I've spent the afternoon reading about French history in an effort to help myself place Sr. Marie in that context. In particular, I reviewed the French Revolution 1789-1799 (including the Reign of Terror 9/5/1793-7/28/1794), and the reign of Napoleon or the Napoleonic Era 1800-1815. These are the historical traumas that precede her entry into the world.
Recall that Sr. Marie was born in 1837, one of six children to the Count and Countess of Grancey; a family of nobility. The family has been noted in French and Ecclesiastical history as both noble and holy.
Adele Louise, as she was named, began life in a very unsettled historical time. The ruling powers in France were fluctuating between Kings and Republics not without excruciating struggle and strife for the French people who had yet made any strides towards recovery after the horrors of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror only forty years before! The country was in very sad repair politically and Paris was a truly desperate and poverty stricken city.
Even as French nobility, the Granceys were greatly affected by the desperation of these times but they did manage to keep their faith and their family unity. They lost almost all their homes which were burned or confiscated. The only noble home remaining is the Grancey Castle were Sr. Marie was born. Her grandparents and other relatives were certainly first hand witnesses of the horrors of the very recent past. The murmured bits and pieces of stories that Sr. Marie may have gleaned as a child from memories recounted in overheard adult conversations were undoubtedly vivid and sorrow filled. Although born in the grand castle in Dijon, France in an atmosphere of privilege and comfort, she spent half of each year in Paris as she grew. There is where she saw a very different world; one of poverty and deprivation.
Just forty years before Adele Louise’s birth, Paris was completely unaccustomed to the sight of any religious in the city due to the Reign of Terror in 1793. However, in 1800, for the purpose of caring for his troops, Napoleon reorganized the Sisters of Charity in Paris. In 1815, they finally settled in the rue de Bac where they still live today. For the longest while, throughout this bitter and tumultuous nineteenth century in France, the Sisters of Charity were certainly in as dire straights and probably looked as poor as, or poorer, than the poor they were helping.
The Grancey's spent from January to June each year in a Parisian house. This is where Adele Louise spent many moments peering through her window during these first two decades of her life watching the streets below where the Sisters in their tattered blue habits with their white cornettes helped the poor Parisians struggle to their feet after enduring a very cruel century.
Sr. Marie's vocation was born in these moments. Even though her childhood was very sweet and comfortable, she wanted to be like those sisters she saw from her window. What is so amazing, and indeed edifying, is that she understood the dichotomy of her situation so clearly at such a tender age. Even as a little girl, she would often compose prayers and write them down in her Catechism notebook. One day she wrote, "I pray God that He gives me a religious vocation because, otherwise, I'm not sure to be able to resist all the temptations of the world around me."
to be continued...
" I am not a priest and cannot bless them, but all that the heart of a mother can ask of God for her children, I ask of Him and will never cease to ask Him." ~ Sister Marie