Our Congregation Grows Under Government Opposition

As we continue to paint for you the picture of the history of our congregation, we move into the late eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth. Today we meet another of the first charismatic leaders of the order, Catherine Anne Marie BRIAND.

Catherine Briand was born on March 20, 1722, the third child of François Briand and Janne Burel. Around the age of 21, she was received by Marie Allenou into the Society of the Charitable Daughters of Plérin(early name of the Daughters of the Holy Spirit). She spent some time in Taden, Saint Pol de Leon in Finistère, and at La Charité de Quimper. By 1768, Marie Allenou was no longer able to fulfill her duties as Superior General so Catherine was sent to fill in temporarily. After Marie’s death, Catherine was immediately elected Superior General.

quimper manorCatherine’s tenure was filled with hardships, particularly those brought about by the French Revolution. The poorer classes in France had been put down by the nobility and had no rights. They were heavily taxed  and still had to pay antiquated feudal dues and church fees.  Spurred on by their misery, ideas from the Enlightenment thinkers and the example of the American Revolution, a rebellion against the Monarchy broke out. An attempt at a moderate form of government with a limited monarchy was made, but did not satisfy the more radical elements of French society. Thus, civil war continued resulting in the execution of the French king and queen. A Republic was set up., and one of the first actions of this new government was to place the Church under its control with the proclamation of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. There was a concerted effort to wipe out religion which in effect at that same time rejected the authority of the Pope over the Catholic Church in France. Clergy as well as religious, were required to take an oath of loyalty to the new French government, but many refused to do so. The government launched a major campaign to eliminate  the nobility and anyone who failed to cooperate with the authorities. During this “Reign of Terror” nobles were arrested and executed and their estates destroyed or confiscated. Religious were evicted from their convents and works and were left to fend for themselves in the midst of a harsh and broken society.

quimper old buildingIt was at this time that Catherine Briand drew up her statement of beliefs and wrote it in her private diary. This statement was an open declaration of her steadfast religious beliefs – a personal proclamation of the Apostles’ Creed, a sign of her adamant opporition to a completely secularized government.

 Persecution of the sisters persisted, and on August 19, 1791, National Volunteers appeared at the Plérin house on the pretext of searching for priests. When Catherine demanded evidence of their orders ,they withdrew. Later that year,however, many of the Sisters’ goods and funds were confiscated by this latter group, and  on January 3, 1793 the Directory (government) forced the sisters to sell a silver ciborium and monstrance, a vestment and a surplice belonging to their chapel as well as their silverware. The sisters were also fined for wearing a “forbidden habit”. Catherine carried out the order, but then went before the members of the Directory to protest that she had received only 300 pounds for the sale of the objects which belonged to the sisters. This was far below what she should have received. Three days later the order came down that all the communities were to be evacuated and each sister was to return to her family. Catherine protested the decree in writing but the protest did not change the government’s stand. The contents of their chapel were moved to La Chapelle du Sépulcre in Plérin which had been established as a government approved chapel. The mayor of Plérin and his officials tried to plead for the sisters but were not successful. They were, however, able to acquire the contents of the pharmacy given for the sick poor of the Plérin area. The mayor also insisted that the Plérin house was town property; therefore, it was not taken by the national government. After the  revolution all the property, except the Chapel, was returned to the sisters.

saint pol de leonOn June 22 of that same year, all but six sisters left the Plérin house. These six were forced out 3 days later. Catherine Briand who was 71 years old, went to her family home in the village of St. Eloy where she remained for 7 years while secretly carrying out works of charity. Besides Plérin, the early Daughers were also banished from 18 other houses. Six of these houses never reopened. Some of the sisters who tried to continue their charitable works were arrested and spent time in prison. One, Sr. Renée Lemercier, died in the Good Shepherd Prison of Nantes on May 24, 1794.

The Revolution finally came to an end with the arrival of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799.

As First Consul, Napoleon realized that there was an enormous lack of education and a deprived sense of morality and religion. In order to remedy this, Napoleon turned to religious women. He, himself, was not religious but realized that, since a huge portion of the population was Catholic, it would be wise to re-establish good relations with the Church. This resulted in the drawing up of the Concordat of 1801 between the papacy and Napoleon.

In this new atmosphere Catherine Briand tried to call back the sisters. Twenty-five of the original group of 71 did not return either because they were deceased or chose not to return. The others joyfully returned and renamed Catherine Superior General. It was not long before more women began to join the then called ‘Society’. By 1804, Catherine could no longer function as the head of the congregation, and  on August 23 of that year Yvonne Clec’h was named the new Superior General. Catherine Briand went to her Lord’s reward on March 10, 1805, after ‘fighting the good fight’ through many years of political and religious turmoil.

Your comments and/or questions on this part of our history may be addressed to our author and province historian Sr. Marian St Marie at marianst.marie@gmail.com



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