Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
The sound of Alleluias fills the 50 days of Easter Sunday to Pentecost as we give thanks for the gift of our salvation. The Easter Triduum recalls the passion and resurrection of Christ in the sacred journey from Holy Thursday to Easter Vigil. "Dying he destroyed our death. Rising he restored our life."
Julie Billiart, Virgin and Religious, 1751-1816
Mary Rose Julie Billiart was born at Cuvilly, in northern France, to the family of a farmer-merchant on April 8, 1751. This saint was exceptionally gifted. Though she had little education, Julie, as a child of seven, had memorized the catechism and was teaching the other children of her village about its lessons.
Recognizing the extraordinary holiness of this young girl, her pastor allowed Julie to receive her First Holy Communion and be confirmed at the age of nine. (These sacraments were reserved to adults at this time in the Church.) At the age of fourteen, Julie took a private vow of chastity and dedicated her life to teaching the poor.
Two traumatic events happened in Julie’s young life. A robbery of her father’s store when Julie was only sixteen made the already poor family even more destitute. To help her family, Julie went to work in the fields. The second event had even more dire consequences. When she was twenty-two, Julie was sitting next to her father at a café when someone fired a shot at him. The shock of this incident left Julie partially paralyzed and unable to walk.
Confined to her bed, Julie spent several hours per day in prayer and continued to catechize the young children of the town who would gather by her bed. Her reputation for holiness was well known throughout the area. With the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789, Catholics were under suspicion for siding with the royalists. With Julie’s reputation, she became the subject of the revolutionaries’ wrath. No longer safe in her home, Julie fled to Compiegne where she remained for several years. During this period, Julie experienced a vision in which God was calling her to found an order of sisters dedicated to teaching.
After some time, a friend moved her to Amiens where Julie met Françoise Blin de Bourdon, Viscountess of Gizaincourt. The two, though from vastly different backgrounds, were both holy and prayerful women. This led to a great friendship and, ultimately, to the establishment of the teaching order.
With the guidance of Fr. Varin, the superior of the Fathers of Our Faith, and with the concurrence of the bishop of Amiens, an order of sisters was established in 1803 for the purpose of saving the souls of young girls and training teachers. Julie, Françoise, and two other women took their vows on October 15, 1804.
It was also in 1804 that Julie, during a novena offered by her confessor, was asked by the priest to pray for an intention that he had. Five days into the novena, on the feast of the Sacred Heart, the priest said to her, “Mother, if you have faith, take one step in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.” Mother Julie, after twenty-two years of paralysis, stood up and was cured.
In 1809, misunderstandings with the bishop of Amiens caused the order to move to Namur, Belgium where they were welcomed by the bishop and where the motherhouse of the order, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, remains today. Over the next few years, Mother Julie traveled around Europe and established several convents. In early 1816, Mother Julie became ill and died on April 8 of that year.
Today, the Sisters of Notre Dame have convents in Europe, North America, Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
St. Julie Billiart was canonized in 1969 by Pope Paul VI. Her feast day is celebrated on May 13. St. Julie is the patron of those suffering from illness or impoverishment.
Julie’s message today: God will give us all of the strength and knowledge that we need to accomplish the mission that he has given us.