In the Footsteps of St. Louis Marie de Montfort


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"Footsteps Online"

Spring 2003 (Volume 8, Issue 1)

In the Footsteps of Blessed Marie-Louise of Jesus

Here we look at two of the places which are associated with the life of Blessed Marie-Louise, and which will be visited during the Pilgrimage to Saint-Laurent in September.

Poitiers

Marie-Louise Trichet was born in Poitiers on 7 May 1684. At the time her family were living in the parish of Saint-Étienne (St. Stephen), just to the East of the famous (and exquisitely beautiful) church of Notre-Dame-la-Grande in the centre of the town. She was probably baptised the same or the following day, following the custom of that time. Her baptism took place in the parish church of Saint-Étienne. Unfortunately nothing remains of this church today, except part of the doorway, which is incorporated into the wall of the buildings which now line the square. The family made many moves during the following years, some necessitated by the increase in the number of children: Marie-Louise was the fourth of eight children.

It is not absolutely sure where it was that the famous meeting between Marie-Louise Trichet and Father de Montfort took place, but Montfortian tradition tends to place it in the church of Saint-Porchaire. It is known that St. Louis Marie used to hear confessions here during his first years in Poitiers, so it is as likely a place as any other for the encounter: "Who sent you here, my daughter?" "My sister, Father." "No, it was the Blessed Virgin who sent you!" It would be nice to think that the old confessional that still stands in Saint-Porchaire is the same as that used by St. Louis Marie, but it is very unlikely…

Notre-Dame la Grande, PoitiersBoth Saint-Étienne and Saint-Porchaire are in the "better" part of town, the part that, even today, is that seen by tourists and visitors. But the Hôpital Général, the scene of the early labours of both St. Louis Marie and Blessed Marie-Louise, is down in the lower part of town, in an area seldom visited by tourists, and in their day it was a very poor area. The present building is largely the same one that they knew, though today it is given over to offices and apartments. Standing in the inner courtyard, facing the long stretch of the main wing, tradition places St. Louis Marie’s room over the archway that leads to the road, while "La Sagesse", the room where the small community of handicapped women that Marie-Louise joined here in 1702, and where the famous "Wisdom Cross of Poitiers" hung, is over in the right hand corner on the ground floor. This corner is shaded by the beautiful old sycamore tree that certainly was there in their day. Marie-Louise and another two Daughters of Wisdom returned to the Hôpital from La Rochelle in January 1719, at the request of the Directors, to try to restore some order to a chaotic situation there. She had been promised that she could also establish a novitiate for the new Congregation in the Hôpital, but the contract that they were offered by the authorities was so restrictive regarding this that the idea was abandoned. After some months of doubt and difficulty, Marie-Louise and the other Daughters of Wisdom left to found what is now the "Mother-House" in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre.

Close by the Hôpital Général stands the magnificent church of Montierneuf. It is believed that this was the parish of Marie-Louise’s maternal grandparents, so quite possibly the church where her mother and father were married. Certainly, it would have been here that Marie-Louise and Catherine Brunet would have attended Mass during the years that they lived and worked in the Hôpital.

On the other side of the River Clain lies the suburb of Montbernage. To reach it, you have to cross the Pont Joubert. Here, in Marie-Louise’s day, there was a small chapel dedicated to Our Lady Queen of Angels; it was first built in the 13th century and restored in the 16th, but in St Louis Marie's day it was in ruins. He restored it, and had carved on its facade: "If the love of Mary is in your heart, do not forget to say an Ave as you pass by." The chapel no longer exists, but the statue of Our Lady which graced this little shrine is to be found in the church of Sainte Radegonde. In 1715, Marie-Louise Trichet was having a great deal of trouble obtaining her mother's permission to leave Poitiers and go to La Rochelle. A poor blind girl, very pious and patient, used to stay all day at the chapel of Our Lady Queen of Angels on the Pont Joubert. Marie-Louise asked her to offer many prayers to the Virgin for her, and ever afterwards attributed the happy outcome to these prayers: one day Mme. Trichet came and said simply, "I can no longer keep you here; the Holy Spirit is urging me to tell you to go."

Montbernage was the suburb chosen by St. Louis Marie as the focus of his efforts during the first mission he preached in the Diocese of Poitiers after leaving the Hôpital Général. It was there that he established the chapel of Our Lady, Queen of All Hearts, and placed the statue of the same name, which is still venerated there today. It was left in the care of a certain Jacques Goudeau, who was faithful to his charge for forty years. About August 1733, a community of the Daughters of Wisdom was founded at Montbernage. They came to be known as the "Dames des Coeurs". Their first residence was a kind of cave, very damp and unhealthy, at the back of the chapel, which you can see today; it has recently been refurbished as a little oratory. On 2nd March 1734, the chapel of Our Lady, Queen of Hearts was solemnly blessed; on the record of the blessing, we find the signature also of Jacques Goudeau. This same man, in 1719, was perhaps instrumental in persuading Mother Marie-Louise Trichet to move to Saint Laurent-sur-Sèvre: he met her and, according to Besnard, said, "Madame, you are troubled by the fact that you have left La Rochelle and that M. de Montfort's foundation there has not lasted... Well, I know there is a lady, Mme. de Bouillé, who lives near St Laurent where M. de Montfort was buried... She is in a position to help you in the accomplishment of your work..." Mother Marie-Louise made contact with Mme. de Bouillé, and in June 1720 arrived in Saint Laurent.

La Rochelle

Le Petit PlessisBlessed Marie-Louise Trichet and her companion Catherine Brunet came to La Rochelle in 1715, at the request of St. Louis Marie, who by that time had been working in that diocese for three or four years. It was his intention that they should take charge of the free schools he was planning with the Bishop for the poor children of the city. When they arrived, St. Louis Marie was away preaching, but a short time later they went to meet him at Le Petit Plessis, then a farm used as a country residence by the Jesuit Fathers. It was here that, according to the tradition of the Daughters of Wisdom, St. Louis Marie, after telling Marie-Louise that she was to be the leader of the Daughters of Wisdom, seeing a mother hen with her chicks, said to her: "Look, my daughter; see that hen with her chicks under her wings. See with what gentleness she tends to their needs. That is the way you must be with those daughters whose mother you are destined to become."

A short distance away is the hermitage of Saint-Éloi, lent to St. Louis Marie as a pied-à-terre in La Rochelle, where it is believed he wrote the definitive draft of the Rule of the Daughters of Wisdom, as well as the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Although it was returned to its owners after the Saint’s death, it was later bought by the Daughters of Wisdom, who have a small community there.

In the Rue Saint-Louis in La Rochelle stands the Hôpital Général Saint-Louis, to which St. Louis Marie sent Catherine Brunet (Sister Conception) to work shortly after their arrival in La Rochelle, and where she died and was buried under the sanctuary step in 1725. It was shortly before this that Marie-Louise herself spent eight months in La Rochelle, establishing the community of the Daughters of Wisdom in the Hôpital Saint-Louis. There is a room above the chapel which is said to have been hers at this time.

In the same street, Rue Saint-Louis, almost opposite the hospital, is the site of one of the free schools run by Blessed Marie-Louise, which was also for some time the residence of the fledgling community before the move back to Poitiers in 1719.

In the Rue Albert Premier is the École de la Providence, run by the Sisters of Providence. It is believed to have been in the chapel here that, on 22 August 1715, Marie-Louise Trichet and Catherine Brunet finally pronounced their religious vows in the presence of St. Louis Marie, who at the same time gave the grey habit of the Daughters of Wisdom to Marie Régnier and Marie Valleau. It was also here, according to Montfortian tradition, that Fr. Adrien Vatel, that same year, heard the sermon that convinced him to join St. Louis Marie to become the first priest-member of the Company of Mary.