JESUS LIVING IN MARY:
HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT

DAUGHTERS OF WISDOM


Summary

I. Foundation:
   1. The project;
   2. The foundation;
   3. The long wait;
   4. La Rochelle;
   5. Marie Louise cofoundress.
II. Two Centuries of History:
   1. The reign of the Terror;
   2. The renewal;
   3. Anti-religious laws;
   4. Changes;
   5. Internationalization;
   6. Contemporary evolution.
III. Spirituality.
   1. Evolution from birth of the Congregation to current times:
      a. From the birth of the congregation to the French Revolution,
      b. From the French Revolution to the beatification of Montfort (1789-1888):
           to Jesus through Mary,
      c. From the beatification to the canonization of Montfort (1888-1947):
           Consecration to Jesus Wisdom through Mary, an essential element of
           Wisdom spirituality,
      d. From the canonization of Montfort to post-Vatican II (1947-):
            apostolic religious life following Christ Wisdom.


I. FOUNDATION

 

The spirituality of Saint Louis de Montfort is expressed through the Congregations he founded. His teachings, especially on Jesus Wisdom and the Cross, is evident in the first order he established, the Daughters of Wisdom.

 

1.   The project

"Daughters of Wisdom" is the name chosen by Saint Louis de Montfort for his religious Congregation of women. He had, we are told, been strongly drawn to "Daughters of Providence," reflecting his deep devotion to divine Providence. "Daughters of Wisdom," however, expressed his fundamental devotion to the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom, and so we find in the original manuscript "Daughters of Providence" seven times erased and replaced by "Daughters of Wisdom" (RW 1).

The name "Daughters of Wisdom" (who in some English-speaking countries also called the Montfort Sisters or the Sisters of La Sagesse, and the congregation itself, La Sagesse) sums up Montfort’s project as described by his first biographer, Grandet: "He planned to found a Congregation of women who, dedicated to Divine Wisdom the Incarnate Word and living according to his sayings, would be a counter-witness to the false wisdom of the world."1 The project revealed also the spirituality that permeated his whole life and that he wished to communicate to his disciples. He did not, even as a seminarian, allow the charge of being singular deter him from living his radical interpretation of the Gospel. We find him years later, one year before his death, reproached by his friend Jean-Baptiste Blain for the singularity which had been for him a lifelong source of contradiction and humiliation. His response was unequivocal: "One is easily and quickly classed as singular when one fails to follow the crowd or conform to its style of life, but if wisdom consists of refraining from undertaking work for God or his glory for fear of offending people, then the apostles should never have left Jerusalem, they should have remained shut up in the Cenacle, Saint Paul should never have undertaken his journeys, or Saint Peter attempted to raise the cross in the Capitol."2 Such was the wisdom Montfort proposed for those who preach the gospel. They must always live in opposition to the false wisdom and materialism of the age. It may be said he set his Daughters of Wisdom on the same path. It is essentially by fully living the folly of the gospel that the members of the community would be clear witnesses in the world to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

 

2.   The foundation

In 1701 Montfort, twenty-eight years of age and ordained one year, arrived at Poitiers and entered the General Hospital which housed not only the sick but the homeless, the poor, derelicts and also some common criminals. Accustomed as he was to working with the poor, he was nevertheless profoundly shocked on finding an establishment where chaos reigned together with extreme poverty. Friend of the outcasts, he immediately set to work to better their lot by improved economic management and administrative organization. He introduced a plan of reform which, while improving the lot of the inmates, served only to expose the negligence and inefficiency of the administration, leading inevitably to the prompt dismissal of a chaplain who was far too zealous.

The reformer grasped the fact that the condition of the poor would never improve unless he could form personnel consecrated to their service. He composed a Rule of Life for the nurses; this, too, was refused. Montfort then turned to the inmates themselves: a small group of women, abandoned, physically handicapped, but spiritually endowed with a richness consisting of deep piety and true humility. He gathered them together in a room of the hospital and taught them meditation, self- renunciation, and Consecration to Jesus through Mary. A large cross hanging upon the wall at one end of the room bore the symbol of his teaching. On the door of the room was inscribed "Wisdom." The little group became the nucleus of the Congregation that would bear its name, and the rules they observed bore a strong resemblance to the Rule he presented to the first Daughters of Wisdom in 1715. RW is the realization of Montfort’s own spiritual way, found in his early book and foundational work, LEW: contempt of riches, love of the poor, love of the Cross, Consecration to Jesus Incarnate Wisdom through Mary.

The small Wisdom group lasted only for a few months, from November 1702 to March 1703. Montfort had, however, found his future collaborator, who would become the co-foundress of the Congregation of which he dreamed: a young girl, Marie Louise Trichet. The initial encounter was truly providential. Marie Louise Trichet was seventeen years of age of a respected middle-class family of Poitiers. She was gentle, pious, and searching for her vocation. Drawn by the reputation for sanctity Montfort had acquired, she sought his advice in the confessional. "Who sent you to me?" Montfort asked. "My sister" was the reply. "No, it was not your sister but the Blessed Virgin." In a prophetic intuition, Montfort recognized in the young girl before him the one destined by Providence to be his helper in the realization of his great design.

Recognizing his holiness, Marie Louise chose him as her spiritual director. She participated in a retreat preached by Montfort at the hospital during Pentecost, 1702. Intent as she was in searching for her vocation, she pleaded for his help to enter a convent. His reply both upset and disturbed her: "Come and live in the hospital." His answer seemed ridiculous. The hospital was not a convent. Nonetheless, it was for the service of the poor, and living there would demand a thorough break with the values of the world. She took his proposal to the bishop. The reply was decisive: "There is no vacancy." The bishop was referring to an opening for a governess, the only post that would be considered fitting for a person of her social standing. Her reply was, "If they will not permit me to enter as a governess, perhaps they will accept me as an inmate." The incredible happened: the young lady, of simple but distinguished education, went to live at the hospital, not simply at the service of the poor but sharing their lot, eating the same coarse food, performing the same menial tasks, caring for the sick, cleaning the rooms, washing the linen, all in rather primitive conditions of hygiene. This was her novitiate. Several months passed until one day Montfort announced to her, "I believe the time has come to give you a religious habit." On February 2, 1703 - the foundation day of the Congregation - she was called to the chapel. The Father from Montfort blessed, and she received from his hand, the habit that would signify her separation from the world and her Consecration to God. Mademoiselle Trichet became Marie Louise of Jesus, and the habit she wore would from that day on be the garb, its form unchanged, of thousands of Daughters of Wisdom who would follow in her footsteps.

 

3.   The long wait

The reforms introduced by Montfort won him the affection of the inmates but did nothing to endear him to the staff. It had become necessary to disband the little Wisdom group, which had aroused jealousy and recrimination. Reports of the situation reached the bishop and Montfort found himself obliged to leave Poitiers.

Marie Louise remained at the hospital, with no indication whether or when Montfort would return. He had already told her, "Do not leave here before ten years. Even though it should take that length of time for the establishment of the Daughters of Wisdom, God will be pleased and his plans realized." The young novice was not yet twenty-one years old. Alone in the licentious environment of the hospital, a governess without mandate, a religious without a rule, she would live a long and painful vigil.

The years passed. Montfort continued his missionary labors from town to town and village to village while his spiritual protegé heroically awaited the realization of her dream. In 1713 Montfort finally arrived at Poitiers, exhausted from his missionary labors. Not welcome at the hospital, he nevertheless succeeded in meeting Sister Marie Louise. After their long conversation, he decided to give her a companion, one she herself had discerned among the residents: Catherine Brunet, a governess already working with the poor in the hospital. A habit, identical to that of Marie Louise, was prepared and solemnly given to Catherine. She received the name Sister of the Conception and was to become for the young foundress an affectionate companion and firm support.3

 

4.   La Rochelle

Bishop de Champflour of La Rochelle, finding his diocese woefully short of schools for the poor, approached Father de Montfort, whose missionary zeal had impressed him. A letter, characteristically brief and to the point, was soon written to his Daughters. Anticipating their reaction and hesitation, he wrote, "I know you are doing a great deal of good where you are, but you will do infinitely more away from home and we know that since the time of Abraham right up to the time of our Lord and even to our own day, God sends his greatest servants out of their own country" (L 27).  The letter represents Montfort’s constant challenge to the community to be totally detached, always ready to move on.

Poitiers was the birthplace of the Congregation. La Rochelle would see it take its first steps and acquire its future image. Montfort wanted his Daughters in the world, ready to answer the needs of the Church wherever they might arise. He directed them in the dual direction of charitable work and mission: "Take the title ‘Daughters of Wisdom’ for the instruction of children and care of the poor" (L 29).

La Rochelle saw the addition of two novices, Marie Valleau and Marie Régnier. The four pronounced their vows of religion in the chapel of the Sisters of Providence on August 22, 1715. They were soon joined by a fifth. The little community benefited for a short time of the presence of their founder, who had withdrawn to the Hermitage St. Eloi close by. Here he put the finishing touches to RW, to which he added the maxims or counsels of a saint:

Deprive yourself readily of something that others will not do without showing outwardly no regret at what you have done (RW 41). Do not deliberately think of the morrow... (RW 28) abandon themselves to the care of divine Providence (RW 29). when in doubt of the truth or goodness of a cause do not say, "What do people think?," or "What do they say of such and such a thing?" but "What does faith teach me? What does Jesus Christ say?" (RW 95) nourish your soul as much as possible on pure faith... do all your work in the presence of God and for Him alone... (RW 136-138)

The same spiritual counsels were repeated throughout his correspondence with Marie Louise when, after his brief stay at La Rochelle, he returned once more to his missions. His last letter, in March 1716, speaks of the difficulties the congregation must face. His response: "If you are a disciple at the school of divine Wisdom, you should rejoice to suffer the abandonment and contempt and alleged captivity, for these are the riches with which you will acquire divine Wisdom and the riches of the divinity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I expect far greater trials and obstacles which will put our faith and trust to the test. The congregation of the Daughters of Wisdom will not be founded on shifting sand or on silver or gold or by the work of human hands, but on the wisdom of Calvary" (L 34). Words of a saint and his last testament. Twelve days later, while preaching a parish mission at the village of St. Laurent-sur-Sèvre, he was struck down by an illness that proved fatal. He died on April 28, 1716, and was buried in the parish church.

 

5.   Marie Louise cofoundress

To Marie Louise, thirty-two years old, fell the responsibility of the foundation. Her first concern was to organize and consolidate the work begun. Another house and novitiate were essential. Providence would lead her, after much searching, to the village of St. Laurent-sur-Sèvre, near the tomb of the founder. She encountered complete misunderstanding from the parish priest. The latter, in welcoming the Sisters to his extremely poor parish, expected not only assistance with religious instruction of the children but financial assistance for his poor. In dire circumstances themselves, the Sisters were in no position to oblige. The situation was exacerbated when Marie Louise resolutely set about organizing her community along strictly conventional lines. All the parish priest had envisaged was a group of good ladies who would help out with the immediate needs of the parish; her long-term concern was to assure the future of the Congregation. Relations remained strained until mutual respect and the extreme charity of Marie Louise led to complete accord. Meanwhile, the  mother-house and novitiate developed; drawn by the extreme poverty and fervor of the beginnings, novices began to arrive, and the number of professed Sisters increased.

On leaving La Rochelle in 1719, Mother Marie Louise left behind two Sisters: Marie Valleau (Sister of the Incarnation) and Marie Régnier (Sister of the Cross), with the understanding that they should join the Sisters at Poitiers as soon as possible. Through a combination of circumstances, however, the separation came close to creating a schism. Ill-advised by successive directors and, doubtless, under pressure from their families (the two Sisters were from La Rochelle), they had exchanged their gray habit of the Daughters of Wisdom for a black dress complete with religious insignia and joined the Confraternity of the Cross, founded by Montfort himself during his stay at La Rochelle. Taking the name Daughters of the Cross, they were joined by other young ladies and continued to observe the rule of the Daughters of Wisdom. In 1724 they were six, known as the "Bourginettes," after Abbé Bourgine, their director and the administrator of Saint Louis Hospital. The question arose of naming governors for the hospital, and after consultation with Sister of the Incarnation, the deal was almost settled when news reached Marie Louise at Saint-Laurent. Deciding the time had come to put an end to an ambiguous situation, she left immediately for La Rochelle. The strong spiritual bond and mutual affection that still existed, coupled with the gentle persuasion of Marie Louise, effected a reconciliation and restored the unity of the congregation. Unity would remain a major concern of the foundress all her life. A recommendation in her last will and testament was to assure its continuance after her death.4


II. TWO CENTURIES OF HISTORY

 

1.   The reign of the Terror

The Congregation continued to develop throughout the second half of the eighteenth century. The eve of the Revolution found it with 335 Sisters in seventy-five communities. The Civil Laws passed by the National Assembly in 1790, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, and the obligation of the oath of allegiance, imposed first on teachers and later on medical personnel, led to the expulsion from their convents of religious who refused to conform and with the confiscation of their properties. The subsequent Law of 1792 abolished all religious Congregations in France. Cited in the decree were the Mulotins—as the Montfort Missionaries, headed by Father Mulot, the first successor of Saint Louis de Montfort, were then known—and the Daughters of Wisdom, who had resolutely refused to take the oath, which had been condemned by the Pope.5 Several were arrested, thrown into prison, murdered, placed in the stocks, or massacred in their convents or on the roads. Others were deported or condemned to the guillotine. At the height of the Terror, the mother-house at Saint-Laurent was ransacked, plundered, and finally set on fire by government troops. Thirty-three Sisters residing there were carried off to prison; four were guillotined; ten murdered; nineteen were left languishing in the prisons of the Revolution to die eventually of illness and exhaustion. "Lose everything rather than lose your faith" was the first directive of Father Micquignon, superior general, a directive reiterated by his successor, Father Supiot, whose own life was in constant danger as he traversed Vendée, exercising a clandestine ministry. The Sisters, faithful to the spirit of the founder, persevered throughout all the terrible events. Sister Ave, her hands immobilized in the stocks, continued to recite her Rosary. Sisters Solomon and Paul would mount the steps of the scaffold singing Montfort’s hymn to Mary: "I place my confidence, O Blessed Mother, in your help."

 

2.   The renewal

The Revolution over, the Sisters returned gradually to the establishments from which they had been banished. In 1800 they resumed the religious habit, and in 1802 they agreed to the Concordat.6 The Congregation flourished, especially through the leadership of Father Gabriel Deshayes, general of the Montfort Missionaries and the Daughters of Wisdom. The success in the apostolates and the increase in the number of their establishments occasioned constant exhortations from the generalate recalling their commitment to poverty and humility. Teachers were warned of the dangers of triumphalism, ambition, and materialism. "Leave the honors and acclaim to others - for us obscurity and the last place, as recommended by our holy founder."

 

3.   Anti-religious laws

In the wake of the anti-religious laws in France at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, the Daughters of Wisdom found themselves expelled from 250 schools and institutions. One way of circumventing the law was laicization. This meant abandoning the religious habit and community life and severing links with the mother-house. Many Congregations would opt for it. The Daughters of Wisdom did not. Several reasons were advanced, mainly spiritual. The ex-change of the religious habit for secular garb, abandonment of community life, and breaking of links to the mother house would, in the opinion of the congregation, have disastrous consequences for the observance of the vows and the prayer life of the Sisters and for the very existence of the Daughters of Wisdom. Secularization was refused by the Chapter of 1903. The consequences of the decision were clearly perceived and accepted: the expulsion of thousands of Sisters, departure for foreign lands, change of work, financial difficulties. Yet it opened the Congregation to broader horizons. Forced departure would lead the Sisters to seek in other countries not only refuge but a larger field of apostolate, both pastoral and missionary. It was the expulsion of religious from France that was partly responsible for bringing the Congregation to England (1891) and the United States (1903).

 

4.   Changes

The incredible upheaval in France was the harbinger of a period of instability that would continue into the twentieth century. Contrary to the preceding century, it was a time of constant change leading eventually to two world wars. The declaration of World War I coincided with the expiration of the delay on imposing the anti-religious laws. The legislation called "L’Union Sacrée" had suspended the application of the law of 1904, saving at the last minute six schools of the Congregation.

 

5.   Internationalization

In 1900 the Daughters of Wisdom were already established throughout Europe—in Belgium, Holland, Italy, and England—and beyond Europe, in Canada and Haiti. The anti-religious laws proved to be an instrument of Providence for the expansion of the Congregation. The first motive had been the need to find a refuge for Sisters expelled from their convents. Inevitably the surrounding countries were the first choice. The Sisters from the north of France went to Belgium, those from the south to Italy, and those from the west to England. From 1902 to 1912, foundations followed in rapid succession beyond all expectation. This same period saw the first foundation in the United States, Colombia, and Shiré (present-day Malawi).

World War II brought isolation to the provinces, as well as its own particular problems and sufferings to each of them. One of the more serious was the painful evacuations of most of the communities of the north of France and Belgium, entailing the death of one Sister. Twenty- eight Sisters were buried under the ruins of their houses in Nantes, Angers, Valenciennes. For others, flight from bombed cities meant nights in air-raid shelters and forced evacuation.

Free from the horrors of war on its own territory, the Order in Canada and the United States continued to expand, and with the Atlantic closed to merchant shipping and all communication with Europe cut off, it provided generous aid and personnel to Haiti and Colombia.

 

6.   Contemporary evolution

The year 1947 would bring the joy of the canonization of the founder, Father Louis de Montfort; and 1950, the transfer of the generalate to Rome, confirming the status as an international Congregation. In the 1960s the Congregation numbered 5,000 Sisters in 400 establishments and ten novitiates. Since Vatican II, the numbers have considerably decreased.

The most important event of this post-Vatican II period for religious Congregations was aggiornamento, the careful adaptation of the Constitutions, in fidelity to the sources, called for by the Council to meet the needs of the modern world. For the Daughters of Wisdom, Montfort’s original Rule remains the fundamental inspiration. In 1965 the habit was modified. Customs and regulations not part of the Rule and often outdated and cumbersome were abandoned. Inspired by the Council and its "wind of change," a principle of subsidiarity, involving decentralization and participation with ensuing co-responsibility, led to a period of experimentation with a new mode of life. Lay clothes, professional work outside the Congregation by individual members, the breaking down of large communities into smaller units living outside institutions: all were signs of a desire for more diversified apostolic contacts, which in their turn demanded a change in way of life. Here and there, this led at times to excesses, resulting in painful departures. The Rule of Life, however, approved by the Sacred Congregation for Religious in 1985, placed the seal of approval on the better changes by giving guidelines for their application: A return to the sources aimed at a rediscovery of the charism of the founders: poverty and a love for the poor, spiritual values, and dependence on Mary. The Congregation is today represented on four continents, and its international character is being increasingly strengthened. Although the provinces of the Western world suffer from lack of vocations, new life is emerging in the Third World. The Montfort charism continues to radiate.

M. Lepers


III. SPIRITUALITY

In the context of the history of the Daughters of Wisdom, the spirituality of the Congregation becomes quite clear. The different stages in the story of the community reflect different emphases in spirituality, giving a deeper insight into several essential aspects of the spirituality founded upon the writings and teachings of Saint Louis de Montfort.

 

1.   Evolution from birth of the Congregation to current times

Although the fundamental elements of the spirituality of the Daughters of Wisdom are the fruit of permanent values found at all times,7 we find that each epoch emphasizes one or another aspect, depending on the particular demands of the day. Three periods can be distinguished in the history of the spirituality of the Daughters of Wisdom, periods during which varying accents are noted in the way of living the Montfort charism.

a.   From the birth of the congregation to the French Revolution (1703- 1789): evangelical radicalism.

This period was dominated by Marie Louise of Jesus, who incarnated to the highest degree the spirituality of the Daughters of Wisdom. "She was not content," said Besnard, addressing himself to Jesus Wisdom, "to bear the beautiful name of Daughter of Wisdom; she wished to express in her conduct and in her actions all its ineffable significance and to become a living copy of your sublime virtues."8 Strong spiritual life, long and profound prayer, ardent desire of Wisdom, proximity to and service for the poor under the austere program of the Cross, abandonment to Providence, confidence in Mary: such was the program of spirituality proposed by Montfort to the woman he helped become the first Daughter of Wisdom. To these were soon added separation from the family, adventures risked for God Alone, and finally a program of religious life that was both explicit and exacting.

Montfort’s death bequeathed to Marie Louise’s shoulders the responsibility for fidelity to this life’s project, coupled with material insecurity and the painful search for God’s Will. Marie Louise also watched over Montfort’s plan, protecting it, de-fending it, and giving it substance. She planted the spirituality of the Daughters of Wisdom in the hearts of the novices and maintained it in its radicalism through the years. Marie Louise accomplished her mission, leaving her Testament to her community, which had already spread throughout western France. Humility, poverty, detachment, union with one another - the entire program is found in her Testament. It embodies "the primitive spirit of our saintly founder," from which she exhorted the Sisters never to stray.9

What is admirable in Marie Louise is especially the balance and synthesis between contemplation and action according to the goals of RW1. It has been justly written of Marie Louise: "She revealed herself during her entire life as a great mystic torn between solitude in contemplation and the devouring fire of the apostolate. The presence of God bursts forth through all her senses and behavior. Like Montfort, she only knows how to speak of God. And yet, like him, she is an activist. Her activity is the radiation of an overfull interior; it is contemplation in action. Like Montfort, she will be a remarkable organizer of hospitals, but the concern of her soul will not be the feminine taste for order, for cleanliness, nor even the maternal bent for the relief of the poor and the sick. Her concern will be souls; she will perform extravagant mortifications; she will have Montfort’s audacity to lead back to God the rejects of humanity, vilified by misery and often by vice."10

The circular letters of the first superiors general of both Montfort Congregations (Fathers Mulot, Audubon, Besnard, Micquignion, and Supiot) never failed to recommend fidelity to the spirit of true Daughters of Wisdom. In particular, Father Mulot, like Saint Louis Marie, identified Wisdom with the Cross: "Love the Cross, without which it is impossible to save oneself. . . . The Cross is not less lovable than Jesus Christ, since he chose it as his spouse. How sweet is the Cross to those who love Jesus. You cannot be a Daughter of Wisdom without loving the Cross; the habit and the name are worthless without that."11 Father Besnard, especially, strove to revitalize the spirit of the Congregation by his initiatives, which resulted in some valuable documents: the sermon on Consecration to Wisdom, the explanation of the Rule of the Daughters of Wisdom, and the biographies of Montfort and Marie Louise.

Besnard wrote his sermon on Consecration to Wisdom in 1758, while Marie Louise, whom he mentions several times, was still alive. Beyond the structure of this sermon, which treats of the motives for loving Wisdom and refers to the Congregation founded by Montfort as the "house" of Wisdom, we find a vivid description of the rite of Consecration for which Besnard wished them to prepare. The Daughters of Wisdom are to gather around the statue of Wisdom, given by Montfort himself (and, unfortunately, not preserved for us): "This statue which you see before you will be an eternal monument to the desire that this great servant of God had to see daughters consecrated to Divine Wisdom." Besnard concluded his exhortation by inviting the Sisters: "Consecrate yourselves, then, my dear daughters, to Divine Wisdom, prostrate yourselves humbly at her feet. Honor her as Father de Montfort, your holy founder, honored her."12

The "Explanation of the Rule," dated 1758-1760, is not the exclusive work of Besnard but the culmination of the work of Marie Louise and of several Daughters of Wisdom "according to the counsels of our venerable Fathers Mulot and Audubon. . . . But it was Father Besnard who gave the final touch."13 With Montfort, the text exhorts the Sisters to "ponder continually in your heart the truths of Divine Wisdom on which we are founded and established." After recalling these truths, which lead to "asking God with greater insistence for . . . Divine Wisdom," the text identifies the life of the Daughters of Wisdom with the state "that Jesus Christ Eternal Wisdom came to choose on earth." It is not a question of a life apart from the world but, on the contrary, "a life that is totally oriented to the service of one’s brothers. . . . When we are sent into the hospitals to serve the poor . . . when . . . we go into their poor hovels to comfort them, visit them, cure their illnesses . . . do we not, there again, do what Jesus himself did?" 14

In the biography of Marie Louise, Besnard enlightens us on the steps taken by Montfort to achieve the foundation of the Congregation of the Daughters of Wisdom. In Montfort’s biography, he emphasizes the solid spirituality contained in the Rule of the Daughters of Wisdom. Above all, Besnard explains that "the special vocation and state proper to the Daughters of Wisdom is to crush underfoot all worldly wisdom, . . . to imitate Jesus Christ the Incarnate Wisdom both in his hidden life and in his public life."15 He continues by interpreting the name of the Daughters of Wisdom in relation to Christ and by demanding that their lives reflect their name. "They are to become worthy of the beautiful name of Daughters of Wisdom, which was given to them to signify that under the auspices and the protection of the Blessed Virgin they are daughters of Jesus Christ, the Eternal Wisdom of God, of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Wisdom."16

Father General Besnard magnificently commented on the two ends proposed by Montfort to the Daughters of Wisdom, that is to say, the acquisition of Wisdom and the works of charity. He highlighted their indissolubility and reciprocal dependence, opting for their reconciliation in practice: "When he distinguishes two ends in their state of life, one interior and the other exterior, it is only to develop more clearly his thoughts and plans. He wanted the two ends to be but one in their Institute and that each depend on the other. He was convinced that since nothing contributes more to our own perfection than to devote ourselves entirely to the edification and salvation of souls, nothing prepares us better to edify and save souls than to sanctify ourselves. So a Daughter of Wisdom who worked toward only one of these ends separated from the other would lose her way and would not respond to the plans of the holy founder. . . . He calls their attention to these two different forms of life; one, modeled on Martha, is fully preoccupied with serving others, and the second, modeled on Mary, has no other preoccupation than contemplation. He recognizes perfectly that the functions of these two states considered separately and to their full extent do not suit his plan, so he chose the best in each of them, joining both in such a way that, far from disturbing one another, they facilitate each other. For, however little Martha and Mary resemble each other, they are sisters and not enemies."17

Sustained by this Wisdom spirituality, the Daughters of Wisdom were ready to bear the great trial of the Revolution.

b.   From the French Revolution to the beatification of Montfort (1789- 1888): To Jesus through Mary. During these hundred years, the sad events of persecutions, anguish, and massacres follow each other for the Montfort communities of Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre. The Wisdom community obeyed the orders of Father Micquignon, whose prophetic cry of alarm placed all on guard against the danger of losing the faith. He recommended "inviolable attachment to the Church and to its Head [the Holy Father], silence, prayer, unity within the Congregation, reception of the Sacraments, and fidelity to the Rule."18 Likewise, in 1792 Father Supiot rejoiced with the Sisters of Poitiers "for having had the honor, the first in your city, of being persecuted, pursued for the faith and the name of Jesus Christ," and he exhorted them "to mutual charity and to obedience" in order to "experience the consolations of the life of a true Daughter of Wisdom."19 In 1797 Father Supiot wrote to the community of Brest: "In the midst of afflictions that crush my heart, you are my crown and consolation. I am well pleased with you before the Lord. You have acted like true daughters of the Church."20

The period of the Revolution was honored with heroic deeds of fidelity to the Church and the Congregation; it was also drained of much strength. On January 17, 1821, the general superior, Mother Calixte, wrote: "We are going to have the consolation of seeing the spirit of the first Daughters of Wisdom be revitalized among us;. . . henceforth we shall all retrace the virtues of our holy foundress." And on March 4 of the same year: "We can no longer hide from ourselves that we have degenerated from the fervor of our predecessors. We all say that we wish to imitate our Mother [Marie Louise] de Jesus, and we believe that it suffices to say it, to think it, to desire it. But if we do not take the means, our desires will have no effect."21

We must emphasize here that the circular letters of the general superiors often speak of imitating Montfort or Marie Louise. Their experience must be taken into account. The thoughts of the superiors, however, are not focused on the founders but on Wisdom, Jesus Christ crucified. Father General Denis wrote that "the acquisition of [Wisdom] is the first and interior end of your Institute." He reminded the Sisters: "Your special mission is to combat worldly wisdom with the folly of the Cross. . . . Study Jesus Christ . . . Wisdom."22

Following an initiative of Father Deshayes (1821-1841), Father Dalin in 1842 reestablished the custom that the Fathers of the Company of Mary (Montfort Missionaries) be the retreat masters for the Daughters of Wisdom, unifying more clearly their spiritualities. "United in the same spirit of filial dependence on Mary, led in the same way of abnegation and confident abandonment, the two families helped each other pursue the goal that had been proposed to them and that Montfort left them as marching order: ‘To Jesus through Mary.’"23

The Marian accent proper to the Montfort Congregations was reinforced by the rediscovery in 1842 of a manuscript of Father de Montfort hidden during the torment of the Revolution and lost from view, buried in the silence of a chest (TD 114). Entitled in 1843 by the editors Treatise of the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, this manuscript was received as a gift from heaven, a "treasure."

It had been the custom of the Daughters of Wisdom to take an oath every December 8th to uphold the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. After the definition of the dogma in 1854 the decision was made to replace the promise with the Consecration according to the formula that Montfort himself gave. This decision was received enthusiastically throughout the Congrega-tion.24 A month of fervent preparation preceded the celebration, as was the intention of the founder.

In 1873 Father General Gabriel Denis edited a book that achieved great renown, The Reign of Jesus through Mary, written in the form of a manual for the Children of Mary, students in the boarding schools run by the Daughters of Wisdom.25 The author hoped for religious and political restoration in the country: "In place of a persecuting and unbelieving France, will we not see a new, young France arise that will believe?" But, he added, "the work of restoration will not be truly undertaken until the day Christian piety fully recognizes the role of Mary in the plan of Redemption and the salvation of souls. This is why we must follow Father de Montfort’s teachings, which reveal Mary’s role." Father Denis’ entire book, after an introduction on the "Slavery of Jesus in Mary," is a vade mecum to live this "devotion" in the prayers and actions of each day.26

The end of the nineteenth century was marked by the beatification of Montfort on January 22, 1888, followed by a great Marian movement. During the year 1892, General Superior Father Maurille wrote five circular letters to the Daughters of Wisdom proposing and explaining the doctrine of the "Holy Slavery of Jesus in Mary."27 He also offered the Sisters a method of making their retreat in the spirit of the four weeks proposed by Montfort as preparation for the Consecration. When she announced the news of the death of Father Maurille, Mother Marie-Patrice attested, "Thanks to his impetus, the Wisdom community has advanced further along the sure road that is Mary Immaculate."28

c.   From the beatification to the canonization of Montfort (1888-1947). Consecration to Jesus Wisdom through Mary, an essential element of Wisdom spirituality. While keeping the ensemble of Montfort spirituality, in the twentieth century the Wisdom community continued the Marian emphasis begun in the preceding epoch. It suffices to mention the publication of Father General Antonin Lhoumeau’s masterful theological treatise Spiritual Life at the School of Blessed Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort (Ouden, Poitiers 1901). For Lhoumeau, perfect Consecration to Jesus through Mary is a "system of spirituality" with its proper ends, means, procedures, and effects." The end - the author states precisely in four chapters - is "Christ living in us," and Mary is the means. The gap in Father Lhoumeau’s excellent book is the absence of references to LEW, which he only cites once. He makes up for this in his circular letters to the Daughters of Wisdom where he affirms, for example, that "without any doubt, no Christian can do without this Divine Wisdom; there are souls [i.e., the Daughters of Wisdom] who by state wish to profess it, and in perfection possess it."29

With Lhoumeau, a dual orientation begins that will endure a long time. On the one hand, it gives life to a process of interiorization that risks a dichotomy between religious life and works. Presenting the constitutions which had been approved by Rome, Lhoumeau noted, "Something has been added": The constitutions speak of a primary or principal end and of a secondary end. They offer a commentary that relativizes the works of charity and of the apostolate: religious life is first, and then the works. Works are not excluded by any means but are subordinate to the sanctification of the members.30

On the other hand, the constitutions insist on two notes of Montfort spirituality that are mentioned in Pope Benedict XV’s letter to Father Lhoumeau, "obedience to the Apostolic See and devotion to the Virgin Mary."31 We must note that the Constitutions of the Daughters of Wisdom explain the Marian aspect of Wisdom spirituality by mentioning "the acquisition of Divine Wisdom through Mary"(no. 1).

Missionaries of the Company of Mary and Daughters of Wisdom worked together to spread Marian doctrine. The spirituality lived during this period was therefore strongly stamped with Saint Louis de Montfort’s Marian devotion, forcefully recommended to the Sisters by Mother Marie Louise. Without in the least ever obscuring the end, Jesus Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom, the "means"—devotion to Our Lady—occupied an important place for the Daughters of Wisdom as well as for the Montfort Missionaries, as it did for the entire Church.

It was in 1929 that Father H. Huré published for the first time "the doctrinal treatise of Montfort exactly conformed to the manuscript, The Love of Eternal Wisdom." And he added, "Without withdrawing anything whatsoever from the importance of the Treatise on True Devotion, it must nevertheless be admitted that Montfort produced two masterpieces, The Love of Eternal Wisdom and True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, the second being a magnificent commentary on chapter 16 of the first book, and its indispensable complement. The Love of Eternal Wisdom is a major book. It alone gives us an overview of Montfort spirituality and even a more exact and comprehensive idea of True Devotion to Mary."32

Studies on Wisdom have been done by Poupon in his Le poème de la parfaite consécration à Marie, which proposes to explain "the Marian doctrine of Grignion de Montfort as found in his masterpiece The Love of Eternal Wisdom and to interpret it following the focus of his thought, Wisdom."33 Montfort Father Olivier LeBorgne’s writings on the Wisdom of love was the fruit of a double series of retreats given to the Daughters of Wisdom. The author thanks the sisters who welcomed eagerly the Montfort message and states that he "had thought it beneficial to highlight all the Christological orientations of which the Treatise of True Devotion is full, and thus to establish Holy Slavery as the eminent means to obtain Wisdom. This point, he adds, "seems to have answered a strong need of souls, who sometimes find themselves torn between their interior end, which is Wisdom, and Marian devotion presented undoubtedly too unilaterally."34

Under the impetus of the Marian Year of 1954, Father General A. Josselin stressed Consecration spirituality and, in keeping with the Marian celebrations, underlined Our Lady’s role: "What we desire is that you give the Blessed Virgin Mary a greater place in your life; that you be more attentive through the course of the year to let nothing be lost of the merits that you place in her hands; that your desires, your thoughts, your affections, your comportment be truly influenced by your Consecration. This Consecration has placed you in a state of Marian dependence, from which you cannot withdraw without renouncing at the same time your spirituality and your title of Daughters of Wisdom."35 In his turn, Father General Cornelius Heilegers, basing himself on the life and writings of the founder as they have been lived down through the years, affirms: "The Congregation of the Daughters of Wisdom, like the Company of Mary, is a fundamentally Marian society. Both would be destroyed if the Marian emphasis were removed. It is more than an accidental element; it is of the very nature of the Institute."36

If, on the one hand, the canonization of Louis Marie de Montfort on July 20, 1947, mobilized the Montfort family to live according to the spirit of the founder, it understandably did not authorize all interpretations of Montfort’s Marian devotion.37 Pope Pius XII declared this devotion "flagrans, solida ac recta,"38 but this does not thereby canonize Montfort’s specific devotional practices. He states precisely that the Church "is aware that true and perfect devotion to the Blessed Virgin is not so strongly linked to these methods or techniques that any one of them can claim the monopoly."39

d.   From the canonization of Montfort to post-Vatican II (1947-): apostolic religious life following Christ Wisdom.

The 1950s were touched by ecumenical and biblical currents. Books and studies on religion—even on theology—became easily accessible to all Christians. Gradually a number of Daughters of Wisdom were influenced by these currents, and perhaps "the home-made bread" (le pain de chez nous), i.e., the traditional spirituality of the community, seemed a bit stale, or perhaps had become insipid, because minds were scattered and feeding on multiple mannas.

Moreover, some theologians, basing themselves on the culture and language of the times, and often ignorant of Louis Marie’s entire context were critical of Montfort’s teachings.40 Vatican Council II shed its light on the Marian question by affirming the legitimacy of devotion to the Mother of God, insisting on its Christocentric and liturgical character (LG 67-68). Even if the council did not mention Marian spirituality - as John Paul II has done explicitly in the encyclical Redemptoris Mater - it is not difficult to discern its convergence with Montfort’s teaching.41

After Vatican II the Church appeared to go rather abruptly from intense popularity for Mary to a silence about her; the Christocentricity of devotion to Our Lady needed to be highlighted. Within the family of the daughters of Saint Louis de Montfort, the relationship to Mary needed to be more clearly articulated in light of Christ Wisdom.

The Congregation took steps in this direction. In 1973, on the occasion of the tricentennial of Montfort’s birth, Sr. François du Christ hoped "to penetrate more deeply into the meaning of the vocation of the Daughters of Wisdom" by meditating on the mystery of the Incarnation. This mystery, "seeking to live for Christ, deepening our understanding of the meaning of our Baptism and the sense of our Consecration to God, this is ‘acquiring Wisdom,’ Montfort would say. But Saint Louis Marie reminds us that the Word lives in us only if, like Mary, we are docile to the Spirit." In her turn, Sr. Ludovic Marie launched a Montfort Wisdom movement, inviting all Daughters of Wisdom to celebrate a Montfort year (April 28, 1981-1982) in the company of Saint Louis Marie and Mother Marie Louise. "This will be a kind of jubilee year, during which each one, according to the expression of Leviticus 5:10, ‘will regain possession of her inheritance’" (letter of April 28, 1981).

The revised Constitutions open a path by which all Daughters of Wisdom may become more and more "disciples of Wisdom," day after day more conformed to the Wisdom of God. Consecrated to announcing Jesus Christ in the world of today, each Sister’s words, acts, mentality—in a word, her whole person—are called to conversion to true Wisdom in fidelity to the evangelical charism of Montfort and Marie Louise de Jesus. Sent to live this love in the midst of the world, the Daughters of Wisdom are urged by the Rule to be close to Jesus Wisdom and to those to whom they have been sent.42

In presenting the Rule of Life, Sr. Ines dell’Eucaristia, superior general of the Daughters of Wisdom, highlighted its basic characteristics. This Rule is at the same time "a destination, since it is essentially a reference to the richness of the past . . . and a point of departure, since it is the result of spiritual discernment in Chapter, which has permitted us to opt clearly to give priority to the apostolic commitment—this apostolic commitment which orients us to- ward those that the world rejects, that the Church reclaims with difficulty. The apostolic religious life of the Daughters of Wisdom is confronted with two great poles: the transcendent values, which manifest the supremacy of the Kingdom . . . , the values of the Incarnation, which show that the Kingdom is already here. . . . Rather than simply repeating the founders’ charism, it must be re-expressed in the world and in the Church of today."43

The Daughters of Wisdom have as their mission in the Church and in the world to offer to God new opportunities so that the love with which He loves us may communicate itself to all people in order that, with the help of Mary, the reign of Jesus may come.

B-M. van den Hoof - S. De Fiores


Notes: (1) Grandet, 68. (2) Blain, 188. (3) AGFS: Sr. Agathange, "Chroniques," 89-90. (4) For more information on Blessed Marie Louise, see the article about her in this volume. (5) Only one Daughter of Wisdom took the oath to the Constitution. She retracted it later. (6) The small community at Angoulême lived heroically during the Revolution and refused to accept the Concordat but fell into the schism of the "Little Church." (7) Cf. the "main themes of montfort spirituality," i.e., God Alone; constant orientation towards Wisdom; poverty, humility, obedience; confident abandonment to Providence; love of the Cross, in the sense that Christ loved it for the salvation of humankind; love and service of the poor, who are the image of Christ; Marian life (Sacra Congregatio pro causis sanctorum, Lucionen. Beatificationis et canonizationis servae Dei Mariae Ludovicae a Jesu (in saec.: Mariae Ludovicae Trichet) confundatricis Filiarum a Sapientia (+1759) Positio super virtutibus ex officio concinata, Rome 1986, 139-142). (8) Besnard, Marie-Louise, 2. (9) On the Last Will of Marie Louise, cf Besnard, Marie-Louise, 402-405. (10) Bulletin trimestriel [des Filles de la Sagesse] 113 (July 1959) (11) AGFS, series DK: Letter of Fr. Mulot, Nov. 7, 1729. (12) AGCM: Besnard, "Discours pour la consécration à la Sagesse," in "Entretiens sur différents sujets de piété," ms., 11-17. The text of the "consecration of oneself to eternal and incarnate Wisdom through the hands of Mary" was known. Fr. Besnard had used it in the first chapter of the Constitutions. However, it would appear that the original formula was not in regular use. The formula used for the Consecration was the concluding prayer of the Little Crown or the prayer after the glorious mysteries. Here, however, the Consecration is addressed to Wisdom, so the question of the formula used in the rite of Consecration remains open. (13) Sr. Agathange, "Chroniques," 336.  (14) AGFS: "Explanation of the Rule of the Daughters of Wisdom," published in Positio, 161-163, note 7. (15) Besnard II, 113. (16) Ibid., 114-115. (17) Ibid., 115-116. (18) Fr. Micquignon, letter of February 6, 1790. (19) René Supiot, letter "to Sr. Cyrille," 1792, Arch. Vienne, L460. (20) R. Supiot, letter to the Daughters of Wisdom in Brest, 1797, quoted in Le doigt de Dieu. Les Filles de la Sagesse après la mort des fondateurs, vol. 1, 1759-1800, Cholet 1954, 292. The same author lists the Sisters who fell "victims to the Revolution": thirty-three Daughters of Wisdom, including fourteen who died by the guillotine or were massacred, and nineteen who died in prison (p. 312). (21) AGFS, series DK: Mother Calixte, letters of January 17 and March 4, 1821, in Circulaires des Pères généraux. (22) AGFS, series DK: Circulars of Fr. Denis, January 13 and April 8, 1859. (23) [Anonymous], Congrégation des Filles de la Sagesse, Letouzey and Ané, Paris 1925, 75. Cf. also Fonteneau, Histoire de la congrégation de la Sagesse, Oudin, Paris-Poitiers 1878, 308. (24) The interior and exterior practice of the slavery of Jesus in Mary existed in the Congregation at this time, since we know that the newly professed Sisters received the little chain. (25) Le Règne de Jésus par Marie by a missionary of the Company of Mary, Oudin, Poitiers 1873. (26) This program is given in the second edition: G. Denis, Le règne de Jésus par Marie, n.p., n.d., IX and XI. (27) Cf. AGFS, series DK: Circulars of Fr. Maurille (1887-1903). Note the shifts in the wording, which move slightly away from Montfort, who prefers the expression "slavery of Jesus in Mary" (TD 144-145) or "the perfect consecration to Jesus Christ" (TD 120); Fr. Maurille acknowledges that "the name that our Blessed Father prefers to give to this devotion is that of Slavery of Jesus in Mary." But in practice, Fr. Maurille prefers to speak of "perfect Consecration to the Most Blessed Virgin" (letter of April 18, 1892). (28) Mother Marie-Patrice, letter of 24 February 1903. (29) AGFS, series DK: A. Lhoumeau, letter of January 1914. (30) AGFS, series DK: A. Lhoumeau, letter of January 1906. (31) Cf. this letter of April 19, 1916, in AAS 8 (1916), 172-173. (32) H. Huré, preface to l’Amour de la Sagesse éternelle, "definitive edition," Pontchâteau 1929, ii. (33) M.- Th. Poupon, Le poème de la parfaite consécration à Marie suivant saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort et les spirituels de son temps: Sources et doctrine, Librairie du Sacré-Coeur, Lyon 1947, 14. (34) O. LeBorgne, Sagesse d’amour. Une retraite religieuse avec le Père de Montfort, Rome 1963, 2. Among the works on Wisdom: J. Dayet, La sagesse chez le B. Louis-Marie de Montfort, n.p, n.d.; J. P. Richard, La consécration plénitude de sagesse, in IIème Rencontre internationale montfortaine (Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, 2-8 sept. 1958): Rapports et documents, n.p, n.d., 68-87; A. F. Balmforth, The Use of the Sapiential Themes of the Bible in the Writings of St. Louis-Marie de Montfort, duplicated thesis, PUG, Rome 1964; R. Lack, Sagesse biblique et le P. de Montfort, duplicated, Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre 1968; J. Hémery, Une attitude spirituelle de sagesse évangélique, in CM 52 (1966), 153-170; S. De Fiores, Ispirazione monfortana nella Congregazione delle Figlie della Sapienza, lecture given at the Italian Provincial Chapter of the Daughters of Wisdom, Castiglione (duplicated); Montfort un homme qui a rencontré Dieu en Jésus-Christ, Sagesse éternelle, in Dieu seul: A la rencontre de Dieu avec Montfort, International Montfort Center, Rome 1981, 82-91; M. Gilbert, L’exégèse spirituelle de Montfort, in NRT 104 (1982), 678-691; B. Papàsogli, Montfort moralista: "l’honnête homme" sotto processo, in La lettera e lo spirito: Temi et figure del Seicento francese, Editrice libreria goliardica, Pisa 1986, 219-236; J.-P. Prévost, Montfort et le courant de sagesse biblique, in Dossier Montfortain, part 2 (May 1986), 1-19; H.-M. Manteau-Bonamy, S. Louis- Marie Grignion de Montfort théologien de la Sagesse éternelle au seuil du troisième millénaire, Éditions Saint-Paul, Paris-Fribourg 1986. (35) AGFS, series DK: A. Josselin, letter of October 25, 1953. (36) AGFS, series DK: Address given by Fr. Heiligers, quoted in the circular of Sr. Marie de Noèl, superior general of the Daughters of Wisdom, April 22, 1958. It must be pointed out, however, that in the circular letter of August 2, 1959 (printed), the same Fr. Heiligers reverts to the four means to acquire and preserve Wisdom given in LEW. (37) Pius XII, Litterae decretales: Beato Ludovico Mariae Grignion de Montfort. . . . sanctorum honores decernuntur, July 20, 1947, in AAS 39 (1947), 274. (38) Pius XII, "Soyez les bienvenus," address of July 21, 1947, in AAS 39 (1947), 413. (39) Cf. S. De Fiores, La vicenda ecclesiale di Grignion de Montfort dalla beatificazione (1888) ad oggi in QM 6 (1988-1989), 24- 27, in which criticisms of Montfort by M. Cordovani (1946), C. Moeller (1964), K. Rahner (1965), G. Andreolli (1954), E. Schillebeeckx (1954), and H. Graef (1964) are to be found. (40) Cf. A. Rum, Attualità post- conciliare della dottrina monfortana, in Madre e regina 21 (1967), 4, 103-105; H.-M. Manteau-Bonamy, De Grignion de Montfort à Vatican II, in CM 52 (1966), 120-126; G. Giacometti and P. Sessa, La novità della devozione monfortana alla Madonna in Rivista di ascetica e mistica 12 (1967), 35-45, 148-157, 384-387. (41) Règle de vie des Filles de la Sagesse, n.p. 1985. (43) Circular letter of Mother Ines dell’Eucaristia, April 28, 1985, accompanying the text of the Rule of Life.

 


Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St. Louis de Montfort (Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).

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