Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Congregations of Providence

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Providence, Congregations of.–I. Daughters of Providence, founded at Paris, by Madame Polaillon (Marie de Lumague), a devout widow. In 1643 Madame Polaillon, having obtained letters patent from Louis XIII, opened a home to provide protection and instruction for young girls, whom beauty, poverty, or parental neglect exposed to the loss of Faith and other spiritual perils, placing it under the protection of Providence, with the name Seminary of Providence. Among the many who sought admission were some capable of instructing the rest, and of these, seven, who gave evidence of a religious vocation, were selected to form a religious community under rules drawn up for their use by St. Vincent de Paul at the direction of François de Gondy, Archbishop of Paris (1647). New letters patent were granted by Louis XIV, whose mother, Anne of Austria, gave the institute its first fixed abode, the Hospital de la Santé in Faubourg Saint-Marcel (1651), previously a home for convalescents from the Hôtel-Dieu, a grant confirmed by royal letters in 1667, bestowing on the religious all the privileges, rights, and exemptions accorded to hospitals of royal foundation. The Archbishop of Paris established other houses in various parts of the city, and foundations were made first at Metz and Sedan, where special attention was devoted to Jewish converts and the reclamation of heretics. After two years of probation candidates were admitted to the simple vows of chastity, obedience, the service of others, and perpetual stability. The superior, elected every three years, and the ecclesiastical superior, appointed by the Archbishop of Paris, were assisted in the temporal administration of the community by two pious matrons, chosen from among the principal benefactresses. In 1681 some members of the congregation joined the Sisters of Charitable Instruction of the Child Jesus of Saint-Maur, established by Nicolas Barré in 1678, thenceforth known as the Ladies of Saint-Maur and of Providence; the remaining members became canonesses of the Congregation of Our Lady, founded by St. Peter Fourier. The foregoing congregation became a model for others established to carry on a similar work in various dioceses of France, whose activities, however, came eventually to embrace the administration of elementary schools for girls, orphanages, and asylums for the blind and deaf mutes, and the care of the sick in hospitals and their own homes. In 1903 the number of Sisters of Providence in France exceeded 10,000. From the original seminary of Providence also came the religious who formed the nucleus of the Congregation of Christian Union subsequently established by M. le Vachet, a priest whose counsels had encouraged Madame Polaillon.

HÉLYOT, Dict. des ordres relig. (Paris, 1859); HEIMBUCHER, Orden u. Kongregationen (Paderborn, 1908); FAIDEAU, Vie de Madame Lumague (Paris, 1659); Règlements de la maison et hospital des filles de la Providence de Dieu (Paris, 1657).

Florence Rudge McGahan.


II. Sisters of Providence (St. Mary-of-the-Woods).—Among the teaching religious orders that originated in France at the close of the Revolution was the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence of Ruillésur-Loir, founded in 1806 by M. Jacques-François Dujarié, Curé of Ruillé (Sarthe). The society had a struggling existence for several years, but was finally established with the collaboration of Joséphine Zoé du Roscoät, the first superior general. Mother du Roscoät was of an ancient noble Breton family and was renowned for her piety, charity, and zeal. Many followed her to Ruillé and the community prospered. Though the sisters devoted themselves to various works of mercy and charity, the instruction of youth was their primary object. They soon had schools not only throughout the diocese, but in distant countries also. In 1839 Rt. Rev. Simon-Gabriel Bruté, first Bishop of Vincennes, commissioned his vicar-general, Mgr de la Hailandière, to return to his native country to procure priests and religious teachers for his immense diocese. Scarcely had he arrived in France when the death of Bishop Bruté was announced, followed by the appointment of Mgr de la Hailandière as his successor. The newly-consecrated bishop obtained from Mother Mary a colony of religious for Indiana. Six sisters, under the leadership of Mother Theodore Guérin, a woman of exceptional qualifications and high spiritual attainments, reached their home in the New World, 22 Oct., 1840. Instead of being established in the episcopal city, as they had been led to expect, they were taken to a densely wooded country, where only the foundation of a building for them was completed; and they were obliged to find shelter in a neighbouring farmhouse, one room and a corn loft being at their disposal. After a few weeks the community obtained sole possession of this house, which then became the mother-house, called St. Mary-of-the-Woods. In the summer of 1841 the new building being completed, a boarding school was opened with seven pupils. In 1841 another member from the French mother-house arrived at St. Mary's, Irma Le Fer de la Motte, Sister St. Francis Xavier, who became mistress of novices.

The foundress showed her foresight and capacity for organization and administration, in an educational plan providing for the advanced studies and culture of the time. As early as 1846, a charter was granted by the State empowering the institution to confer academic honours and collegiate degrees. While the new foundation prospered, many sufferings and hardships were endured, arising from the rigours of the climate, poverty, isolation, a foreign language, troublesome subjects, and the like. The keenest trial of all was misunderstanding with the bishop. It lasted seven years. At the Seventh Council of Baltimore, the bishop placed his difficulties before the assembly and offered his resignation, at the same time strongly denouncing the Sisters of Providence. In 1847, just as he had informed Mother Theodore that he deposed her from her office as superior-general (in which she had, with his consent, been confirmed for life), released her from her vows, and dismissed her from her congregation, the Papal Brief appointing Bishop Bazin to the See of Vincennes was received from Rome. The death of Mother Theodore occurred 14 May, 1856, and so eminent was her holiness that preliminaries have been undertaken for introducing the cause of her beatification at Rome.

The sisters take simple vows. The postulantship, two months, is followed by a novitiate of two years, at the end of which vows are taken for three years, renewed then for five years, if the subject is satisfactory and desires to persevere. A year of second novitiate precedes the final and perpetual vows. This year, during which the nuns devote themselves entirely to the spiritual life, is passed at the mother-house. A course of normal training is carried on in connexion with the novitiate properly so called, and summer sessions are held during the vacation for all teachers who return to the mother-house for the annual retreat, The administrative faculty is an elective body comprising a superior-general and three assistants, a secretary, procuratrix, treasurer, and a general chapter. The rules and constitutions received final approval from the Holy See in 1887. Among prominent members of the order were: Sister St. Francis Xavier (Irma Le Fer de la Motte), born at St. Servan, Brittany, 16 April, 1818; died at St. Mary-of-the-Woods, 30 January, 1856, whose life has been published under the title "An Apostolic Woman", and Sister M. Joseph (Elvire le Fer de la Motte), born at St. Servan, 16 February, 1825; died at St. Mary-of-the-Woods, 12 December, 1881, a sketch of whose life has been published in French. The sisters conduct parochial schools and academies in the Archdioceses of Baltimore, Boston, and Chicago; in the Dioceses of Indianapolis, Ft. Wayne, Peoria, and Grand Rapids; orphanages at Vincennes and Terre Haute; an industrial school at Indianapolis; a college four miles west of Terre Haute. Statistics for 1910 are: 937 sisters; 68 parochial schools; 15 academies; 2 orphan asylums; 1 industrial school; 20,000 children.

Sister Mary Theodosia.


III. Sisters of Providence of Charity.—The Sisters of Providence, known also as Sisters of Charity, were founded in Montreal, Canada, 25 March, 1843, under the Rule of St. Vincent de Paul, by Rt. Rev. Ignace Bourget. In December, 1861, a branch of the order, with intention to form a mother-house, was established at Kingston, Ontario, under the protection of Rt. Rev. Edward J. Horan, then bishop of that diocese. From this establishment four sisters were sent in November, 1873, to open a mission in Holyoke, Massachusetts. In 1892 this branch of the order, with permission of the Holy See, became a diocesan establishment, with Rt. Rev. Thomas D. Beaven, Bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts, as ecclesiastical superior. There are no lay sisters in the order, and the members are devoted exclusively to the works of charity. Since they became diocesan their membership approximates three hundred, and the institutes of charity entrusted to their management have been multiplied. In the present year (1908) they have in charge four diocesan hospitals and one sanatorium, with an annual total of about five thousand patients treated therein. Connected with these hospitals is a training school for pupil nurses, and the sisters also receive a professional training and personally care for and supervise the treatment of their patients. They have two orphan asylums, caring for about three hundred children; an infant asylum of modern construction capable of sheltering one hundred and fifty little ones, ranging from infancy to six years. Their duties also extend to the aged of both sexes. They care for one hundred and forty aged and infirm women, and for eighty aged men, in three separate homes of recent construction. They have two homes for working girls, and the provisions of their rule permit them to undertake any work of charity which the bishop of the diocese may see fit to place in their keeping. (See Charity, Sisters of. Sisters of Charity of Providence.)

Sister Mary of Providence.


IV. Sisters Of Providence of Saint Anne, founded at Turin in 1834 by the Marchesa Julia Falletti de Barolo for the care of children and the sick. The order was approved by the Holy See 8 March, 1848. Its mother-house is at Florence, and there are daughter institutions at Bagnoria, Castelfidardo, and Assisi, where the sisters conduct the industrial school of San Francesco, founded in 1902. In Rome their two infant asylums of St. Anne (Via dei Gracchi) and the Sacred Heart (Via Conde) harbour three hundred children. At Secunderabad in the Diocese of Hyderabad, India, they have a convent where they educate European and Eurasian girls, and they also conduct a school at Kazipet in the same diocese. In Italian Eritrea they have a home for children redeemed from slavery.

HEIMBUCHER, Orden u. Kongregationen, III (Paderborn, 1908), 387.

Blanche M. Kelly.


V. Sisters of Providence of the Institute of Charity, an offshoot from the Sisters of Providence, founded by Jean-Martin Moye in France in 1762 for teaching poor girls and tending the sick. Their present existence, constitution, and religious character are due to Antonio Rosmini, of whose institute they really form a part. In 1831, at the request of Abbé Löwenbruck, the French sisters received into their house at Portieux four pious but uneducated young women from the Val d'Ossola and neighbouring Swiss valleys. This priest, one of the moving spirits in the Institute of Charity then beginning at Domodossola, wished these young women to receive a religious training at Portieux and then to found a house in Italy. They returned in 1832 and joined a community already organized at Locarno in Ticino, and designed to be a novitiate as well as a school for the poor. He provided no funds, however, and though they opened a school, being but slenderly educated they could get no salaries as recognized teachers. This bad management induced Rosmini to intervene. He reformed their rule to suit it to its new conditions, and thenceforward had to assume entire responsibility for them. Thus they were from the first a distinct body, the "Rosminiane", as the Italians call them. A house for novices and school for the education of teaching sisters was formed at Domodossola in a former Ursuline convent. The Holy See in its solemn approval of the Institute of Charity in 1839 gave an indirect recognition of the sisters also, as adopted children of the institute, From that time they have steadily increased. The order is mainly contemplative; but, when necessary, they undertake any charitable work suitable to women, especially the teaching of girls and young children, visiting the sick, and instructing in Christian doctrine. The central houses have smaller establishments emanating from and depending upon them. For each of these groups there is one superioress, elected by the professed sisters for three years, and eligible for three years more. Aided by assistants, she appoints a procuratrix over each lesser establishment and assigns the grades and most of the offices. All the sisters return to their central house every summer for a retreat and to hold a chapter for the election of officers. The novitiate lasts three years; the usual three vows are then taken, at first for three years, then either renewed or made perpetual. In each diocese the bishop is protector.

There are houses in Italy, England, and Wales. In Italy there were in 1908 about 600 sisters and 60 novices. They have 64 establishments, most of which are elementary schools for children and girls; there are also several boarding-schools for girls, a few orphanages, and a home for poor old men. They are scattered in nine dioceses, some in Piedmont, others in Lombardy. The principal houses are those of Borgomanero, the central house for Italy, Domodossola, Intra, and Biella. The English branch began in 1843 on the initiative of Lady Mary Arundel, who had taken a house at Loughborough in order to aid the Fathers of the Institute in that mission. Into this house, fitted as a convent, she received two Italian sisters, the first nuns to wear a religious habit in the English Midlands since the Reformation. A year later they opened a girls' and infants' school, which was the first day-school for the poor taught by nuns in England. The first English superioress was Mary Agnes Amherst, niece of the Earl of Shrewsbury. Under her rule the present central house was built at Loughborough. A boarding-school and middle and elementary schools are conducted by the nuns. There are six other establishments. At St. Etheldreda's in London and at Whitwick, Rugby, and Bexhill they have girls' and infants' schools, at Cardiff, two houses, one for visiting the sick and aiding the poor, and the other a secondary school and pupil-teachers' centre. Whitwick and St. David's, Cardiff, are the only places in which their work is not auxiliary to that of the Fathers of the Institute. (See ROSMINIANS.)

William Henry Pollard.