Abelly: Book 1/Chapter 38

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Index of Abelly: Book One

Monsieur Vincent's Help in Establishing the Congregation of the Daughters of the Cross and for the Spiritual Good of its Members

Since Monsieur Vincent's charity did not limit itself to any single outlet but extended universally to whatever he saw as contributing to God's glory, he approved and esteemed whatever tended to this end. He offered his counsel and even his intervention when he saw it might help, such that there was scarcely any public work of piety of his time that he did not have some part in. His advice was sought or his active involvement was asked for, as the following example among many others which could be cited will show.

A woman of great piety, Marie Lhuillier, widow of the late Monsieur de Villeneuve, had occasionally received into her home some virtuous women from Picardy who had occasion to come to Paris on business. <Ftn: Marie Lhuillier, widow at age twenty-three of Claude-Marcel de Villeneuve, became associated with Mademoiselle Lamoignon and Mademoiselle le Gras, and under the leadership of Saint Vincent headed several charitable enterprises. She founded the first establishment of the Daughters of the Cross in 1641. Saint Vincent served as her spiritual director. She died January 15, 1650, aged fifty-two.> She recognized that these good women wanted to help other young women, especially younger girls, by instructing them in all that might help them lead a good Christian life. She felt moved by the same spirit and offered her help in any way she could. Since people in small towns and country places are ordinarily more in need of help than those in the larger cities, she moved into the country to ease the work of her guests. She even sent some of these ladies to other places where they offered effective instruction. This in turn motivated other women moved by the same sense of charity to join them. By this brief experience Madame Lhuillier recognized the great good to be accomplished through the instruction of young girls in the knowledge of God and of good manners. She also became aware of how few in the smaller towns and villages were capable of giving this instruction. The Ursuline Sisters and others devoted to education could not manage to reach into these smaller places. Also, the pious women or widows who wanted to help out in the smaller schools were simply not able to do so. In fact, in many of these smaller places there were no women teachers. The young girls of the region were left without instruction in piety. They either had to live in ignorance or perchance had go to schools with boys, with the sad consequences that experience only too well confirms.

Considering all this, this pious widow decided to bring a more fundamental solution to the problems presented. She persuaded these good women who were so well disposed towards her to continue their own education. Beyond this, she persuaded them to choose from among themselves some others who would agree to live in various country places to serve effectively and in a Christlike way as schoolteachers. Since it is almost a universal law that pious works inspired by God are met with contradictions and difficulties, this was the case here as well. Someone remarked that these women were well named as Daughters of the Cross, a title they have retained with great affection, since it reminds them to remain united to Jesus Christ crucified whom Saint Paul calls the power and the wisdom of God. <Ftn: 1 Cor 1:24.> They drew from this source the light and strength necessary to correspond worthily to the designs of Providence in their regard. They were thus able to devote themselves to the service of young women, destroying among them the two great obstacles to a truly Christian life, ignorance and sin.

This virtuous lady did not want to rely solely upon her own inspiration in an undertaking of such importance. Rather she spoke to several well-known religious people, among whom was Vincent de Paul, whom she particularly esteemed and appreciated. She conferred often with him about this matter. He in turn offered advice either to encourage her to undertake this good work or to help her in the spiritual formation of the women living with her. Afterward the number of those living with her increased to such an extent that she sought and obtained the approbation of the archbishop of Paris and later the establishment of this community of women as a formal religious congregation, under the title of Daughters of the Cross. This new community in the Church received letters patent from the king and recognition by the Parlement. The Duchess d'Aiguillon, recognized the great good this new congregation could bring to the Church. Motivated by her own charity, she therefore contributed significantly to help bring the community to her city of Aiguillon and elsewhere as well.

Several years passed before the congregation had developed enough to stand alone. The almost constant illnesses of Madame Villeneuve finally resulted in her death before she could complete her plans for the community. Her sisters were left orphaned at the loss of their mother. This loss occurred at just the moment that Satan attacked the new congregation (permitted by God for his own greater glory) just as had been the case with the apostles at the beginning of the Church, as foretold by Jesus Christ. <Ftn: Luke 22:31.> It must be said that though many important people wished the congregation to succeed, the various difficulties that arose convinced many of these same people that dissolution of the congregation was the only possible remedy. They believed, at least, that the community should give up its own identity and join some other more firmly established order. <Ftn: The Daughters of Providence, founded by Marie de Lumague, Mademoiselle Pollalion.>

Monsieur Vincent was consulted, and he presided over several meetings at which it seemed to appear that humanly speaking the community could not survive. Despite his usual reluctance to take a definite stand in matters of this nature and the difficulty he had in approving new undertakings, he firmly and absolutely gave his opinion, as though inspired by God, that every possible effort must be made to sustain this community. Despite everything which might be said he held firm in his opinion. He persuaded a virtuous woman of his acquaintance, Madame Anne Petau, widow of Monsieur Renauld, lord of Traversai, counselor to the king and Parlement of Paris, to become the protector and guardian of these orphaned sisters. She responded to Monsieur Vincent's request with great affection and zeal, and by her help and mainly through the goodness of God, the congregation was preserved for its mission of serving the Church.

Not content with saving this community that seemed on the verge of ruin and obtaining the help of Madame Petau as patron with the authorization of the archbishop of Paris, Monsieur Vincent even persuaded a promising priest <Ftn: Abelly himself.> to serve as the canonical superior of the new community. This was done to help these women acquire the perfection of their state and to supply what had not yet been worked out at the time of Madame Villeneuve's death. Monsieur Vincent gave some useful advice about the government of the community, which since then has been blessed by God in bringing salvation and sanctification to many souls. The Daughters of the Cross not only prepared as Christian teachers those who came to join the community but also participated in all sorts of other works of charity, especially those in favor of the poor. The doors of their houses and even more so the gates of their gardens were open to receive the poor. They wanted to offer them all kinds of spiritual help, either through instruction in all that is needed for salvation or in how to make a good general confession or on occasion even receiving them into their houses for several days to make a retreat, all according to whatever needs they might have.

After God it was Monsieur Vincent who offered his hand to save the congregation from a fall from which it probably never would have recovered. Since his counsel assured their continued progress, the sisters recognized him if not as their father and founder at least as their savior. They thanked God for all the temporal and spiritual help which they had received from his charitable hand.

Index of Abelly: Book One