Marie Antoinette Deleau
From Vincentian Studies Institute Monographs & Publications
DePaul University Year 2006
Chapter Three: The Daughters of Charity
By 1800, just as Jeanne-Marie Rendu was discerning her vocation, a young Corsican general, Napoleon Bonaparte, was rising to power. The need for the Daughters of Charity to return to works upon which much of French society had become dependent became increasingly apparent to his newly formed government. The hospitals in particular, and later the wounded of Napoleon's Grand Army, called out for nurses. So it was that Sister Therese Deschaux, superior of the Hospital of Auch, approached the Minister of the Interior, Jean- Antoine Chaptal, for authorization to accept candidates who would be formed for the service of the sick. The interests of those who were poor, the Company of the Daughters of Charity, and the French government coincided. The Minister asked Sister Deschaux to have Sister Antoinette Deleau, Superioress General at the time (1790-1804), send him a formal request. She did so, probably in late November or early December 1800, since the response from the Minister of the Interior is dated "1 Nivose, Year 9" (22 December 1800).
In her request, Sister Deleau makes several points. First she reminds the Minister that it is the government that "wants [them] to take up the service of suffering humanity once again." She goes on to "assure him of [their] zeal to do so," but she points out that this is impossible because of the lack of sisters caused by the suppression of the Company during the Reign of Terror. She even warns him that the sisters may have to withdraw from some of the places where they were allowed to continue their work during the Revolution because, "having lost a large number of sisters over a period of several years, ItheyI were not allowed to train pupils to replace them." While the very future of the Company depended on the good will of the government, Sister Deleau is, nonetheless, clear on the conditions of their return: "We ask, therefore, that if our services to the poor are agreeable to the government, that it authorize us to train persons suitable for this, which requires a particular type of education which Sister Deleau, as First Directress, offers to provide for them." She then reminds him that previous governments have accepted the Company's conditions, namely, the right "to select the pupils and to place and to transfer the sisters in keeping with their talents or the needs of the hospitals" and asks that the present one do the same. These conditions appear to be non-negotiable and, to reinforce her stand, she informs the Minister that the Company is seeking no financial support for the project at this time.
At the end, she once again spells out the request, "Therefore, Citizen Minister, we are soliciting from you authorization for a house of formation in which to train pupils for the service of the poor in different civil hospitals and governmental works of charity as well as the freedom for the Sister Directress to place and to transfer the sisters according to the needs.""' Indeed, the needs were so great that it did not take long for the Minister to respond favorably. We quote the text here in its entirety as it clarifies the state of the Company of the Daughters of Charity at the time that Sister Rosalie entered it. It reads: DECREE OF CITIZEN CHAPTAL, MINISTER OF THE INTERIOR I Nivose Year 9 (22 December 1800) The Minister of the Interior, considering that the laws of 14 October 1790 and 18 August 1792, while suppressing corporations, had reserved to the members of the Establishments of Charity the right to continue their acts of charity, and that it is only in contempt of these laws that these institutions were totally disbanded. Considering that the necessary assistance to the sick can be assiduously administered only by those vowed by their state to the service of the hospitals and directed by the enthusiasm of the Charity; Considering that among all the hospitals of the Republic, those that are administered with the greatest care, intelligence, and economy, are those that have called back into their bosom the former pupils of this sublime institution whose sole aim was to form them for the practice of the acts of a boundless charity; Considering that only a few aging individuals remain in this precious association which causes us to fear a speedy dissolution of an institution which is an honor to humanity; Considering, finally, that the care and virtues necessary for the service of the poor must be inspired by example and taught by the lessons of daily practice, it is desired; 1. Citizeness Deleau, Superioress of the Daughters of Charity, is authorized to form pupils for the service of the hospitals; II. The Orphan Hospital on rue du Vieux- Colombier is placed at her disposition for this purpose; III. She shall gather together persons she believes useful to the success of her institution and shall choose pupils she judges suitable to fulfill its aim; IV. The government shall pay room and hoard, in the amount of 300 francs, for each of the pupils whose parents are recognized as being in absolute poverty; V. All the pupils shall be subject to the regulations of the interior discipline of the house; VI. The funds necessary to supply for the needs of the institution will be taken from the general expenses of the hospitals. They shall not exceed the annual sum of 12,000 francs. Signed: CHAPTAL"'
Sister Deleau and her companions took over the house at 11, rue du Vieux-Colombier on 20 January 1801. The government had met her conditions and even granted her financial support that she had not sought. It was a time of general rejoicing. In her letter to the sisters of the Company of 1 January 1802 she wrote: You have been for religion in France what the Dove was for Noah... By your return to our houses, you have, as it were, displayed the olive branch that enables people to realize that the waters of the revolution have receded."" Thus, when the three young women from Contort arrived in Paris on 25 May 1802, they found a company that was rebuilding itself after a traumatic era. The novitiate, or seminary as it is called by the Daughters of Charity, had been officially reopened and confided to an experienced formation directress, Sister Gillette-Julienne Ricourt, who was then 41 years of age and who had been an assistant to the formation directress prior to the Revolution."