Born out of audacity

On this day in 1800 in post-revolutionary Paris, a small group of women gathered in an attic, and, during a clandestine Mass, made their vows to God as part of a fledgling religious community. That community was to become the Society of the Sacred Heart, and the youngest member - Madeleine Sophie Barat - was to become acknowledged as foundress and remain as lifelong superior. By the time she died, 65 years later, the Society had grown and spread well beyond its fragile beginnings; today, there are about 2,600 of us, in 45 different countries and all continents.

Today is therefore celebrated throughout the world as our communal birthday - so happy birthday to us! 211 on the 21.11.2011!

It is also an opportunity to look back and give thanks for the lives, vision and courage of our first sisters. They were certainly an audacious bunch of pioneers. Their desire was to somehow heal the pain and division of their country in the aftermath of a bitter, bloody revolution, primarily through educating girls - not only in maths and history, but especially in core values of love and faith. But the times were not exactly auspicious. French society, and all its institutions - especially the Catholic church - had been broken, bruised and battered by the Revolution and its ongoing after-effects. Although the Church was slowly beginning to raise its head above the parapet, its place in society was still precarious - hence the need for clandestine Masses and a low profile for any new community.

And then, of course, there's the fact that they were women! Whatever else the Revolution had swept away, patriarchy had somehow remained intact. Yes, the country was now being run by technocrats instead of aristocrats - but these new crats were still men! And here was a little group of women who dared to think that they could make a difference!

Well, thank God for their audacity... to dream, to believe, to take action... Thank God for their conviction, fuelled by deep trust, in the fidelity of God and the worthwhileness of their dreams and aspirations. And so today I join my thanks to the international thanksgiving resounding around the world: from sisters, co-workers, students, alumni, directees, beneficiaries of services and projects, Associates, friends and so many others, whose lives have been changed, because 211 years ago, against so many odds, Sophie and her companions dared to be audacious.