Jun 26 – Sts Marie-Madeleine Fontaine, DC, Marie-Francoise Lanel, DC, Therese Fantou, DC, Jeanne Gerard, DC, from the House of Charity in Arras, (d. 1794), Religious & Martyrs

The House of Charity in Arras was a beehive of activity. Seven Sisters cared for the sick, visited poor families and educated young children. The service was very well appreciated by the population.

Like everywhere, the Revolution questioned each one’s fidelity to Jesus Christ and to the Church. Quickly, Sister Coutacheaux decided to return to her family. The superior was worried about the two youngest Sisters. What fate did the revolutionaries have for them? She invited them to find refuge in Belgium. Sister Rose Michau and Sister Jeanne Fabre did not want to leave, but once the Terror came to Arras they followed the advice and went into exile. They rejoined the Company of the Daughters of Charity when it was reestablished. At the end of 1793 there were four Sisters, then, who remained working in the House of Charity.

Sister Marie Madeleine Fontaine, originally from Etrapigny (Eure), entered the Company in 1748 at the age of 25. As Superior of the community, her wisdom and competence were greatly appreciated. Sister Marie Françoise Lanel was born in 1745 in Eu (Seine Maritime). She entered the Daughters of Charity at the age of 19. Sister Thérèse Fantou was born in Miniac Morvan (Ille et Vilaine) in 1747. She became a Daughter of Charity at the age of 24. Sister Jeanne Gérardest was born in Cumières (Meuse) in 1752 and entered the Company of the Daughters of Charity in 1776.

The arrival in Arras of a new District leader, Joseph Lebon, brought a climate of violence and fear to the city. The House of Charity became the “House of Humanity” for which a new director was installed who surveyed the activities of the Sisters. The humiliations intensified and the false testimonies multiplied. On February 14 1794 the Sisters were arrested and taken to Saint-Vaast Abbey. The Sisters brought compassion to the prisoners who were distraught about their future. The Sisters underwent their first interrogation on the 4th of April. They again refused to take the oath, intended to subjugate the Catholic Church in France to the new French Government instead of the Pope, since it was against their conscience.

Then, suddenly, on the night of June 25, the order was given to quickly transfer these four Sisters of Charity to Cambrai. The cart left at one in the morning and arrived in Cambrai at eight thirty. The Sisters were locked in the chapel of the old Seminary. In this place of prayer they meditated.

Then came a new court appearance and immediate condemnation to death. Waiting for the cart to take them to the guillotine the Sisters prayed their chapelet. The guards took their “good luck charms,” and, not knowing what to do, put them on their heads like a crown. Thus it was that they went through the city, singing the Ave Maris Stella. (What do Catholic martyrs do? THEY SING!!!) At the foot of the scaffold Sister Marie-Madeleine Fontaine repeated the prediction already made to those condemned, “We are the last victims.” That extraordinary prediction came true. The fall of Robespierre on July 27 1794 marked the end of the Revolution of Terror.


-the four martyr saints holding the palms of victory in Heaven, Rev 7:9-17

Since the North Star guides sailors home to safe port, Mary is the Star of the Sea. She guides us safe home to Jesus.

Ave Maris Stella, 8th century AD

Ave, Maris Stella,
Dei Mater alma,
Atque semper virgo,
Felix coeli porta.

Sumens illud Ave
Gabrielis ore,
Funda nos in pace,
Mutans Evae nomen.

Solve vincia reis
Profer lumen caecis,
Mala nostra pelle,
Bona cuncta posce.

Monstra te esse Matrem,
Sumat per te preces
Qui pro nobis natus,
Tulit esse tuus.

Virgo singularis,
Inter omnes mitis,
Nos culpis solutos
Mites fac et castos.

Vitam praesta puram,
Iter para tutum;
Ut videntes Jesum
Semper collaetemur.

Sit laus Deo Patri,
Summo Christo decus,
Spiritui Sancto,
Tribus honor unus. Amen.

Hail Star of the Sea

Hail, thou Star of ocean,
Portal of the sky !
Ever Virgin Mother
Of the Lord most high !

Oh ! by Gabriel’s Ave,
Uttered long ago,
Eva’s name reversing,
Stablish peace below.

Break the captive’s fetters ;
Light on blindness pour ;
All our ills expelling,
Every bliss implore.

Show thyself a Mother ;
Offer Him our sighs,
Who for us Incarnate
Did not thee despise.

Virgin of all virgins !
To thy shelter take us :
Gentlest of the gentle !
Chaste and gentle make us.

Still, as on we journey,
Help our weak endeavor ;
Till with thee and Jesus
We rejoice forever.

Through the highest heaven,
To the Almighty Three,
Father, Son, and Spirit,
One same glory be. Amen.

The parish just over where I grew up near the seashore was named Maris Stella.

Love,
Matthew

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