CLAUDINE THÉVENET was born in Lyon on 30th March 1774, the second of a family of seven children. ‘Glady’ as she was affectionately known had a strong influence on her brothers and sisters, thanks to her goodness, gentleness and self-forgetfulness in the desire to make others happy.
The French Revolution broke out when she was fifteen. In 1793, she experienced the tragic hours of the siege of Lyons by the government army and she witnessed the execution in revenge of her two brothers after the city fell in January 1794. Their last words, ‘Forgive, Glady, as we forgive’ remained deep in her heart and her mind and were to change the course of her life. She dedicated herself to the relief of the great suffering caused by the Revolution. People's ignorance of God caused her great distress thus her desire was to make Him known to everyone, but it was to be the children and the young people who would be the main object of her zeal and her desire to make Jesus and Mary known and loved.
Her encounter with a holy priest, Father Andre Coindre, would help her to discover more clearly what God was asking of her and would be decisive in the direction her life was to take. When Father Coindre found two little shivering children abandoned on the steps of the church of St. Nizier, he took them to Claudine who did not hesitate to take them into her care.
Her compassion and love for destitute children was the founding force of the ‘Providence’ of St. Bruno in Lyon (1815). Companions soon joined Claudine and they formed an association, the Association of the Sacred Heart of which Claudine was elected president. On July 31st 1818, the call of the Lord was heard through the voice of Father Coindre who told some members of the Association to form a community. ‘God has chosen you’, he said to Claudine. And so the foundation of the Congregation of the Religious of Jesus and Mary at Pierres Plantees on the hill of the Croix Rousse took place on October 6th 1818. In 1820 the new Congregation moved to Fourviere, in front of the famous shrine, to some land bought from the Jaricot family where it received canonical approval from the Diocese of Puy in 1823 and that of Lyon in 1825.
The first aim of the congregation was to receive poor children and care for them until they were twenty, giving them working skills and elementary education, as well as a solid religious and moral formation. But Claudine and her sisters wanted to do more and so they founded a boarding school and welcomed young girls of richer families. The apostolic aim of the congregation was therefore the Christian education of all social classes, with a preference for poor children and young girls.
They educated poor children and young girls simultaneously in spite of the difficulties that the Foundress encountered during the last twelve years of her life: the suffering caused by the deaths of Father Coindre (1826) and the first sisters (1828); the struggle to prevent the fusion of her Congregation with another; the revolutionary upheavals of Lyon in 1831 and 1834, and the effects of these conflicts on those who lived on the hill of Fourviere.
The unwavering courage of the Foundress was never to be overcome by adversity; she bravely undertook new constructions, including that of the chapel of the Mother House, and at the same time, with great care and dedication, began to draw up the Constitutions of the Congregation. She was about to complete this when death overtook her on February 3rd 1837, when she was sixty three.
‘To do everything in order to please God’ seems to have been the goal of her life. This constant search for God's will in order ‘to a lead a life worthy of Him and to please Him in everything’ was to give her that deep spiritual insight which would enable her to read the signs of the times and there discern God's plan, in order to give a full and complete response to His call; such was the life which was to make her worthy ‘to join the saints and with them to inherit the light’ (Col 1: 10, 11).
‘To see God in all things and all things in God’ is also to live in a spirit of constant praise. In a world in which hope is all too often absent, the rediscovery of God's goodness, both in His creation and in people, restores purpose to life and leads to thanksgiving. Claudine made of her religious and apostolic life an act of praise of God's glory; her last words ‘How good God is’ expressed her conviction that God is good, something that she had come to know, even in the most painful moments of her life.
Her Congregation was to be profoundly influenced by her strong personality. Gifted with an unusual ‘force dame’, intelligent, a perfect organizer, she was above all kind-hearted and wanted her daughters to be true mothers to the children in their care: ‘Be mothers to these children’, she would say, ‘yes, true mothers of both body and soul’. She would tolerate no preferences, no partialities: ‘The only preferences I will permit are for the most poor, the most vulnerable, those who have the most need; those you will love a great deal’.
The strength of a building is revealed only with the passage of time. Barely five years after the death of Mother Claudine, her daughters set out for India (1842). In 1850, they opened their first house in Spain and in 1855; they established themselves in the New World, in Canada.
Saint Claudine Thévenet (30 March 1774 – 3 February 1837) in religious Marie of Saint Ignatius - was a French Roman Catholic professed religious and the founder of the Religious of Jesus and Mary. Thévenet witnessed the horrors of the French Revolution - she saw two of her brothers executed - and went on to dedicate her life to the needs of dissolute children while using her congregation to provide local girls with a religious education.
Thévenet was beatified on 4th October 1981 and was later canonized as a saint on 21st March 1993 (3).
Claudine Thévenet’s Life
Claudine Thévenet was born in France on 30th March 1774 and was the second of seven children. Thévenet studied at the Saint-Pierre-les-Nonnains convent in her adolescence. The French Revolution saw the destruction of the old government and the formation of a new government that soon led a violent massacre in her hometown in which two of her brothers were killed in public on 5th January 1794 (1). Her brothers died forgiving their killers and the pair beseeched their distraught sister to do the same - their final words to her were: ‘Forgive them as we forgive’. Not long after this she began to work with working women in her town and soon came into contact with the priest André Coindre with whom she formed a small group that evolved into the Religious of Jesus and Mary on 6 October 1818 dedicated to educating girls; the order was founded on the hill of Croix Rousse. Thévenet assumed a new religious name and began to serve as the order's superior even after the death of Coindre in the 1820s; her order received pontifical approval on 31st December 1847 from Pope Pius IX after her death.
The new Association of the Sacred Heart - formed in 1815 - elected her as its president at some point in which her work included caring for destitute children. On one occasion Coindre found two shivering children and bought them to her. The order later relocated in 1820 to Fourviere and received diocesan approval from the Bishop of Le Puy-en-Velay in 1823 and in Lyon in 1825.
Her health started to decline in 1835 and she died at the beginning of 1837.
The canonization process started informally in France on 16 October 1926. Historians approved the cause on 6 March 1968 while theologians questioned and approved all of her spiritual writings on 8th January 1970 while confirming them to be orthodox in nature and not in contradiction of official doctrine. On 23rd August 1973 she was given the title of ‘Servant of God’. Members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and their consultants gathered and approved the cause on 11th July 1977 and on 1st December 1977 it gained papal confirmation during the plenary session sentence on 15th December 1977. She was titled as Venerable on 6th February 1978 after Pope Paul VI approved her life of heroic virtue.
Pope John Paul II beatified the late nun on 4th October 1981. The miracle needed for sainthood was investigated and then validated in Rome on 15th March 1991 which allowed for a medical board to approve it on 30th January 1992 and theologians to do so as well on 22nd May 1992; the C.C.S. did so also on 16 June 1992 allowing for the pope to issue his final approval of her miracle and canonization on 11th July 1992. John Paul II canonized her on 21st March 1993.
The Religious of Jesus and Mary (French: Religieuses de Jésus-Marie), abbreviated as R.J.M., form a Roman Catholic religious congregation of women dedicated to the education and service of the poor. It was founded at Lyon, France, in October 1818, by Claudine Thévenet.