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|Blessed Marie Louise Trichet|
|First Daughter of Wisdom|
|Born||1684, Poitiers, France|
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church|
Blessed Marie Louise Trichet also known as Marie-Louise de Jésus was a French Catholic figure who, with Saint Louis de Montfort, founded the Congregation of religious women called Daughters of Wisdom and since the age of seventeen devoted her life to caring for the poor and the sick. She is also referred to as the First Daughter of Wisdom. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II and currently awaits canonizaton.
Early life and background
She was born in Poitiers, on the Clain River in west central France on May 7th 1684 and baptized at the church of St. Etienne. Her father Julien was a court magistrate in Poitiers and her mother Françoise Lecocq was deeply religious, as was most of her family.
Childhood and education
She was the fourth child, and had seven siblings. Her younger brother Alexis, born just one year earlier, was ordained a priest in 1710 and later died because he volunteered to minister to plague striken inmates in a prison camp. The youngest of her sisters later joined the Daughters of Wisdom.
Marie Louise grew up in an atmosphere of religion and education, and when seven years old, was sent to the boarding school at Poitiers run by the Sisters of St. Jeanne de Lestonac to acquire the social qualifications suitable for the upper echelons of seventeenth-century France. Yet, ten years later, in a confessional, her life took a turn in a different direction.
The area of western France where she grew up had a strong Christian connotation. Poitiers is home to Baptistère Saint-Jean, reportedly the oldest extant Christian building in France. And the historic Battle of Tours fought between Christians and Muslims in the area between Tours and Poitiers just 20km north of Poitiers was the first decisive victory that turned back the Muslim invasion of Europe in the 8th century.
Poitiers in the middle ages
Poitiers was also important in that in the 15th century the French royal parliament in exile moved from Paris to Poitiers. In the 16th century, Poitiers impressed visitors because of its relatively large size, royal courts, university, prolific printing shops, religious institutions, cathedral and numerous parishes.
Yet the apparent affluence of Poitiers in the 17th century, prior to the French Revolution in the 18th century, had a less than royal side. France was plagued by corruption, and rampant poverty. At Poitiers, the rejects of society, the beggars, cripples and drunks were forcibly sent to a stone building called the General Hospital. The hospital inmates were only offered a common room, one bed for two or three, black bread and a stew of unknown origin - and had to wear a rough gray uniform.
Meeting Louis de Montfort
In 1701, Father Louis de Montfort arrived in Poitiers, having been ordained a priest in June 1700. Over two centuries later, when he was declared a Saint, it became well known that Montfort was no ordinary priest. But in 1701 he was just a young, highly idealistic priest who wanted to be the champion of the poor, having been inspired as a teenager to preach to the poor. He also had a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Thus apart from offering mass and hearing confessions, Montfort used to spend much time with the poor of the Poitiers General Hospital, where he later became the chaplain. He tried to introduce rules and rights for the inmates, but met strong resistance from the hospital authorities. Yet, in his classic style, Montfort persisted.
The first meeting
As she was growing up, Marie Louis and her sister Elizabeth would attend daily mass at the Poitiers Cathedral. One day, after hearing Montfort's sermon, Elizabeth reportedly commented "that preacher is a saint" and suggested that they go to confession to him.
Marie Louis's first meeting with Montfort was thus a confession. Upon entering the confessional, he reportedly asked her: "Who sent you to me?" and she started to reply that her sister had suggested it. "No. it was the Blessed Virgin who sent you to me" was Montfort's quick interruption.
Later, when she confided in Montfort that she wished for a religious life of devotion, Montfort's direction was: "go and live in the hospital". Marie-Louise obeyed and offered her free services to the hospital. Given that there was no official position for a governor at the hospital, despite her family background and education, she volunteered to enter the hospital "as an inmate".
As mad as that priest
The parents of Marie Louis were not pleased with her decision to enter the hospital as an inmate and her mother reportedly told her: "You will become as mad as that priest". But on February 2nd 1703, Marie Louis left her family, consecrated herself to God and received a religious habit from Montfort.
That was the beginning of a four decade effort during which she nursed the sick; gave food to beggars and administered the great maritime hospital of France. The poor people of the Hospital of Niort in Deux-Sèvres eventually came to call her "good Mother Jesus".
Frustrated with the local bishops, Montfort set off to make a pilgrimage to Rome, to ask Pope Clement XI, what he should do. The Pope recognised his real vocation and, telling him that there was plenty of scope for its exercise in France, sent him back with the title of Apostolic Missionary.
Thus Montfort left Poitiers and for several years he travelled on foot, preaching missions from Brittany to Nantes, and his reputation as a great missioner grew, and he became known as "the good Father from Montfort".
A life of service to the poor and the sick
After Montfort's departure, Marie Louis was left alone at the hospital to care for the sick while awaiting his occasional letters of encouragement. He once wrote to her: "If we do not risk anything for God we will never do anything great for Him." Indeed, Montfort often risked everything along his apostolic path. Attempts were made on his life and he was poisoned. Yet he persisted and eventually returned to Poitiers almost ten years later.
Ten years at Poitiers hospital
Before leaving, Montfort had established the Rule of the Daughters of Wisdom for the small congregation he had formed with Marie Louis as the first member. With the rule, to this day the congregation strives to acquire heavenly wisdom by imitating the Incarnate Wisdom, Jesus Christ. The means for imitating Christ is a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
For almost her entire youth, Marie Louis lived among the poor and the sick, and served them, following the Rule left behind by Montfort, but rejected by the governors of the hospital for ten years. Eventually, the duties and authorities trusted to her increased and from 1708 she substituted for the official bursar, and in 1711 she was in complete charge of the hospital. In 1713, Montfort eventually returned to Poitiers and gave her a companion, Catherine Brunet.
Daughters of Wisdom
Bishop de Champflour of La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast just to the west of Poitiers had been impressed with Montfort for some time. Based on the bishop's invitation to Montfort, in 1715 Marie Louise and Catherine Brunet left Poitiers for La Rochelle to open a free religious school there. In a short time, the free school supported by the bishop and following the program and rules laid down by Montfort had 400 students.
On August 22, 1715, Marie Louise and Catherine Brunet, along with Marie Valleau and Marie Régnier from La Rochelle received the approbation of Bishop de Champflour of La Rochelle to perform their religious profession under the direction of Montfort. At the ceremony Montfort told them: "Call yourselves the Daughters of Wisdom, for the teaching of children and the care of the poor."
Following the path of Montfort
In April 1716 Montfort had gone to Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre to preach, where he fell ill and died on 28 April 1716. The thirty-two year old Marie Louise thus had to assume the full responsibility for the foundation.
In 1719 the sisters went back to Poitiers and later managed to establish a Mother House in 1720 at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre in the Maison Longue (the long house), now a museum devoted to her life and the Daughters of Wisdom. But they had to live in abject poverty for several years, at times living on black bread alone and occasionally an egg. In time with prividence and the dowries provided by certain new novices, they acquired land that produced some revenue. As Montfort had predicted, in time more novices arrived and the organization grew.
In the thirty years that followed 1729 Marie Louis established thirty new charitable communities where the Daughters of Wisdom visited the poor, nursed the sick and taught children, with no payment, but supported by benefactors or parishioners. During the devastating famine of 1739 she begged the authorities to come to the rescue of the hungry.
In the houses of providence the Sisters lived with orphans, the aged, and the handicapped. At the general hospitals at La Rochelle, or at Niort in Deux-Sèvres their services were hired to introduce a minimal level of peace, joy and order to the prevailing filth and disorder.
Last years and death
When she was 66 years old, Marie Louise undertook a long journey on horseback to visit all her communities, talk with the Sisters and inspire them. She always told the Sisters: "Your real Superior is Mary; I am but her servant." That was her last trip, for upon returning to the Mother House at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre she never left again. An accidental fall caused her months of suffering, followed by a final illness from which she did not recover. On her deathbed she called a benefactor to beg that the poor of the parish be cared for, after her death.
On her death, the congregation included 174 sisters distributed in 36 communities and the Mother House. After their persecution (for being Catholic) during the French Revolution the Daughters of Wisdom regrouped and grew again. They were awarded medals by the governments of France, Spain, Prussia, and Belgium for nursing the wounded or plague-stricken soldiers of those countries on many occasions.
Legacy and beatification
On May 16th 1993, Marie-Louise de Jésus (Trichet) was beatified by Pope John-Paul II who was a follower of Montfort. In the process of examining her life prior to beatification, one cardinal wrote of her:
- "She offers an example of how to work for the development of the whole human person in a spirit of sacrifice, looking for no reward, ever open to read the signs of the times with a serene and humble spirit."
- Doherty, Eddie. Wisdom's Fool: A biography of St. Louis de Montfort. Bay Shore NY: Montfort Publications, 1993.
- Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St. Louis de Montfort, Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994.
- French Wikipedia http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie-Louise_Trichet
- Daughters of Wisdom http://www.daughtersofwisdom.org
- Montfortian http://www.montfort.org/English/MLouiseE.htm
Saint Louis de Montfort