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Who We Are » St. Julie Billiart
There is always something exciting and challenging about being a saint!
These are some headlines for St. Julie Billiart’s nearly 65 years of life. Julie (Marie Rose Julie Billiart is her full name) was born in Cuvilly, France, on July 12, 1751.
God gifted Julie with a close relationship with him. His special gift to her was a unique trust in his goodness, expressed in her characteristic phrase, “How good is the good God!”
Trust in God’s goodness is the faith principle on which St. Julie, at age 53, founded a religious congregation, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. She spent the remaining 12 years of her life in shepherding the Sisters, founding schools and houses – and above all, in making known God’s goodness.
She died on April 8, 1816 and was canonized by the Church on June 22, 1969. Her feast day is May 13.
When St. Julie Billiart was a young girl in Cuvilly, France, her father was attacked. Thieves robbed him of many materials and fabrics in his small shop. Responding to this family crisis, the enterprising Julie took some of the remaining cloth to a nearby town, where she succeeded in selling them.
The attack on her father traumatized her, however, and perhaps resulted gradually in her physical paralysis. Eventually, she had great difficulty in speaking. Her paralysis lasted for 22 years. In spite of these and other trials, Julie continued to trust in “the good God.”
The situation could not have been more dangerous. Julie Billiart was paralyzed, totally dependent on her friends and particularly her niece, Felicité. In spite of her vulnerable position, she had to speak the truth: the priests who had sworn an oath supporting the French revolutionists were wrong, and it was wrong to accept their ministry. At one point, in order to save her life, Julie’s friends hid her in a hay cart and carried her to safety at Compiègne, France.
Even while she was paralyzed, St. Julie attracted people through her inspired awareness of God and the things of God. She drew them by her wisdom and goodness, and her joy in the midst of suffering. She welcomed them to the room provided for her in the home of friends. She gave her visitors what we would probably call today “spiritual direction” or guidance in their relationship with God.
When Julie and Françoise Blin de Bourdon founded the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur; she was still paralyzed. Sometime later, a priest who was a friend of the community invited her to pray with him a novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. His unspoken intention was Julie’s cure. At the end of the novena, the priest commanded her to stand up and walk. She did – and Julie never stopped traveling, often walking miles on the roads of France and Belgium to visit her spiritual daughters.
Julie understood that educating girls was not only a benefit to the girls themselves, but also to their families. God called her and the Sisters of Notre Dame to respond to this particular need of the time. With financial resources from Françoise Blin de Bourdon, the Congregation’s co-foundress, Julie opened free schools for girls living in poverty. She also opened day schools for middle-class girls and academies for the wealthy, both of which supported the free schools.
The bishop of Amiens, France thought the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur belonged in only one diocese – his in Amiens! St. Julie knew that God was calling her far beyond those boundaries. The bishop finally expelled her from Amiens. It was a very painful time for Julie, Françoise, and the Sisters. Julie left each Sister free to choose whether to remain in Amiens – and separate herself from the original Congregation – or to go with her. Most Sisters did choose to go with Julie, and they found a home in the diocese of Namur, Belgium.
St. Julie had remained faithful to the vision God had given her for the Congregation. Today the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur continue this educational ministry, both formally and in less structured ways. Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 17 countries on five continents continue their original Mission of proclaiming God’s goodness and educating for life.