SISTERS MARIE-MADELEINE FONTAINE, MARIE-FRANÇOISE LANEL, THÉRÈSE FANTOU, JEANNE GÉRARD FROM THE HOUSE OF CHARITY IN ARRAS
Guillotined in Cambrai on 26 June 1794
Beatified – 13 June 1920
Feast day – 26 June
The House of Charity in Arras was a beehive of activity. Seven Sisters cared for the sick, visited poor families and educated young children. The service was very well appreciated by the population.
Like everywhere, the Revolution questioned each one’s fidelity to Jesus Christ and to the Church. Quickly, Sister Coutacheaux decided to return to her family. The superior was worried about the two youngest Sisters. What fate did the revolutionaries have for them? She invited them to find refuge in Belgium.; Sister Rose Michau and Sister Jeanne Fabre did not want to leave, but once the Terror came to Arras they followed the advice and went into exile. They rejoined the Company of the Daughters of Charity when it was reestablished. At the end of 1793 there were four Sisters, then, who remained working in the House of Charity.
Sister Marie Madeleine Fontaine, originally from Etrapigny (Eure), entered the Company in 1748 at the age of 25. As Superior of the community, her wisdom and competence were greatly appreciated. Sister Marie Françoise Lanel was born in 1745 in Eu (Seine Maritime). She entered the Daughters of Charity at the age of 19. Sister Thérèse Fantou was born in Miniac Morvan (Ille et Vilaine) in 1747. She became a Daughter of Charity at the age of 24. Sister Jeanne Gérardest was born in Cumières (Meuse) in 1752 and entered the Company of the Daughters of Charity in 1776.
The arrival in Arras of a new District leader, Joseph Lebon, brought a climate of violence and fear to the city. The House of Charity became the “House of Humanity” for which a new director was installed who surveyed the activities of the Sisters. The humiliations intensified and the false testimonies multiplied. On February 14 1794 the Sisters were arrested and taken to Saint-Vaast Abbey. The Sisters brought compassion to the prisoners who were distraught about their future. The Sisters underwent their first interrogation on the 4th of April. They again refused to take the oath since it was against their conscience.
Then, suddenly, on the night of June 25, the order was given to quickly transfer these four Sisters of Charity to Cambrai. The cart left at one in the morning and arrived in Cambrai at eight thirty. The Sisters were locked in the chapel of the old Seminary. In this place of prayer they meditated.
Then came a new court appearance and immediate condemnation to death. Waiting for the cart to take them to the guillotine the Sisters prayed their chapelet. The guards took their “good luck charms,” and, not knowing what to do, put them on their heads like a crown. Thus it was that they went through the city, singing the Ave Maris Stella. At the foot of the scaffold Sister Marie-Madeleine Fontaine repeated the prediction already made to those condemned, “We are the last victims.” That extraordinary prediction came true. The fall of Robespierre on July 27 1794 marked the end of the Revolution of Terror.
SISTER MARGUERITE RUTAN
Guillotined on 9 April 1794 at Dax
Beatified on 19 June 2011
Feast day – 26 June
Sister Marguerite Rutan, born in Metzon 13 April 1736, entered the Daughters of Charity in 1757. After having had much experience in caring for the sick in diverse hospitals, she arrived at Saint-Eutrope Hospital in Dax.
In this newly completed hospital Sr. Marguerite organized the work, provided the necessary improvements and built the chapel. More importantly, she gave her full attention to the sick and to abandoned children. There were six Sisters with whom she shared the joys, sorrows and fatigue of the work.
The Revolution brought a new director with new ideas to the hospital, as well as a chaplain who had taken the oath. The Sisters refused to attend his Mass. Despite the difficulties, they continued their work with the sick and the wounded soldiers.
As at Angers, the oath of Liberty-Equality was required of them. After reflection in the community, they firmly refused conscious of the possible consequences.
The Revolutionary committee wanted to remove the Superior of the Sisters and looked for a motive to arrest her. A false testimony allowed them to say that Sr. Marguerite was unpatriotic, a fanatic against the principles of the Revolution and that she tried to convince the wounded soldiers to desert and join the royalist army of Vendéens.
On December 24, 1793, Christmas Eve, Sister Marguerite was arrested. She celebrated the birth of the Savior in the silence of her cell. News arrived in her cell: the guillotine had been installed at Poyanne Place, not far from the prison. On the 19th of February five Sisters from the hospital were imprisoned. By an injunction of the Revolutionaries, the sixth, Sister Monique, was left to maintain the care for the sick.
On April 9 Sister Marguerite Rutan was judged and condemned to death. The execution of her sentence was immediate. She was taken out, tied back to back with Father Lannelongue. Marguerite, possessed with a transcendent strength, advanced with dignity to the foot of the guillotine, confiding her entrance into eternal life to Mary.
The five Sisters in prison were freed at the end of 1794 and three of them went back to serving the sick at the hospital.