SAINT JULIE BILLIART (1751-1816), virgin, religious and co-foundress – Patron saint against poverty and sickness
Today, the Church honors Saint Julie Billiart, who was truly devoted to teaching the Good News of Jesus Christ to all peoples, but especially with a great love for the poor and underprivileged.
Born into a family of well-to-do farmers in Cuvilly, France in 1751, young Marie Rose Julie Billiart showed an early interest in religion and in helping the sick and the poor. At the age of seven, she knew the catechism by heart, and used to gather her little companions around her to hear them recite it and to explain it to them. She made her First Communion and was Confirmed at the age of nine, and it was during this time that she took a personal vow of chastity.
Though the first years of her life were relatively peaceful and uncomplicated, Julie had to take up manual work as a young teenager when financial misfortune affected her family. However, she continued to spend her spare time teaching catechism to young people and to the farm laborers.
A mysterious illness overtook her when she was about twenty-two years old. Witnessing an attempt to wound or even kill her father, Julie was paralyzed from the trauma and became a complete invalid. For the next two decades she continued to teach catechism lessons from her bed, offered spiritual advice and attracted visitors who had heard of her holiness.
During the French Revolution, Julie opened her home as a hiding place for loyal priests, forcing her to be carried to safety several times. She also received a vision of the crucified Christ, surrounded by a large group of women dressed in religious habits. An inner voice told her that she would begin a religious institute for the Christian education of young girls.
In 1803, Julie, together with an aristocratic woman by the name of Françoise Blin de Bourdon, who personally shared Julie’s interest in teaching the faith, founded the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, dedicated to the education of the poor as well as young Christian girls and the training of catechists.
The following year, the first Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur made their vows. That was the same year that Sister Julie miraculously recovered from her illness; she was able to walk for the first time in 22 years!
Though she had always been attentive to the special needs of the poor, as it always remained her priority, she also became aware that other classes of people in society needed Christian instruction. From the founding of the Sisters of Notre Dame until her death, Sister Julie was on the road, opening a variety of schools in France and Belgium that served the poor and the wealthy, including opening fifteen convents. Ultimately, Sisters Julie and Françoise moved the Motherhouse for their Order to Namur, Belgium.
While in prayer at the Congregation’s Motherhouse, Sister Julie died peacefully on April 8, 1816. She was canonized a saint by Pope St. Paul VI on June 22, 1969.
We commemorate her feastday on April 8.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Commons for Holy Women ~ ministering to the underprivileged)
“Lord God, You teach us that the Commandments of Heaven are summarized in love of You and love of our neighbor. By following the example of Saint Julie in practicing works of charity, may we be counted among the blessed in Your Kingdom.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”