Saint of the Day – 26 August – Saint Jeanne Elisabeth des Bichier des Anges FC (1773-1838) (commonly referred to as St Elisabeth Bichier) and known as “the Good Sister” – Religious and co-Founder with Saint André Hubert Fournet (whom we celebrate on 13 May – https://anastpaul.com/2020/05/13/saint-of-the-day-13-may-saint-andre-hubert-fournet-1752-1834-the-good-father/) of the Sisters of the Cross, Sisters of St Andrew, a religious congregation which was established for the care of the poor and the instruction of rural children in the Diocese of Poitiers in 1807. She also helped to inspire the founding of a community of Priests dedicated to Missionary service, the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Betharram.
Saint Jeanne Elisabeth des Bichier des Anges was born in 1773, in the Chateau des Anges near LeBlanc, France, home of her aristocratic family. She was one of the four children of the couple and later was commonly called Elisabeth by her family. Her mother was a very devout Catholic and ensured that her children were taught how to pray and the teachings of the Catholic faith. Elisabeth proved a ready student, already feeling drawn to prayer from her childhood. Her father, the lord of Anges, sent her to the convent at Poiters to be educated, at approximately age 10. She did not return home until the death of her father (to prevent the family’s property from being confiscated by the state), when she was nineteen years old. On his deathbed, she met Saint André Fournet, who would play an important role in her future.
Following her father’s death, Elisabeth found herself embroiled in a court battle to save her family’s property and possessions. Having studied law, she argued the case in court and won. Expected to marry and make the property her home, Elisabeth had no intention of marriage, instead looking only to the Lord. On the back of a picture of Our Lady, she had written: “I dedicate and consecrate myself to Jesus and Mary forever.”
With her mother, she moved to La Guimetiere, a town still suffering greatly from the after-effects of the French Revolution. With no priest living there, the town had little in the way of religious guidance or celebration. While living there, Elisabeth began to feel the loss of the Eucharist in her life, as the local church was being served by a juring priest, for which it was rejected by the local people. From her childhood, she had been attracted to contemplation and she had consecrated herself to the Virgin Mary. Her wish was to consecrate her life to God in an enclosed religious order but she did not tell her mother. During this period she used to gather people and pray with them. Over time, the number of participants grew prolifically.
After her mother’s death, Elisabeth lived for some time in a Carmelite community to experience the rigours and benefits of committing to the Lord. Certain of her call, together with Saint Andrew Fournet (who had begun a similar group of laity in a nearby city), she founded the Daughters of the Cross of Saint Andrew—an order to care for the sick and the poor. Among their other goals was the education of the poor rural citizens of France.
Known for her honesty and charity, she was well respected in the community. Following the death of a poor, sick man she had taken in to help, the police appeared at the convent to question her. They informed her that the man was an escaped criminal and she had harboured a fugitive. But Elisabeth was unafraid, replying calmly to the officer: “I only did what you yourself would have done, sir,” she said. “I found this poor sick man and took care of him until he died. I am ready to tell the judge just what happened.”
Appointed the first Superior of the Order, Elisabeth worked tirelessly to spread the Gospel and establish new houses. In 1816 the community received Ecclesiastical approval. By 1820 they had expanded again and a former Monastery of the Order of Fontevrault was obtained in La Puye, where their Motherhouse was established. It still serves as the congregation’s headquarters By 1830, shortly before her death—she had personally established over 60 houses throughout France. They currently serve or have served around the globe in France, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Belgium, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, the Belgian Congo, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, China and Thailand.
In Igon, in the Basque country, she met Father Michael Garicoits (1797-1863) (his life here: https://anastpaul.com/2019/05/14/saint-of-the-day-14-may-saint-michel-garicoits-1797-1863/), who served as the Spiritual Adviser of the house there. With her encouragement, he founded a men’s congregation of the order, named the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Betharram.
St Elisabeth died in 1838, at which time there were about 600 Daughters of the Cross serving in some 100 communities. She was Beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1934 and Canonised by Pope Pius XII in 1947. Her remains are enshrined at the Motherhouse in La Puye.
The life of Saint Elisabeth — demonstrates to us that there is much we can each accomplish in the world—serving the Lord through service to one another. Saint Elisabeth saw poor uneducated rural communities in need of spiritual guidance. Through the grace of God and the courage of this woman, she created the change that was needed. How often to do see what needs to be done and chose not to do it? How often do we ignore the call of the Lord to help those in need, those in our own communities? How might we better the lives of our fellow man in service to Christ?
The Roman Martyrology states of her: “Glorify God and make Him Glorified by the little ones and the poor’ was what animated Sister Elisabeth and her sisters.”