergamo opened an inquiry on a miracle for his beatification. In July 26, 1990 a Nihil Obstat was granted. On April 17, 1998, the Decree on the Validity of the Diocesan Inquiry was issued. Fr. Carlo Vassali, sss is the postulator.
At the beginning of the year 1939, the Arcbishop of Paris invited all the communities to plan for a place of refuge in case war would take place. The Mothers thanked God who had prepared this place of refuge for us at Cour Petral, north of Paris. It was a big spacious house, with many buildings and a farmland. It was an ideal place of refuge.
On April 28, 1939 the Sovereign Pontiff Pope Pius XII, spoke very highly of Venerable Eymard at the end of the Congress of Priests Adorers in Rome
In Brazil, a lady offered the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament a house in Taubate in 1938. The General Council accepted this gift. The said house was considered as an extension of the community of Sao Paolo and inaugurated on June 8, 1939.
Rumors about the war are mentioned again in the house journal of the local house of Paris on August 24, 1939. Now it was serious, the distant roar suddenly moving closer. The next day, the first three sisters were mobilized for Cour Petral. On August 29 the community of Paris started to transfer to Cour Petral while others went on the following days. In the evening of September 5, only ten sisters stayed with the R. Mother Anne Marie de Jesus to keep the house of Paris and make their annual retreat.
--- 1939-1945 --- The Second World War erupted on September 1, 1939.
During the autumn of 1939, the sisters started to leave the convent of Houilles in small groups for Cour Petral. There together with the sisters from Paris, they formed one community of forty-two members under the leadership of Mother Marie Joachim, superior of the community of Paris.
In Belgium specifically in Binche, where the Servants lived, the newspaper reported that the war binchois started on May 16, 1940 marked by an exodus. For a week the bombings were frequent and getting closer. The sisters started to keep the important and precious things securely in one part of the basement. On the morning of May 16, during the recitation of the Office, the chaplain came. Filled with emotions, he told the community that they must leave with the binchois. He gave each one a general absolution, distributed communion until the Holy Reserve was consumed. He recommended that the sisters prepare and bring the least baggage possible. A train was leaving at eight. There were forty sisters in the Binche community- some were sick, others were disabled and aged.
Since it was impossible to find a car, they took a wheelbarrow in the garden to bring the most disabled sister, who had been in bed for thirty years to the train station. Along the way, another sick sister had to be carried in the arms of some stronger sisters. Not knowing where they would go, they crammed with the people in a cattle truck where no one could even sit on the ground.
In the evening of May 20, the convoy arrived at their destination: Montpellier, France. The following morning a priest from the parish came to bring communion to those who wished to receive. The Servants were touched by the kind condescension of the Lord. After breakfast, the refugees were directed around the region. The community of the Servants was designated for Mèze, heading northeast, a small city not far from the Mediterranean Sea. However one of them, too sick to go further was kept by the Red Cross. The others arrived at Mèze after a short trip in the truck. The mayor of Meze was opposed that the Servants should be dispersed. He entrusted them to the home for the aged which do not expect to accommodate thirty-eight religious! But he succeeded in his cause: in one room there were nine beds for the elderly and the sick and an attic filled with mattresses without sheets. The community lived in this condition for more than three months. In this place, there was a small chapel where the Master received His Servants. With His Presence they felt the strength to bear the deprivations. In this place and given situation, they get to organized themselves to live community life. Apart from their prayers, each one found something to keep herself occupied: fixing the ornaments, embroidery, painting for worship, book binding, repairing linens for the elderly, washing, ironing, etc, all to the delight of the religious of the hospice.
On the 21st of May, M. Marie Pauline arrived in Meze but had to be confined to bed and even received Extreme Unction. She had a grave pulmonary congestion and she recovered slowly. One of the sisters who were sick when they left Binche died on May 28 and another sister on June 5. The sister who was retained with the Red Cross died on June 12.
On June 9, 1940, some sisters from Paris and Houilles fled the danger and, arrived at Cour Petral bringing the total number of the community to sixty. All believed to have found a good refuge at Cour Petral. But on June 13, the mayor who had always encouraged the sisters not to leave came to say that the following day, June 14, a special train would leave at noon and it was necessary to take it: the danger was imminent. The two sisters who were very sick could be taken to Angers by the community car and the rest of the community would take the train the next day. The whole day was spent in preparations… packing the precious things securely, destroying what was unimportant or compromising, releasing the rabbits from their cage, the hens, the small ducks, etc.
In the morning of June 14, 1940 the sisters received two or three consecrated Hosts in order to consume all the Sacred Reserve. About ten o’clock, they gathered at the foot of the Virgin, renewing their vows and left with a song ‘Deus adjutorium, nostrum un nomine Domini.’ The Bossy station was about 4 kilometers away by foot. The sisters arrived before midday, found the platform of the station filled with people. They sat on their bundles while waiting for the train which did not arrive because the preceding station was bombed. There was no possibility of going to Angers. More relieved than worried, they returned to Cour Petral. Upon entering, the superior dropped to her knees in front of the statue of the Virgin and said: “My good Mother, you are all we have, be our protectress.” Then they went to the chapel to recite the rosary before blessing the meager meal hastily prepared by the sister cook.
In Angers on the same day, June 14, 1940, the community welcomed two sisters from Cour Petral, They had been transported in automobile due to the state of their health. The whole community was supposed take refuge in Angers but they were not able to get through, because the bombings had destroyed the station and the railway near the place of departure. However, all were ready to welcome the sixty sisters. Towards the end of the month of June, 1940, only two sisters stayed in Houilles, to look after the house. But the next day, they have to vacate, the warning of general evacuation was urgent. They had to find a place in a crowded train in order to reach Cortambert Street, Paris.
In Meze in the beginning of July, several tentatives were made in view of repatriation, but all failed. Towards the end of the month on the 27th, another Servant was buried. The Superior General and another sister attempted to return to Houilles on July 11. They had to walk for eight kilometres and found their convent occupied by the Germans. They found the house in disarray but were able to retrieve some white dresses. It is on July 22 that the sisters were able to settle in the house. The two sisters who stayed to keep the house in June resumed their function and some days later, five sisters from Paris came to help them start the house cleaning.
On August 30 in Meze, a newspaper announced the repatriation of the refugees from several departments, Angers and Belgium included. The Superior and the Treasurer immediately went to the town hall to verify the news and to get information concerning the formalities to be done. The news was true; the refugees of the regions listed could go back to their home place. The twelve Belgian sisters left on August 31 for Sête and from there to Belgium the following day. (Sr. Marie Alphonse assistant and Sr. Marie Madeleine, treasurer, both Belgians did not leave at this moment due to their sickness.) This first group accompanied by the Red Cross, arrived safely to their destination.
The community of Binche effusively gave thanks to the Lord for finding their convent all intact. Twelve French sisters except (M. Marie Pauline, the superior, who had chosen not to abandon those who had not yet received repatriation) left on the first of September for Montpellier, then Angers. At nightfall, their wagon stopped for the night and the next day, they had to return to their point of departure. The departing passengers were accommodated in a secondary school requested for this purpose for an indefinite time. Finally on the evening of September 14, they left for Angers where they received a very warm welcome.
The nine sisters of eight nationalities presently living in Meze, with their impending repatriation, decided to look for another place of refuge. They found one with the Dominicans of Prouille. The Mother Prioress sent them the required certificate of accommodation.
On September 17, 1940 the sisters expressed their appreciation and bid their goodbyes to Mother Joseph and her companions who regretted their departure. The home for the aged where the sisters had stayed for some time was not that far from the train station. The eighty-five year old sister who was not capable to walk was hoisted in the fire truck due to the kindness of the hospice to get to the station. Getting her inside the train was an insurmountable difficulty. The first outstretched hand was not sufficient and the sister fell. Seeing her on the ground, all people around were moved and each one hastened to help her thus she was settled and helped for the trip.
At the place of hospitality, the Mother Prioress of the Dominicans of Prouille sent the two extern sisters to the station to wait for their guests, the Servants. The reception was more cordial and pleasant for the refugees. A floor of the business hotel had six rooms put at their disposal. Only two of the rooms had a chimney, the others without a heater were comfortable, lo and behold; there were white linens on the beds! The Servants lived their Eucharistic life and followed the Rule as much as they possibly could. Each one made adoration in succession at the basilica. They had access to a covered corridor going to the basilica without having to go out of the business hotel. They celebrated the Office among themselves. Each one found work to give service to their hosts or to earn some savings.
On October 6, their location was known for the first time, they received a letter from the Mother General then from Angers and from Cour Petral in the following days. Subsequently, their little community served as an intermediary between the houses and those overseas, for the Superior General, and between the Spanish sisters of Paris and Cour Petral and their families.
Sr. Marie Alphonse, assistant of the binchoise community had not returned with her companions when granted repatriation during the month of July in the hopes of regaining her health, she did not make it. On December 13, 1940 she left for our true Homeland after having received the last sacraments On January 25, 1942 the oldest sister of the community of Binche now responded to the call of the Bridegroom.
In Angers during the year 1942 Sr. Marie de la Sainte Famille, the Brazilian member of the community was imprisoned from July 17 to July 23. She was detained day and night by the French soldiers. The superior visited her.
That same year, the community suffered many deaths. On two occasions double funerals was held. Beginning in September 1942, Sr. Marie José also a Brazilian who was living in Paris have to present herself every week to the police headquarters for her signature.
From the beginning of the war, the two American sisters - Lucy Julien and Agnes Maria had to go to the police headquarters at Cour Petral every week to confirm their presence. On September 29, 1942 at noon time, two Germans came to fetch them. Within forty minutes they gathered their belongings, said their goodbyes to the community and entrusted themselves to Providence. They left without lunch bringing only some little provisions for the journey. They were brought to Dreux, France and left in the corner of a room already occupied by the soldiers who did not pay attention to them. Finally, an attending young interpreter approached them to go beverages in the near-by sisters’ hospital. In this place, they were given supper, bed linens and they spent the night with the Sisters. It was the same thing the following day – for each one, one meal. After having obtained the meal the detainees settled in a small room near the hall. The following morning, the prisoners were led to Chartres and were placed in a cell with two other Americans.
First of all, they passed by the oratory happy to find again the Presence of Him whom they missed for ten days and who would be their solace during these years of detention. Then the Mother showed them their room located on the fourth floor, which took ninety-seven steps to climb. The room had three beds and a toilet bathroom with hot and cold water.
Camp Vittel was comprised of about a dozen hotels surrounded by barbed wires. One hotel served as the hospital with a pretty good team of dedicated doctors and nurse prisoners, four priest detainees who shared out the tasks of the parish, the hospital and the religious. The liturgical services were complete. Aside from the daily mass, each day from May to November, there was the recitation of the rosary and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. On Fridays as well as days of big feasts there was exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Vespers were sung in the parish on Sundays. The religious had regular annual and monthly retreat thus, a spiritual conference and a weekly catechism lesson.
The Germans provided the supplies but the sisters of a congregation were responsible for the preparation of the meals together with the other sisters. Each camp detainee received a package from the Red Cross of their country then the Germans added the supplies made by the interns who were very well-fed, kept warm in winter. At that time, the people elsewhere includes the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, suffered hunger and cold.
There were fifty six congregations represented in Camp Vittel. Each one was entirely free to live her religious life according to their Rule and customs. Only the meals gathered them together at the same hour, but there had been a first table for those who did not want reading but ‘Deo Gratias’.
In 1943, the Servants of the community of Binche who had been brought to Prouille longed to go back to community. They made a new request, but were not successful until the arrival of a Dominican tertiary, the countess of Mozaren. She seemed to be concerned about the Servants and approached the Kommandantur de Carcassone. After having presented her noble credentials, she insisted in showing the letter of M. Marie Théophane, superior of the convent of Angers, who asked the sisters to fill up the vacancies left by the deaths of the sisters. She obtained the necessary forms that the sisters hastily filled up. Finally, on December 8, all received their valid pass until December 31. After a lively singing of the Magnificat, the sisters hastened to inform the Superior General, M. Marie Théophane and the Mother Prioress of the Dominicans. Suitcases were provided by the Dominicans and by the Countess, as many things had been accumulated during these years and the first sisters who left earlier had not brought theirs. The goodbyes were marked by the joys of returning to the community and with gratitude towards the Dominicans but also by the sadness of separation after three years of living together during which time the two communities had bonded together.
The Servants from Prouille arrived in Bordeaux where the Red Cross ambulance was waiting because of the Superior, Mother Marie Pauline, who was very sick. They were taken to the convent of the Sisters of the Holy Family for the night. The next day, after mass and communion, the ambulance came back to take them to the station where this time they now had a reserved place. They had a safe trip and arrived in the convent of Angers at five o’clock.
It was December 20, 1943. Christmas that year, 1943, was doubly joyful for the ex-refugees who after three and a half years found themselves again in the midst of their sisters and back into the whole rhythm of religious life and adoration.
The year 1944, would be the time of liberation for our two sisters imprisoned at Camp Vittel. In agreement with the Superior General, the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament found it preferable to stay in Camp Vittel, even if they were offered repatriation. One day in order to complete the number of prisoners to return to the United States, the Germans asked the Sisters to go, but they refused. Some days later, there was a rumour that if they refused, they would be transferred to another camp. Mother Marie de Gonzague and the chaplain persuaded the Sisters to leave. All was arranged by an intermediary and hastily.
The sisters were reproached that they should have told the Germans that they are living in obedience and that they do not have a community in the United States, but it was too late. They did not have the time to write to the Superior General to tell her of their departure nor to prepare their luggage. The following morning, February 29, 1944 at 5:30 there was a mass for all those who were leaving – 150 prisoners, 35 of which were religious. They were divided into groups of six and put in a compartment good for eight places according to the length of the trip. They were in the third class.
On the second night, a service nurse transferred them to the first class so that they could sleep a little and sent the men to the third class. At the Spanish border, after waiting for thirty-eight hours, it was necessary to change trains. The service nurse talked to an officer and finally obtained to put the religious in a sleeping car. By a happy providence, the two Servants of the Blessed Sacrament were in one of the extraordinary rooms with two beds and a toilet alongside. Throughout the long trip, the detainees of the other camps were welcomed well. When the train arrived in Lisbon on March 5, about seven hundred people took their place in a Swedish boat which was going to bring some to their homeland, others towards their exile. Before the boat left, the members of each congregation gathered as one group. The trip was safe and pleasant, good services and two daily masses. The repatriates arrived in New York on the 15th of March. They left the boat only on the 16th due to the endless checking by the detectives, customs officers, government officials, immigration, quarantine, Red Cross, checking of boat tickets, and etc.
The Servants of the Blessed Sacrament were to be accommodated by the Sisters of Mary Reparatrix while waiting for their departure for Canada. They were received with open arms and hearts. Anticipating their arrival by telephone, the Blessed Sacrament Fathers came to greet them and to organize their trip for Canada. The superior delegate, M. Marie de l’Immaculée Conception gave them permission to visit the church of the Fathers in New York and that of Montreal to receive Communion in between times. The Fathers in Montreal brought them to their monastery to serve them a lavish breakfast. Finally, the sisters arrived in Quebec at 13:15 hours on Thursday of March 23, 1944. They were deeply touched by the warm reception and affection of the community.
During all these years, they had not communicated their distress and hardships to the Mothers and the Sisters in Europe. From their departure at Cour Petral until their exile, they offered up all the inconveniences of their situation for the protection of the cenacles surrounded by war and for the immediate restoration of peace.
At Cour Petral in 1944, the bombings were getting closer. In the first fifteen days of August the maddening noise of the war had reached its peak. The bombings of a dozen fighter planes resumed many times - the cannons of every size shot back, and the submachine guns fired again all at the same time. The sisters let some nights slip by without changing into their night gowns. Unable to sleep, they spent the night contemplating the sight which was more enchanting than frightening. The day after the military attack, the sisters cleaned up the cartridge cases of the bombshell in the garden but none among them was shot and the house was not at all destroyed. The religious of this big community found their strength and fortitude in the fidelity to the details of their life: liturgy, adoration, conferences, annual and monthly retreats, employment, recreations and solemnities celebrated as much as possible.
Still at Cour Petral, Sr. Christine Marie an Egyptian had surrendered to the police station on October 6, 1944. She had to be detained in Pithiviers, about 66 miles or 106 km north of Paris for two days before going to Paris.
Overseas, in Sherbrooke Canada during this year, 1944, the Bishop, Msgr. Desranleau, was concerned about the health of the sisters because the house was unsanitary and not functional. During this time of war, it was difficult to obtain a construction permit or to find the necessary materials. Thanks to the influence of Msgr. Desranleau who then sacrificed the construction of some churches in favor of the Servants, an Inspector came to verify their needs and seeing that it was only too true, the permit was granted. The excavation started on August 28.
In the beginning 1945, a big renovation was undertaken in the chapel of Paris. It lasted for eighteen months.
On January 27, 1945 the American sisters, Lucy Julienne and Agnes Maria, who were exiled in Canada returned to Paris. The community sang the Magnificat in the joy of seeing them safe and sound and in gratitude for all the treasures sent by the Canadian sisters – food, clothes, woollen clothes, soaps, medicine, stationeries, candles, incense and etc. Everything was shared between the two cenacles.
|| In Paris, it was only on March 8, 1945 that General de Gaule officially announced the end of the war. There was rejoicing everywhere including in the convent of the Servants.
On the other hand in Houilles, in the month of June 1945, the renovation had started to repair the big chapel which had remained unused since the house had been acquired in 1922.
In September 1945, Reverend Mother visited the European communities and took charge of the reorganization of the communities. She assigned religious to the houses and tried to fill up the vacancies left by the death of the thirty-three sisters during the years of war.
In Sherbrooke on the first of September, 1945 all the religious of the diocese were invited to see the new convent before the inauguration and before the grill would be installed. The inauguration and solemn blessing of the actual convent took place the next day, September 2, 1945 by his Excellency, Msgr. Philip Desranleau.
In Houilles, the renovations were finished at the beginning of the month of November. The blessing took place on the 8th, the day when the chapel was opened to the public.
*********** To be continued… *****