A Sodality of the Blessed Virgin, founded by the Venerable Mother Barat of the Society of the Sacred Heart, in the Parish school about 1818, almost simultaneously with the convent itself. Father Varin drew up its rules. It had from the first, its laws feasts, privileges and duties, its directors, president, and other dignitaries. The most fervent among the elder girls were enrolled. The principal end which the members proposed to themselves, was to love and serve the Immaculate Heart of Mary , by imitating her virtues, above all her fortitude and spotless purity. The lily was the first emblem of the sodalists, and "Semper Fidelis" their motto. In 1824 their medal was struck, and from an essay by one of them, Rose de Joigny, the inscription on it, "Cor meum jungatur vobis", was chosen. The remarkable fresco of Mater Admirabilis at the Trinità dei Monti in Rome is the sensible representation of the spirit of the sodality. By thus placing the ideal of true womanhood before the future wives and mothers of the next generation, Mother Barat sought to lay the foundation of many noble Christian homes.
This beginning led to a work of wider scope and even greater importance. As years advanced, Mother Barat longed to do something more towards securing a higher tone among women. She wrote in 1831:
How rare it is to meet a valiant woman ! It must be so, because Holy Writ says 'Far and from the uttermost coasts is the price thereof'; Let us labour then to form some at any cost. They will form others and good will come from it.
When Mother Barat visited Lyons in 1832, the mistress general of the school had lately established an association composed originally of the former pupils of the Sacred Heart , but afterwards joined by other ladies. The work was in its infancy, yet Mother Barat saw what it might lead to, and resolved to develop it. Father Druilhet, S.J., then drew up the rules by which the Children of Mary of the Sacred Heart are still governed, and Mother Barat placed the association under the patronage of the archbishop. A little later she obtained for it the authorization of Rome, and constituted it on a like basis for all houses of the Society. Mother wrote on that occasion:
Your mission is a very high one, and I do not fear to call it an apostolate, for you are to act as apostles in the midst of a perverse world. You must lead into the right path those who are wandering from it, encourage those kept back by human respect, and stop the downward course of those in danger.
To be apostles in the world these Children of Mary are expected by their rules to practise many virtues, but it is still the lily of Mary's spotlessness which must shine pre-eminent, hence their love for her Immaculate Conception. Their devotion to the Heart of Jesus prompts the making of vestments and other altar requirements for poor churches and distant missions. Their zeal takes many other forms: - supporting orphans, visiting hospitals, helping the poor in their homes, opening work-rooms and guiding reading-circles for young girls, providing for the maintenance of youthful aspirants to the priesthood : in a word, all the interests of God and Holy Church are theirs.
Few large cities in continental Europe are without one such sodality connected with some convent of the Sacred Heart. From New York to San Francisco, Halifax to Buenos Aires, they exist in both Americas. Sydney and Wellington in Australia have theirs, active and flourishing. Bishops and pastors find them efficient helpers, and the sovereign pontiffs have appealed to them, never in vain. Many members have led lives of eminent usefulness, some have risen to unusual distinction in the practice of virtue, whilst not a few have died in the odour of sanctity. Monseigneur Baunard well sums up their character :
A place of honour is here due to thousands upon thousands of women and maidens, Children of Mary , whose association, now spread throughout France, was born of the desire to serve her and imitate her virtues... A vast secular association of Christian perseverance, it has Mary Immaculate for model and patroness, spiritual exercises for means, charity and mutual support for resource, and sanctification of self and others for aim the glory of the adorable Heart of Jesus for final end. Associations imitated from this type and bearing the same names, are founded everywhere, and prosper today throughout the Catholic Church (Un sixcle de l'Eglise de France, Paris, 1902).
Lady Georgiana Fullerton, herself a president of one of these sodalities, thus writes concerning them:
What struck us as eminently, if not peculiarly, distinctive of this institute, is the intense desire, and we might almost say the special gift, of imparting to those they educate, and those they influence, the spirit of active apostleship in the world, which is limited to no particular sphere of action, but spreads itself in every place and throughout every social circle, where those inspired with it and trained to it may be thrown. It was the ardent thought of Mother Barat, and the thought which she was continually placing before her community, to follow souls through life, and by means of congregations for the rich and for the poor, never to lose sight of the children educated in their schools. This thought and this desire led to the foundation of those associations of the Children of Mary of the Sacred Heart, which have won so many commendations and encouragements from successive pontiffs.
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