‘His Spouses, Small and Well-Loved’
By Donna Sue Berry
Within this garden there is the small community of Little Sisters Disciples of the Lamb. The existence of this Order, according to their Prioress is “to allow those who have the ‘last place’ in the world, to hold in the Church the exceptional place of spouses of Jesus Christ, and to allow those whose life is held in contempt to the extent of being in danger from a culture of death, to witness by their consecration to the Gospel of Life.”
The Little Sisters are made up of women with and without Down’s Syndrome. The Sisters follow the ‘Little Way’ of Saint Therese; their simple life is composed of prayer, work and sacrifice. Together the sisters work to teach their little disabled sisters the manual labor necessary for their development, which includes adoration and praying the rosary adapted to their rhythm and capacities.
“I understood that every flower created by Him is beautiful, that the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would no longer be enameled with lovely hues. And so it is in the world of souls, Our Lord’s living garden.” ― Thérèse de Lisieux
At the priory, the Little Sisters receive young women touched by the spirit of poverty and dedication, who are ready to offer up their whole existence to the service of Christ in the person of their sisters with Down’s syndrome. Every day they receive the Eucharist, living in the spirit of silence and prayer, while meditating on the Gospel.
The convent stands in a large park in close proximity to the Benedictine Abbey of Fontgombault; a monk of the Abbey is chaplain to the small community. The Order was founded with the encouragement of the late Professor Jerome Lejeune, Servant of God. Professor Lejeune discovered the chromosomal abnormality in humans that causes Down’s syndrome.
Mother Prioress Line shared a more in-depth look at the Little Sisters:
Would tell us about your Sisters?
The Institute of the Little Sisters Disciples of the Lamb is a contemplative order and provides young girls with Down’s syndrome the opportunity to fulfill their religious vocation. This achievement is only possible because it is supported by Sisters without Down’s syndrome who answered a call to love, dedicating themselves to God with their disabled little sisters to form a single community.
It is a unique vocation within the Church. John Paul II testified that all life is precious in God’s eyes. (Encyclical Gospel of Life – John Paul II). The Church, in recognizing the Institute specifically recommended that the Community would not be linked to any existing Order or Congregation. She asked the Sisters to seek to make their way by adjusting and adapting to the disability of the Little Sisters.
That is why we are not two communities combined into one with Sisters without Down’s on one side and the Sisters with Down’s on the other. We are all one in the same community and the same family where all live at the same adapted rhythm. We share the offices and the same tasks of the Community where manual labor is adjusted to each according to her abilities.
What we the beginnings of the Order?
It is almost 30 years since the Community was founded in 1985. We started in a very small way, housed in the village of Buxeuil in the diocese of Tours. To form our charism, we drew from two Saints:
- The Little Way of St. Therese of the Child Jesus: this is not to seek great things but to do everything out of love for Jesus.
- From St. Benedict we took the two key words “Ora et Labora” — prayer and work. This balance is very important to our Sisters with disabilities.
We were canonically recognized in 1990 as a Public Association, by the Archbishop of Tours. We are now based in Le Blanc, diocese of Bourges, and became a religious institute of contemplative life through the archbishop in 1999. Our vocation is to dedicate our lives to God as an offering of love for the weakest and most helpless.
Who founded your Order?
The foundation of the Order began with the meeting of two young girls, Line (now Mother Prioress of the Community) and Veronique, a young girl with Down syndrome, now a religious herself. Mother Line had then seen in the young Veronique a true vocation. She knew that she needed help because all the religious communities in which she presented herself were unwilling to take her. Year after year the Community –recognized by the Church and led by the Holy Spirit – has adapted itself to the Trisomy 21 and the disability religious life.
How is the Abbey of Fontgombault connected to your Convent?
From the beginning of the Foundation, Abbot Antoine Forgeot was a real father and a great support for the Community. He then appointed Father de Feydeau to accompany the Little Sisters in their spiritual development. Father de Feydeau understood very well the charism of the Institute and a good teacher for the Prioress. The Community owes much to him, for he knew the Little Sisters and welcomed their child-like spirit. He then left for the founding of the Clear Creek Abbey in the United States, and we remained in touch with him until his death. When he told us by letter of his serious illness, he had these beautiful words to say, “I will be the little brother of the Little Sisters.” After Dom Antoine Forgeot, Dom Pateau succeeded him. Thus were born the links with Fontgombault Abbey that remain today.
Would you tell us about Servant of God, Jerome Lejeune’s connection to the Community?
Yes, Professor Jerome Lejeune has been with the Little Sisters from their birth and followed them as they entered the Community. Even today, we can call the Jerome Lejeune Foundation when needed. Professor Lejeune said that if intelligence is limited, then those with Down syndrome can develop their concepts by heart and are not disabled. For him, an adapted religious life would be possible to those with Down’s syndrome.
We understand that you have both Sisters with and without Down’s syndrome. What should a woman expect when she comes to visit as an aspirant?
To a girl who would come as an aspirant, we would say to her that she should not look for great things. From Carmel we only took the little way taught by St. Therese` which is appropriate for our love of poverty. We will never make great accomplishment or be great theologians.
With our Little Sisters we are one big family. “Prayer is a single look to Heaven” said St. Therese. We have nothing to envy of our dear Sisters of Carmel. For here we have only taken the way. Looking at our Little Sisters throughout the day, we contemplate Jesus hidden in the heart of all, small and humble, Jesus has placed us at the school of love to the end. It is a great joy, a great grace to be able to offer us to God through our Little Sisters. It is through this that they can be devoted to Jesus and become His spouses, small and well-loved.
How long is the Postulancy and Novitiate?
First of all they have a time of discernment. Then there comes the Postulancy of one year, followed by the Novitiate of three years. After the Novitiate there follows another period of three years of Temporary Vows, before their final Profession.
Mother Line, what would you like to add about your Order of Nuns and their special charism?
Several young women with Down’s syndrome are knocking at our door. To answer their call, our family needs new vocations of women without Down’s syndrome who have a solid calling to Jesus and to serving our Little Sisters! This call can be heard in the heart of many girls. The world today needs evidence of young girls who will give their lives completely to God by dedicating themselves to the religious life for the Defense of Life with our Little Sisters with Down syndrome.
How can young women contact you?
We have an urgent need for healthy, young women with solid vocations to help and serve the Little Sisters who have Down’s syndrome and in witness to the Gospel of Life. Even from another continent, we will welcome them with open arms!
Young women who are interested in contacting the Little Sisters of the Lamb may do so by writing to this address:
Petites Soeurs Disciples de l’Agneau
14 rue de la Garenne
36300 Le Blanc
The Little Sister, Sr. Rose Claire
It was a year, May 4th, that our young Sister, without Down’s syndrome, the Little Sister Rose Claire, aged 26, passed away to Heaven. She had deeply understood the charisma of the Institute. The Lord picked her, as she had written in 2012 on the occasion of her final vows, “Only one thing makes my heart beat, it is the love that I receive and that I can give.”
The Benedictine Monks of Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in the diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma, have a connection to the Little Sisters as well. Their late Sub-prior, Father Francois de Feydeau, was a spiritual director of the Sisters and received from Little Sister Rose Claire a picture she draw herself.
“The elevator must raise me to heaven; these are your arms, O Marie! To do this, I do not need to grow bigger; on the contrary, I must remain small as I become more and more.”