The Vision of Compiègne, a painting by Sr. Janet Mullen, SNDdeN, in Ipswich, MA USA.
By Sr. Anne Stevenson, SNDdeN
For years, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) and personnel in our schools and institutions prayed that Blessed Julie, beatified on May 13, 1906 by Pope Pius X, would be canonized! Many friends and collaborators remember those years of waiting for St. Julie Billiart (1751-1816) to be recognized by the Church as a Saint! At last on June 22, 1969, the Church recognized the Sainthood of Julie Billiart, our Foundress, in the celebration of her Canonization at the Vatican in Rome. Pope Paul VI declared to all the world Julie’s holiness of life and her legacy of making known God’s goodness, through her apostolic
religious Congregation and all groups who claim her as Foundress. Today, Sisters, Associates, Mission, Volunteers, celebrate Julie’s 50 Years of Sainthood, with our co-workers and partners in our schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, clinics, centers, parishes and social agencies.
Saintliness, described by Pope Paul VI at the Canonization, is the “drama of love between God and the human soul…a glimpse of the marvelous action of God in a privileged human life.” Marie-Rose-Julie Billiart heard the whisperings of God within her, and in the signs of her times, in her country devastated by war, violence and ignorance.
In the aftermath of the French Revolution, in Cuvilly, a small village north of Paris, Julie heard God’s call in the:
- cries of the Church, separated by divisions and internal struggle,
- groans of people living in poverty: hungry, homeless and devastated by war and political upheavals,
- sobs of a society in crisis, with multiple refugees and orphans,
- pleading of women and children, deprived of appropriate means for human life and dignity.
Congregation “Marked by the Cross”
A loving and faithful God carried Julie through 23 years of physical paralysis and psychological sufferings. On her sickbed, her prayer life deepened; her sensitivity of spirit attuned her to the inner voice of God. Scarcely able to talk or move about, Julie saw a vision of women around a cross and heard Jesus words to her: “These are the daughters that I will give you in an Institute, which will be marked by my cross.”
This vision at Compiègne guided Julie in founding her religious Congregation in 1804,
with Françoise Blin de Bourdon, and in accepting members. Later in another vision on February 2, 1806, Julie was raised from the floor before her Sisters and experienced a Light of Revelation, a call to serve throughout the world. Julie attracted many young women to follow her in a ministry of education, especially for orphans and those living in poverty.
We recognize St. Julie as a Saint for our times! Her impact and influence crosses oceans and continents in a Global Mission today!
For 215 years, our Sisters on five continents have been at home among people of many cultures and sharing their gifts, learning and experience through a variety of ministries,
with a particular focus on education. St. Julie was a woman of the modern era who took courage through action. By opening schools to educate children for life, she faced the inequalities of her time, especially for young girls and “those made poor in a world marked by increasing divisions and inequalities” (CALLS: 2014 General Chapter, p. 5). She saw education for everyone as a basic human right, and teaching as the “greatest work on earth.”
She brought joy and hope in the goodness of God to a depressed and deprived generation by educating vulnerable children crying out for survival in France and Belgium. She demonstrated the power and presence of a loving and caring God in her person and in the women who followed her. Julie sent her Sisters to reach out to people “in the most abandoned places,” to give them tools for life, to dismantle unjust systems and to alleviate poverty through education. We celebrate the long line of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.
The 50th Anniversary of St. Julie’s Canonization calls us to celebrate our origins, and our life in mission. It calls us to recognize the extraordinary gift of Julie to the Church and our world. She is ALIVE today! This anniversary celebrates God’s goodness in our lives and in those who accompany us along the way. It challenges us to invite more women to a life commitment in our religious community as SNDdeN: women with the same courage and confidence as the Belgian women who left home and country to bring the Gospel to different parts of our world. In this era of global crisis, this anniversary summons us to extend Julie’s inner life and spirituality to a growing number of Notre Dame de Namur Associates, Mission Volunteers, Co-Workers, and Partners. In her Mission, St. Julie leads us on, showing us that education is our strongest tool in surmounting these forces.
This Saint for our Times challenges us today, for another generation in global crisis: to make known God’s goodness and bring courage, hope and healing.