Our Lady of the Fields, Paris, France, consecrated by St Denis (250) – 26 February:
The title of Our Lady of the Fields, or Notre-Dame des Champ and the devotion to Mary as such, takes us back to the earliest days of Catholic life in France. Our Lady des Champs, at Paris, was dedicated in ancient times to Ceres. Saint Denis, to whom we owe a great deal of our traditional devotion to Mary, was the first Bishop of Paris. According to tradition he drove the demons from the Temple of Ceres, the pagan goddess of agriculture and placed therein, an image of the Madonna modelled after Saint Luke’s famous painting. The Temple was henceforth dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, whom Parisians have honoured for centuries under the title of Our Lady of the Fields. It is said that a picture of the Blessed Virgin is still to be seen there, on a small stone, a foot square, which was made after that which Saint Denis brought to France.
This house, which is a Benedictine priory, was afterwards occupied by the Carmelites, who were received there in the year 604 and founded by Catherine, Princess of Longueville. It was the first occupied by those nuns in France; the mother Ann of Jesus, the companion of Saint Teresa, was its first superior. If the Blessed Virgin were a goddess she would be a very human goddess – simple and approachable, forgetful of her privileges and of her beauty. Her constant humility adds to her charm. Saint Denis knew this well. He found her so gloriously beautiful that he gave to her the place in the temple – and in the hearts of the people – formerly held by the pagan goddess. “I am the Flower of the Fields,” the Holy Ghost has the Blessed Virgin say. A flower of the fields has a simple beauty that charms us even more because it blossoms by itself without care or cultivation. Our Saviour Himself marvelled at such a flower and of it He spoke these words of praise that have been repeated through the centuries: “See how the lilies of the field grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of these.” But lilies soon fade and roses are hardly open, before they begin to shed their petals before the wind. The beauty of Mary is less perishable; it remains ever fresh and unchanged in the valley of our exile.
One Minute Reflection – 26 February – St Paula Montal Fornés of Saint Joseph of Calasanz (1799-1889)
…may grace and peace be yours in abundance through knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord…2 Peter 1:2
REFLECTION – “… (St Paula) as foundress of a religious family, inspired by the slogan of St Joseph Calasanz “Piety and Letters”, she gave herself to advancing women and the family with her ideal: “Save the family, educating the young girls in a holy fear of God”... (She) belongs to the group of founders of religious orders who in the 19th century came forward to meet the many needs that were present and that the Church, inspired by the Gospel and by the Spirit, wanted to respond to for the good of society. The message of St Paula is still valid today and her educational charism is a source of inspiration in the formation of the generations of the third Christian millennium.”…St Pope John Paul II Canonisation Homily 25 November 2001
PRAYER – Heavenly Father, may Your Holy Saints’ examples inspire us to living contemplation of Christ the King, crucified and risen. May St Paula’s supporting intercession, help us to walk faithfully in the footsteps of the Redeemer, to share one day with her together with Mary and all the saints, His eternal glory in heaven. Amen.
Saint of the Day – 26 February – St Paula Montal Fornés De San José De Calasanz (1799-1889) Religious nun and Founder – born on 11 October 1799 at Arenys de Mar, near Barcelona, Spain – 26 February 1889 at Olesa de Montserrat, Barcelona, Spain of natural causes. St Paula’s religious name was Paula of Saint Joseph Calasanz. She was a Spanish Roman Catholic professed religious and the foundress of the Sisters of the Pious Schools. cause for sainthood opened several decades after her death in the 1950s after being titled as a Servant of God; confirmation of her heroic virtue in 1988 saw her named as Venerable. St Pope John Paul II Beatified her on 18 April 1993 and Canonised her on 25 November 2001.
The life of Paula Montal Fornés de San José de Calasanz, fruitful and prophetic, almost centennial, unfolded within a broad historical context (1799-1889), a crisis period during the troubled 19th Century in Spain, torn between the postulates of the Old Regime and the new liberal trends, with significant socio-political, cultural and religious repercussions. Four cities were especially representative of her life, well-rooted in the land and historical surroundings:
In Arenys de Mar (Barcelona), she spent her childhood and youth (1799-1829). A coastal village, facing the sea, cosmopolitan and industrial, is where she was born into this life, on 11 October 1799 and born into grace that same afternoon. She was brought up in a modest Christian family atmosphere. She participated in the spiritual life of her parish. She stood out because of her love for the Virgin Mary. From the age of 10, she learned the harshness of working to help her mother, a widow with five children. She was the eldest. During that time, through her own experience, she realised that girls, young ladies, women, had scarce possibilities for access to education, to culture… and she felt called by God to assist in rectifying the situation and carrying out that task.
Figueras (Gerona), a border city between Spain and France and a military stronghold famous for its weaponry castle, was where she had set her sights. Accompanied by her friend Inés Busquets, in 1829, she moved to the capital of that area to open her first school for girls, with broad educational programs which far surpassed those required for boys. It was a new school. Figueras was where her special educational apostolate for girls began. A new charisma was born in the Church, an Apostolic Work aimed toward the complete human Christian education of girls and young women and toward the advancement of women, to save families and transform society. Her followers would distinguish themselves by professing a fourth vow of teaching.
Sabadell (Barcelona) signifies the origin of her educational work in the Pious Schools. We know that, at least since 1837, she felt totally identified with the spirit of Saint Joseph of Calasanz, and wanted to live by the Calasanz spirituality and rules. With that purpose, after founding a second school in her hometown of Arenys de Mar in 1842, where she came into direct contact with the Piarist Fathers of Mataró, she opened a third school in Sabadell in 1846. The presence of the Piarist Fathers, Fr Jacinto Felíu and Fr Agustín Casanovas in the Sabadell school, was providential. There, with their help and guidance, she achieved in a short time, the canonical structure of her newly formed Congregation. On 2 February 1847, she made her profession as a Daughter of Mary Religious of the Pious Schools, along with her first three companions, Inés Busquets, Felicia Clavell and Francisca de Domingo. At the General Chapter meeting, held in Sabadell on 14 March 1847, she was not elected General Superior, or even Assistant General.
During the period from 1829 to 1859, she was intensely active, personally founding 7 schools: Figueras (1829), Arenys de Mar (1842), Sabadell (1846), Igualada (1849), Vendrell (1850), Masnou (1852) and Olesa de Montserrat (1959). She inspired and helped to found 4 others: Gerona (1853), Blanes (1854), Barcelona (1857) and Sóller (1857). She was also the formulator of the first 130 Sisters of the Pious Schools of the Congregation. A very active and prophetic period in her life.
Olesa de Montserrat (Barcelona), 1859. The last school personally founded by her. A poor small town, at the foot of the Monastery of Our Lady of Montserrat, to whom she professed great devotion. It was her favourite School, where she stayed until her death (15 December 1859 to 26 February 1889). Those were 30 years of grace for the girls and young women of Olesa, who benefited from her rich testimony with the example of her generous and holy life. “Everyone loved and adored her…”. And for the Congregation: a total yes to God; the living of the virtues that should characterise the Pious Schools’ educator. And the twilight of a life in God.
The design of Mother Paula Montal’s spirituality is comprised of two facets: her participation in the Calasanz spirituality and her unique educational charisma, directed toward the complete human Christian education of women.
Upon her death, the Congregation of the Daughters of Mary, Sisters of the Pious Schools, founded by her, was made up of 346 Escolapias (Sisters of the Pious Schools), who carried out the spirit of the Pious Schools teaching, the legacy of their Foundress, in 19 schools extending throughout the Spanish region.
The canonical process for her Beatification began in Barcelona on May 3, 1957. St Pope John Paul II beatified her in Rome on 18 April 1993. The miracle of her Canonisation, performed in September of 1993, in Blanquizal, a very marginal and violent area of Medellín (Colombia), for a little 8-year old girl, Natalia García Mora, was approved by St Pope John Paul II on 1 July 2000.
To our society, wounded by so many pressures, where the subjects of education for all, the advancement of women, the family and youth are currently unresolved issues, the new Saint delivers the message of her life and her educational work, a message of love and of service. Her charisma in the 19th Century was a statement of love and hope, especially for women, who found in her a mother and teacher for the young women and girls. And today it continues to be as urgent and current an issue as it was back then.
The educational work of Saint Paula Montal Fornés de San José de Calasanz continues today in the Church, particularly through the more than 800 Sisters of the Pious Schools, spread out over 112 communities, who educate some 30,000 students, in 19 nations on four continents, for the development of women, so that the “civilization of love” may become a reality. (vatican.va)