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A general name for religious congregations whose members are bound to perform extraordinary works of penance, or to provide others with the means of atoning for grave faults. This class includes such congregations as the Angelicals, Capuchins, Carmelites, Daughters of the Holy Cross of Liège , Third Order of St. Dominic , Order of Fontevrault, Third Order of St. Francis, Daughters of the Good Shepherd, Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyons, Magdalens, Sacchetti, etc., which are treated under their separate titles. Likewise all eremitical foundations were, at least in their origins, penitential orders. Other congregations which come under this heading are:

(1) Penitents or Hermits of St. John the Baptist

(a) A community near Pampelona in the Kingdom of Navarre, each of the five hermitages being occupied by eight hermits leading a life of mortification and silence, and assembling only for the chanting of the Divine Office. They received the approbation of Gregory XIII (c. 1515), who appointed a provincial for them. Over the light brown habit of rough material confined by a leathern girdle was warn a short mantle, and about the neck a heavy wooden cross.

(b) A community founded in France about 1630 by Michel de Sabine for the reform of abuses among the hermits. Only those of the most edifying lives were chosen as members, and rules were drawn up which were approved for their dioceses by the Bishops of Metz and LePuy en Velay. The hermits were under the supervision of a visitator. A member was not permitted to make his final vows until his forty-fifth year, or until he had been a hermit for twenty-five years. Over the heavy brown habit and leathern belt was warn a scapular and a mantle. Similar communities existed in the Dioceses of Geneva and Vienne.

(2) Ordo paenitentiae ss. Martyrum, or Ordo Mariae de Metro de paenitentia ss. Martyrum

A congregation which flourished in Poland and Bohemia in the sixteenth century. There are various opinions as to the period of foundation, some dating it back to the time of Pope Cletus, but it is certain that the order was flourishing in Poland and Lithuania in the second half of the thirteenth century, the most important monastery being that of St. Mark at Cracow, where the religious lived under the Rule of St. Augustine. The prior bore the title prior ecclesia S. Maria de Metro . The habit was white, with a white scapular, on which was embroidered a red cross and heart. In a sixteenth-century document the members of this order are referred to as canons regular and mendicants.

(3) Penitents of Our Lady of Refuge

Also called Nuns or Hospitallers of Our Lady of Nancy, founded at Nancy in 1631 by Ven. Marie-Elizabeth de la Croix de Jésus (b. 30 Nov., 1592; d. 14 Jan., 1649), daughter of Jean-Leonard de Fanfain of Remiremont. After a childhood of singular innocence and mortification she was coerced into a marriage with an aged nobleman named Dubois, whose inhuman treatment of her ceased only with his conversion shortly before his death. Left a widow at the early age of twenty-four, she opened a refuge for fallen women, to whose wants she ministered, assisted by her three young daughters. Her success and the insistence of ecclesiastics encouraged her to ensure the perpetuation of the work by the institution of a religious community (1631), in which she was joined by her daughters and nine companions, including two lay sisters. The new congregation was formally approved by the Holy See in 1634 under the title of Our Lady of Refuge and the patronage of St. Ignatius Loyola, and under constitutions drawn largely from those of the Society of Jesus and in accordance with the Rule of St. Augustine. The institute soon spread throughout France, and by the latter part of the nineteenth century had houses in the Dioceses of Besançon, Blois, Coutances, Marseilles, Rennes, La Rochelle St-Brieux, Tours, Toulouse, and Valence. The members are divided into three classes:

  • those of unblemished lives, bound by a fourth vow to the service of penitents;
  • penitents whose altered life justified their admission to the community on terms of equality with the first mentioned, save that they are not eligible to office, and that in case the convent is not self-supporting they are required to furnish a small dowry;
  • penitents properly so-called, who observe the same rule as the rest but are without vows or distinctive garb.
The habit is reddish brown, with a white scapular. Innocent XI authorized the institution of a special feast of Our Lady of Refuge for 30 January, and the establishment of a confraternity under her patronage.

(4) Sisters of the Conservatorio di S. Croce della Penitenza or del buon Pastore

Also known as Scalette , founded at Rome in 1615 by the Carmelite Domenico di Gesu e Maria, who, with the assistance of Baltassare Paluzzi, gathered into a small house ( conservatorio ) a number of women whose virtue was imperilled, and drew up for them a rule of life. Those desiring to become religious were placed under the Rule of St. Augustine , and owing to the active interest of Maxmilian, Elector of Bavaria, and Cardinal Antonio Barberini, a larger monastery and a church were built for them. External affairs were administered by a prelate known as the vice-protector and his council, and the internal economy by a prioress, but in 1838 the institution was placed under the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Later a house of training for abandoned girls and a house of correction for erring women were established in connection with this institution, the latter being enlarged by Pius IX in 1851. The congregation has since been merged into that of the Good Shepherd.

(5) Ordo religiosus de penitentia

The members of which were called Scalzette or Nazareni , founded in 1752 at Salamanca, by Juan Varella y Losada (b. 1724; d. at Ferrara, 24 May 1769), who had resigned a military career for a life of voluntary humiliation in a house of the Observants at Salamanca. Being urged to found a religious order, he assembled eight companions in community (8 March, 1752) under a rule which he had drawn up the previous year, and for which he obtained the authorization of Benedict XIV. The four foundations which he made in Hungary enjoyed but a brief existence, owing to the regulations of Joseph II, and those in Spain and Portugal did not survive the revolutions in those countries, so that the congregation was eventually confined to Italy. The motherhouse is in Rome, where the institute possesses two convents, S. Maria delle Grazie, and S. Maria degli Angeli in Macello Martyrum. The constitutions were confirmed by Pius VI , who granted the congregation the privileges enjoyed by the Franciscans, to which there is a close resemblance in organization and habit. Like the Franciscans, the members take a vow to defend the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and, like all mendicant orders, they derive their means of subsistence entirely from contributions and are forbidden the possession of landed property.

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