The French Revolution stifled Elizabeth Bichier; Then she met Father Andrew Fournet and everything changed—She founded the Sisters of the Cross

Joan Elizabeth Bichier des Ages                public domain

By Larry Peterson

Elizabeth Bichier (full name; Jeanne-Elisabeth-Lucie Bichier des Agnes) was born on July 5,  1773, in the Chateau des Ages, in the village of Le Blanc, which was located in the Central Loire Valley in the center of France. Elizabeth was one of four children, and she was baptized the same day she was born at the Church of Saint-Genitour du Blanc. Elizabeth’s mom, a devout Catholic, taught all of her children how to pray and ensured that they knew the basic tenets of the Catholic faith. Elizabeth, a willing student, was drawn to a life of prayer even as a child.

The French Revolution erupted in 1789. A predominantly Catholic country, the French Catholics were shocked at the restrictions placed upon the practice of their faith. As the Revolution progressed, more and more uprisings took place.  The War in the Vendee is probably the best known because government forces eventually massacred thousands upon thousands of Catholics.

To avoid the high chance of being killed, Elizabeth’s older brother, Laurent, fled France and settled in England. Shortly after, on January 16, 1792, their father died. Elizabeth and her mom were left to deal with the ever-changing “laws” put in place by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and the National Constituent Assembly.

These agencies had decreed that church property, which included that owned by Catholics such as Laurent, was subject to confiscation. Elizabeth and her mother moved to a small house in the village. Once there, they were harassed every day by the Revolutionary Surveillance Committee. After a short time, authorities discovered an old gun owned by Elizabeth’s dead father, and she and her mother were put in prison. Fortunately, Elizabeth’s other brother, who had joined the forces of the Revolution, had the influence and connections to obtain their release.

In 1796, Elizabeth and her mother were able to move to the family’s country home in Bethines. It was lonely here, and Elizabeth began to feel the loss of the Holy Eucharist deeply. That was because the local church was served by a government-approved “priest,” The masses being said were not valid and were rejected by most people. As a child, Elizabeth had consecrated herself to the Blessed Mother.  Filled with love of Our Lady, she began to gather people to pray together for the return of their religious freedom.

Elizabeth’s grief was lifted when, 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, needy, aged and to establish schools for children in the rural areas of their diocese. Devoted to the Virgin Mary, 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 The Sisters of the Cross, The 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, over 3100 sisters were serving around the world. Today, the Sister’s of the 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 2020