New Series- Flowers from the Garden of the Visitation- Sr Anne Mary Bollain


Part One

You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and have appointed you, that you should go and should bring forth fruit,and your fruit should remain ; that whatsoever you shall ask ofthe Father in My name, He may give it to you.’^ (John xv ;16.)

 

THESE words of the beloved disciple seem to have been pronounced in a peculiar manner for Sister Anne Mary Bollain, who, sent by Divine Providence into the vineyard of the Visitation, brought forth abundant fruits to the Heavenly Gardener, by her own sanctification and that of the many souls confided to her.Miss Bollain was born in Paris, September 30th,1599, of pious parents, who early instilled into her young mind the strong principles of Catholicity by which they were themselves animated. She was still very young when she desired to become a Carmelite,or a Poor Clare ; but, in accordance with the secret designs of Providence, she was refused admittance into these venerable old Orders.* God destined this chosen soul for the humble Institute of the Visitation, and,for a long time, sweetly disposed her heart by His lights and inspirations for the life she was to lead in the cloister.

In 1619, St. Jane Frances de Chantal, already renowned for sanctity, went to Paris to found the first house of her Order in that city. Miss Bollain lost no time in making the acquaintance of the Saint,as well as that of St. Francis de Sales, who came to give the habit to two of the postulants. She made known to them her desire of becoming; a religious,and asked to be admitted to their Institute. The holy prelate asked her name; she replied, ^^ Bollain.^^Then the Saint, in allusion to her name, said to her :” My child, le lin [flax) is a very small seed which multiplies in great quantities; thus must your works increase in the field of holy religion to which I willingly admit you.” She, accordingly, entered and gave herself unreservedly to her Heavenly Spouse. Under the direction of Mother de Chantal, then Superioress,she made rapid progress in the practice of the most solid virtues. Her good sense and correct judgment were soon apparent to the penetrating eye of St. Frances de Chantal who^ consequently, did not hesitate to confide to her, even during her novitiate, many house-hold charges, among others those of dispenser and portress. She also consulted her young novice on many points relative to the Book of Customs, which was, at that time, in course of compilation. Sister Anne Mary acquitted herself of all her duties with such recollection that she reached in a short time a very high degree of prayer, which was fostered by her great spirit of mortification. On her entrance, into the monastery she begged to be allowed to sleep in the dormitory of the novices whose beds Were merely bundles of straw laid on the floor of the garret, and which by morning were sometimes covered with snow,she gladly shared all the wants and inconveniences,as well as the laborious duties incident on a new foundation ; as a reward she had the happiness of making a review of conscience to her blessed father and founder, St. Francis de Sales. His words of instruction were carefully treasured up by Sister Anne Mary, to whose pen we are indebted for some beautiful sentiments uttered by the gentle Saint. We extract a few from among the many her devotedness preserved :

‘^ Why think you, my dear children, did God create you ? why did He redeem you ? why did He call you to holy religion, if not that you should be victims offered to the Divine Majesty, living holocausts daily sacrificed to His love? Therefore, you are in duty bound to destroy in yourselves, as far as possible, all that might prove an obstacle to your perfection, which consists in your union with God. These obstacles are self-love, self-will, the desire of honor, and the satisfaction of the senses. You must live by dying, and die by living; above all, you should employ your faculties, both corporal and spiritual, for the sole end of glorifying Him who has so particularly chosen you to be entirely consecrated to His service. To facilitate his, His mercy has given you His Holy Spirit who dwells in you to aid you by His light and love.^^

Before his departure from Paris, the holy prelate gave the veil to Sister Anne Mary whom he left with the new foundation, under the guidance of St. Jane de Chantal. And, truly, she imbibed her spirit ; for she lived in the daily practice of her teachings for sixty-three years, with fervor so remarkable that her memory will be forever held in benediction.

She was soon employed in a work which, at first,appeared very abject in the eyes of the world, but which proved highly conducive to the glory of God.In 1638, Mother de Chaugy gave an account of this mission, as follows ” In the year 1629, our virtuous Sister, Sister Anne Mary, was chosen in quality of Superioress to reform the Penitents of St. Magdalen. She was seconded in the undertaking by our dear Sisters, Sister Mary Simon Tollue, assistant and mistress of novices. Sister Claude Agnes de Chabannes, Sister Mary Dennis Langlois, and Sister Mary Bernard Lebrun. Now it was that the gifts of God in Sister Anne Mary were to shine forth to His glory, but without detriment to her humility; namely, her consummate prudence,ardent zeal, and perfect charity. This work had been long and earnestly desired by many great servants of God, but had been continually prevented by numerous obstacles; now, however, our worthy Mother de Chantal, to whom the affair had been referred, considering the love of the Good Shepherd for His wandering sheep, and the zeal of our Holy Founder for the salvation of souls, concluded that her children might undertake this labor of charity, but without binding themselves thereto. ^The sweet spirit of our Institute,^ said she, ^cannot endure other bonds than those of holy dilection, which maintain us in the truly Christian liberty of the children of God.^

 

” The Sisters chosen by the Divine Master to sacrifice their calm and secluded life, in order to further the interests of His glory and the salvation of souls,began a retreat of eight days as a preparation for their coming labors. After the first three days, they took the public life of Our Lord for the subject of their meditations, particularly those parts that relate to the conversion of St. Magdalen, St. Mathew, Zacheus, and others. Then, animated by the example of their Saviour, they entered the thorny field of their future career on the 21st of July, resolved to spare no pains in their efforts to render it so fruitful that its sweet odor ascending to Heaven might draw down upon it choice blessings. His lordship the Arch-bishop escorted them from Paris to the House of the Magdalens, which was situated near the Temple ;they were, also, accompanied by Mother Helen Angelica Lhuillier and several ladies, among them the Marchioness de Maignelay, foundress of the Magdalens,and the Countess de St. Paul. On their arrival.Mother Anne Mary made her profession of faith in the presence of his Lordship, and received the keys of the house. The penitents numbered about fifty.They conducted themselves most respectfully and cordially toward the Sisters, and seemed very anxious and inquisitive as to how they themselves would be treated.Mother Anne Mary and her assistant, Sister Mary Simon, who was likewise the novice mistress of these poor women, evinced toward them from the very first the most marked kindness, and endeavored to gain their hearts by the genuine interest they took in their welfare. This treatment so charmed the poor, unfortunate creatures that Mother Anne Mary acquired complete empire over them. They believed that the religious were angels, free from all earthly passions.

^’ Mother Anne Mary, seeing that the harvest was great, applied to the first monastery of the Visitation,in Paris, for more laborers. Two Sisters, one being Sister Mary Martha a Lorge, were sent to assist in the good work, and immediately a room was fitted up in a retired part of the house to serve as a novitiate.The sweetness and tact with which Mother Anne Mary and Sister Mary Simon attracted the penitents to this school of virtue were really admirable in their effects. By the grace of God it soon flourished in fervor and mortification. During the two years of the novitiate, the Sisters studied the dispositions of their pupils so that suitable rules might be given to themfor future guidance. These rules or constitutions were ultimately drawn up by St. Vincent de Paul, then known in Paris by the familiar title of Mr. Vincent.The Saint was assisted in the task by the Very Rev.Mr. Blanc, Grand Vicar of Paris, and at that time Superior of the Magdalens, and by the Rev. Mr.Chartron, Curate of St. Nicholas-des-Champs.

By this good work. Mother Anne Mary Bollain and her companions verified a prediction that St. Francis de Sales had made in 1619. The House of the Magdalens had been founded some months only before the arrival of the saint in Paris. One day he went to give the habit to three postulants. After the ceremony^ some persons asked him if he would not yield to the desire of Cardinal de Eetz^ who wished the Visitandines, or the Sisters of Holy Mary, as they were generally called,to form the penitents to a religious life, instead of establishing themselves. The saint made no reply, but leaning his head on his hand reflected seriously for several moments, and, at last, said: ‘^It is not yet time, the fruit is not ripe.^^ On another occasion,when questioned on the same subject, he replied :^^The time will come when the success of this House of St. Magdalen will far exceed our expectations.^^Truly, the saint spoke prophetically, for none ever dreamed of the great good that would be effected by the Institute. St. Frances de Chantal used to say that she seemed to see her blessed father, St. Francis de Sales, looking down from his throne in Heaven,with ineffable joy and complaisance on his dear daughters engaged in this good work, who, having been called to a life both pure and holy, hadbeen chosen by God to draw souls from sin, and to lead them to Him who had purchased them with His precious blood.*

^These words were written by the saint in a letter to MotherAnne Mary Bollain, dated October 7, 1629.

 

At the commencement of the undertaking, she frequently wrote the Superioress, Mother Anne Mary,letters of encouragement, in one of which she said :

” My very dear child, I cannot express to you the consolation I feel at seeing the fruit produced in souls by your efforts. This work is succeeding so well and gives so much glory to God and honor to our Institute,that we have great reason to bless God, and to humble ourselves. What an honor, my very dear child, what happiness to have been chosen by Divine Providence,to reap so abundant a harvest ! O how perfectly should we not annihilate ourselves before His eternal wisdom ! You will, unquestionably, lead all these souls into the way of salvation, and, by your patience,acquire treasures of merits and graces which will be shed, not only upon you, but also over our whole Institute. I salute most lovingly our dear sisters,your coadjutrixes in the good work, and exhort them,with all my heart, to labor courageously at their task,remembering that their reward will be ^exceeding great.’ ”

 

The saint directed Mother Anne Mary throughout this delicate and important affair. The constitutions were, at length, presented at Rome for the approbation of the Holy See, and on the 15th of December, 1631,Pope Urban VIII erected the House of St. Magdalen into a religious Order.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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