The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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August 24, 2001 Issue
Saint of the Day

Revolution didn't shake her faith

St. Elizabeth Bichier kept faith stable during the French Revolution's turmoil

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

It's been said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. St. Elizabeth Bichier Des Anges certainly saw proof of that during her life.

St. Elizabeth was born in 1773 at Le Blanc, France, in the Chateau des Anges. Her father was Antony Bichier, the lord of the manor. While her parents named her Joan Elizabeth Mary Lucy, she always used the name Elizabeth. At age 10, she was sent to a convent school in Poitiers, where her hobbies included building sand castles.

By the time Elizabeth was 16, France was in turmoil with the French Revolution. The country was turned upside down as many in the nobility were put to death. Elizabeth even had to engage in a legal battle with the National Assembly to keep it from seizing the family estate after the death of her father.

The revolutionaries also pursued the church and in 1796, after Elizabeth and her mother moved to the Paris suburb, Bethines, Elizabeth dedicated herself to keeping religion alive. She gathered residents every night for prayers, hymns and spiritual reading.

She met St. Andrew Fournet, who lived as an underground, fugitive priest because of his refusal to make the required pledge of allegiance to the revolutionary government.

St. Andrew wrote a rule of life for Elizabeth to follow as she concentrated on teaching and caring for the sick and needy. In 1804, after her mother's death, she became a novice in the Carmelite convent at Poitiers. Later, she went to the Society of Providence to learn to lead - despite her objections - the community St. Andrew wanted to start.

When her training was complete, Elizabeth was placed in charge of a group of women Andrew had formed as a community to teach and care for the sick and elderly people - needs the revolution was unable to meet.

In 1807, after Napoleon and the Vatican signed a treaty, the community took vows. The bishop of Poitiers approved the rule of the Daughters of the Cross, in 1816. By 1830, despite some internal difficulties, the congregation had 60 convents throughout France.

Elizabeth also encouraged Michael Garicoîts - spiritual director of the sisters' house at Igon - to found the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Betherran. Elizabeth died in 1838 on Aug. 26, the day we celebrate as her feast. She was canonized in 1947.

The life of St. Elizabeth Bichier Des Anges challenges us to consider how we live our faith and consider what needs we could address that neither capitalism nor technology have solved.

(Sources: Butler's Lives of the Saints, Dictionary of Saints, Lives of the Saints II and 365 Saints.)

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