Collection: St. Madeleine Sophie Barat
ARTIST: Julie Lonneman
On November 21, 1800, Madeleine Sophie and three others consecrated their lives to God in the Society of the Sacred Heart. In this act, they committed themselves to a way of life that would be both contemplative and active, deeply rooted in prayer and devoted to the service of others in union with Jesus through the power of his Spirit.
In the aftermath of the French Revolution, Madeleine Sophie saw the education of women as the primary means by which the Society would enable others to come to know God’s love and be empowered to bring about social change within their particular areas of influence. Gradually, she opened schools throughout France and Europe. In 1818, Mother Barat sent Philippine Duchesne to North America. From St. Charles, Missouri, the Society spread through the United States, Canada, the Antilles, Mexico and South America.
“If I had my life to live over again, I would seek to live in complete openness to the Holy Spirit.”
–Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat
Her feast day is May 25.
The legacy of Madeleine Sophie Barat can be found in the more than 100 schools operated by her Society of the Sacred Heart, institutions known for the quality of the education made available to the young.
Sophie herself received an extensive education, thanks to her brother Louis, 11 years older and her godfather at baptism. Himself a seminarian, Louis decided that his younger sister would likewise learn Latin, Greek, history, physics and mathematics—always without interruption and with a minimum of companionship. By age 15, she had received a thorough exposure to the Bible, the teachings of the Fathers of the Church and theology. Despite the oppressive regime Louis imposed, young Sophie thrived and developed a genuine love of learning.
Meanwhile, this was the time of the French Revolution and of the suppression of Christian schools. The education of young girls was in a troubled state. Sophie, who had discerned a call to the religious life, was persuaded to become a teacher. She founded the Society of the Sacred Heart, which focused on schools for the poor as well as boarding schools for young women of means. Today, co-ed Sacred Heart schools also can be found, along with schools exclusively for boys.
In 1826, her Society of the Sacred Heart received formal papal approval. By then she had served as superior at a number of convents. In 1865, she was stricken with paralysis; she died that year on the feast of the Ascension.