Office of the President

Drop Shadow

Western Regional Conference of Sacred Heart Alumnae "Frontiers of the Heart" St. Madeleine Sophie Barat: Contemporary Educator

June 25-27, 2004

One year ago this weekend, I bid farewell to the College of Saint Benedict during its own alumnae reunion and prepared for my flight to begin my new life as the president of the University of San Diego.  During my years as the president of a Benedictine college for women, I often drew upon the traditions and values formed over many centuries by monasteries of men and women who bequeathed to their institutions a “way” of describing their mission, their Catholic character, their particular educational milieu.  For many years before that, I had been part of the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley and learned how to mine the Franciscan’s rich intellectual tradition when teaching or explaining the distinctiveness of Franciscan theological formation.  Quite frankly, I wondered if I would discover a clear and compelling story at the University of San Diego (USD).  Would I as President discover fundamental values and traditions that distinguish in some way a USD education?    Put simply, I sought to know the cultural and intellectual DNA of this university?

Over the next few minutes, I will try to describe how the “gene pool” of the University of San Diego continues to feature the inheritance of its foremothers, especially those of Madeleine Sophie Barat, Philippine Duchesne, and Rosalie Hill.  While claims about their influence might be made about the greater network of Sacred Heart Schools in this country, I am most interested in how their living legacy gives vitality and identity to this university.

In October of last year I had the privilege of speaking to Sacred Heart alumnae of USD at the annual Mater Tea on a similar topic.  While researching for that occasion, I began my discovery of the historical context for the development of the Society of the Sacred Heart and its subsequent influence on the Society’s educational philosophy.

As many of you know, Madeleine Sophie Barat (1779-1865) and her early companions responded to their own religious impulses within a climate that was politically and socially chaotic; certainly hostile to the Church.  The French Revolution sparked the persecution of clergy, the dissolution of religious congregations, leaving France strongly anti-clerical and overtly hostile to religious communities.  At the same time, the religious climate of Sophie’s era was dominated by Jansenism, a rigid spirituality that emphasized the inherent corruption of the humanity and a piety marked by great austerity and severity.  It is indeed a miracle that from within this atmosphere emerged a religious community of women committed to promoting the essential goodness of creation by urging a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the ultimate symbol of a loving, incarnate God.  Sophie Barat’s biographer, Phil Kilroy, describes the important influence of her spiritual mentor Fr. Joseph-Marie Favre (1791-1838):  “Favre’s theological background was liberating for Sophie since he was trained in the spiritual schools of St. Francis de Sales and St. Alphonsus Liguori.  Both of these theologians advocated a gentle view of God which engendered trust…. The image of God Sophie first inherited was replaced by One who was welcoming, warm and caring.”[1] This is especially evident in the first constitution of Sophie’s “Little Society,” that is “wholly consecrated to the glory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the propagation of its worship.”[2]

Thus, out of the social, political, and religious chaos of her own times, Sophie Barat’s band of companions established schools not merely devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; these were schools of the heart.  What began in the nineteenth century as a fervent mission to teach students about God’s goodness and love for all creation became, by the end of the century, an educational philosophy that distinguished the schools founded by the Society of the Sacred Heart.  Perhaps the earliest and most articulate who memorialized this was Mother Janet Erskine Stuart.  In her biography of Mother Stuart, Maud Monahan writes:  “She held that lessons in religion should appeal at least as much to the heart as to the minds of children, for…when all has been said and done, and all arguments have been called in review, the last word is spoken, the final solvent of doubt is given by the heart.  And what the heart knows is probably never unlearnt.” [3]

Sophie Barat’s fervor for her “Little Society” and its work was complimented by her courageous decision to expand the community’s presence into the “new world,” even as its membership remained small and its resources meager.  At fifty years of age, Mother Philippine Duchesne had her wish fulfilled when Mother Barat gave permission for her to begin missionary work in America.  Louise Callan quotes from the diary accounts of Philippine’s companions, describing their arrival on the Feast of the Sacred Heart 1818:  “It was with the deepest emotion that we set foot on this soil which is for us, in the eyes of faith and the designs of God, the Promised Land.  Mother Duchesne’s heart could not contain its sentiments of gratitude.  In spite of the marshy ground she knelt and kissed the very soil.  Her eyes were wet with tears, tears of joy, the kind Father Varin desired for us.  ‘No one is looking,’ she whispered to us, ‘You kiss it, too.’  If only you could have seen her face!  It was radiant with joy that only the Heart of Jesus could inspire in a soul filled with his grace and bent on glorifying his Sacred Heart.”[4] As you know that moment was genuinely grace-filled, creating what truly became a “frontier of the heart.”

Sophie Barat’s charismatic leadership and Philippine Duchesne’s missionary courage were legacies given to their “offspring,” Mother Rosalie Hill.  As most of you know, Mother Hill was the superior of the Western Vicariate of the Society of Sacred Heart in the United States from 1929 to 1961.  During that time, she was responsible for advancing higher education for women by sending many Sisters on for doctoral studies and establishing colleges for women, most notably in the California, the San Francisco and San Diego Colleges for Women.  It would be impossible to contain in these brief remarks the impact of this astounding woman on Catholic higher education in the West.  The first bishop of San Diego, Bishop Charles Buddy and himself an alumnus of the Sacred Heart Society’s school in Missouri, had the good sense to request the Society of the Sacred Heart to establish the College for Women in his diocese.  Although both are correctly credited as the founders of this modern University, Bishop Buddy always credited Mother Hill as the true leader of this effort.  In 1952, he wrote, “In reality you are the founder of the University of San Diego as well as the College for Women….Without your perfect trust in the Sacred Heart, which in turn gave you the courage and vision, this vast project would never have started.”[5]

Throughout these last twelve months, I have come to appreciate more and more Mother Hill’s vast perspective and insights about the human person.  She is, of course, often cited for insisting that truth, beauty, and goodness are the inseparable attributes of the educated person and the reliable evidences of God’s presence and enduring love.  But, for Mother Hill, these virtues always took on a concrete, distinctive, tangible character. The humanist education, so identified with all of Sacred Heart education, was intended to penetrate every aspect of a women’s collegiate experience.  No where is that brought home to me more than every time I walk through our campus, knowing how intentional was her selection of the architecture and the plan for the walkways, gardens, and fountains.  Even more amazing to me is the historical connection she drew between this university and its ancestral foundation, the great sixteenth century humanist university at Alcala´ de Henares, Spain.  Her vision and leadership, executed so masterfully by her contemporary women religious and their successors, contributed much to the formation of this place and its students, and continue to do so.  And that is my central point:  This University continues to be a Sacred Heart school in ways both explicit and implicit.  Its educational character and vision bear the unmistakable marks of Sophie, Philippine, Rosalie and their Sisters’ influence.

Here are some ways:

USD sustains its Sacred Heart character in many ways, but especially by the continuity of Sisters present and active at all levels of the University.  By statute, seats on the University’s Board of Trustees are reserved for the provincial and another Sister.  Currently there are Sisters actively working in administration, one as the Director of University Mission; another as Director of our Center for Christian Spirituality, and others as professors in both the College of Arts and Science and our School of Education.  What I find especially inspiring are the many Sisters who continue their engagement in University life, although they are no longer active employees.

The University’s national alumni board reserves a place for a Sacred Heart alumna.  Annually, the alumni association presents the Mother Rosalie Hill award to an alumna or alumnus who personifies the spirit and philosophy of the University of San Diego.

USD’s mission, vision, and strategic plan align both with the humanist educational philosophy of the Society and with the world-wide vision of the international alumni.  For example, the theme for the Society’s 2006 world-wide alumni gathering in New Orleans, “Collaboration for a Transformed World,” and corresponding study plans for the conference emphasizing a global perspective, align with the University’s strategic goal that calls the University to become a more culturally diverse and culturally competent community through recruitment at all levels, deepening transborder and internal educational partnerships, and involving student and faculty in international learning experiences.

The strategic goals for USD extend the legacy of humanist education by specifying that USD continue to give a privileged place to the liberal arts and sciences in its undergraduate curriculum and in its influence on graduate and professional programs.  Finally, the Society’s emphasis on social justice finds resonance with our goal to become an even more powerful advocate for social justice and human rights through the establishment of the Joan B. Kroc School for Peace studies and the recruitment of international scholars and peace practitioners.

While the Sacred Heart character and values have remained so deeply embedded into the life of this University, I look forward to even more opportunities for explicit evidence of this.  For example, our effort to internationalize the campus culture and our long history of community service suggest future possibilities for connecting with similar projects sponsored by the world-wide network of the Society.  Currently, we regularly welcome 5-7 graduates of Sacred Heart schools to our campus as first year students.  I would be pleased to think that families who treasure a Sacred Heart education would look to USD as the university that so explicitly fosters the values of that education through the formation of our students.  I also feel a responsibility to those many alumnae of Sacred Heart colleges that have closed, hoping that they will always feel welcomed here and recognize not only the artifacts reminiscent of their own education but also the vital continuation of the traditions and values so dear to them.

Forty years ago last month, the Thirteenth Biennial Conference of the Associated Alumnae of the Sacred Heart met here.  On that occasion, Mother Hill spoke to the members.  I think that her words are as relevant today as then, so I will conclude with an excerpt from her presentation: 

“To find God is the greatest human achievement.  That, someday, please God we shall all achieve permanently.  But in the meantime we strive toward that final achievement in the very perfect achievement of love of one another, love of the ever Blessed Trinity, through the bounty of the Heart of Our Lord and with the help of His Blessed Mother, thus fulfilling Our Lord’s prayer to His Father ‘That we may be made perfect in One.’”[6]

Mary E. Lyons, PhD

President, University of San Diego

26 June 2004

1 Phil Kilroy, Madeleine Sophie Barat:  A Life, (New York:  Paulist Press, 2000), 163-64.

2 Maud Monahan, Life and Letters of Janet Erskine Stuart, (London:  Longmans, Green, and Co. Ltd., 1960), 133.

3 Monahan, 216.

4 Louise Callan, rscj., Philippine Duchesne, (Westminster, Maryland:  Newman Press, 1965), 163.

5 Helen McHugh, rscj, “Founder’s Tale,” mss.  Archives of the University of San Diego (AUSD), San Diego, Calif.

6 Mother Hill, Thirteenth Biennial Conference of the Associated Alumnae of the Sacred Heart convened at the San Diego College for Women, San Diego, Calif., May 11 and 12, 1961, mss.  Vol. 1, 13-14, AUSD.