History of the FCJ Sisters at Ste Anne d'Auray, Morbihan, France 1825—1929

Ste Anne d’Auray is a village three miles from the town of Auray in the diocese of Vannes, Morbihan, Brittany. Famous for its pilgrimages or 'pardons' in honour of St Anne, until Lourdes grew in popularity Ste Anne d'Auray was the most favoured place of pilgrimage in France. A vibrant centre of prayer, to this day it continues to attract numerous pilgrims.

The Venerable Marie Madeleine d'Houet, Foundress of the FCJ sisters, wanted her Society to be involved in retreat work and Ste. Anne d'Auray was an excellent place for this ministry. The first Sisters arrived in 1825 and established a community in a little house in the courtyard of the church. The accommodation was so cramped (it had one room at ground level and an attic) that the sisters  had to receive people in the sacristy of the church.  Their life of poverty made a deep impression on the local people.

In 1826 a house and chapel were built on the property. The Sisters gave lessons to the village girls and to enable the reatreat work, half of one of the floors of the house was divided into small rooms to accommodate retreatants. Marie Madeleine made several visits during this time and made an eight day retreat before her departure for Rome in 1826. The Sisters received much spiritual help from the Jesuit Fathers.

Shortly after their arrival, the sisters set about clearing land to create a simple garden.  In time this was transformed into a magnificent park-like grounds.  The kitchen garden and meadow with their well laid out paths abounded in fruit trees, shrubs and flowers.  At the bottom of the meadow flowed a little river crossed by three little bridges given the names of the Holy Angels, St Anne and St John.  They owe their names to Father Ferdinand Jeantier SJ, a much loved protégé of Marie Madeleine, who was a frequent visitor.  A lake called Genesareth on the outskirts of the little wood completed the idyllic scene.

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In 1833 Marie Madeleine had the joy of giving the habit to nine new novices. The candidates continues to arrive. Iin 1863 alone, thirty one postulants received the habit and thirty novices pronounced their vows.   

During these early years Marie Madeleine sent the sick of the Society to St Anne’s either to recuperate in the good air or to die surrounded by loving care.

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In 1888 Mother Josephine Petit died at Ste Anne D'Auray. Mother Josephine had replaced Marie Madeleine as Superior General in 1858. She worked tirelessly for the Society and for the thirty years of her generalate her ‘home’ was St Anne’s which she dearly loved. Mother Marie de Bussy who replaced Mother Josephine also made her base in ste_anne_dauray_graveSt Anne’s and loved its peace and happy atmosphere.

The house and school at Ste Anne were known to be places of joy and peace, but at the turn of the century anti-religious laws came into force. In the summer of 1903 the sisters learnt of the imminent danger to the religious of Catholic Brittany. In fact because of the new legislation, some religious were having to leave their convents to seek accommodation elsewhere or to return to their families. Within three short years the FCJ Sisters and the students of Ste. Anne's had also to leave.

1905 saw dark clouds over St Anne’s.  February 21st was planned as a day of celebration for the new bishop's entry into his diocese but government officials chose that day to descend on the basilica of St. Anne to make an inventory of its contents. 20,000 Bretons gathered to defend their basilica. The officials were forced to retreat and the bishop’s arrival was deferred to March13th when he came by nights.  On Easter Sunday 1905 an FCJ novice pronounced her vows and that was to be the last such ceremony for almost twenty years at Ste Anne d'Auray.

In February 1906 the Edict of Closure arrived and in September, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the boarding school and novitiate were emptied.    The sisters were full of trust in God; the final words of the 1906 annals are ‘Laus Deo Semper’.

In 1919 some sisters returned to oversee repair work on the community house, the only part of the property they were allowed to occupy. In September 1919 the novitiate reopened and in 1922 the first ceremony of clothing and profession took place. However, in 1925 the novices left St Anne’s to the great sorrow of the community. Moreover attempts to re-establsih their ministry were unsuccessful and the FCJ sisters decided to withdraw.

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1929, the last year at St Anne’s, proved very difficult.  Since there were no pupils, the house was deprived of water, fire and light during the harsh winter.  Water had to be fetched from the pump in all weathers and their only light was supplied by oil lamps placed in the Chapel and the Common Room.

There was a Mass of thanksgiving in the Basilica of St Anne for the one hundred years of devoted service of the Faithful Companions of Jesus.   When all was in readiness the keys were handed over to the Daughters of the Holy Spirit who were replacing the Sisters and on the morning of September 21st 1929 the FCJ sisters left St Anne’s for good.

The convent subsequently became known as Keranna, (Breton for House of Anne) and is now a care home for the elderly and infirm Sisters of the Holy Spirit.

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To read a fuller account of the FCJ history at Sainte Anne D'Auray click here

 

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When the present chapel was built in 1876, students in various FCJ Boarding schools donated the windows. Admire some of these beautiful windows here.

 

The Faithful Companions of Jesus greet the Sisters of the Holy Spirit.
For the last eighty years they have ministered at Keranna.
They tend the FCJ graves and always extend gracious hospitality when FCJ sisters visit.
It was they who gave the beautiful photographs used to illustrate this article.

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

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