She lived from: 1779 – 1865 A.D.
Feast Day: 29th May
Related Article : St Bernadette
“If I had my life to live again, I would seek to live in complete openness to the Holy Spirit.”
Madeleine was born in Joigny in France which is about 93 miles from Paris. Her father, Jacques, was a successful owner of a vineyard and was also a producer of barrels. At the age of nine, her brother, Louis, decided he wanted to become a priest. So his parents provided the funding for him to further his studies at a college in Sens for a few years. As he was not yet 21, he had to return to Joigny and it was there that he decided to take his younger sister under his wing and to become responsible for her education. He taught her Latin, Greek, Natural Science, Spanish and Italian. This level of education was rarely available to any female at the time.
The period between 1790 and 1795 were turbulent times in France and the talk of revolution against the Catholic Church and Monarchy was very much the order of the day. Louis returned to Paris accompanied by Madeleine. He wanted to further his studies leading to the priesthood and she, to increase her level of education. Whilst there, she managed to secure work as a seamstress. At the age of 18 she decided that she wished to become a Carmelite nun. At this time, to seek such a vocation would have been impossible because the Carmelites along with many other religious communities had been abolished in 1790. For five years she lived in Paris following a life of prayer and study. She also taught the Cathecism in secret to the children where she lived.
It was in Paris that she was introduced to Joseph Varin. He was the leader of an organisation seeking to revive the Catholic faith. He wanted to create a women’s order called the Sacred Heart of Jesus Society and to introduce the education of young women.
On 21st November 1800, at the age of 21, Madeleine abandoned her dream of becoming a Carmelite and along with three other women took her vows as one of the first members of this new Society. However, because the French authorities had prohibited devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Society was initially known as Dames de la Foi (Women of Faith).
The first school was opened in Amiens in Northern France in September 1801 and she travelled to this important city in order to teach. She eventually made her vows on 7th June 1802. The new community and school grew quickly. A school giving classes to the poor of the town was opened. In December 1802, Madeleine became the Superior of the Society of the Sacred Heart.
Over the years the number of schools increased both in France and all over the world. In 1806 she was elected Superior General. She ensured that all of the schools under the
direction of the Society were to have a common aim: to cultivate the mind and to create young women who would be devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and perform good deeds in God’s name. She saw a growing need for more unity and sought approval from the Vatican. In 1826, the Society of the Sacred Heart had received its decree from Rome. In 1832, in Lyons, she founded the Congregation of the Children of Mary. She never forgot the poor and strived to ensure that they received the same standard of education as any other child attending the schools.
For 65 years, she led the Society which grew to include more than 3,500 members educating women in Europe, North Africa, North and South America.
On Ascension Day, May 25th 1865, she died whilst at the general motherhouse in Paris. On May 24th 1925 she was canonised by Pope Pius XI. Her mortal remains are located in an ornate reliquary in the church of St Francis Xavier in Paris.