Together they Founded a Religious Order that would spread around the World
By Larry Peterson
On December 6, 1752, Florence Chasseloup presented her husband, Pierre Fournet, with their only son who they named Andre-Hubert. Andre had one sister. The infant Andre was baptized the very next day by his uncle, Father Antoine Fournet, in the local parish, located in Vienne, France.
Twenty-one years later, in Le Blanc, France, on July 5, 1773, a baby girl was born into the aristocratic, Bichier des Ages family. They named her Joan Elizabeth Lucy, and she was baptized the same day she was born. From then on, most people knew her as Elizabeth Bichier.
No one ever would have considered that these two unlikely people would connect in 1797, during the height of the French Revolution. Nor would anyone have imagined that they would join forces to found and inspire religious orders that would eventually serve people on four continents and in thirteen different nations.
As a boy, Andre-Hubert was what one might consider a pompous little brat. He acted self-contained and even harbored a disdain for religion. His mother fostered these feelings because she kept telling him she wanted him to become a priest. He resented her prodding because a priest was the last thing he ever intended to be. In fact, he was so determined to show his mom that he meant it, he ran away from home determined to join the military.
His mother found him and made him come home before he could enlist. She sought out the aid of her brother-in-law, who was a priest in a rural farming community. His name was Jean Fournet, and he had a profound influence on his nephew. So much so that Andrew was ordained to the priesthood in 1776. At his ordination, his mother wept with joy.
Three years earlier, about 60 kilometers away (37 miles), a baby girl had been born into the aristocratic Bichier family. She was named Joan Elizabeth and baptized the same day. Her mom, Madame Bichier, was committed to teaching her children the tenets of the Catholic faith. Even as a small child Elizabeth felt herself being drawn to a life of prayer.
The French Revolution began on July 14, 1789, and French Catholics immediately fell victim to persecution. The Bichier estate was now under threat of seizure and Elizabeth and her mom moved to a tiny house in the local village. However, they were still harassed daily by the Revolutionary Surveillance Committee. They were continually being prodded to sign a new oath of loyalty to the Civil Constitution. They stood firm and refused—over and over. They were imprisoned, but their brother, who had sided with the revolutionaries, managed to have them freed. Elizabeth’s life was about to change.
Elizabeth, unable to receive the Holy Eucharist because of the new government’s anti-religious policy, felt terribly deprived. Toward the end of 1796, a former servant came to her and told her of a secret Mass being offered at a farm ten miles away. Elizabeth rode a donkey for more than three hours to reach the farm. After Mass, the priest, Father Andrew Fournet, began to hear confessions. Elizabeth was last in a very long line. Confessions lasted all night long, and when Elizabeth’s turn came to confess, the sun was rising.
She and Father Andrew had an immediate connection. Their spiritualities combined and the priest became Elizabeth’s spiritual director. He asked her to consider devoting her life to the sick, poor, aged and to also establish schools for children in the rural areas of their diocese. Even as a child, Elizabeth had consecrated herself to the Virgin Mary, and she immediately responded to Father Fournet’s ideas.
Father Fournet put Elizabeth in charge of a group of women who also were dedicated to Catholic education and the care of the poor and sick. Elizabeth then founded the order known as Daughter’s of the Holy Cross, Sisters of St. Andrew. The year was 1807. When she died in 1838, there were over 100 communities with hundreds of sisters working to help those in need. By the turn of the 20th century there were over 3100 sisters serving around the world. Today, the Daughter’s of the Holy Cross still has more than 600 sisters working on four continents in fourteen different countries helping others.
Father Andrew Fournet was canonized a saint by Pope Pius XI on June 4, 1933. Sister Joan Elizabeth Bichier des Ages was canonized a saint of June 6. 1947 by Pope Pius XII.
We ask both of these saints to pray for us.
Copyright©Larry Peterson 2019