Early History of the  Congregation


Dom Jean Leuduger
A sketch of Dom Jean Leuduger, priest who co-founded and consecrated the first Daughters of the Holy Spirit

We Daughters of the Holy Spirit are in the midst of the observance of the Year of Marie Balavenne, one of our foundresses.  The year began in March, 2016 and closes in August, 2017. In view of this, we begin a series of articles highlighting the early history of the  Congregation.

To understand our DHS origins it is important to look at the political, social, economic, and religious life of 17th and 18th century France. The country was a nation of sharp class contrasts with 3 social classes:  (1)  Clergy   (2)  Nobility  (3)  All other citizenry. Power and wealth were all in the hands of the nobility and the higher clergy who were like nobles. Of note is the fact that these latter paid very little in taxes while the bulk of the tax burden fell on those who had the least money. Brittany in Northwest France was composed primarily of small farming or fishing villages with a good deal of poverty and a widespread lack of education. Women had few legal rights and were frequently under the control of men. It was here that the Daughters of the Holy Spirit were born.


Marie Balavenne
Sketch of Marie Balavenne, 1st DHS 1666-1743

The spiritual situation in Brittany had a more positive outlook. A new spiritual Mission movement had developed in the area, the purpose of which was to counteract the spread of Protestantism. Groups of priests were trained to go throughout the parishes to preaching to call the faithful to return to the love of God. Among these priests was Jean Leuduger who was Director of Missions in the diocese of St. Brieuc. One of the outcomes of this Mission movement was the formation of confraternities and Third Orders for the laity.  Some of our early sisters were members of such groups where they combined a life of prayer with service to the needy and teaching Christian doctrine.

One of the things that Dom Jean Leuduger, the Director of Education and Missions in the Diocese of St. Brieuc, was concerned about was the education of children. He would organize a little group of women to continue the work of catechizing and caring for the sick after he had finished a Mission in a parish. In Plerin he invited Marie Balavenne, a widow, to such a role. With Marie Balavenne the first Charity School was set up at Le Legue for girls. Marie was illiterate, but able to organize the schools and teach Christian Doctrine, knitting, and needlework. Leuduger began to direct other young women to join Marie, one of whom was Renee Burel who was one of his cousins. Being well-educated, she was able to teach reading, writing, and numbering in the little school.  Renée Burel was born in the small village of LaVille Herve.  Her parents were prosperous farmers. Renée attended the Ursuline Academy in St. Brieuc and had at one time thought about joining the Ursulines, but the Spirit had other plans for her and led her to join Marie Balavenne. At the death of her parents, Renée inherited their wealth which she used to help the Charity School keep going.

Renée Burel
    Statue of co-foundress  Renée Burel by Claire Pelletier, DHS USA

In addition to their work at the school, Marie and Renée were journeying toward self-giving. On December 8, 1706 the two women pronounced their first vows. They lived together in community and worked in caring for the poor and teaching the parish girls which was a new concept in 17th century France. Teaching rural girls was not common. The Spirit was at work “making something new”!
As more women joined Marie and Renée, the house of charity became too small. Thus, Jean Leuduger’s successor, René Allenou de la Ville-Angevin had the school moved to Plérin. This move was mostly financed by Renée Burel. By the time of this move, Renee’s health had declined considerably, and she died on June 19, 1720 at the age of 38. Somebody wrote in the margin of her death certificate  “Granum Sinapis” – “Mustard Seed”.  “She was the grain of mustard, cast into the earth, which becomes a great tree sheltering in its branches all the birds of the air.”   (Notice de la Congrégation)

This information was presented through the generosity and expertise of Sr Marian St. Marie, Provincial Team Member and Province historian (marianst.marie@gmail.com) who would be happy to reply to any of your queries on this and related matters. It would be of particular interest to us to have you share what inspired you as you read about these two women and the beginnings of our international congregation.

Nota bene:  Part 2 will follow in a few weeks.  Be on the lookout.

House in Plérin, France
House of Le Légué in Brittany, France



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