A Short Overview of the Society's history ...
Our Society, Faithful Companions of Jesus, was founded in Amiens in France in 1820 by Marie Madeleine de Bonnault d'Hoüet. As a young widow with a son, Marie Madeleine felt called by God to form a Society of apostolic women who would take their inspiration from Mary and the Holy Women of the Gospel. These were the women who had accompanied Jesus during his years of ministry and who were sent by Jesus, after his resurrection, to spread the Good News. The words that Jesus spoke from the cross, "I am thirsty', had profoundly influenced Marie Madeleine: she understood them to express Jesus' great desire to bring God's love to all people. In her own desire to continue that same mission in our world today, she committed herself to a life of companionship with Jesus and with all those to whom she would come in contact.
As Marie Madeleine searched to know what God was asking of her, she sought the advice of the Jesuits because she was impressed by their deep spirituality and their spirit of dedication. At times they encouraged her to join an existing religious congregation but she was uneasy with this suggestion. She felt called to found a Society that would take the name of Jesus and follow the Constitutions of the Jesuits. Her decision to do this aroused great opposition, but despite all her difficulties, the Society of the Sisters Faithful Companions of Jesus came to birth.
Marie Madeleine began her work in Amiens with two companions, a school teacher, and seven poor children who would be instructed in their faith, taught to read, write and sew, and be trained in domestic service.
In the ten years that followed, her initial apostolate quickly expanded, other women joined her, and further foundations were begun in France. Night school sessions were held for women, married and single, young and middle-aged, all anxious to learn their catechism or deepen their faith or simply enjoy a few hours in pleasant surroundings after hours of hard work in a factory. Although Marie Madeleine was especially attracted to helping the poor, she saw the need to open several boarding and day schools, and organised retreats for women.
In 1830, ten years after the first beginnings of the Society, France was in a state of revolution and Marie Madeleine feared for the safety of the communities. She was advised to make a foundation in another country and the Society began to spread, first to England, then to Italy, Switzerland and Ireland. In all, during her lifetime, twenty seven convents were established by the foundress herself.
Marie Madeleine had journeyed extensively and energetically at a time when travel was very difficult and, at times, dangerous. It seems that she made more than five hundred journeys by land, over mountain passes, on the sea, by coach, by canal barge, by steamboat, and finally, along the railroads, establishing new foundations and frequently visiting the sisters.
Just a few months after the death of Marie Madeleine in 1858, a new General Superior was chosen to replace her -- Mother Josephine Petit, who would lead Society for the next thirty years. During that time, besides making new foundations in France, England and Ireland, the Society responded to calls for religious women to minister in Australia and Canada. Twelve sisters set sail for Australia in 1882, a very long and hazardous journey. A year later, eight sisters sailed from Liverpool to Quebec. From Quebec, their journey continued by rail and then by carts and covered wagons on the long trek across the prairie, this latter journey taking two weeks.
The Society continued to expand and grow in the one hundred years that followed. Further foundations were made in Australia, Canada, Switzerland and England, and the Society expanded into the USA, Belgium, Scotland and Jersey. For much of this time, the sisters were involved in education, teaching, and administering boarding schools. Later their apostolates expanded once again to include many other aspects of pastoral ministry.
The more recent missionary apostolates of the Society have taken the sisters to Sierra Leone in 1979 (where they remained until 1995), and then to Argentina and Bolivia, to Indonesia and the Philippines. More recently, in 1994, the Sisters went to Romania and in 2007 to Mexico. In every place the Faithful Companions of Jesus want to be companions to deprived and marginalized people in a world that is thirsting for meaning and that is hungering for justice. To be truly a companion engages them in identifying with, walking with, being compassionate towards, listening to and collaborating with the people they accompany. It also urges them to take up the struggle to change the unjust structures which bind so many in our world today. The Society that was founded by Marie Madeleine, almost two hundred years ago, continues to be inspired by her commitment and her ideals, to be with Jesus in his mission, spreading God's love, especially through education, by accompanying people in their spiritual lives and by taking the Society to many parts of the world.
M. Marie de Bussy, second general superior of the Society, wrote that Marie Madeleine had said that time and practice must put the seal on the Constitutions which she so desired for her Sisters and that the spirit of the Constitutions had deeply penetrated the body of the Society in all its parts... She gave us this often repeated recommendation: "Remain what you are".
Approximately every five years, the Society has a general chapter which reflects on the recent experience of the Society and the emerging needs of the Church in the light of our Constitutions, the Memoirs of Marie Madeleine and our lived history.
It was the 1983 General Chapter that reclaimed for the Society the Constitutions which Marie Madeleine had so desired to give us — Constitutions which, she said, were dearer to her than life itself and, in 1985, they received the approval of the Church which she had so ardently sought.
The 1998 General Chapter, looking towards the coming new millenium, offered us Pathways for Discernment which included the decision to establish a public expression of relationship with the FCJ Society for those who wish to be more closely associated with FCJ Sisters in their mission. This group of women and men are now known as FCJ Companions in Mission.
The 2003 General Chapter gave us a Mandate for Mission encouraging us to be captivated by Jesus and his mission,
to live our identity as Faithful Companions of Jesus with enthusiasm and to choose life.
From 2005—2006, FCJ Sisters lived a year of reconciliation. You might find some of the resources designed for this year useful in future reflections on reconciliation.