Schism among the Daughters of Charity
One of the most difficult episodes in the life of Father Hanon was the schism among the Daughters of Charity. The Congregation of the Mission narrowly averted a split among its members caused by problems principally between the French and some Italians. The Sisters, by contrast, knew a period of four years, 1810-1814, with two groups and competing administrations, both claiming to be true Daughters of Charity. The lessons learned from this episode continue to have relevance, since they deal with the identity of the Company.
This crisis stemmed from the Revolution and its aftermath, particularly the initiatives of Napoleon Bonaparte, who assumed power 10 November 1799. A little more than a year later, the Daughters of Charity were able to resume their work, at least tentatively and partially, “to form students for the service of hospitals.” On this basis, the remaining Sisters gradually reassembled into local communities and, by a decision of Napoleon and the other two consuls, they resumed their work in various districts of Paris under government supervision. Postulants began to arrive as well in significant numbers, 65 in 1801, 83 in 1802, and 76 in 1803. By 1801, 404 religious women, including Daughters of Charity were living in sixty-two houses in Paris. The Sisters were officially re-established 16 October 1802, but the decree of restoration placed them under the authority of the bishops.
In keeping with their constitutions, sixty Sisters met on 22 August 1802 under the presidency of Laurent Philippe, and decided to prolong the mandate of Mother Marie Antoinette Deleau, age seventy-four. Elected in 1790, she presided over some 4000 Sisters in 426 houses. During the years of the suppression, she had remained in contact, as best she could, with the Sisters who had returned to their families or were otherwise dispersed by the Revolution. After her reappointment, she governed with the help of two secretaries, Sisters Genevieve Chouilly (1750-1824), and Marie Thérèse Fernal (1756-1828). These two would be at the heart of the intrigues that rocked the Company. By the end of 1802, Napoleon enlarged their mission to include, as in the past, service in parishes and the instruction of young girls. By the same decree, they were allowed to resume wearing the habit.
The most serious problem in this decree was the first clause of article 3: “They will be regarded as religious under the jurisdiction of the bishops . . . .” This had been the government’s intention for some time and, since the Congregation of the Mission did not yet have legal existence in France, this article did not appear to have caused any problem to the Sisters or to their Vincentian director. It certainly would in the next few years, leading ultimately to the schism.
Mother Deleau died on 30 January 1804 and, at the elections of Pentecost Monday, 21 May, Sister Therese Deschaux was elected in her place. A few days later, 27 May, an imperial decree reestablished the Congregation of the Mission in France, whose “director,” as noted elsewhere, Napoleon would appoint.
It was Mother Deschaux who, in her own account, had approached the Minister of the Interior, Jean-Antoine Chaptal, to discuss the great need for nurses in the hospitals. She had been the sister servant of the small community in the hospital of Auch. Chaptal took the leadership and shortly after published the decree of 22 December 1800.
Part of Napoleon’s grand strategy for France was the rationalization of its religious life. The structure of dioceses, parishes and the nomination of bishops and pastors had already been decided, and the turn then came for all orders and congregations. He ordered that each authorized congregation present their statutes and rules to be verified by the Council of State. His principle was not new, since he was following that of the old regime, namely, that in a unified state like France, the Church should fall under the control of the government. The reason for this was that, since the Church had a role to play in French society, it could be understood as an arm of the state. He treated French Jews similarly, convening a “Grand Sanhedrin” in 1807 to centralize and regularize Jewish life in France.
In terms of the Double Family of Saint Vincent, the papal brief, Quum uti accepimus, 30 October 1804, clearly linked “the care and government” of the Daughters of Charity to the superior general of the Congregation of the Mission, as it had been in the past. Since this clearly opposed the Napoleonic idea, the stage was set for a conflict of ideologies: between the papal perspective of the independence of the Daughters of Charity from the government, and the centralizing ethos of the state.
To further his plan to coordinate and control religious life, Napoleon would appoint his mother, Letizia Bonaparte, known formally as Madame Mère, to be protectress of all the Sisters of Charity, of whatever congregation, established throughout the empire. As he did for the Jews, she would in the same year preside over a “general chapter” of all hospital Sisters. Thirty-six mothers general participated, meeting from 27 November to 1 December at the Tuileries palace. The Daughters of Charity, with nearly 1600 sisters, were the largest group by far of all the participants, and this fact throws into relief the urgency of finding a suitable solution to the question of their governance.
During this same period, Brunet arrived from Rome. Doubtless, his appearance on the scene must have provoked some fear that he would try to restore the Daughters of Charity according to their former constitutions. In fact, Brunet was unable to do much because he spent a little more than a year and half in Paris before his death. The same can be said of his successor, Placiard, who served only one year as the superior of the Daughters of Charity. In any case, the Daughters did not have a recent strong tradition of guidance by the superiors general of the Congregation of the Mission since, during much of the eighteenth century, the Vincentians had largely left the Sisters alone.
Mother Dechaux’s term ran out after three years, but she was reelected in the Pentecost Monday elections of 1807. Her assistant was Sister Marguerite Ithier (1751-1813), a close personal friend of the second secretary, Sister Fernal.
Shortly after Father Hanon’s confirmation as vicar general, 28 October 1807, he presided at the meeting with the new council to review the prepared statutes of the Daughters of Charity for submission to the emperor. He found the text to be, if not incorrect, then at least ambiguous.
- Article 1
- The Sisters of Charity do not form a religious body, but a congregation of young women occupied in the care of the sick, and the instruction of the poor. They are under the authority of an ecclesiastical superior, chosen by them and approved by the archbishop of Paris, and by a superioress general, electable every three years, to whom they give a council of several sisters, chosen by election.
In the margin of this text, Hanon wrote: “Saint Vincent designated the superior general of the Congregation of the Mission of Saint Lazare to be forever the superior general of the Sisters of Charity, and they have always chosen him.” When the Minister of foreign affairs read this addition, he called for investigation into the history of the Daughters of Charity. The approval by Cardinal de Retz in 1655 was not helpful for Hanon’s case: “… the said confraternity or society will be and shall ever remain under our authority and dependence and under that of our successors as archbishops of Paris…. By these letters, we confide and commit [to Vincent de Paul] the direction of the abovementioned society and confraternity, during his life and after him, to his successors, the generals of the said Congregation of the Mission.”
The state’s special interest in the Daughters of Charity arose out of two principal sources. First, the Daughters of Charity were the largest community in France doing charitable work. By 1807, a mere six years after their reestablishment, they had 266 houses in France, with 1580 Sisters, including 112 at their provisional mother house. Second, if the state could determine the proper formulations for the statutes of the Daughters of Charity, the other congregations would be more easily handled.
Throughout the period of these troubles, Hanon energetically defended the traditional rights of the Church, as represented in the constitutions of the Congregation of the Mission and those of the Daughters of Charity. The conflict between himself and the state can be traced through an extensive series of memoranda and letters involving all the parties. Hanon turned to Cardinal Fesch, naturally enough, given the latter’s role as grand almoner of the empire, with rights as protector of missionary congregations. His role, however, was ambiguous, since he had responsibilities both toward the Congregation, which he had supported in the past, and to his nephew’s imperial government. In a long and significant letter of 31 August 1808, Hanon sought to explain the ramifications of the emperor’s decision. He wrote that the changes to the Sisters’ statutes (more correctly called constitutions) would possibly lead to the dissolution of the Company. To withdraw this group of lay women from their traditional link to the superior general of the Congregation of the Mission would be to overturn their constitutions, their rules of behavior, their vows and the spirit proper to their state.
Hanon directed another lengthy memorandum to the cardinal, 30 January 1809, in which he raised, among other points, the relationship of the Congregation of the Mission to the Daughters of Charity. “But if the head of the Congregation is no longer in France, how will the Congregation itself be able to continue? Who will be responsible for our French missions? Who will ask for or receive for them the protection and the aid of the emperor? What French or foreign Lazarist would wish to dedicate himself to this work, or even remain any longer?” Hanon was bolstered in his opinions by the numerous letters received from individual Daughters of Charity as well as from entire local communities, complaining about the proposed new statutes.
The conflict took a more dangerous turn when Napoleon signed another decree on 18 February 1809, calling for the approval of the statutes of every congregation of women engaged in charitable work. Each one would be “under the protection of Madame, our very dear and honored mother.” Even more ominously, article seventeen read: “Each hospital establishment, even the headquarters, is, in spiritual matters, subject to the diocesan bishop, who will govern it and who exclusively will visit it. Every superior, except the bishop himself, should be delegated by him and govern under his responsibility.” With the vacancy of the archdiocese of Paris upon the death of Cardinal de Belloy in June of that year, the vicars general took over the government of the diocese. They also saw the moment to grab power and exercise the diocese’s supposed rights over the Daughters of Charity, the largest and most important congregation in the country. The vicars’ commentary on the emperor’s decree is especially telling: “The government and the Gallican Church admit no subordinate ecclesiastical function independent of episcopal authority, or not subordinate to our lords the bishops.”
On this basis, the vicars general proposed a new text to be approved by the Daughters of Charity, as the emperor had ordered. Intense pressure at length forced Mother Deschaux to accede to their demands, but she had only a few weeks to live. When faced by Hanon with the consequences of what she had done without his knowledge, she retracted her support. The high anxiety of this period must have damaged her health, besides, since she fell ill and died 17 April.
Her successor was Sister Marie-Antoinette Beaudoin (1757-1812), interim superioress until the election to be held the following Pentecost Monday. She and her council, with Hanon, were expected to second a text drawn up by Jean-François Jalabert, one of the archdiocesan vicars general. The important article read: “The Company of the Daughters of Charity is not erected as a religious order, but only as a congregation of young women who obey, according to their charter [Institut], the archbishop of Paris as the superior general of the entire Company, or his delegate, and one from among them who has been elected the superioress, as well as the officers of the community.”
When Sister Beaudoin and her council refused to sign the articles, Jalabert then proposed waiting until the election of a superioress general who, he hoped, would be more amenable to the new realities. Hanon reacted negatively to the proposed articles and convoked for 15 May a general meeting of the sisters of the Paris houses. His recommendation to them was to sign, not the newly prepared text, but the traditional statutes. They did so, and he added this remark in the margin: “I the undersigned attest that the statutes printed above are the only ones that have been followed in the past in the government of the Company, and which are exactly word for word the same as the original in the hands of Sister Beaudoin, interim superioress general of the Daughters of Charity. Signed: Hanon, superior general of the Congregation of the Mission and of the Daughters of Charity.”
When Sister Beaudoin brought this text to the minister of foreign affairs, Bigot de Préameneu, he refused to accept them. His refusal provoked various responses on the part of the Sisters of the mother house. Some, seventy-eight in all, wishing to maintain the Company and not risk its dissolution, signed the new text proposed by vicar-general Jalabert, which they brought a few days after to his offices in the archdiocese of Paris. Faced with this division, he decided to study more attentively the life of Louise de Marillac and the early history of the Daughters of Charity, to come to appreciate better the course on which he had embarked so rashly. He might also have recalled the near unanimity of rejection by the Sisters of the constitutional clergy imposed on them fifteen years before during the Revolution.
Hanon was summoned to meetings designed to pressure him to accept the viewpoint of the vicars general of Paris: that Saint Vincent had placed the Sisters under the jurisdiction of the archbishop of Paris. He countered that should the Sisters no longer make a vow of obedience to the superior general of the Congregation of the Mission, they would thereby cease being Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, and that many of them would leave the Company. In that case, the vicars asked him to accept jurisdiction from them and then continue as before, but Hanon asked for time to think over this new offer.
His reactions at this juncture are confusing. He initially offered to resign as superior (i.e., vicar) general of the Congregation of the Mission, but then he turned around to accept the proposal of the vicars general of Paris. Soon after, however, he gave that up and asserted his complete independence in the government of the Sisters. Given the complexities of the situation, it is no wonder that Hanon changed his mind. Sister Beaudoin had done the same, as well as several of the seventy-eight signers, many of whom then formally retracted their signatures. In all this, Madame Mère shared her brother, Cardinal Fesch’s, opinion of Hanon as “a kind of very dangerous fanatic.”
Political issues outside his control then entered the equation. The emperor asked the pope to participate, as a temporal ruler, in a continent-wide blockade to strangle English commerce. The pope refused. Napoleon then invaded the Papal States and seized Rome. On 17 May 1809 he declared the annexation of the states of the Church to the French empire. Pius VII responded by excommunicating him (not by name, but together with those who had laid hands on Church territory), and by 6 July, the emperor arrested the pope and imprisoned him in Savona.
Laurent Philippe, director of the Daughters, had not been too successful in restraining the Sisters in this new crisis. He concluded that he had to flee the conflict and so went in secret to the south of France. He wrote an inflammatory letter to various houses of the Sisters, dated 8 July 1809, in which he exposed to their attention the existence of the division among the Paris Sisters. He advised them to write to Sister Beaudoin assuring her of their attachment to the traditional government of the Company. He then took the occasion to visit certain houses where the new statutes had been accepted to try to change their minds. One of these was at Nimes, where he went in the summer of 1811. Knowing his mission, the Daughters refused to receive him, despite the fact that he was ill. Instead, he was taken by another congregation, who helped him until his death, 26 July. As can be easily understood, some Sisters, especially the young ones, favored the new organization, while many, if not the majority, were against. Many protested their ignorance of the issues, simply hoping that their service of the poor would not be disturbed. Various Sisters held private and secret meetings to try to decide what to do, while others spied on them and reported their opinions to the vicars general. In houses where the older Sisters had been removed, younger and more compliant ones were appointed, but often their fellows refused to accept them.
One of the reasons for the support of the new statutes is likely to be found in the intellectual atmosphere of the age, with its emphasis on new versus old, free versus slave, light versus darkness, and philosophy versus superstition. In this perspective, moving away from the tutelage of the superior general of the Congregation of the Mission would give the Daughters of Charity a new beginning of freedom and independence, regarded as a great gain. Mother Deleau is said to have held this opinion. Jean-Baptiste Etienne believed that another reason was the desire to please Madame Mère, thereby gaining the favor of Napoleon. The reiterated calls in Sister Beaudoin’s circulars to return to the strict observance of the rules, but under the new statutes, also show that she wanted to have one set of statutes for all. Since central authority had been nearly non-existent for more than ten years, it was natural for the Sisters to adapt their traditional rules to the needs of new times and circumstances, particularly since many had been living on their own or in loosely organized communities.
In response to the growing split among the Sisters, the vicars general decided to suspend the annual renewal of vows until such time as the new statutes were approved. Their reasons were summarized as follows: “The obedience vowed by the Sisters of Charity to the superior of the Mission is subordinate to that owed to the archbishop of Paris, their primary superior both from canon law and from the dispositions formally set forth in the request and the erection of the said Congregation [of the Daughters of Charity].” Hanon communicated this decree to the general council of the Sisters and then reported to Bigot that, as a result, some Sisters had begun to return to their families.
Sister Beaudoin, however, had other ideas. She decided to permit the young Sisters then present at the mother house to pronounce their first vows, probably since it would have been too upsetting to them to back away from what they had already determined to do. Hanon’s reaction was not so peaceful. On 11 June 1809, he also took the risky step of appealing over the heads of the vicars general to the Council of State, accusing them of abusing their authority. His claim was that they could not arrogate to themselves any ecclesiastical rights while the see of Paris was vacant. The council agreed with Hanon and permitted the young Sisters to take vows.
The reaction of the vicars general was immediate and violent. They decided to remove the interim superioress from her responsibilities, since, they explained, she had wanted to retire anyway and, besides, her letters were not respectful of (their) ecclesiastical authority. Sister Beaudoin left on receipt of this news, without saying goodbye to the community of the mother house. Sister Marguerite Ithier, the first assistant, then replaced her as superioress general. Sister Beaudoin calmly wrote: “I find a sort of injustice, despite the fact that this order agrees with my wishes.”
After her withdrawal, Sister Beaudoin also addressed an appeal to the Council of State and wrote a sharp response to Jalabert. She concluded it by saying: “Should the three quarters and a half of our Sisters be sacrificed to a cabal, whose small number makes us see the spirit of insubordination? … I am not appealing in my own interest, but in the interest of the entire Community. Better to die than to adopt any changes.”
Hanon was amazed that Sister Ithier had replaced Sister Beaudoin, since this procedure was unconstitutional. Instead, there should have been an interim superioress until the next election. Further, he held that the Company was on the point of ruin, since the houses would not send postulants to Paris, and parents would encourage their daughters to return home. In fact, of the 102 Sisters who entered in 1809, thirty left for their families.
All the while, a large correspondence flowed in to Hanon from the houses of the Daughters, as well as from individuals. He drew up a table of their letters, and concluded that 188 houses, with 1175 Sisters, had rejected the changes in their statutes. A later table shows that some forty-three houses, especially those in Paris, accepted the new statutes.
The vicars general must have been surprised by these storms, so they relented, allowing both the taking of vows and the convocation of an assembly for a new election.
Napoleon stepped in as well. On 16 September 1809, he signed a decree suppressing the Congregation of the Mission. He had been thinking of this previously, as his correspondence shows, but it was probably the growing crisis that led him to this decision.
On 10 October, the vicars general of Paris then appointed Fathers Claude and Braud as director and assistant director respectively. The Sisters of the mother house were not, however, ready to accept their new directors, and a revolt against them gradually developed. Sensing the pressure, but alleging poor health, Claude did not accept. He then left the mother house and went to stay with Dubois at Sainte Marguerite. Pierre-François Viguier was named in Claude’s place. For this action, Viguier was roundly criticized by Jean Baptiste Etienne in his account of the crisis, calling him “a false brother.” He received a rough welcome from some Sisters, especially those in the seminary, who began to yell “Wolf! Wolf!” when they saw him coming down the corridor. This was the same Viguier, it should be noted, who had had a distinguished career in the missions, vicar apostolic of Algiers, prefect apostolic of Constantinople, as well as in France, where he worked tirelessly for the reestablishment of the Congregation, and later was secretary of Placiard and Hanon. The historian Planchet, however, believed that Viguier had acted out of wounded pride, since he had been removed from his responsibilities in the missions. After the restoration of unity among the Sisters, Viguier could no longer bring himself to live with the Congregation, preferring to live with his sister, a Daughter of Charity, at Saint Sulpice in Paris.
Arrest and interrogation
Father Hanon had lived at the Vincentian apartments at Vieux Colombier, but when the Congregation was suppressed, he was forced to leave. On 29 October, however, Hanon was arrested and taken for interrogation about his relationships with the Sisters. He claimed that he had not provoked dissent, and that both he and the Sisters had confidence in the government, since they had complained to that very government about their treatment by the vicars general. Nevertheless, some of his correspondence with the Sisters was judged to be seditious, since he encouraged the Sisters to oppose the new order contrary to the decisions of Saint Vincent. He would be freed after a couple of weeks, but then he was ordered to return to his native town, Saint Pol, far from Paris. From November 1809 until his second arrest in March 1811, therefore, he not was present in Paris. He found himself alone and isolated, and certainly worried about the Double Family of Saint Vincent. In this period, he penned a lengthy but undated letter, probably to Bigot, in which he spelled out his view of the pretensions of the vicars general. Thanks to this letter, the council of state accepted Hanon’s view that the vicars general had overstepped their responsibilities.
Nevertheless, the vicars general, Jalabert, in particular, kept up their pressure. They proposed another revision of the statutes, but kept the principal point of the submission to the archbishop of Paris. Surprisingly, the statutes were not conceived as dealing with Daughters of Charity in other lands. This added oversight would lead to bitterness and division in future years.
The final version of the statutes was promulgated 8 November 1809. The accompanying letter pictured Napoleon as the restorer of the true Vincentian character of the Daughters of Charity. “The statutes that we hand over to you are not his work redone by another hand, but his very work. You will find there the thoughts of his spirit, the sentiments of his heart, and the inimitable style of his tender and incomparable piety.” At the same time, the vicars general announced the date of the election of a new superioress general, scheduled for 10 December 1809. As can be imagined, many of the Sisters were not taken in by this smoothly fanciful presentation of their history.
The doubt and confusion on the part of the Sisters is probably reflected in the correspondence of certain ones with François Bernard (b. 1760), vicar general of Nancy, 1809-10. These Sisters were concerned about which side to support in this struggle, and to whom they could turn for advice. They chose Bernard, a former Vincentian. They explained to him that they had expressed their intention to live and die as Daughters of Charity, following the rules that Saint Vincent had given them. Bernard replied in the same general terms to all of them, namely that circumstances had changed, and Providence had arranged matters otherwise. He added that the Congregation of the Mission had been suppressed in God’s Providence, and that now it was the time to obey the government with wholehearted deference and submission. In these terms, it is no wonder that some Daughters of Charity were confused and upset.
Fathers Jalabert and Viguier presided over the election, at which Sisters favoring the new statutes predominated. One-hundred and eight Sisters were in attendance and two candidates surfaced, Sisters Judith Mousteyro (1735-1819), sister servant of the hospital of Clermont, and Marie-Dominique Durgueilh (1743-1826). Their choice fell on Sister Mousteyro, seventy-four years old, and fifty-two years of vocation. Her election was a triumph of the new faction. Because of her views, in the traditional New Year’s circular, she sent out the new statutes and recommended the renovation of vows. When the issue arose of which formula to use for the vows, it became necessary to draw up one that took into account the new statutes. The vicars general interposed by saying that any new formula should mention a vow of obedience to the archbishop of Paris.
When Mother Mousteyro reviewed the proposed formula, she reacted with surprise and sorrow. “My conscience would reproach me for the rest of my life if I accepted such a formula.” She added that for forty years she had taken vows in the traditional way and did not now believe she should retract what she had already vowed to God. Following the traditional schedule of circular letters, she soon wrote another one to the Sisters stating that she was unable to approve the new vow formula, particularly since this would separate the French Sisters from their counterparts in Poland and elsewhere. She concluded that only the supreme authority, the pope, could make such an essential change in the identity of the Daughters of Charity.
The minister of religious affairs, Bigot, summoned her to a meeting, which she attended with other Sisters. Apparently she first agreed to his proposals but, on reaching home, had second thoughts. Realizing that her position was impossible, she resigned her office, and announced her decision in a circular dated 3 April 1810. She had been superioress general for barely four months.
On that very day, 3 April, the directors, Fathers Viguier and Braud, came to the mother house to receive her decision. They then immediately appointed Sister Durgueilh, runner-up in the previous election. The three members of the general council accepted her as the new superioress general. The directors must have felt that Sister Mousteyro had not been in office long enough to warrant holding a new election, and they might have claimed that she had simply refused to accept her election. Evidently, their reasoning was faulty and the appointment unconstitutional. It marked the beginning of the true schism of the Daughters of Charity. In the future, those who supported Hanon’s position were nicknamed the “vincentines,” while those of the other party were the “jalabertines.”
Mother Durgueilh must have believed that she was doing the right thing for the benefit of the Company, as she wrote in her first circular, 15 May 1810. Many Sisters accepted her, perhaps without understanding what was at stake, but many others refused, looking instead to the deposed Mother Beaudoin. Indeed, about 100 Sisters decided to leave the Company entirely, among whom half were under ten years of vocation, to avoid the conflict. Others remained, but entire local communities lined up on one side or another. Although not legally the superior general, Hanon continued to take a deep interest in these matters from his banishment in Saint-Pol and clearly supported the resistance and Mother Beaudoin. One such token of his support is a detailed but undated memorandum in which he sought to prove that under the new governmental rules, the Sisters would cease being the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent. His perspective was that if local bishops assumed the government of the Daughters in their own dioceses, they would still be receiving their authority over them from the superior general of the Congregation of the Mission, who, in turn, had received his authority from the pope and not from the French state. It was a courageous argument.
Hanon in Prison
Because of Hanon’s opposition to Napoleon’s plans for the complete restructuring of religious life in France, the emperor, on the advice of the minister of police, decided to arrest the vicar general once again. On the morning of 28 March 1811, gendarmes searched the apartment of Mlle Debuillement in Saint-Pol, where Hanon was staying. Sensing their arrival, he went into hiding behind bundles of hay in a small storage area. Not finding him, the police left, but someone noticed the lady walking through the house carrying a breviary. He followed her and discovered Hanon’s hiding place. The officers transferred him for interrogation to a jail Paris. There, among other questions, he had to explain his perspective on his spiritual authority over the Daughters of Charity. He believed he still had it, since he had received it from the pope, not from the government. Since the pope had never revoked them for France or elsewhere, he still had them. Further, he considered that the Daughters of Charity in France, because of the new organization, to be no longer part of the community instituted by Saint Vincent. He was clearly speaking of two separate communities, and this insolent response sealed his fate. After several days in jail, he was then sent to the fortress of San Carlo in Fenestrelle, Piedmont, one of eight state prisons. This cold and forbidding castle housed important prisoners of the state. The reason for his imprisonment was that “he had fomented divisions among the Sisters of Charity, and kept up a correspondence with them in a bad spirit.”
Hanon was no ordinary prisoner, as can be seen from the fact that he was escorted to Fenestrelle by a special squad of guards, instead of being handed on to others along the way in relays as ordinary prisoners were. He even had to pay his own travel expenses. Amid tight surveillance at Fenestrelle, he never lost his will and spirit. He sent troublesome letters to ministers and to Napoleon, while maintaining the external trappings of respectful formality. He even had time to gather information about the pope’s captivity in Savona from eyewitnesses, a document published but virtually unknown.
Despite the emperor’s suppression of the Congregation of the Mission, he decided to ask Hanon to resign, implying that he still admitted that Hanon had some authority over the Sisters. Although willing to resign because of the pressures placed on him, Hanon made the same reply that he gave to his interrogators in Paris: since the pope alone had granted him spiritual authority, only the pope could accept his resignation. He even asked the Minister of foreign affairs to approve his letter of resignation and to forward it to the pope (then Napoleon’s prisoner at Fontainebleau). In his typical style, he added that he could not send his resignation to each and every bishop where Daughters of Charity are working, should they in fact be under the authority of the bishops. Napoleon’s response, written 24 August 1812 from Smolensk on his Russian campaign, was to order that Hanon remain at Fenestrelle, and his officials not to speak any more about his resignation. Hanon, however, continued his appeals against the vicars general of Paris.
The most distinguished prisoner at Fenestrelle was Cardinal Bartolomeo Pacca, Pro-secretary of State until his arrest in 1809. He and Hanon were able to meet occasionally and, on his release in 1813, Pacca went to Fontainebleau to join the pope. There, he also was able to present Hanon’s case to the pontiff. His reply was dated 18 May 1814, after Napoleon’s first abdication. In the document, the pope did not accept Hanon’s resignation, and the cardinal wished Hanon well, offering the support of the Holy See for the reestablishment of the Congregation of the Mission in France.
Without Hanon to look over their shoulders, the new administrators of the Daughters of Charity set to work trying to conform their life to the new legislation. Mother Durgueilh sent the new formula for vows in time for the renovation of 1811. Since the formula dropped the traditional phrase, “obedience to the venerable general of the Priests of the Mission,” substituting “obedience, in conformity with our rules and statutes,” many Sisters refused the new formula seeing that it would place them under the jurisdiction of bishops.
Pressure on the Sisters
In view of this negative reaction, Napoleon ordered Bigot to obtain the adhesion of all the Sisters to his demands. To accomplish this, the minister enlisted the support of the bishops having communities of the Daughters of Charity in their dioceses. He ordered them to secure their enlistment under the new superioress, but, lacking that, the refractory Sisters were to be “as shamefully and publicly as possible expelled from their Congregation.” In practice, this meant that they were escorted from their houses after changing out of their habits, and taken in a locked coach by gendarmes to their family homes. Of course, some bishops approved these draconian measures, while others did not. Those in favor who still had Sisters opposed to the new statutes would then be faced with the loss of their service. In some cases, the Sisters in large numbers unanimously opposed the changes, with catastrophic results to hospitals and schools.
Since his appeal to the bishops was not producing the effects he had hoped, Bigot’s next step, in July 1811, was to enlist the prefects, those agents of the civil government in charge of the départements. The minister wanted them to ascertain that the Sisters who did not submit would abandon the habit and return to their birthplace. There, they would be under police surveillance to assure that they not resume correspondence with other Sisters who accepted the new statutes. The prefects were generally ready to agree with Bigot’s orders, but they would certainly have to face the same problem as the bishops did: a dearth of personnel and loss of service following the expulsion of the Daughters of Charity. Because these new measures were clearly not successful, the minister returned to the bishops six months later, and then again to the prefects, with negligible results. Some Sisters, in fact, left voluntarily to rejoin family members, and others were expelled, 145 in the month of April 1812, for example. But sick and aged Sisters posed a logistical problem: where would they go, and who would care for them? Others left unwillingly and publicly, signing declarations against the actions of the government. In their zeal, a few even donned lay clothes to continue their service of the poor. When they were discovered, they were dismissed. It is estimated that between 500 and 600 Sisters were expelled, about one-third of the total in France.
The source of the reaction against the new statutes was largely among the Daughters of Charity themselves. Of the 270 Sisters who entered after 1801, about one-third left or were expelled. They likely followed the example of the directors of the “seminary”. Many superiors of houses also exercised a strong influence over the decision of the Sisters in their local community, such than only one or two out of a large house would accept the new legislation, while the majority did not.
In the mother house, some reaction also continued. Certain Sisters renewed their vows using the old formula, for example, while others substituted the name of Mother Durgueilh as the object of their vow of obedience.
Despite the bad light in which Mother Durgueilh can be judged, there was another side to her administration. The Sisters reelected her, 18 May 1812, and she regarded this as a confirmation of her leadership. The pope, held under house arrest at the chateau of Fontainebleau, came to her aid by signing a rescript, 22 February 1813, prepared by Viguier, the director. In this, the pope granted the faculty to each Sister “to make her vows according to the order of the superioress general, whom they should recognize as the head of all the Congregation.” Mother Durgueilh assisted at a papal mass, 7 March, and later had an audience with Pius VII, who showed his affection for the Daughters of Charity. “[His Holiness] gave me the hope that all those who have left will return.” She later appealed to this rescript, but it was generally recognized as a mere scrap of paper, not prepared in due form, and of only temporary validity, given the rapid changes in the government of France. It was clearly an embarrassment to the Holy See.
Although the two obediences posed difficulties, many young women came to join the Company: 110 in 1810, 146 in 1812, and 127 in 1813. With their arrival, the house at Vieux Colombier rapidly became too crowded. The housing problem would be solved by an imperial decree, 25 March 1813, granting the Daughters of Charity the Hôtel de Châtillon. This property became and still is their mother house, 140, rue du Bac.
Once again, political circumstances outside the control of the Sisters led to more crises. After the successes of the allies against Napoleon, he was forced to abdicate, 11 April 1814. He retired to the island of Elba, not as a prisoner, but as sovereign of this small domain. In Napoleon’s absence, Louis XVIII returned to Paris and reestablished the monarchy. Political prisoners were freed, notably Pius VII, who entered Rome 24 May. Father Hanon had been transferred from Fenestrelle to house arrest in Bourges to escape the advance of the troops. He was finally liberated on 13 April.
Hanon went to Lyons in hopes of seeing Cardinal Pacca, but he had already left. He also met with Sister Catherine Olivier (b. 1739), a former official of the mother house who had left the Company in 1812, to sound her out concerning his plans about Mother Durgueilh. Sister Olivier wrote out a formulary for the superioress general to sign, by which she would retract her mistakes and prepare for a reconciliation of the two camps. As expected, Mother Durgueilh refused to sign it.
Afterwards, from Lyons he wrote a circular to the Daughters dated 23 June, in which he announced several immediate dispositions concerning the Company. His official standing, however, was somewhat confused, since the Congregation of the Mission had not yet been reestablished in France. This detail does not seem to have bothered the Sisters. He ratified the actions of Mother Durgueilh but asked some of her staff to resign or take different offices. He then asked Mother Mousteyro to return to her office as superioress general, with Mother Durgueilh becoming the assistant. He also took advantage of his location to travel to Clermont to see Mother Mousteyro, now nearly eighty years old, and to explain his reasoning. By these measures, the schism of the Daughters of Charity would now supposedly end.
When Hanon returned to Paris, he wisely decided to stay at the seminary of the Paris Foreign Mission Society instead of with the Sisters, some of whom did not accept his decisions. His first interview with Mother Durgueilh began badly. He asked: “Do you recognize me as the superior general?” “I recognize you as superior general if you recognize me as superioress general.” After much conversation, the storm calmed, but it did not cease. In the first place, Mother Durgueilh felt a need to justify her actions and to complain about certain irregularities in Hanon’s decisions. The three-year mandate of Mother Mousteyro, in her view, had already expired, whereas Mother Durgueilh had been reelected. Besides, in a new twist, Louis XVIII took a hand in the matter by ordering Mother Durgueilh to continue as superioress general until ecclesiastical authorities would make a determination.
Mother Durgueilh then initiated an official recourse to the Holy See. Hanon reacted by soliciting the help of Sicardi in Rome. Hanon’s anger and frustration boiled over in a lengthy letter to his Roman assistant, 6 August 1814. In amazement, he cited the text of the oath formerly required of the Daughters of Charity in certain hospitals: “I swear fidelity to the laws and Constitutions of Empire; love, attachment, devotion, obedience to His Imperial and Royal Majesty; and I will conform myself to the intentions of the government in the new order of things introduced in the community.” Although no longer binding, it gave the tone to the conflicts still raging, which he characterized as defiance and revolt. Continuing, he recounted that he had heard that “Sister Durgueilh and her adherents” were carrying on secret frequent conversations with clergy and members of the government to gain “protection in their revolt.”
To counteract her recourse, he sought to have the pope order her to cede her place to Mother Mousteyro, a place she had violently seized, according to him. He also hoped the pope would declare her legally incompetent to launch an appeal in the first place, and thus to reject it out of hand. He urged Sicardi to have this done without delay, since it would be deleterious to leave the Sisters in suspense. In one amazing sentence, he summarized his frustrations: “At the same time, they tire and they torment by every kind of caprice, vexation and daily tyrannies all the Sisters who do not share their revolt.”
To make matters worse, Hanon rejected Mother Durgueilh’s assertions, and Mother Mousteyro denied the authenticity of the papal rescript of 22 February 1813 which supposedly had granted all authority to Mother Durgueilh. She, in turn, responded with her version of events. All this led to yet more conflict and confusion, despite the best intentions of Father Hanon and Mother Durgueilh to avoid it. Hanon’s circular to the Daughters of Charity of 1 January 1815 lays out in stark terms his view of the current situation, especially by remarking “that she [Mother Durgueilh] has governed during the three last years by the sole will of a layman (the minister of worship)….” He relates also that Sicardi had reported the pope’s sentiments to him: “[The pope] treats as rebels those who have separated from an establishment founded by St. Vincent….”
Since only the pope could now resolve the questions, Pius VII acted and issued, on 17 January 1815, a brief naming Father Paul Thérèse David d’Astros, vicar capitular of Paris, as “visitor apostolic” for the Daughters of Charity, with all the powers of the superior general. It should be recalled that, legally, Hanon was not superior general of the Congregation of the Mission, nor even vicar general in France, since the Congregation had not yet been reestablished; this would come only 3 February 1816, shortly before Hanon’s untimely death. The choice of Astros was surprising, inasmuch as he was one of those who had worked to place the Sisters under the authority of the archbishop of Paris. Father Etienne concluded that the pope’s intention for Astros was “to expiate his ambitious pretensions” to assume the direction of the Company.
In the intervening weeks, Hanon wrote Sicardi once again urging speed so as to avoid any real division in the Company. He reported as well that he had received more than one hundred letters from various houses of the Sisters or from individuals, asking about their future. He therefore believed that the majority of the Daughters of Charity were with him. Whether this was true, or not, is difficult to determine. In any case, the papal brief had already been issued by the time he sent this letter.
Hanon sent out a copy of the brief along with a covering letter, 27 February 1815. He explained his viewpoint about the upcoming election: all the Sisters, no matter what party they belonged to in this dispute, should be free to vote. The pope did not, he concluded, speak of either of the two superioresses general, but ipso facto eliminated one of them, Mother Durgueilh.
The duty of the visitor apostolic was primarily to preside over the election of a new superioress general, in Hanon’s presence. He set the date of 12 March for the election. At that assembly, Sister Elizabeth Baudet (1753-1833) was elected. She was sixty-two, and forty-three years of vocation. Econome of the Company during Mother Durgueilh’s time, she had consequently been among those who had approved the new statutes, contrary to Hanon’s wishes. In Mother Baudet’s first circular, she emphasized her wish to promote unity, the renewal of fervor and perfect charity, and increased zeal for the service of the poor. After only one term, however, she was not reelected.
The surprise return of Napoleon for one hundred days tossed all the plans into disorder, but once the emperor left for good, order and regularity began to reign again. All during this period work had continued on repairing the future mother house at the rue du Bac, and it was finished enough for the Sisters to transfer the body of Saint Vincent 23 June 1815, and to move in, which they did during July. Hanon blessed the chapel 6 August and gave a lengthy conference. He concluded it pointedly: “Let us be careful of allowing any break or change in the precious chain of your ancient observances, pious usages, holy rules, or of bringing in novelties or relaxations.”
At an extraordinary council meeting held 11 January 1816, Hanon presented, in the presence the two directors, Fathers Delgorgues and Richenet, extensive documentation to uphold his position. He was able to get the superioress general and her councilors to agree that first, the supreme authority in the Company lay in the superior general of the Congregation of the Mission alone, and that the superioress general depended on him; second, that vows were not a novelty in the Company, but came from the time of Vincent de Paul; and third, that the constitutions (or statutes) were not the work of Father Bonnet, but of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac. Bonnet had only polished them up and signed them as the Sisters had asked. In this way, all the interested parties were thus united around these main facts.
Another loose end was the reintegration of the Sisters expelled from the Company. Just where they should return became a matter of much discussion and passion: to the houses from which they were expelled, or to the mother house; to their old responsibilities or to others? Hanon tried to pacify everyone by assuring the Sisters that those who had suffered expulsion would be able to return to their previous duties, works and houses as much as was possible. The fact that they had resisted Napoleon gave them no special rights. As it happened, the returns did not take place all at once. A few Sisters died while with their families, and a few others, mostly young women, never returned at all. The return of the others was spread over the years 1814 to 1818.
The majority of the houses of the Company in France would bear the wounds of this discord for decades. Sisters on both sides of the question believed that they had acted in good faith and in obedience. Yet, despite appeals for reconciliation, it would take many years for the last vestiges of this sorry episode to disappear. One result of the attempt to establish peace was that the whole period has been largely ignored in the history of the Daughters of Charity as well as that of the Congregation of the Mission.
What judgment can be made on Hanon’s behavior in this series of crises? It is easy to imagine that, by his unbending firmness and his uncompromising language, he restrained Napoleon’s plans. Etienne held that Hanon preserved intact the heritage of Vincent de Paul. But was Hanon prudent in what he did? This is a question of interpretation, but he suffered severely for his devotion to the Sisters. It is likely that if he had not resisted, prudently or not, the Daughters of Charity would have collapsed as a unified congregation.
Governing the Congregation, 1814-1816
On Hanon’s return to Paris from prison in the summer of 1814, he resumed his duties as superior general of the Congregation of the Mission. Hstill remained legally suppressed, although its members continued to live and work at their ministries in small groups. As for Hanon, he first lived with the priests of the Paris Foreign Mission Society and, probably to escape the pressure of dealing with the fractious Daughters of Charity, he went to visit his family. He wrote to Sicardi ominously about this period that Jean-Jacques Dubois had been conspiring to have him removed from office, possibly to protect the vicar general’s mental and physical health. Dubois is reported to have held a small “assembly” of six or seven Vincentians to find a replacement for Hanon, who was believed to have been ousted by the pope. Nothing came of this, of course.
Once in Paris, he found first one and then another apartment, 6, rue Garancières, for himself and a few others of his confreres. This would be the temporary mother house for the Congregation of the Mission until the community was able to move in to the permanent mother house in 1817.
His first concern, naturally, was the restoration of the Congregation. He seems to have requested it of Louis XVIII early in 1815. Any possible consideration of restoration was halted by Napoleon’s return during the so-called Hundred Days, 10 March to 22 June 1815. When the king returned after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, Hanon resumed his petitions. One possible explanation for the government’s slowness in responding could well have been the issue of acquiring a suitable mother house. Hanon requested the Sisters’ former house, Vieux Colombier, but its destination as a fire station put it out of the question.
Restoration of the Congregation, Hanon’s death
On 3 February 1816, Louis XVIII decreed the restoration of the Congregation of the Mission in France. The legal basis was the application of a royal decree of 2 March 1815 concerning the Paris Foreign Mission Society to both the Congregation of the Mission and the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans), missionary congregations. Although it had already been determined that the house at Vieux Colombier was unavailable, the decree still granted it to the Vincentians as their headquarters. The pastor of Saint Sulpice also wanted the same house for the Sulpicians. He asserted that the Vincentians should have no claim on it since Hanon, and Brunet and Placiard before him, had never lived in the big house, only in the small house at the back of the property.
Hanon next had the joy of communicating the “precious news” of the reestablishment of the Congregation, doing so in a circular to his confreres, dated 12 March 1816. He outlined his new administrative chores: assembling a staff, forming the internal seminary (novitiate), and finding a mother house. His major concern in this letter was to recall the members to return to the community. Consequently, he laid out the kinds of work that were available to them: foreign missions, seminaries, home missions, service to the Daughters of Charity, and pastoral ministry of all sorts. “So, be so kind as to let me know if you are ready to join in that number, and at what time, soon, we will be able to count on you.” He received responses from forty-nine priests, five brothers, and fourteen other priests, all in their sixties and seventies. Their answers were of the same sort as he had received in 1808. Interestingly, he noted the responses of his successor, Emmanuel Verbert, and a future superior general, Dominique Salhorgne. Verbert cited his age, sixty-four, as being why he was incapable of any work. Further, he feared that “our ancient practices and customs” would not appeal to the majority who had for twenty-five years lived apart from the Congregation. Salhorgne, by contrast, was well disposed, but had already written that he did not want to accept any important position.
At about the same time, Hanon drew up a memorandum listing the foreign Vincentians dependent on the superior general in Paris (using the term “superior general” to agree with the views of the French government.) In all, he mentioned sixty-two houses in ten jurisdictions, with a total of 490 Vincentians. Of these, the largest numbers came from a dismembered Poland: seventy-seven in Russian Poland, twenty-four in Austrian Poland, 120 in the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. In Italy, Naples and the Papal States, he counted 142; while Spain had sixty-eight, and Portugal, with its Chinese mission, numbered forty-one. There was a remnant of four in the German-speaking province of the Palatinate.
Sicardi in Rome believed that he should still exercise his authority, possibly since the pope had never formally revoked it. He issued a New Year’s circular for 1816, for example. In it, he explained that problems in Italy had prevented him from sending out the circulars for previous years. Napoleon had decreed the suppression of religious communities in 1810, to be followed by an oath of submission or deportation for non-juring Italians. The Congregation there had lost more than 100 houses in a dozen or so years, and many of the Vincentians had left or were dispersed by the “furious north wind,” a reference to the Napoleonic armies. In this confused situation, he recommended assiduous prayer, the practice of traditional Vincentian virtues, and an unswerving devotion to the tried and true in Church dogma, and the community’s rules and practices. He also referred in a roundabout way to the continuing non-existence of the Congregation of the Mission in France, where it had lost some eighty houses, and now had only one (Valfleury). He imparted no news about either Spain or Portugal, but mentioned that the American mission was about to begin.
On 15 April 1816, Sicardi wrote to Hanon, complaining that he had not heard from him. He explained that, at age eighty-six in failing health he wanted to resign from the “duty of governing the Congregation, with the single exception of France.” In accordance with his office, he reported that he had erected Naples as a province, and named visitors for Russian Poland (“Lithuania”), and for Spain.
In the meantime, Hanon’s health began to decline and he moved to the Hospital of the Incurables, staffed by the Daughters of Charity, to be attended by its physicians. If he received Sicardi’s last letter, he would have received it in the hospital. This is doubtful, however, since he died there 24 April 1816 of a stroke, like Placiard before him. He was only fifty-nine. His dying moments were characterized by sentiments of pardon: “I pardon them with all my heart, without any resentment, and I believe that I have nothing to reproach myself for concerning all that has been imputed to me. I have done all I could to fulfill my responsibilities….” His funeral was held at the chapel of the Incurables and, like his predecessors, he was buried at the Vaugirard cemetery.
Dominique-François Hanon was the leading light among the five French vicars general. He struggled to reconstruct the Congregation and to preserve the traditional identity of the Daughters of Charity. A contemporary account describes him as animated with a very vibrant zeal for the prosperity of the two communities, as being tireless in work, and very attached to his duty. His character made him unbending in matters that required firmness, and he paid for this by years of harsh imprisonment. At the same time, he was charitable and compassionate, and a truly attractive figure.