Madeleine Sophie Barat
|St. Madeline Sophie Barat, R.S.C.J.|
Statue of Sophie Barat at St. Peter's Basilica
12 December 1779|
Joigny, Burgundy, France
|Died||25 May 1865
|Honored in||Roman Catholicism|
|Beatified||24 May 1908 by Pope Pius X|
|Canonized||24 May 1925 by Pope Pius XI|
Early life and family
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (February 2013)|
Madeleine Sophie was born on the night of December 12, 1779, in Joigny, France, in a raging fire. The stress and terror of the fire caused Sophie’s mother, Madame Madeleine Fouffé Barat (1740–1822), then pregnant with her third child, to go into labour. Born two months premature, Madeleine Sophie was considered so fragile that she was baptised early the next morning in St. Thibault Church, just a few yards from the Barat family home. Although her parents had arranged godparents in advance, there was no time to call them to the church and so, at five o'clock on the morning of 13 December 1779, Louise-Sophie Cédor, a local woman on her way to early Mass, and Sophie’s older brother, Louis, stood in as her godparents.
Madeleine Sophie was born into a financially comfortable family whose ancestors had lived in Joigny for generations and were proud of their roots in Burgundy. Her father, Jacques Barat (1742–1809), was a cooper and vine-grower. Both professions were respected trades, with centuries of French culture and spirituality behind them. The Barats were Jansenist Catholics, and Jansenism is often said to have shaped Sophie’s spirituality profoundly.
Madeleine Sophie’s older brother Louis had been born on 30 March 1768 and her older sister Marie-Louise was born two years later on 25 August 1770. As no medical records exist for this period, it is not known why there was such a large gap between the births of the two Barat sisters. Despite the difference in age, Madeleine Sophie was welcomed into her family with joy. She was a vivacious child and drew the warm affection and protective love of her parents. She loved to knit and sew, she adored music and she often enjoyed helping her father in the vineyards.
Sophie’s older brother was a serious boy and a brilliant student. His parents encouraged his interest in studies and employed a tutor for him at home. Shortly after entering the Collège Saint-Jacques in Joigny at the age of nine, Louis decided to become a Catholic priest. In 1784, at the age of 16, Louis left Joigny to begin his studies for the priesthood at the seminary at Sens. Louis was ordained a deacon, but, because he was too young to be ordained a priest, he was obliged to return home until he was 21. Louis worked as a teacher at his old school and, noticing that his eight-year-old sister was clearly very intelligent, decided to take on Sophie’s education. Louis taught her to read and write and schooled her in Scripture, Latin, and mathematics, providing Sophie with an education rarely available to young women and girls at that time. He would often set Sophie the same exams he set his own students at the Collège, and she consistently out-performed all her brother’s male students.
The French Revolution
At the dawn of the French Revolution in 1789, Louis became involved in the debate surrounding the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, passed in July 1790 and requiring all priests to swear allegiance to the new revolutionary state. Louis took this oath of loyalty in January 1791 but, on learning the Pope had condemned the Constitution, he renounced his oath in May 1792. This renunciation had immediate consequences. Louis first tried to hide in his family’s attic but soon fled to Paris, for the danger had become too great both for himself and his family. In Paris, he was arrested in May 1793, imprisoned for two years, and only escaped the guillotine through the brave intervention of a friend.
In the space of just a few years, Sophie’s entire life had changed. Her studies were halted and she no longer had time to sew or to help her father in the vineyards. After her brother was released in 1795, he briefly returned home to Joigny. Louis then went back to Paris to seek ordination and exercise his ministry in secret. He brought Sophie with him in order to further her education. After arriving in Paris, Sophie and Louis lived in a safe house belonging to one Madame Duval. Louis continued to say Mass and teach Sophie the Fathers of the Church, mathematics, Latin, and the Scriptures. While living in Paris, at about the age of 18, Sophie decided to become a Carmelite nun. This would be impossible, however, for the Carmelites had, along with many other religious communities, been abolished in 1790. Nevertheless, by passing on to Sophie what he had learned in the Collège St. Jacques in Joigny, Sens and Paris, Louis prepared her for a different life and existence, even though this did not mean becoming a Carmelite. In 1800, Sophie briefly returned home to help her family with the vine harvest. During this time, Louis met a priest named Joseph Varin, a man who would change Sophie’s life forever.
The Founding and Expansion of the Society of the Sacred Heart
When Sophie returned to Paris, she was introduced to Varin, a priest belonging to the Society of the Fathers of the Faith, a new group of priests that would eventually merge with the Jesuits. Varin wanted to create a women’s order devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and involved in the education of young women that would match the Fathers of the Faith. On meeting Sophie, he saw in her a wholeness of spirit and heart that he knew would enable her to accomplish the task. On 21 November 1800, at the age of 21, Sophie abandoned her dream of becoming a Carmelite and, along with three other women living in the Paris safe-house, took her vows as one of the first members of this new religious congregation, marking the foundation of the Society of the Sacred Heart. However, because the French authorities had prohibited devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Sacre Coeur Glen Iris), the society was initially known as Dames de la Foi ("Women of Faith") or de l’Instruction chrétienne ("Christian instructors").
The first school was opened in Amiens in northern France in September 1801 and Sophie travelled to this important provincial city in order to teach. The new community and school grew quickly. A school giving classes to the poor of the town was opened and, in December 1802, Sophie, although the youngest of the Sacred Heart Sisters, was named superior, thus making her the leader of the Society of the Sacred Heart at Amiens. Her first act was to kneel and kiss the feet of each of her sisters.
In November 1804, Sophie traveled to Sainte-Marie-d’en-Haut, near Grenoble in southeastern France, to receive a community of Visitation nuns into the Society. Among them was Philippine Duchesne, who would later introduce the Society to America and was canonized a saint in 1988. A second school was then established at Grenoble, followed by a third at Poitiers in western France. Father Varin envisioned an entire network of such schools and, after these first establishments in France, foundations mushroomed abroad in North America (1818), Italy (1828), Switzerland (1830), Belgium (1834), Algiers (1841), England (1842), Ireland (1842), Spain (1846), Holland (1848), Germany (1851), South America (1853), Austria (1853), and Poland (1857).
In January 1806, at the age of 23, Madeleine Sophie was elected, by one vote, Superior General of the entire Society of the Sacred Heart. Sophie’s wisdom and humility quickly secured her acceptance in all the Sacred Heart establishments. In 1820, she called all the superiors together in a council at Paris in order to establish a uniform course of studies for the quickly expanding network of Sacred Heart schools. These studies were to be serious, to cultivate the mind, and to create young women who would be devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and perform good deeds in God's name. As foundations continued to multiply, Sophie saw the need for a greater degree of unity, and for this sought the approval of the Vatican in Rome. By 1826, the Society of the Sacred Heart had received Rome’s seal of approval.
In 1840, Sophie averted a potential schism between the Vatican and the archbishop of Paris. While all her sisters pressured her to choose sides, Sophie refused to do so and was able to heal the breach. Over the course of her 65 years as superior general, Sophie and her Society survived the regime of Napoleon, saw France undergo two more revolutions, and witnessed Italy’s struggle to become a full-fledged nation.
The Sacred Heart schools quickly earned an excellent reputation. They are now often known for educating social elites, but this was not at all Sophie’s original intent. Quite to the contrary, she dreamed of educating all children regardless of their parents' financial means. For almost every new school established, a corresponding “free” school was opened to provide the poorer children of the area with a high-quality education that they would not otherwise have received.
Beloved by her daughters-in-faith and venerated by many, Madeleine Sophie Barat died at the general motherhouse in Paris on May 25, 1865 Ascension Day. In 1879, she was declared venerable and beatified on May 24, 1908. On May 24, 1925, she was canonized by Pope Pius XI.
One of her earliest biographers was Louis Baunard, who wrote Histoire de la vénérable Mère Madeleine-Sophie Barat, fondatrice de la Société du Sacré-Cœur de Jésus, (Librairie Poussièlgue Frères, 1ère édition en 1877, 4e édition en 1879).
Said by Sophie:
“We don’t live with angels; we have to put up with human nature and forgive it.”
“Show by charity how to meet a crisis.”
“Before making any change take counsel…. Prudence and a wise slowness are necessary in the beginning.”
“More is gained by indulgence than by severity.”
"Be humble, simple, bring joy to others."
"For the sake of one child, I would have founded the Society."
"Your example, even more than your words, will be an eloquent lesson to the world."
"And what is God? Supreme happiness. That is all."
"Give only good example to the children; never correct them when out of humor or impatient. We must win them by an appeal to their piety and to their hearts. Soften your reprimands with kind words; encourage and reward them. That is, in short, our way of educating."
Said of Sophie:
“It was her way to think well of people until forced to do otherwise.”
“She loved people through their faults to the core of their best selves.”
The legacy of Madeleine Sophie Barat can be found in the more than 100 schools operated by her Society of the Sacred Heart, institutions known for the quality of the education made available to the young. She founded the Society of the Sacred Heart, which would focus on schools for the poor as well as boarding schools for young women of means; today, co-ed Sacred Heart schools can be found as well as schools exclusively for boys.
The Sophie-Barat-School in Hamburg, Germany, which is an independent, non-fee-paying, co-educational grammar school, was founded and named after her. The school is run by the Society of the Sacred Heart (Sacré Coeur).
Barat College in Lake Forest, Illinois, the descendent of the Academy of the Sacred Heart, was founded on Wabash Avenue in 1858 and relocated to Lake Forest in 1904. It received its charter from the State of Illinois in 1918. Barat College merged with DePaul University in 2001 and was closed in 2005. The final class at Barat College finished June 11, 2005, exactly 100 years to the day the first class graduated.
The Barat Education Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization, was established in 2000 prior to the sale of Barat College to DePaul University. At that time, the Foundation was charged with the development and support of innovative educational programs and services that reflected the values and educational tradition of Barat College. When DePaul University closed Barat College in June 2005, the Board of Directors voted to perpetuate and build upon the Barat legacy of education, leadership and advocacy. Today, the Barat Education Foundation is committed to continuing and adapting the heritage and legacy of Barat College to the 21st century world.
The Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat Tribute and Memorial Scholarship is available annually to two new or returning students attending Oak Hill School in St. Louis, Missouri. This scholarship is funded by tribute and memorial contributions and the amount of assistance varies each year.
In popular culture
- Founders Statue - St. Peter's Basilica
- Foley O.F.M., Leonard. Saint of the Day, Lives, Lessons and Feast, (revised by Pat McCloskey O.F.M.), Franciscan Media
- "Sophie's Travels", Society of the Sacred Heart
- Kilroy, Phil (2000). A Life: Madeleine Sophie Barat. Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist.
- Power, Alice. "Ven. Madeleine Sophie Barat". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 7, 2011.
- Solari, Connie. "Madeleine Sophie Barat." Personal interview. 14 Oct. 2011.
- Solari, Connie. "My PhiloSophical Vocation." Network of Sacred Heart Schools Leadership Teams Meeting. Missouri, St. Charles. June 2008. Speech.
- "Profiles in Courage", Vocations Ireland
- Curry RSCJ, Martha, Barat College: A Legacy, a Spirit, and a Name, Loyola Press
- Ignatian Volunteer corps
- Oak Hill School
- Once Upon a time, a simple story...
- Madeleine Sophie Barat — Catholic Community Forum
- Ven. Madeleine-Sophie Barat — New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia
- St. Madeleine Sophie Barat — American Catholic
- Sophie-Barat-Schule Hamburg,Germany