AH1Last month, Sr. Anne Higgins, English Department Lecturer, attended an international retreat in Paris with her religious order, the Daughters of Charity. She took the time to share with us some of her thoughts and reflections on the amazing experience she had with her sisters:
I was privileged to participate in the 2018 International Retreat at our Motherhouse at 140 rue du bac, in Paris.
This was an eight-day silent retreat, from March 7th through the 15th. I was one of 65 Daughters of Charity making this retreat. We were grouped into eight language groups: French, Spanish, Portuguese, English, Polish, Slovenian, Czech, Vietnamese. However, we were from many more than eight countries! For example, in the English language group, we were eighteen sisters, but only six of us were native English speakers. The other sisters were from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Nigeria, Kenya, the Philippines, India, Germany, and Kosovo. English was their second or third language!
AH2Why did language groups matter, when we were in a silent retreat? We met for Lauds and Rosary each day in our language groups. We had Mass each day with the whole group, and it was in French. Our Retreat Master was a Polish Vincentian priest who gave his daily conference in French. So, how did this go? We met for our daily retreat conference, and for Mass, in the Assembly/conference room. This is the large room where our Sisters meet for General Chapter every six years, and where other international meetings take place. It is equipped with headphones and handheld devices (“just turn the dial to #5 for English!”) so all the conferences and Masses came to us via Sister translators. It worked very well!
AH3The Motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity is not only a special place for Daughters of Charity around the world. Our Chapel, the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, is a site of prayer and pilgrimage for the whole Church. It was in this Chapel, in 1830, that the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Catherine Laboure, who was a novice in the community at the time. Mary appeared to Catherine several times, and during one of the apparitions, she gave the design of the Miraculous Medal to Catherine, and directed that it should be made and distributed. Most Catholics all around the world know this medal, and many wear it. So people from all walks of life and all nationalities visit this Chapel daily. 
The faith and devotion of the lay people who daily visit the Chapel was overwhelming to me. At least five Masses are celebrated there every day, and they are full. The lay people also stay and pray Vespers with the Sisters each night, all of which is sung in French.
AH4Aside from the entrance and the Chapel, the rest of the Motherhouse is not open to the public. Behind the walls of the Chapel, it is an immense network of buildings. The Daughters of Charity were founded in 1633, and the first Sisters lived with St. Louise de Marillac in her home. As the community grew, it moved and lived in several other houses until the French Revolution, when it was disbanded and the Sisters all sent home. After the Revolution, the Sisters returned to Paris and the community was reassembled. A large mansion, the Hotel Chatillon, had been confiscated by the Revolutionary leaders (and the aristocrats executed!) and in 1810, the government transferred ownership to the Daughters of Charity. AH5The Sisters moved in in 1815, and have been there ever since! Many buildings have been added to the original building, but in places I could see staircases and hallways and courtyards from the original mansion. However, the furniture, facilities, and food are quite stark and simple, considering that so many of our sisters come there from extremely poor areas of the world.
Even though we were largely “in silence,” we sisters communicated with each other through our smiles and eye contact, especially during our meals. For me, it was a tremendous experience of the universal Church, as well as of these wonderful women who have given their total lives to Christ.
This quote from Sister Suzanne Guillemin, one of our past superiors general, was printed on our retreat program, and really expresses the meaning of the retreat:
“God calls each one of us personally to conversion…God asks more of us. God invites us to seek Him unceasingly, to turn to Him more sincerely and more completely. Let us open our hearts that we may hear and recognize God’s voice.”