Sisters of the Cenacle

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Saint Thérèse Couderc, 1805-1885

The Sisters of the Cenacle (full title: Congregation of Our Lady of the Retreat in the Cenacle) is a Roman Catholic Congregation founded in 1826 in the village of Lalouvesc (Ardèche), France. The founders were Saint Thérèse Couderc and diocesan priest Jean-Pierre Etienne Terme.


The French Revolution had left people with a deeply disturbed faith, few religious leaders, and little, if any, education in faith. In the early decades of the nineteenth century, seminaries were being re-opened and mission bands roamed the countryside rekindling the faith.

There was a young woman named Marie-Victoire-Thérèse Couderc, who lived in the small hamlet of Le Mas in the south of France. In 1825, her father brought her home from school to participate with the rest of the family in a mission given at Sablières. This mission was to be given by an energetic and zealous priest, Etienne Terme, who had recently founded a small group of teaching Sisters called the Sisters of St. Regis.

When Victoire revealed to him that she would like to enter religious life, he said, "I'll take you with me right now to the novitiate of the Sisters of St. Regis." Although her father was unhappy with this prospect, he eventually relented, and Victoire entered the Sisters of St. Regis and became Sister Thérèse.

The shrine of Saint John Francis Regis at Lalouvesc attracted large crowds, but Father Terme was distressed when he saw the disorder that often accompanied the pilgrimages. Since there was no suitable place for the women pilgrims to stay, he took the initiative and opened a house to welcome women and girls, entrusting it to some of the Sisters of Saint Regis.

In 1828, Thérèse Couderc was named Superior of the small congregation, and when Lalouvesc was made the mother house, she was named the Superior General.

Beginnings of the retreat ministry[edit]

At the hostel for women, the Sisters took in all who came to the door, and when they did not have enough beds, they spread straw in the corridors. Not only was the place crowded, but it was noisy and unruly.

Mother Thérèse approached Father Terme and told him that they could not live religious life in these circumstances. She managed, with a bit of difficulty it appears, to convince him that from then on, only those women who were willing to make their stay a time of serious prayer would be given lodging. The hostel was taking the first steps toward becoming a retreat house.

The next step was when Father Terme introduced the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, and the Sisters began using these to guide the women who came to the house to pray.

Becoming the "Cenacle"[edit]

Father Terme died in 1834 at the peak of his missionary activity. In his will he confided his "daughters of the Retreat" to the Fathers of the Society of Jesus, who continued the formation of the Sisters in Ignatian spirituality and the use of the Spiritual Exercises.

The original inspiration matured and took a definite form. Gradually it became clear that the Congregation was evolving into one which reflected the spirit and mission of the community gathered with Mary the Mother of Jesus in the Upper Room, or Cenacle (Latin: coenaculum). The Constitutions of 1844 officially recognized the biblical mystery of Acts 1:12-14 as expressing the fullness of the vocation and gave the Congregation the name which identifies it today.


The mission of the Cenacle is threefold:

  • Prayer
  • Community
  • Ministry


Cenacle prayer is directed to an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Congregation and on the world.

After the ascension of Jesus, his friends, along with Mary his mother, gathered in the Cenacle and "with one accord devoted themselves to prayer" (Acts 1:14). The Sisters of the Cenacle join with them in a prayer which is to permeate their lives and flow out to others.


Community might seem impossible in a world fraught with division and hatred. In fact, only the Spirit of Love can bring about true community. "That all may be one," Jesus prays. "That they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one" (John 17).

This kind of unity is possible only when one can gaze on the world and on each other with God's eyes, when one can see God's goodness in all things.


The apostolic service of the Cenacle Sisters is both awesome and humbling, because it always has to do with faith and prayer, and it touches on the deepest nature of the human person. It may take the form of retreats, spiritual direction, religious education, or other spiritual ministries.


The Cenacle is located in sixteen countries:

  • Australia
  • Belgium
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • England
  • France
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Madagascar
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • Togo
  • United States

Interesting historical note:The Lake Ronkonkoma Land was donated by Maude Adams after her death. Her grave and Lake Ronkonkoma Home reside on the land to this day.

External links[edit]


  • "Origin of the Congregation," Congregation of Our Lady of the Retreat in the Cenacle: Constitutions and Norms (Chicago: 1984)
  • Rose Hoover, rc, "A Brief History of the Cenacle Through Elements of Spirituality"
  • Cenacle Mission