In collaboration with the Hilton Foundation, Vatican News publishes a series of articles on the religious world, with contributions from sisters or theologians present around the world. In this fifth episode, the story of Sister Brigitte Flores, the Superior General of the Sisters of the Child Jesus in France.
We met at the end of the day on the first day of the full UISG (International Union of Religious Superiors). But fatigue was not seen on Brigitte’s face, because of her energetic vision and contagious smile.
“My name is Brigitte, this is my first name, and I am a monk. In some countries, they call me Mother Brigitte.. Thus begins Sister of the Child Jesus’ interview with Sister Brigitte Flores, Superior General.
“I dedicated myself to Christ and wanted to dedicate my life to him and to others. I grew up in a religious family that taught me to pray and gave me strong social values. My parents were involved in rural life and started the process of transforming the rural world which continues to this day. So I was very lucky.
When did you realize that your life was destined for holiness?
During a spiritual retreat, I was touched by the love of Jesus. I said to myself: I have to do something, but what? I searched for God in what I was doing to understand what I could do. It wasn’t immediately clear, but I decided to live in a community, a very poor and very popular neighborhood. I discovered my founder Nicholas Barrack later.
Why did you find out the founder of your church late?
In fact, we were not born as nuns, but as a group of ordinary women engaged in the education of young girls. At that time, in 1662, we were what would be considered a general association today. We became nuns much later; Father Barre was far removed from conventional religious life. We were not righteous. Today, what matters to us is the bishop’s direction, but with great freedom, in the diocese, to be available for what we are told to live.
When did you go from being an ordinary woman to a nun?
After the French Revolution, the education of young girls was encouraged by the state, which provided school structures and colleges. Many churches have been established to carry out this purpose, and so have we. We were innovative in education; Our colleges were known among the best. In 1850, Spanish immigrants, seeing what we were doing in our school, invited us to do the same in Spain. There, there were no schools for young girls where they were taught in person; They came to us to learn the teaching method which was very simple and at the same time very attentive to the needs of the students. In Spain, young girls were trained in monasteries. Since we were only a general association, the Spanish bishops asked us for recognition of the Holy See to give us the responsibility of the school. Therefore, in order to get this official recognition of our institute, we have necessarily entered into the authentic definition of a “religious church”.
Did a lot change for you when you became a church?
Yes on some issues, but fortunately we have kept our missionary initiative! Plus, we became the first congregation to send a woman to Japan! In the second half of the 19th century “, Sister Mathild Recklett, an extraordinary woman, courageous and at the same time connected to her institute, succeeded in completing her mission in Asia, during the transformation of our institute’s constitution, when everything needed the approval of superiors, which was impossible. In remote places!
We lived for many years when we represented excellence for education, for the society of that time, for excellence for women in France, Japan and Malaysia. In Singapore, we still have 15,000 students and we are one of the best institutions in the country. “
What happened next?
I can say that we did a lot of good work, because there was a desire to meet the needs of the time. But is that what our founder wanted? Today we fully heard about the weakness and I thought about it. God is so big, but He made Himself so small to be near the little ones, when He gave birth to a child. This is why the first goal and first form of this institute is to be poor, as Christ was. To accept a poor child is to accept Christ, because He said: “Whatever you do for the little ones, do for me.” Welcoming the poor and abandoned child, giving him his dignity through education and giving him happiness through faith is the core of our character. Isn’t that beautiful? Sometimes, in order to do good deeds and respond to the needs of the time, we take the risk of forgetting the poor; This is why it is so important to feed the root juice. It’s hard to rediscover. And we still have this problem today.
Understand the way forward to go back to the source?
Today we talked about a transformation to survive. This is of course the source. When I entered the institute, I read some of our founder’s writings, irresistible! They were not consistent with the authentic rules imposed on us. At the time, women were not expected to be part of public life, as they were for the private sector. In my formation, the first purpose of the Institute was to work for its own sanctity by observing religious vows according to the ideal structure of the time. For our Founder, God sanctifies us by lovingly serving poor and abandoned children so that they may become saints. It was a way to transform and transform us. But it was difficult. Forgive me for saying this, but I am very passionate about this subject. It’s a path we’re following again, restoring the spirit of the source, to continue transforming ourselves. “