Visitation Nuns

views updated


(vhm; Official Catholic Directory #4190) Founded June 6, 1610, at Annecy, France, by St. francis de sales and St. Jane Frances de chantal, who wished to form a simple congregation, contemplative but not cloistered, devoted to the apostolate of visiting the sick poor in their homes. For five years the Visitandines fulfilled this purpose at Annecy. However, after the second foundation was made at Lyons, the archbishop of that see, Cardinal de Marquemont, insisted that the congregation be raised to the status of a religious order with solemn vows and strict enclosure. Francis de Sales yielded to this request, but held to his plan of admitting widows, those in delicate health, and women of advanced age, as well as young girls. The Rule of St. Augustine was adopted and enforced by constitutions that successive popes praised for their "wisdom and discretion." Interior mortification replaced the corporal austerities characteristic of other orders founded at that time. Exact observance of the daily order as prescribed in the Spiritual Directory was designed to foster an atmosphere of prayer, a spirit of dependence, and union with God. Humility before God and meekness toward one's neighbor constitute the spirit of the order. The nuns chant the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin, adding hymns and prayers from the Breviary for Sundays and designated feasts.

Expansion and Government. When Francis de Sales died in 1622 there were 13 monasteries; in 1641, the year of Jane de Chantal's death, the number had increased to 85. By 1700 the order was established in Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, and Poland. During the 18th century it spread to England, Austria, Syria, Spain, and Portugal; in the 19th century, to the U.S., South America, and Czechoslovakia. It also reappeared in France, where all monasteries had been suppressed during the French Revolution. During the 20th century foundations were made in Mexico, Canada, Hungary, and Ireland.

Visitation monasteries are grouped according to regional federations. Each federation is governed by a regional superior. The monasteries remain autonomous. Papal enclosure, either major or minor, is enforced throughout the institute. In the U.S. monasteries were grouped into two federations: the First Federation of North America and the Second Federation of North America.

Apostolate. Although Francis de Sales did not intend the teaching apostolate for the Visitation nuns, they nevertheless conducted private academies to combat heresy even before 1641. When monasteries were reestablished in France after the Revolution, schools were reopened. In the U.S. the georgetown visitation foundation at Washington, D.C., was made in 1799 under Bp. Leonard Neale, SJ, of Baltimore, Md., who sponsored the community and gave them the Rule of the Visitation. In 1815 Pius VII, at Neale's request, granted the foundation the rights and privileges of the Visitation order. This foundation and the 13 that branched from it conduct academies. In 1853 a foundation from Montluel, France, was made in Keokuk, Iowa; from this developed five others, of which three survived: Georgetown, Ky.; Rock Island, Ill.; and Tacoma, Wash. All conducted academies. The Keokuk community transferred to Wilmington, Del., in 1868, closed their school in 1893, and reverted to the strictly contemplative life. During the next 50 years the same change was made by monasteries descended from the Georgetown foundation, in New York; Washington, D.C.; Richmond, Va.; and Philadelphia, Pa. In 1915 the Georgetown nuns founded a strictly contemplative monastery in Toledo, Ohio, from which the monastery of Atlanta, Ga., was founded in 1954, bringing the number of strictly contemplative monasteries in the U.S. to seven. The monasteries with schools include those in Georgetown, D.C.; St. Louis, Mo.; Baltimore, Frederick, and Catonsville, Md.; Wheeling and Parkersburg, W. Va.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Rock Island and Springfield, Ill.; St. Paul, Minn.; and Georgetown, Ky. The monasteries of Mobile, Ala., and Tacoma, Wash., engage in retreat work. The unifying apostolate of the Visitation nuns is the spread of devotion to the Sacred Heart, which became distinctive after the revelations of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary alacoque at Paray-le-Monial, France, between 1673 and 1675. The apostolate found new expression in the Confraternity of the Guard of Honor of the Sacred Heart, established at the monastery of Bourg, France, in 1863; the organization was raised to an archcon-fraternity by the Holy See in 1878.

Bibliography: É. bougaud, The Life of St. Chantal and the Foundation of the Visitation, 2 v. (New York 1895). francis de sales, The Interior Spirit of the Religious of the Visitation of Holy Mary (Cork, Ire. 1943). g. p. and r. h. lathrop, A Study of Courage: Annals of the Georgetown Convent of the Visitation (Cambridge, Mass. 1895). m. l. lynn, The Silver is Mine: A Brief History of St. Joseph's Monastery of the Visitation 18531953 (Wilmington, Del. 1953).

[m. l. lynn/eds.]