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“May God be glorified! In everything and everywhere may His holy will be done!”      Anne Marie Javouhey

Anne Marie Javouhey, or “Nanette” as she was affectionately called, was born in 1779 in France, ten years before the img-Blessed-Anne-Mary-Javouheyoutbreak of the French Revolution.

The fifth of ten children Anne Marie grew up in a devout Catholic home. Anne Marie was drawn to a religious life as a young child. When she was only ten years old she heard a small voice within her say, “You will belong to Me. You will be consecrated to Me. You will serve the poor and care for orphans.” Anne Marie believed that this was the call of God and throughout her life she would follow the Lord’s leading.

Anne Marie was only ten years old when the French Revolution began and she showed great courage and strength throughout her teen years. Her brave actions showed just how much stamina she had and prepared her for the trials and tribulations that she would go through in her later years.

The French Revolution was a horribly bloody and frightening time in the history of France. Besides murdering their rightful king and queen and every other royal or wealthy person who did not escape, the French government attacked the Church. Many priests and nuns were murdered if they did not renounce allegiance to the Church and take an oath of allegiance to the State. Church property was confiscated, desecrated, or destroyed. Religious people were hounded down and executed in front of gleeful crowds. It was a most anti-God time in the history of France and indeed the whole world.

Anyone caught helping priests or nuns was considered a traitor and was subject to the death penalty. Anne Marie’s family hid the priests who decided to flee rather than take the oath. Anne Marie herself would then help the priests to escape to a safe place. She was suspected by the authorities of being the one who led the priests to safety but they were reluctant to arrest a thirteen-year old girl. Her faith in God even during such a horrific time when she must stand against strong political enemies prepared Anne Marie to later face government officials, including a king, and church officials when it came time to defend herself and her people.

One of the brave priests whom Anne Marie helped suggested to her that she would be a good nun. Already encouraged to serve God because of her religious upbringing and her call to serve others, Anne Marie took a private vow of celibacy and determined to help educate children and care for the poor for the rest of her life.

After the Revolution was over, Master Balthazar Javouhey planned to have Anne Marie run the family farm. Recognizing that she was the brightest of the children including his sons, he hoped that she would marry and raise a family and run the business.

But Anne Marie “took the veil” and became a nun. She felt the call of God to serve the poor very strongly. Her father realized that she was serious when she convinced her suitor to become a Trappist monk and her two brothers to become churchmen as well.

Anne Marie joined several orders but their type of secluded life did not suit her. She knew that God had called her to be actively involved in the world and so went to work with a different order that worked among the poor.

About this time in her life she had another vision from God. She was surrounded by black people begging her for help. She did not know what it meant then, but the sight of the poor starving black children wrenched at her heart and she never forgot it.

anne marie javouheyAnne Marie remembered her girlhood promise to educate children and so she opened a school for girls in 1806 in Chamblanc. The French Revolution had left many poor people devastated and without much hope. Nanette and her sisters began the Order of Saint Joseph of Cluny in 1805 as a teaching order. In 1807 they bought a friary and began their school.

In 1815 the new government recognized what a good job Anne Marie was doing in schools and asked her to establish schools and hospitals first in France and then in Senegal and Guiana. Anne Marie became famous for teaching white and colored, rich and poor alike with no discrimination. And her schools and hospitals thrived where others had failed.

In 1828 Nanette traveled to Guiana with 36 nuns and established a self supporting community. They labored among the poorFrench Guiana
to educate them especially. The selfish men who had run the colony had left it a disaster. Nanette fought snakes, insects,
ceaseless rain, and petty officials who would not cooperate due to their jealousy.

After four years of prayer and hard work, Nanette succeeded in getting the former villainous men to attend prayer meetings, build infrastructure, plant bananas and other crops, and raise livestock. Her community was a bright shining light among the others in Guiana.

Nanette returned to France in 1833 where she added her voice to those who wanted to end slavery. This brave woman who had defied the evil French government during the revolution now boldly went before King Louis Philippe with a plan to help the blacks.

In 1830 Louis Philippe became king in France. Everywhere in the world nations were beginning to try and end slavery. Louis Philippe wanted to do the same and in 1831 he declared the emancipation of the slaves in his realm including the colonies. The slave holding colonists in Guiana protested. They did not believe that blacks had the mental capacity to run their own lives. More importantly, they liked having the black “beasts of burden” doing all of the heavy work on their plantations. Trouble broke out when 500 slaves left their plantations and marched to the capital city of Cayenne. They were penniless and hoped to find jobs. The slave owners were determined to return them to the plantations.

King Louis Philippe asked Nanette if black people were really incapable of running their own affairs. “Nonsense!” answered Nanette. And she had a plan to prove it! She said that she could establish a colony with those 500 freed slaves and that they would be successful. The king commissioned her to go back to Guiana in 1835. He accompanied her to the carriage that would take her to the ship and exclaimed that she was a “great man”.  The sea captain who took her to Guiana called this indomitable woman “my most seasoned sailor”.

Anne Marie Javouhey

Anne Marie Javouhey

Back at Guiana Nanette did indeed help the 500 slaves form a successful community. Everywhere else in Guiana people were starving but in Nanette’s community there was plenty of food. Nanette structured the colony as she would a religious community. Religious instruction was available to all; everyone worked cooperatively to grow food, fish, hunt, and build homes. The black people were all very happy. By 1838 all of the freed slaves were owners of their own cottages and had money that they had earned. Later government officials said that this colony was more prosperous than Cayenne itself!

Life was not so smooth as it should have been for Anne Marie. God sent her a thorn in the flesh in the form of a young, conceited, power hungry bishop back in France who was in charge of Anne Marie’s district. Bishop d’Hericourt tried to get the Sisters of St. Joseph to rewrite their constitution putting him in charge. His struggle to gain control of the order lasted for eighteen years. At one point he even excommunicated Nanette. For two years Nanette watched as her sisters and friends took communion while she sat and prayed unwilling to protest and cause a scandal. This brave and righteous woman who defied the government during the French revolution now stood firm in her beliefs again.

In 1843 when her goals of establishing the colony were accomplished Nanette sailed back to France. She was happy to be home but still faced the opposition from d’Hericourt. Though he fought her, she established a good enough relationship to continue her mission work. Anne Marie traveled to India, Tahiti, and South America. Anne Marie continued to work for equality for blacks. She also was willing to work among the lepers. Nanette continued to oversee her order as it grew to 118 houses with over 1000 sisters.

In the meantime the controversy with d’Hericourt continued but was finally adjudicated by an Archbishop in Paris. Archbishop Sibour was familiar with the situation and patiently heard both sides. In the end he determined that the control of the Sisters of St. Joseph should be left with Anne Marie. Nanette was exonerated and d’Hericourt was exposed as the power-grabber that he was. D’Hericourt was very angry but there was nothing he could do.

This struggle took its toll on both Anne Marie and d’Hericourt. They died within the same year. In March 1851 Anne Marie suffered a stroke. She nearly died but recovered for a few days. Upon hearing that d’Hericourt had died she said, ‘We almost met, he and I, on that very day, before the judgment seat of God. So he’s gone in ahead of me, that good bishop. Well, that is as it should be. A bishop should always enter first.” Nanette prayed for the bishop’s soul and then she died the next morning.

Coming through the dangerous and bloody French revolution to a life of steadfast faith Anne Marie succeeded as she sought to spread the love of Christ to as many people as she could.

In 1950 Anne Marie Javouhey was beatified by Pope Pius XII.

 

 

 

 

 

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