Sisters of the Infant Jesus

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Not to be confused with Little Sisters of Jesus.

The Sisters of the Infant Jesus, previously known as the Congregation of the Holy Infant Jesus or the Dames of Saint Maur, is a Roman Catholic religious institute, dedicated to education and the training of the poor for their betterment of their lives. They were founded in Paris in 1675, as part of the work of the Blessed Nicolas Barré, a Minim friar and Catholic priest (1621-1686), who had gathered some young women for the free instruction of the poor in Rouen in 1662.[1] The members of the Institute use the postnominal initials of S.I.J. or I.J.S. (previously C.H.I.J.).

The foundation of Barré's schools and of the Sisters suggested to St. John Baptist de La Salle the idea of accomplishing a similar work for boys, resulting in his founding of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.[2]



In 1659 Barré, who was a respected scholar within his Order, was sent to the monastery of the Order in Rouen in Normandy, where he carried out his apostolate mainly with the local members of the Minim Third Order. He became widely known as a preacher and his sermons attracted a large audience.[3]

France in the late 17th century was suffering from the effects of the Franco-Spanish War (1635–1659) and a terrible plague. So that in 1662, when the Sisters of the Infant Jesus had their beginnings, half the children in Rouen died of famine. Many were homeless and wandered the streets as beggars and, for some, prostitution became one of the few means of livelihood available.[4]

As a result of his efforts to promote a planned parish mission in the nearby village of Sotteville-lès-Rouen, Barré came to see the suffering of the local population. He had long been concerned about those who were "far from God" and very disadvantaged. He saw the need to make basic education more accessible to all. Nicolas deplored what he considered to be a great evil: the lack of education and learning. There were hardly any schools for girls and very few for boys. Most primary school teachers were poorly educated and religious education was almost non-existent; there was profound ignorance of the Catholic faith.[5]

To enable parents to attend the mission, Barré asked two young women to come and help with the children. One was a local resident, Françoise Duval, 18 years old, the other was Marguerite Lestocq, then aged 20, who, like him, was from Amiens and with whom he had family connections. He had already seen how dedicated and skilled they were in this work. They began to give daily classes to young girls in a room which they were allowed to use, spending that year in this work. Soon three other young women joined them in the apostolate, and two separate schools were opened. Barré would visit the classes frequently, guiding the young women in how to teach and deal with both the children and their parents, drawing upon his own rigorous education under the Jesuits and his experience as a professor. He taught them the value of “instruction and education” and from the beginning he trained the young teachers to respect the uniqueness of each child and to develop each one’s potential. The teachers were to speak in a humble, gentle and simple manner so that even the youngest could understand, and they were to teach only what they themselves had adequately grasped.[6]

In 1666, after several years of teaching in the schools, the five young women were invited by Barré to consider becoming part of a committed community, forsaking marriage and property, and sharing their lives in total abandonment to Divine Providence. After some reflection, they felt that they were indeed called to this way of life and agreed. They were not, however, to bound by religious vows. They committed themselves to this in a legal document drawn up in 1669, becoming called the Charitable Teachers of the Infant Jesus (French: Maîtresses Charitable de l'Infant Jésus) or the Sisters of Providence. As part of their living in trust in God, it was established that the material needs of the schools were to handled by women outside the new community.[7]

Expansion and division[edit]

Due to his declining health, in 1675 Barré was sent to the Minim monastery in Paris. Though limited in his activities, he promoted new foundations of his "charitable schools of Providence", starting with two, Saint Jean en Grèves and Saint Nicolas des Champs, training teachers, both men and women for them. He urged his teachers not to wait until pupils arrived at the school; they were to seek out especially those who might be at risk. He also set up trade schools so that girls could earn their living. Again, the education offered was to be entirely free and any profit derived from the pupils’ work was to go to them.[8]

In 1677 Barré began to send teachers to other locations in France, starting with his native Picardy, reaching as far as New France in North America. These women were not part of a religious institute, and so were free to serve their local communities as needed, without the barriers that status would have imposed at that time. Around that time, he acquired a house located on the Rue Saint Maur in the 6th arrondissement of Paris (now called the Rue de l'Abbé Grégoire), which was to become the motherhouse of the Institute. In 1681, the houses of the Daughters of Providence, a religious congregation previously founded there, merged with this congregation. In 1683 Mother Françoise Duval, one of the foundresses, was sent to open a school in Lisieux. At the time of Barré's death in 1686, there were over 100 schools being operated by the Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus throughout France.[8]

Throughout his life, Barré had refused to allow the schools to accept benefices as a means of support, determined to place his trust in God alone, and was followed in this commitment by the teachers of the Institute. Upon his death, however, the lay trustees in Paris and Rouen, who were in charge of the finances of the schools and the teachers who staffed them, strongly disagreed over whether or not to continue this practice. This was eventually referred to the royal court, and, in 1691, King Louis XIV divided the Institute into three independent groups, with motherhouses in Rouen, Paris and Lisieux.[8] The Sisters in the original communities became known as the Sisters of Providence of Rouen and in 1921 became a congregation of diocesan right, under the authority of the local bishops where they served,[9] as did the congregation based in Lisieux.[10]

Current era[edit]

After the destruction of the French Revolution had closed all the schools of the Institute, it was not until 1805 when a new community of teachers was formed by seven surviving members of the Institute. The new growth of the Institute was such that, by the mid-19th century, schools were opened in Spain and Asia. Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus were among the pioneer missionaries in British Malaya, Japan and Thailand. In 1887, after over 200 years of service without the taking of religious vows, this congregation of Sisters became a religious institute of pontifical right, able to operate independently worldwide.[8]

In the 20th century, the Sisters expanded their service, and currently serve in:

  • Bolivia
  • Burma
  • Cameroon
  • China
  • Czech Republic
  • France
  • Guatemala
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Malaysia
  • Nigeria
  • Peru
  • Philippines
  • Romania
  • Senegal
  • Singapore
  • Spain
  • Thailand
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

In 1970 a federation was established between the congregations of Paris and Rouen to facilitate a greater sense of cooperation and common identity. In 2007 a revival of the original form of life was established, one open to both women and men, called the Fraternity of the Infant Jesus, whereby they can live and serve in the spirit of Barré.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Celebrating 350 years". Infant Jesus Sisters. Retrieved 16 September 2012. 
  2. ^ "Bl. Nicolas Barre Worked for the Education of Poor Youth". Catholic Culture Archive. 
  3. ^ "Den salige Nikolas Barré". Katolsk (in Norwegian). 
  4. ^ Walsh, Margaret, IJS (October 2012). "Reflections: Blessed Nicholas Barré". St. Chad's Sanctuary. 
  5. ^ "Our Founder". Infant Jesus Sisters. 
  6. ^ "History: A Turning Point". Infant Jesus Sisters. 
  7. ^ "History: Community Life". Infant Jesus Sisters. 
  8. ^ a b c d e "Histoire". Enfant Jésus-Nicolas Barré (in French). 
  9. ^ "Soeurs de la Providence de Rouen". IdRef (in French). 
  10. ^ "Soeurs de la Providence de Lisieux". Diocèse du Havre (in French). 

External links[edit]