Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament, Congregation of
INCARNATE WORD AND BLESSED SACRAMENT, CONGREGATION OF
Official Catholic Directory #2200 (see also #2190 and #2205). The Order of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament was founded in seventeenth century France by Jeanne chÉzard de matel as a contemplative cloistered Order. Teaching was an early and very important ministry with the students coming into the cloister for classes, but Mother de Matel does not describe the purpose of her Order in terms of any ministry. Rather, she describes it sometimes as "the extension of the Incarnation," sometimes as an Order through which the Incarnate Word would be introduced into the world once again." Ministry, especially the ministry of teaching, is an important means to achieve the ends of the Order. The structure of the Order was monastic with each monastery governmentally autonomous. The foundress did, however, urge her Sisters to foster a sisterly love between monasteries.
The Seventeenth Century
The first small community of three came together in great poverty in Roanne, France, on July 2, 1625. The group consisted of the foundress, Mother Jeanne Chézard de Matel (1596 to 1670), and two friends. Shortly thereafter, a fourth woman joined them, and with her arrival, teaching became a primary ministry of the incipient Institute. During the lifetime of the foundress, four Monasteries of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament were canonically erected in France: Avignon (1639), Grenoble (1643), Paris (1644), and Lyon (1655). Because of exterior interference, the Monastery of Paris was suppressed in 1672.
In prayer, Mother de Matel became convinced that the title of the new Institute should be "Incarnate Word," and this was the title that she requested for her Order. However, the Apostolic Bull of Erection for Lyon issued by Pope Urban VIII and dated May 21, 1633, gave as title "Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament." Mother de Matel, who said of herself that she "rejoiced in being a daughter of the Church," accepted this decision of the Church and used it interchangeably with the shorter title, "Incarnate Word." The Apostolic Bull also gave the Institute the Rule of Saint augustine.
In July 1645, after Mother de Matel had founded three canonical Monasteries, she sought and received aggregation of the three existing Monasteries and all future houses of the Incarnate Word to the Order of Saint Augustine. This resulted in a spiritual union between the two Orders but preserved the autonomy of each.
In the late 1640's, Mother de Matel worked to establish a male branch of her Order, the Fathers of the Incarnate Word. Several priests worked with her on this project. However, the death of her advisor, Father Jean-Baptiste Carré, O.P., and other factors caused the project to fail at that time. It would be revived in the late twentieth century.
After the canonical establishment of the Monastery of Lyons in 1655, Mother de Matel worked to place on a firm footing and strengthen the spiritual life of all of her Monasteries. From 1662 until 1670, she lived in the Monastery of Paris, suffering much from a series of difficulties which beset that Monastery. Her death occurred in Paris on Sept. 11, 1670. Her heart was removed and sent as a precious relic to her beloved Monastery of Lyon. Then her mortal remains were interred in the crypt of the Monastery of Paris.
After the death of the foundress, the Monastery of Grenoble founded a daughter house in Sarrians in 1683. This community moved to Orange in 1687, then to Roquemaure in 1697. The Monastery of Lyon established a daughter house at Anduze in 1697.
The Eighteenth Century
In 1717, the Monastery of Grenoble was suppressed because of lack of vocations, but the Monasteries of Avignon and Lyon together with the second generation Monasteries of Roquemaure and Anduze continued to develop. Throughout the eighteenth century, vocations increased, and the various communities acquired additional property. But in 1790, the revolutionary government passed a decree suppressing all religious Institutes. This decree was not enforced in Lyon until 1792. On Sept. 29, 1792, when the Lyon Sisters refused to take the oath demanded by the state, they were expelled from their Monastery. Some returned to their families, others lived unobtrusively in small groups, one went into exile in Italy. All other Monasteries of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament were suppressed about the same time.
The Nineteenth Century
Europe. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Order of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament seemed to be dead. Most of the Sisters who had survived the Revolution were living quietly at home, alone, or in small groups, and most were advanced in years. But the flame of life had not gone out entirely from the Institute. Through the joint efforts of a French diocesan priest, Father Stephen Denis, and a member of the suppressed Monastery of Lyon, Mother Anne of the Holy Spirit Chinard-Durieux, the Institute was restored. In 1817, a group of religious women whom Father Denis had founded exchanged their original habit for the habit of Mother de Matel's community. At the same time, they accepted the Rule and Constitutions of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word. Twenty-five years after its suppression, the Order of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament was restored.
As many as nine new foundations were made directly from Azerables and one of these, the Monastery of Evaux, gave rise to two other non-cloistered Institutes. The first was a Second Order of the Incarnate Word founded in 1834. Later, the title of this Institute was changed to the Order of the Savior and of the Blessed Virgin. The second was an Institute of Hospital Sisters in 1846, founded to do works of charity such as visiting the sick in their own homes. The Monastery of Lyon was restored through the efforts of a diocesan priest of Lyon, Father Galtier, and a Sister, Rosalie Hiver. Rosalie was accepted as a postulant in the community of the Incarnate Word in Azerables on June 29, 1832. After she became a novice (at which time, she received the name of Sister Angelique of the Incarnation), she, a former Superior, and a postulant from Azerables went to Lyon to work toward the restoration of the Monastery there. On May 27, 1833, the chapel of the new Monastery was blessed, Mass was celebrated in it, and the cloister was established. Thus the Monastery of Lyon was formally re-established. In 1842, the Monastery of Lyon founded a daughter house, the Monastery of Belmont, which, in spite of great poverty and many difficulties, was in existence for 60 years.
The New World. In 1852, at the request of Bishop Odin, Bishop of the whole state of Texas, Mother Angelique Hiver of Lyon assigned four Sisters to make the first Incarnate Word foundation in the New World. Two were from the Monastery of Belmont: 23-year-old Sister Saint Claire Valentine, the founding Superior, and a lay Sister, Sister Dominique Ravier. The other two were from the Monastery of Lyon: Sister Saint-Ange Barre and Sister Saint-Ephrem. Satin. At the end of February 1853, in the border town of Brownsville, Texas, the first foundation in the New World was made. Just one week later, on March 7, 1853, the Sisters opened a school. In spite of great difficulties, the foundation flourished. In 1866, the Monastery of Brownsville established a daughter house in Victoria, Texas, and in 1871, Victoria and Brownsville cooperated in making a foundation in Corpus Christ, Texas. The Monastery of Victoria founded other daughter houses, among them the Monastery of Houston in 1873, Hallettsville in 1882, and Shiner in 1897. In 1898, Brownsville made a foundation in Rio Grande City, Texas, which lasted until the 1920s.
In 1866, at the request of Bishop Dubuis, second Bishop of Texas, the Monastery of Lyon gave preliminary formation to three women who would found a related Order to do the works of mercy in Texas, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. After a very brief time in the Monastery of Lyon, the Sisters of Charity went to Galveston. From there the present Congregations grew and developed.
In 1894, the Monastery of Brownsville extended the international character of the Order by making a foundation in Mexico: San Juan Bautista in Tabasco, Mexico. In 1896, the Monastery of Corpus Christi made a foundation in Puebla, Mexico, which lasted until it was closed by religious persecution in 1929.
The Twentieth Century
France and Spain. In 1902, a leftist government came to power in France, and this led to a renewed attack on religion. As a result, some of the Incarnate Word communities, including the Monastery of Belmont, were dispersed. The community of the Incarnate Word of Lyon spent 25 years in exile in Fribourg, Switzerland. In the 1920s, they returned to Lyon, but had to leave again during the Second World War. When the war was over, the Sisters returned to Lyon and opened a boarding house for women. They also sent Sisters to Spain to open houses there. In the twentieth century, the other Incarnate Word foundations in France closed one by one. Now the only surviving French house is that of Lyon which continues to have Sisters in Spain. In 1970, this house was amalgamated with the Mexico City Generalate.
Mexico. In the twentieth century, the Monastery of Brownsville continued to make foundations in Mexico. In addition, the communities already in Mexico made further foundations. In 1903, a Monastery was established in Guadalajara by three French Sisters from the suppressed French Monastery of Belmont. About 1916, one of the three French Sisters made a foundation in Cuba which grew and developed until the Sisters were expelled in 1961 in the regime of Fidel Castro. In the early part of the century, the revolution in Mexico brought religious persecution and consequent suffering. For many years, there existed a pattern of expulsion of the Sisters from schools and convents, later return of their property, then a new wave of expulsion. The Sisters persevered throughout these difficult days and re-opened their schools whenever possible. By 1912, Mother Teresita Solis of Chilapa, Mexico, and Mother Stanislaus Dedieu of Brownsville, Texas, were dialoguing about the possibility of setting up a Generalate for the Order of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament—a radical change from the traditionally monastic structure of the Order. This did not happen in the lifetime of either of these Superiors. However, in 1929, Mother Concepción Solis of Mexico City set up the first Generalate in the Order, uniting in one Congregation three formerly autonomous Monasteries of the Incarnate Word—Chilapa, Matehuala, and Mexico City. The Motherhouse is in Mexico City. The decree of authorization from the Sacred Congregation for Religious is dated Feb. 28, 1929.
In addition to incorporating the European houses in France and Spain into its Generalate, the Mexico City Congregation opened many houses throughout Mexico and also in Guatemala, Argentina and Uruguay. In 1980, the Sisters of the Incarnate Word from Mexico City made the first Incarnate Word foundation in Africa — in Kenya where there are now native Kenyan Sisters. Most recently, they have opened missions in Tanzania.
In 1914, persecution caused the autonomous community of the Incarnate Word in Gomez Palacio in the state of Durango to go into exile. They went to Cuba where they stayed as refugees for many years. Eventually they were able to return to Gomez Palacio, but a new wave of persecution in 1926 caused those who were not Mexican citizens to leave Mexico again. These Sisters went first to Incarnate Word communities in Texas, then to Cleveland, Ohio, in the United States, where they made a foundation in 1927. The Cleveland Sisters are an Institute of diocesan right. They maintain a sisterly relationship with the Sisters from Gomez Palacio.
The United States in the United States, in the early part of the twentieth century, at the request of the Bishops of Texas, the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament petitioned Rome for the abrogation of the cloister in order to better serve the Church in Texas. In 1915, the Monastery of Corpus Christi received permission from Rome for the abrogation of the cloister, and other Monasteries did likewise in the ensuing years.
In the 1930s, for vocational, financial or other reasons, two Generalates were formed in Texas, one with Motherhouse in Corpus Christi in 1932 and the other with Motherhouse in Victoria in 1939. Constitutions were rewritten which sought to preserve the ideals of Mother de Matel while providing for the new form of government. At this time, the monastic practice of having choir and lay Sisters ceased. All Congregations of the Incarnate Word now have only one class of religious.
In the twentieth century, Sisters of the Incarnate Word emphasized education and obtained academic degrees in a variety of fields. The number of Catholic schools increased as did the enrollment in individual schools and the workload of teaching Sisters. There was also an increase in vocations. These factors led to the erection of new convents and school buildings. In the 1950s, Pope Pius XII called for religious Institutes to update their life style and customs. This led to relatively minor changes in religious dress and customs just before the Second Vatican Council.
From 1965 to 1981, the Sisters of the Incarnate Word of Houston staffed a mission in Guatemala. In 1981, this mission was taken over by the Sisters of the Incarnate Word from Mexico City.
Worldwide Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Renewal. After the Second Vatican Council, about 1968, in response to directives from the Holy See, all the autonomous Congregations of the Incarnate Word held special renewal General Chapters. The decade of the 1970s and the early 1980s was a time of experimentation and renewal. In the experimental period, interim Constitutions were written and rewritten, but the new Constitutions were finalized and approved for each Congregation about the mid-1980s. The new Constitutions are couched in biblical terms and make a real effort to recapture the authentic vision of the foundress. They reemphasize the foundress' vision of "the extension of the Incarnation" as the primary end of the Order and broaden the understanding of ministry to enable Sisters to meet other needs of the Church.
In 1980, a series of International Reunions began in which all the Congregations share on the charism of the Order. The single Constitution that had spelled out the way of life of Sisters of the Incarnate Word everywhere for more than three hundred years was now replaced by individual Constitutions developed after the Second Vatican Council. To maintain unity of heart and to spell out together those basic points which are central to the charism of the Order, the representatives of each Congregation wrote a document called the Charter of Communion. It was agreed that this document would be placed with (but not as part of) the Constitutions of the various Congregations. One year later, on Dec. 22, 1981, this document was accepted and signed by the Superiors General of each Congregation.
Worldwide, autonomous Congregations of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament now number nine. There are four in the United States with Motherhouses in Cleveland, Ohio, and in Texas in Corpus Christi, Houston, and Victoria. In Mexico, there are five with Motherhouses in Mexico City, Mixcoac, Guadalajara, Gomez Palacio, and Tezuitldn. More than ever, representatives from the nine groups share in international and national meetings, and formation reunions. They work together to bring about the beatification of the foundress, Mother Chézard de Matel and to translate and make available her many writings in English and in Spanish. They have also cooperated in staffing mission houses. Nov. 5, 1995 began a Year of Jubilee for the worldwide Order in celebration of the 400' birthday of Mother de Matel on Nov. 6, 1996. The many activities of the year resulted in a new understanding and appreciation of the charism and spirit of the foundress and of the Order which she founded.
In the 1990s, there arose a new interest in establishing an Institute of Fathers of the Incarnate Word, a project dear to Mother de Matel's heart in the seventeenth century. This movement is still in its infancy but its growth is being fostered by more than one Incarnate Word Generalate.
In November 1994, Pope John Paul's Apostolic Letter, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, announced the Great Jubilee of the Incarnation to be celebrated in the Year 2000—a momentous event for Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament. As a result, the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament are fully involved in preparing for and celebrating the 2000' anniversary of the Incarnation. The year 2000 also marks the 375th anniversary of the first beginnings of the Order in Roanne, France in 1625. At the beginning of the third millennium, the exterior milieu in which the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament live is very different to that of the cloistered Sisters of the past. Interiorly, however, they strive to be ever faithful to the charism and spirituality entrusted to them by their seventeenth century foundress, Mother Jeanne Chézard de Matel.
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