Congregation of the Immaculate Conception
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I. Congregation of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady
Founded in 1484 at Toledo, Spain, by [Saint] Beatrix de Silva, sister of Blessed Amadeus. On the marriage of Princess Elizabeth of Portugal with John II, King of Castile, Beatrix had accompanied the queen to the court of her husband, but her great beauty having aroused the jealousy of the queen, she escaped with difficulty and took refuge in the Dominican convent at Toledo. Here for forty years she led a life of great holiness, without, however, becoming a member of the order. Inspired by her devotion to the Blessed Virgin to found a new congregation in her honour, Beatrix, with some companions, took possession of a castle set apart for them by Queen Isabella. In 1489, by permission of Innocent VIII, the sisters adopted the Cistercian rule, bound themselves to the daily recitation of the Office of the Immaculate Conception, and were placed under obedience to the ordinary of the archdiocese. In 1501 Alexander VI united this congregation with the Benedictine community of San Pedro de las Duenas, under the Rule of St. Clare, but in 1511 Julius II gave it a rule of its own, and in 1616 special constitutions were drawn up for the congregation by Cardinal Quignonez. The second convent was founded in 1507 at Torrigo, from which, in turn, were established seven others. The congregation soon spread through Spain, Italy, and France. The foundress determined on the habit, which was white, with a white scapular and blue mantle.
[ Note: The foundress, Beatrice (sometimes "Brite") da Silva Meneses (1424-90), was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1976; her feast day is 1 September.]
II. Mission Priests of the Immaculate Conception
(Usually called Missionaries of Rennes).
Founded at St-Méen in the Diocese of Rennes, by Jean-Marie-Robert de Lamennais, for the care of the diocesan seminary and the holding of missions. The disciples of the founder's younger brother, Félicité, in 1829 withdrew with him into the solitude of La Chênaie, forming the famous Society of St. Peter, with which the elder community at its own request was united, under the superiorship of Félicité. The new congregation was placed under simple vows, the aims proposed being the defence of the Faith, the education of youth, and the giving of missions. A house of studies was erected at Malestroit, near Ploérmel, and placed under the direction of Fathers Blanc and Rohrbacher, while Lamennais remained at La Chênaie, with the younger members, writing for them his "Guide de la jeunesse", and for others more advanced the "Journée du chrétien". Lamennais's long-cherished project of forming a body of priests thoroughly equipped for pressing needs in the Church of France, a scheme which he outlined in 1825 in a letter to M. de Salinis, seemed well on the way towards fulfilment. A vivid picture of the rule of life and the spirit of La Chênaie is to be found in the letters of Maurice de Guérin, whose companions were such men as Gerbet, Guéranger, Gaume, Scorbiac, and Ch. de Sainte-Foi. The condemnation of "L'Avenir" disturbed only temporarily the activity of La Chénaie. On the final defection of Félicité, however, the Bishop of Rennes transferred to Jean-Marie the superiorship of the congregation, the members of which left La Chênaie for Malestroit, laymen being now excluded. The congregation, reorganized, gained a new lease of life in 1837 and by 1861 had 200 members in 9 houses, under the mother-house at Rennes.
III. Servites of the Immaculate Conception
Founded in 1864 by Peter Carisciarian, a Georgian priest, at Constantinople, to minister to the spiritual wants of Georgian Christians. The congregation was confirmed by Pius IX, 29 May, 1875. Approval was given for the three rites, Latin, Armenian, and Georgian, the first two for use among the Georgians in their native country, the last to keep up the Greek-Georgian Rite in the monastery at Constantinople, which is the mother-house of the congregation. The priests of the Immaculate Conception have charge of three congregations at Constantinople, one at Feri-kuei, for Georgians and Armenians, another for the Latins at Scutari, and a third for Georgians at Pera. Candidates for the priesthood are ordained by the Bishop of Saratow, who is the ecclesiastical superior of Georgia; for a time they fill parish duties as secular priests, after which they are appointed by the congregation to some post where they may minister to their countrymen.
IV. Sisters of Providence of the Immaculate Conception
Founded at Jodoigne, in 1833, definitively established at Champion near Namur in 1836, by Canon Jean-Baptiste-Victor Kinet, for the instruction of children, the care of orphan asylums , and the service of the sick and prisoners. In 1858 the congregation received the approbation of the Apostolic See, and shortly afterwards the confirmation of its statutes. By 1876 there were a hundred and fifty convents in Belgium, England, Italy, and the United States. The mother-house is at Champion.
V. Sisters of the Immaculate Conception
A branch of the Institute of the Holy Family, founded in 1820 by the Abbé Pierre Bonaventure Noailles, Canon of Bordeaux. Abbé Noailles when studying at the Seminary of St. Sulpice, Paris, conceived the idea of founding a congregation, in which Christians of every class of life might lead a life of perfection. In 1820 he placed the first three members of the Holy Family in a house at Bordeaux, under the name of the Ladies of Loreto. As the numbers increased the sisters were divided by their founder into two categories: (1) Those engaged directly in the various works undertaken by the Institute; (2) Lay sisters who perform household duties, and are called the Sisters of St. Martha . The first are sub-divided into three branches: (a) The Sisters of St. Joseph who undertake the charge of orphans ; (b) The Sisters of the Immaculate Conception , who devote themselves to educational work; (c) The Sisters of Hope, who nurse the sick. The Institute encountered much opposition at first, but the constitutions have now been canonically approved by the Holy See. The works of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception are very numerous; they devote themselves to educational work and visiting the poor. They have fifteen convents in Great Britain and Ireland, to all of which and to five boarding-schools elementary schools are attached. About 230 sisters teach in these convents. The English Novitiate is at Rock Ferry, Cheshire. The other English houses are at Great Prescot Street, London, E.; Leeds ; Sicklinghall, Yorkshire; Stockport; Macclesfield; Stalybridge; Woodford, Essex; Ramsgate; Liscard, Cheshire; Birkenhead; Wrexham, Wales ; Leith, Scotland. Attached to the Leeds convent is a juniorate for testing vocations. The habit in England only is blue with a white girdle and a black veil. In Ireland they have one house in the Archdiocese of Armagh at Magherafelt, and another in Kildare, to both of which schools are attached. The institute has novitiate houses at Bordeaux, France ; Bas-Oha, Liège, Belgium ; Hortaleza, Madrid, Spain ; Bellair, Natal, South Africa ; Montreal, Canada ; and two in Asia. Besides the novitiates there are juniorates attached to some of the convents. There is one at Lozère, Mende, France, and one at Liège, Belgium, and one at Fromista, Spain.
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