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The Catholic Historical Review 88.2 (2002) 396-397

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Book Review

I Leave You My Heart:
A Visitandine Chronicle of the French Revolution. Mère Marie-Jéronyme Vérot's Letter of 15 May 1794

Thibert, Péronne-Marie, V.H.M. (Trans. and ed.). I Leave You My Heart:A Visitandine Chronicle of the French Revolution.Mère Marie-Jéronyme Vérot's Letter of 15 May 1794.(Philadelphia: Saint Joseph's University Press. 2000. Pp. x, 160. $24.95.)

Although much has been written about the role and experiences of the French clergy—parish priests as well as higher clergy—the history of religious sisters has largely been neglected. This has not been due to a lack of original sources. Religious congregations have left vast archives depicting their daily lives and inner experiences, but to date few scholars have availed themselves of the riches contained in these documents. This chronicle is evidence that further study of these sources is well worth undertaking.

This long letter written by Mère Vérot in May, 1794, recounts the travails of her religious community during the French Revolution. The cloistered nuns, members of the Order of Visitation founded by Francis de Sales and Jeanne de Chantal in 1610, were not prepared for the Revolution and remained fiercely loyal to the king and the hierarchy of the Church. The letter vividly depicts the devastating effect on the Visitandine sisters of the Revolution's anticlerical measures: the suspension of religious vows, the confiscation of church property, the indignity of the imposed "constitutional" bishops, and the tragic massacre of priests, including some known to Mère Vérot's community.

Nonetheless, this is not a chronicle of martyrdom but focuses rather on the determination of the sisters to remain faithful to their vows. Mère Vérot saw their intensified devotions as responsible for their ultimate means of escape—a providential request that they establish a convent in Mantua, Italy. In describing the perilous and arduous journey to Mantua, Mère Vérot focuses on the most triumphant aspect of their escape: the highly secret transfer to Mantua of the Visitandines' most valued possession, the heart of St. Francis de Sales. The courage and ingenuity required to accomplish this should go far to dispel the image of passive, submissive nuns.

While the tenor of Mère Vérot's letter is controlled and self-effacing, she nonetheless conveys the feelings she and her fellow nuns experienced throughout these upheavals. She describes the quiet weeping that accompanied prescribed periods of prayer following the decree suspending religious vows as well as the spirited resistance the nuns demonstrated whenever possible. After one visit by municipal officials trying to enforce revolutionary decrees, the officers exclaimed, "you women could tame tigers!" And by the time the sisters reach their destination in Mantua and are able to once again don their religious habits, the reader shares in the joy they feel. [End Page 396]

This chronicle is accompanied by an insightful introduction that places the letter in its historical context and outlines the unique focus of the Visitation community. Mère Vérot's letter is but one extract from a twelve-volume collection of biographies from the Visitation order. It is to be hoped that more will be made available to the public.


Jo Ann Browning Seeley
(Alexandria, Virginia)



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pp. 396-397
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