May 28, 2017

St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, Educator and Foundress

Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat

Optional Memorial, May 29th 

St. Madeleine Sophie Barat (1779 – 1865) was born a child of privilege in Joigny, France. She received an exemplary education, then went to Paris in 1795, at the height of the French Revolution, to enter the Carmelite Order. Her experience of Revolutionary violence in Joigny and Paris, however, caused a change of heart. In 1800, she founded the Society of the Sacred Heart whose mission was to make known the love of God revealed in the Heart of Christ, and to restore Catholicism in France through the education and catechesis of young women of every class.

Madeleine was baptized on the Feast of Saint Lucia (whose name means light), on December 13th, 1779. Her godfather was her older brother Louis. According to her family, she had been born prematurely when her mother was frightened by a fire. Subsequently, when asked as a little girl what it was that brought her into the world, the future saint and foundress would invariably answer: "Fire."

It was fitting. Madeleine was to spend her life spreading the fire of Christ's love. Her brother Louis, later a priest, initially instructed her in the Faith. Her dream of educating women regardless of their family’s financial means was realized with the establishment of her congregation. In September 1801, the first school was opened in Amiens, northern France. The new community and school grew quickly. A second school was opened in December 1802. Madeleine became the Mother Superior of the Society of the Sacred Heart when she was only 23 years of age.

She remained superior of the Society from 1806 until her death. Her spiritual leadership was centred on the love of God revealed in the Christ's Sacred Heart. She was committed to a deep life of prayer and reflection, and invited her fellow society sisters to do likewise in serving God and others. By the time of her death in 1865, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat guided an international community of 3,359 women, inspired by a deeply held spiritual ideal and offering education to women in Europe, North Africa, and the Americas. She was canonized on May 24, 1925, by Pius XI. Her incorrupt body rests in the Church of Saint Francis Xavier in Paris.

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