Madeleine Sophie Barat was born on 12th December 1779 in Joigny, a small town in France. From a very early age she heard the call to follow Jesus in religious life, even though convents had been closed due to the French Revolution, and religious practice and worship had to be conducted in secret for several years. Sophie's older brother was a priest; he became her teacher, giving her a more thorough education than most other girls would have received. When he went to Paris to work in the clandestine church he took Sophie with him.
On 21st November 1800, shortly before her 21st birthday, Sophie and a small group of friends made their first vows in Paris, and so the Society of the Sacred Heart was born. In her own heart she had two deep desires: to lead a life of prayer, and to help the society of her day in the aftermath of war and revolution, especially through the education of the minds and hearts of girls.
Throughout her life, she opened innumerable houses in various countries. Despite frail health, Sophie overcame many difficulties and challenges. Her faith was rooted in Jesus Christ, and she had a deep desire to reveal to others the love of the Heart of Jesus, a love she herself experienced so powerfully.
Sophie's father was a vintner, and she often described this relationship with Jesus with his words in John’s gospel: "l am the Vine, you are the branches".
Madeleine Sophie Barat died on 25th May 1865 at the age of 85, leaving 3539 religious in 99 communities in Europe, N Africa, and N and S America. She was canonised in 1925, and her feast day is the 25th May.
You can read more about Sophie on her own website and on our international website, and there are some reflections on Sophie in Silvana's blog.
Another woman important in the story of our beginnings was Rose Philippine Duchesne, who was born in Grenoble in 1769. She joined a nearby Visitation monastery when she was 18, but had to return home when it was disbanded during the French Revolution. She spent the next few years supporting priests in their clandestine ministry, until finally religious life could be re-established. Philippine joined the Society in 1804, while it was still very new, and soon began hearing the call to show forth the love of the Heart of Jesus in distant lands. After long years of hoping and begging her wish was at last granted: to go to America and begin the first community of the Sacred Heart on the American continent, in what was then the pioneer territory of the southern states.
For many years, and against a backdrop of setbacks, Philippine laboured ceaselessly. Her example attracted other women, and so the Society began to grow in the USA. From there, the first foundation in Chile was made. Some years before she died, already in frail health, Philippine lived for a year with a native American tribe called the Potowatomi. They remembered her as ’the woman who prayed always'.
Philippine died in 1852, and was canonised in 1988. Her feast day is the 18th November.
You can read more about Philippine on the US-Canada website, on our international website, and there are some reflections on Philippine in Silvana's blog