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Spiritual Reflections at, Carrollton, TX US - Venerable Jeanne Chézard de Matel

Venerable Jeanne Chézard de Matel
Foundress: Order of the Incarnate Word, France

Photo: IWBS Archives, Corpus Christi, TX
"By Their Fruits, You Shall Know Them": Extending the Incarnation in the World for 400 Years! By Sr. Mary Carmel Smith, CCVI In 1625 upon entering her first community house with two companions to begin her foundation, Jeanne went to work in the kitchen when she was visited by the Incarnate Word who showed her “a holy mountain, at the top of which the Eternal Father held all the future members of the Incarnate Word Order, who in time would be born, not of flesh nor of blood, nor of human will, but of the divine will.” He then added the astounding words: “My daughter, in this establishment, I Who am the Incarnate Word, will make an extension of my Incarnation.” Early Beginnings: Jeanne was very young and this powerful statement of the Incarnate Word was one that would occupy her for the rest of her life and one that she would pass down the centuries to future members. This idea was like a new manifestation of love in the church of her day and Jeanne pondered frequently on the great love of God in the Incarnation of his Son and especially the passage: “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son.” From childhood Jeanne was drawn to love God. She spoke about the Gospel of Love which the Father had manifested to the world in his Son. “God took delight in instructing me asking me to announce the gospel of love..that I should always and everywhere announce the gospel of love and of goodness.” Seventeenth Century France of Jeanne’s day was greatly in need of spiritual renewal and her emphasis on the gospel of love was needed to freshen up a dying love in people’s hearts. Everything she undertook was for the love and glory of God. At times she felt the ardor of divine love inflame her heart. “The anointing of the spirit was so abundant in my soul that I found I was totally consecrated to your love...With tenderness, I keep you lovingly in my heart which you have possessed for so many years.” Comparable to her love for God was her great love of neighbor, especially to the poor, needy and sick. Once she paid the ransom of a prisoner who wrote asking that she intercede for him. She brought about his realease and had his property restored. She pardoned her enemies and those who through jealousy or ignorance maligned her reputation, going so far as to ask forgiveness for “having involuntarily inconvenienced them.” She kept her heart free so as to love God and all people. She chose God as the only love of her life and loved her neighbor whose troubles she shared deeply and for whom she ardently desired salvation. Detached from the riches of her family, she shared all with the poor. Openness of Her Love: Jeanne was not only magnanimous of heart, she was also most expressive of her affections, as we read in her correspondence. Upon the death of a young Sister of the order who was not only loved, but also very much needed for the early foundations, she wrote to the community: “I would like to believe, in order to support pure and tender love, and for my own satisfaction that you expose to me the thoughts of your hearts in your letter which my maternal heart received gladly and to tell you by these lines that I love you tenderly and very much. I am in sympathy with your pain which God regards as his own. Bodily separation and breaking of ties do not separate nor distance the spirits united by holy love.” The Name of Her Order: Jeanne was very impressed by the scriptural passage: “The Virgins will follow the Lamb”, that she thought, at the early stages, of naming the Order she was called to found, after Jesus, the Lamb whose peace would bring about “a gentle, peaceful relationship between God and our soul.” Yet in prayer and discernment, Jesus revealed to her that the name of the Order was to be only “Incarnate Word, for in this is expressed all of who I am.” The name was so new and unusual, that various Church people/groups tried to change it. It was even suggested that instead of creating something new, she should merge with others already established, for example, The Blessed Sacrament Sisters, newly founded in Paris. Jeanne, convinced of the charism of the incarnation, which she had received from the Incarnate Word, proceeded to introduce the title of her Order to Rome. While it was approved, the Vatican added the words: “and the Blessed Sacrament.” In her usual respectful/deferential manner towards Church officials, Jeanne accepted the added recommendation to her proposed title-"Incarnate Word." The charism or gift of the spirit given to Jeanne is needed especially today as we are called to continue extending the gospel of love in response to the needs of our time. Jeanne says that “the Incarnate Word Order is founded on the Eight Beatitudes.” “It is like a temple,” she says. The foundation is of Faith, the walls, of Hope and the dome is of Love. The pavement surrounding the temple is of humility since the whole life of the Incarnate Word was one of humility, because of who he was and where he came from. The temple rests on eight columns: the eight beatitudes-two of which face the four corners of the earth, like the trumpeting angels on the Incarnate Word Chapel steeple. In her writing on the Beatitudes, Jeanne, in a sense, prioritizes them for practical application and the spiritual growth of the Sisters: 1st: Peace: peace with self, with God and with others. 2nd. Gentleness, flowing from peace. 3rd. Poverty of spirit 4th. Purity of heart 5th. Merciful and compassionate 6th. Those who Mourne 7th Hunger for Justice 8th. Suffering persecution Today, as we enter the new millennium, we extend the Incarnation and witness that God’s reign is in our midst by walking in the spirit of the Incarnate Word, as outlined in the Eight Beatitudes: --Peaceful with self, with God and with others, --Gentleness in relationships, --Poor in spirit, --Pure in heart, --Merciful and Compassionate, --Walking with the Mourning, --A Hunger for Justice and truth and --Patience in Suffering Persecution In this way, “We make real and tangible the love of the Incarnate Word in the world today,” to use the wording of our own CCVI Constitutions. We recall in the life of St. Patrick, how on the occasion of his escape from slavery in pagan Ireland (400 A.D.), he had safely returned to his native land when in a dream he heard the voices of the Irish people calling out to him: “Holy youth, walk once more among us.” Upon awakening from his dream, he decided to become a priest and later returned to evangelize the pagan nation in which he was once a captive slave. At this moment in time, given the spiritual needs of our broken world, we too can say to Venerable Jeanne Chezard, soon to be declared Blessed by Rome: "Holy Foundress, walk once more among us.” Founding in Texas of... THE SISTERS OF CHARITY OF THE INCARNATE WORD, SAN ANTONIO. The Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word originated in Lyons, France, and was established in Galveston (1866), then moved to San Antonio (1869) by its founder, Claude Marie Dubuis,qv bishop of Galveston, whose diocese at that time comprised the entire state of Texas. The bishop made frequent trips to France to collect money and recruit priests and nuns for the growing needs of his vast diocese. The most pressing need of his 1866 visit was the procurement of nursing sisters. Dubuis succeeded in having three young ladies prepared for the Texas mission in the Monastery of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament in Lyons. They arrived in Galveston in late 1866 and formed the nucleus of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word while serving the sick in the little Charity Hospital, as it was then called (now St. Mary's Hospital,qv administered by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Galveston-Houston). Within a year of their arrival, their nursing skills were tested by severe yellow fever and cholera epidemics. In the meantime, other volunteers joined the monastery in Lyons to prepare for the Texas mission and for the dangerous voyage to Galveston, where they joined the original foundation. Bishop Dubuis had for some time nurtured the hope of building a hospital in San Antonio. He decided to go ahead with his plans, and at his request Sisters Louise (Mother Madeleine) Chollet, Jeanne Pierrette (Mother St. Pierrette) Cinquin, and Agnes, the pioneers of the new foundation, traveled from Galveston to San Antonio by stagecoach. As they were setting out from Galveston, they learned that the home which they would have occupied had been destroyed by fire. When they arrived in San Antonio in March 1869 they received hospitality from the Ursuline Sistersqv until a new house was built. On October 21, 1869, the Sisters of Charity moved into their new home, a combined convent and hospital, and on December 1 of the same year they opened the first hospital in San Antonio, known then as Santa Rosa Infirmary. Sister St. Madeleine was appointed superior and Sister St. Pierre her assistant. The small, two-story frame structure, which consisted of a few wards for the sick, a convent area for the sisters, and a small chapel, also served as the first motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio.qv The city was recovering at that time from a severe cholera epidemic, in which the sisters became pioneers in health care. The congregation continued to recruit members from France, Germany, Ireland, Canada, the United States, and Mexico. With the growth in membership came the need for increased housing. In 1897 the congregation moved to a residence and tract of 280 acres of land, which they purchased from George W. Brackenridge. Calling their headquarters Brackenridge Villa, they built a new motherhouse and chapel, which were ready for occupancy in 1900 and 1907, respectively. By 1891 the sisters' health care establishments included eleven hospitals in Texas, New Mexico, Iowa, and Missouri and a home for the aged in Monterrey. By 1874 the sisters had established their first children's home, St. Joseph's Orphanage in San Antonio, and in 1875 the first school of the congregation was opened at the orphanage and called San Fernando School. The sisters' ministry in education grew until by 1891 they were teaching in twenty-two towns or cities in Texas, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Mexico. Through the course of the century a flourishing congregation developed, and with the growth in numbers and apostolic work came the division of the order into the four provinces of San Antonio, St. Louis, New Orleans, and Mexico in 1921. Later, the three United States provinces were combined. The work of the sisters was extended to South America in 1964, when Centro Santa Clara was erected in Chimbote, Peru, by the congregation as a missionary center to serve the poor. In 1969, when the congregation celebrated its centennial, the San Antonio Province was operating four hospitals, fifty-two elementary and secondary schools, and Incarnate Word College; the sisters also conducted St. Peter's and St. Joseph's Home for children and the Guadalupe Community Center. The Province of Mexico had grown to include eleven colleges, eight free elementary schools for the poor, eight hospitals, three schools of nursing, at least one home for children, and two community centers. The sisters of the St. Louis Province staffed four hospitals, sixteen elementary schools and a secondary school, and three homes for children. Sixteen years into its second century of humanitarian service in 1985, the congregation continued to respond to the needs of the times as sisters serve in new ministries such as counseling, parish ministry, helping battered women, and programs for recovery from chemical dependency. In 1986 a lay volunteer program was begun to assist the sisters in their work. The order's motherhouse chapel, erected in 1907 on the campus of Incarnate Word College in San Antonio, was repaired and renovated between 1987 and 1990. From December 3, 1993, to December 3, 1994, the sisters celebrated the 125th anniversary of their founding in San Antonio; the theme was "Year of Jubilee-Year of Grace." In honor of this event a resident historian, Sister Margaret Patrice Slatterly, was assigned to write a history of the 125 years of the order. In 1994 the Sisters of Charity sponsored six institutions in San Antonio: Incarnate Word High School, Incarnate Word College, Incarnate Word Motherhouse and Retirement Community, Santa Rosa Health Care, Visitation House, and Volunteers in Mission. They were ministering not only throughout Texas but in Missouri, Illinois, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arizona, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Peru. There were 365 Sisters of Charity in the United States in 1994. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Catholic Archives of Texas, Files, Austin. Sister Mary Helena Finck, C.C.V.I., The Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of San Antonio, Texas (Washington: Catholic University of America, 1925). Incarnate Word Generalate Archives, San Antonio. by Sister Josephine Kennelly, C.C.V.I.

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