23 May Saint Joan Antide Thouret, Foundress
Today is the feast day of Saint Joan Antide Thouret. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Joan was born in the diocese of Besançon in November of 1765. Saint Joan Antide lost her pious mother when she was 16 years old, and for several years took charge of the household and her family of younger brothers and sisters. After many hesitations, her father permitted her to enter the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul in Paris in 1787. (1)
There two serious illnesses impeded her religious training. The revolution dispersed the community in 1793, before Joan had made her profession. She returned to her hometown, where she ran a school for the village children. When political conditions had improved, the vicar general of Besançon invited Joan to open a school. Reluctant at first because she did not feel she had been adequately prepared for the work, Joan overcame her reticence and started the school in April 1799. Six months later she added a soup kitchen and dispensary. Critics denounced her for not returning to her original community. But she had not taken vows and had acted in obedience to the bishop. Joan also ran the female asylum at Belleveaux, which housed orphans, criminals, the homeless, and the mentally ill. Her sisters labored there under hopeless conditions, and opponents criticized and persecuted them for undertaking this work. (2)
Times were growing ever more difficult, and Sister Thouret again had to depart, this time journeying to Switzerland, where she assisted a French priest who had gone into exile with a few members of his little community. Again she cared for the sick; but the entire group was forced to move once again and go to Germany.
After two years she went to the village of Landeron in Switzerland. There she met the Vicar General of Besançon, and he asked her to found a school and a hospital in that city. In 1799 the foreseen school was opened at Besançon, and with a few novices the Foundress began work in France again. (1)
She wrote a rule for her Daughters of Saint Vincent de Paul, as she called them to distinguish them from the larger group, the Sisters of Charity, of whom they were independent. The Congregation’s members multiplied, as did their works; in 1802 they were given the direction of a house of detention at Bellevaux, sheltering more than 500 prisoners. They opened schools in eastern France and Switzerland. The foundress was invited to go to Naples to take on the direction of a hospital and initiate other works; she accepted this invitation in 1810. (1)
She remained in Naples until 1818, obtaining from Pope Pius VII the approval of her Institute in 1819. Problems arising in Besançon caused her many sufferings, when the new bishop there desired to maintain the Community under diocesan authority. Saint Joan Antide died in Naples in 1826, having left for her Sisters many examples of heroic virtue. She was canonized in 1934 by Pope Pius XI, who invited the French nation to exult with joy on seeing its crown enriched by a new flower of holiness. (1)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff