Saint of the Day – 4 March – Blessed Placida Viel SSC (1815—1877) Virgin, Religious Sister of the Sisters of the Christian Schools of Mercy, which focused on the education of girls. Born Eulalie-Victoire Jacqueline Viel on 26 September 1815 at Quettehou, Normandy, France and died on 4 March 1877 at Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte, France of natural causes. She is also known as Eulalie Victoire Jacqueline Viel, Eulalie-Victoire Viel, Placide Viel .
Vittoria Eulalia Giacomina Vicl, the future second Superior General of the Sisters of the Christian Schools of Mercy, was born in 1815 in the village of Val-Vacher in Normandy. Vittoria was the eighth of eleven children, (she was baptised just moments after her birth). Her family, formerly wealthy and respected throughout Quettehou, eventually degraded to the status of a small farmer. Vittoria, between five and twelve years of age, attended a girls’ school, then studied sewing for a year. She, therefore, received minimal education, which, however, being very devout, she was able to enrich by attending Catechism courses at the Parish of the town, where later she also taught. She made her First Communion before the mandated age because the Parish Priest believed she was mature and devout enough. At eighteen she was a tall, generous and cheerful girl but very shy.
Her father’s cousin, Maria, always considered as Vittoria’s Aunt, was first a disciple and then one of the first companions of St Marie-Madeline Postel (1756-1846) (16 July), of whose small community she had also been treasurer. Sr Marie-Madeline invited Vittoria to visit the group that had recently settled in Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte. Vittoria was immediately fascinated by the Superior and conceived the desire to share the extremely poor but obviously happy life of the nuns. In May 1833 she left home to join the community. She was greatly saddened by the separation from her father but was also overjoyed at her vocation.
In 1833, when Vittoria arrived, she found a community made up of fourteen professed and nine novices who lived in extreme poverty. She also found a saint of about eighty, from whom she absorbed her virtues, her knowledge and her charity. The postulant embraced her new life with great enthusiasm and received the novice habit in 1835 along with ten other young women and was given the name of Placida. She worked as an assistant cook until 1838, the year in which she made her Profession and in which she began a long series of ever new tasks.
Firstly, the Superior sent her back to school so that she could improve her level of education. The course of studies was supposed to last two years but Sr Placida completed it within three months and after obtaining her Diploma she even became a teacher at the college, was appointed head of the novices and also a councillor. Maria soon understood that the Mother Superior had decided to prepare that young girl for the highest responsibilities and her attempts to guide her niece towards the strictest religious observance turned into evident hostility. The Aunt did nothing but point out and underline Placida’s faults and seemed to want her to be removed from the Monastery of Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte. The Mother Superior, however, was adamant and even appointed Placida Assistant Superior and gave her the task of founding a new Convent.
One day, while the Bishop was expressing his concern for the future, to the elderly Foundress, Placida passed by and Mary Magdalene said: “It will be that twenty-four-year-old nun who will succeed me. God will tell you how to do it.” He then ordered Placida to go to Paris and raise the necessary funds to restore the Church. He told her to go to the Queen and the most important Ministers of the Government and to collect what was still needed, begging from door to door. For four years Placida carried out this task, committing herself and accepting the refusals, disdain and profound solitude, with a great spirit of obedience, humility and sacrifice.
In May 1846 she was recalled to Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte because the Superior was dying. St Mary Magdalene Postel died on 16 July 1846 . The General Chapter for the election of the new Superior was held in September of the same year and all but two votes were in favour of Placida, who felt completely unworthy and apologised on her knees. While her Aunt and the Chaplain, were of the opinion that the role of Superior belonged to the Aunt, the Bishop was adamant and validated the votes . A very strange period followed. Placida submitted to the Chapter her need to complete the task entrusted to her for the raising of funds and suggested that she postpone her taking Office for a year and keep only some functions in the interim. The Chapter agreed and entrusted the daily leadership of the community to her Aunt. However, that situation lasted ten years, years in which the Mother Superior, Placida, extended the range of her travels outside of Paris, always moving on foot and often spending the night outdoors.
She kept in correspondence with the members of the community and gave instructions for the assignment of tasks but her short stays at the Convent were rather sad. Maria had taken possession of the Superior’s rooms, while Placida was relegated to an attic; the Aunt humiliated the young Superior in front of the whole community, gave her orders, opened her post, made decisions together with the Chaplain and instructed her on what she should do.
Why was all this possible? Had Placida abdicated her role? Shouldn’t she have taken some more vigorous action towards Maria? In the end, her great sufferings paid off; forcing the Aunt into submission would have jeopardised the already fragile balance of the congregation, which the true Mother Superior knew she had to avoid at all costs.
Shortly after the Consecration of the Abbey Church, which had been completed with the vast funds Placida had raised, Maria died. Placida ran the Community for thirty more years and received Papal approval for the order in 1859 from Pope Pius IX. Her tenure as Mother Superior saw Sisters in the Order increase from 150 to more than 1000, as well as seeing an increase in the number of Convents. Placida’s ambition was to do for the students, the same, that St John the Baptist de La Salle had done for the boys.
Placida died on 4 March 1877 at Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte after having been organising relief during the Franco-Prussian War. Placida was Beatified 6 May 1951 by Pope Pius XII.
The Roman Martyrology states – “In the Monastery of Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte in Normandy in France, Blessed Placida (Eulalia) Viel, virgin, who distinguished herself in leading the Congregation of the Christian Schools of Mercy with commitment and humility.”
The Life of St Marie Madeline Postel here: