Barat, Madeleine Sophie (1779–1865)

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Barat, Madeleine Sophie (1779–1865)

French saint and founder of the Sacred Heart Society. Born in Joigny, France, on December 12, 1779; died in Paris, France, on May 25, 1865; daughter of Jacques (a vinegrower) and Marie-Madeleine (Fouffé) Barat; educated at home by her brother Louis, a priest; accompanied him to Paris in 1880 to continue her education.

According to biographer C.E. Maguire, Madeleine Sophie Barat wanted nothing more than to lead a cloistered religious life in prayer, or perhaps teach poor children. Instead, she became the founder of the "Madames of the Sacred Heart," a religious congregation known in Europe and America primarily for its education of young ladies of wealth and position. During her lifetime, Madeleine Barat devoted herself to expanding the schools, which numbered 86 at the time of her death in 1865. Her religious calling led her across Europe, as she guided the phenomenal growth of her congregation.

The daughter of a Burgundy vinegrower, Barat was educated by her brother Louis, a priest. In 1800, she accompanied her brother to Paris to continue her education, and there she met Joseph Varin D'Ainville, who persuaded her to fulfill her service to God by instilling Christian principles in the children of postrevolutionary society. In 1802, with four other women, Barat established the first Society of the Sacred Heart in Amiens, where she became superior general and head of the school for girls. Under her direction, the school flourished over the next two years, with a broad curriculum including Bible and church history, French, ancient and modern literature, mythology, music, drawing, domestic economy, mathematics and science. According to Maguire, the ultimate aim of the school was "the glory of the heart of Jesus Christ." The motto of the society later became "One Heart and one mind in the Heart of Jesus." In accordance, Maguire tells us, the nuns set out "not to produce learned ladies, though they sometimes did, but to train Christian mothers … women capable of bringing up their sons as well as their daughters, so that Frenchmen might again some day see their lives as God-centered."

In 1804, Barat established a second house of the Society of the Sacred Heart in Grenoble, where she met Rose Philippine Duchesne , who would later introduce the congregation into the United States. (The first American convent was in St. Charles, Missouri.) After leaving Amiens, Mother Barat spent the next 60 years traveling across Europe establishing and visiting her schools, journeys often made at the expense of her frail health. Although she had little chance to teach after leaving Amiens, she remained interested in the intellectual training of her teachers and in the shaping of the society's constitutions, adopted in 1815, to unify the various branches and to guard against the influence of the court circles from which many of the students came. She also was active in resisting a number of efforts to change the constitutions, one of which, in 1839, attempted to bring the Sacred Heart more in line with the Jesuits. (Leo XII had formally approved the society on December 26, 1826.)

During the last years of her life, Barat lived in Paris and devoted much of her remaining energy to improving the studies of her nuns and pupils. In 1855, she had an interesting correspondence with Constance Bonaparte , the daughter of Lucien and Alexandrine Bonaparte , about the education of two of her nieces. In one letter Barat warns Bonaparte to "fortify her nieces against 'the glamor of the grandeur and wealth which will be offered them.'"

Mother Barat died on May 25, 1865. Her body was first taken to Conflans, but, when her nuns were driven out of France, it was removed to Jette, Belgium, where it was enshrined. She was beatified in 1908 and canonized in 1925. By the late 20th century, Societies of the Sacred Heart were found in almost every country, with educational programs based on theology and ranging from elementary to university studies.


Maguire, C.E., Mother. Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat. NY: Sheed and Ward, 1960.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Barat, Madeleine Sophie (1779–1865)

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