Mother Geneviève de Saint-Bernard Acarie

Mother Geneviève de Saint-Bernard Acarie

Geneviève Acarie’s childhood was very perturbed by the misfortunes which pounced on her parents : the exile and the absence of her father, the ruin of her family, the illnesses and the infirmities of her mother. Contrary to what could have come from this, it gave her a decided and independent character. At 14, she decides to become a Cistercian nun but finally she chooses the Carmelite order into which she enters at 15.

Her religious life will take place respectively in Paris, in the Incarnation convent, and afterwards in the convent of the Chapon street to the foundation of which she takes part. At 28, she is sent to Chartres as prioress to found a convent. There, difficulties with the bishop and many ordeals await her. She faces them bravely, but when peace comes back, she has not the joy of ending her days in this convent. Her fame has had her elected prioress of the Sens convent where she dies 18 months after .

Mother Geneviève seems to have inherited some extreme sides of her father, but her veneration towards her mother lest us think that she generally followed her lessons and her widom instances.

Mother Geneviève dies in Sens, at 52.

Mother Geneviève de Saint-Bernard Acarie

By Thibaut PODEVIN

Geneviève was the third and last daughter of Pierre Acarie’s and Barbe Avrillot’s children. She was born in February 1592 and died on September 12th 1644 as prioress of the Carmelite convent of Sens.

Entered at fifteen in the discalced carmelite order in the first Paris convent, she took actively part in the foundation of two communities : the second Carmelite convent of Paris, Chapon street, and particularly that of Chartres where she was sent as founder and first prioress in 1620.

Few records concerning her closely have reached us. From her stay in Sens, we only have five of her handwritten letters, kept in the Carmelite convent of Beaune and her biographical note, drawn by her sisters the day after her death, which gives us information on her character and on her activity during the last months of her life.

The records of the Carmelite convent of Chartres, as to them, are a more detailed source, and therefore more precious on the life and the work of Mother Geneviève de Saint-Bernard. We find a few of her spiritual thoughts in a manuscript Abrégé de la vie des Rses carmélites de France, carmel de Chartres, achevé le dernier samedi de janvier 1699, page 134 to 140.

A manuscript Recueil des commencements ds Carmélites de France. Depuis le voyage d’Espagne jusqu’à la fondation de Blois. The passages concerning the Chartres foundation was entirely put down in a small notebook of 69 manuscript pages called Fondation du monastère de Chartres (Foundation of the Carmelite convent of Chartres)(1620-1836).

Le Livre des professions et des visites canoniques sous l’Ancien Régime ( The Book of professions and of the canonical inspections) under the old regime.

The copies of official documents which have enabled the Carmelite nuns to establish themselves in the town of Chartres.

Several letters adressed by the chancellor de Marillac to Mother Geneviève de Saint-Bernard.

A report, written by the care of the community on Monsieur Duval’s instructions, to defend the Chartres Carmelite nuns against the interference of the bishop of Chartres in the government of the monastery.

Otherwise, Madame Acarie’s biographers provide a few details on the life of her daughters.

All these records and readings have allowed us to be able to recount the great stages of the life of this nun to whom it was surely hard to carry the heritage of such a mother.

1) Childhood

Geneviève Acarie was born in Paris in February 1592. She was the sixth and last child of Madame Acarie who had predicted that this pregnancy would be tha last oneDom Sans, Procès informatif, 72 r°..

Since 1588, Barbe Acarie was regularly presented with raptures. So, thus, when she gave birth to the little Geneviève, Barbe Acarie was « raptured » which greatly worried the doctor Faber who feared for mother and childJeanne l’Espervier, Procès Apostolique, 585 r°..

Boucher, in his work on Madame Acarie’s life, provides us the text of Geneviève’s baptism certificate received in the Saint-Gervais church : « The year fifteen hundred and ninety-two, on February second, has been baptized Geneviève, the daughter of Messire Pierre Acarie, sir of Montberrault, councellor and ordinary master in the Audit Office, and of noble Miss Barbe Avrillot, her father and motherBOUCHER (J. B. A.), Vie de la Bienheureuse Sœur Marie de l’Incarnation dite dans le monde Mademoiselle Acarie, converse professe et fondatrice des Carmélites réformées de France, Paris, chez H. Barbou, rue des Mathurins, 1800, p. 542.  ». According to the tradition of the time, girls, when baptized, were given two godmothers and a godfather (boys two godfathers and one godmother). For Geneviève, her parents chose as first godmother Marie Fart, and Marguerite Chevalier, the wife of Denis des Cordes, as second godmother. The baptism certficate reproduced by Boucher tells us that her godfather was Jacques AvrillotThe R. F. Bruno tells us that Jacques Avrillot « was shot down by a gun in the Jean-Pain-Mollet street, when coming back from the family residence in the Saint-Bon street, at the end of December 1607 ». Cf. La Belle Acarie, Paris-Louvain, Desclée de Brouwer, 1942, p. 33, note 1.. As for her brothers and sisters, these people are members of the family and belong to the legal profession.

The minister who gave the sacrament was Guincestre, the Saint-Gervais vicar, a very excited man, a « Don Camillo » of the LigueR. F. Bruno, op. cit., p. 82 « Excited by the rant of this fanatic [Guincestre], the crowd when coming out tears off the royal arms which decorate the Saint-Barthelémy portal and tread upon them with insulting shouts against Henri de Valois (…). It was on December 29th 1588 »..

Barbe Acarie, at only 26 years old finds herself at the head of a family of six children the eldest of whom, Nicolas, is about eight.

2) The events due to his father commitments

We know that Pierre Acarie was a passionate member of the Ligue, an eager opponent of King Henry IVth in spite of the solemn abjuration of heresy by the latter on July 25th 1593.

At the King’s entry into Paris, in prevision of what could happen to him, Pierre Acarie has established a procuration which gives to his wife very large meansThe text of this procuration is reproduced by the R. F. Bruno, op. cit., p. 146.. Unfortunately, Pierre, very generous towards the Ligue and its members, has contracted many debts and leaves Barbe ruined, and she must defend herdelf against the creditors, separate herself from her children and put them in different places. We do not know to which place Geneviève went. We only know that she was entrusted to relativesR. F. Bruno, op. cit., p. 190..

But about June 1595, or just after, the situation improves. The King partly forgives the Ligueurs and Barbe does not have to rejoin her husband in the Carthusian monastery of Bourgfontaine where he has then been exiledR. F. Bruno, op. cit., p. 171.. For Pierre Acarie has been allowed to retire by relatives in Luzarches and a few months later, Barbe Acarie, become crippled, after a serious horse accident, can at last bring together her family in Paris, but how many upsettings for the little Geneviève, only five years old !

We do not have really precise data concerning Geneviève’s childhood. We know that she was not placed in the Longchalp abbey as her two sisters. She surely received , by her mother, the same education as Marie Acarie, related in Monsieur Yvon’s and Sœur Anne-Thérèse’s studyYON (B.) and Sister Anne-Thérèse de Jésus, Marie de Jésus Acarie, Association des Amis de Madame Acarie, pro manuscripto, November 2007, 18 p..

3) An early vocation

Unlike her elder sister Marie who is said to have been a long time undecided between « establishing herself in teh world », which normally took place at the age of sixteen or seventeen, or « enter the conventIbid., p. 8. », Geneviève had long ago made up her mind to consecrate herself to God.

« In her youth, she stayed a while in the town of Troyes, in the suburbs of which her father possessed lands ; and as the devotion to Saint Bernard was generally quite spread in this country, she imagined becoming Fauillantine, order of the Cistercian family. Her parents had already chosen for her the house that the nuns of this order had in ToulouseR. F. Ferdinand de Sainte-Thérèse, Le Ménologe du Carmel, Lille-Bruges, Desclée de Brouwer, 1879, t. III, p. 38.. This last sentence is astonishing. Indeed, the Acarie parents could not choose for their daughter any other Feuillantine monastery than that of Toulouse, since at that time, it was the only convent of this OrderJean de la Barrière (1544-1600), wishing to reform the Cîteaux order, first created the Feuillants Order and then a feminine branch which he settled first in Montesquiou-en-Valvestre (Gers) and then, the vocations thriving, they went to Toulouse in May 1599. Cf. Dom BEAUNIER, Archives de la France monastique vol. XII –Abbayes et Prieurés de l’Ancienne France, 4th volume « Provinces d’Alby, de Narbonne et de Toulouse » , Paris, Jouve et Cie Éditeurs, 1911, p. 288. !

One can wonder about the choice of this community. Indeed, at that time, many feminine contemplative communities were on the decline because of the commendam  system and the appointment of the abbesses by the Royal power. But sometimes, the Royal choices were more fortunate. Brémond appoints sixteen « reforming abbesses » at the beginning of the XVIIth centuryBRÉMOND (H.), Histoire littéraire du sentiment religieux en France, t. II, L’invasion mystique, Paris, 1925, p. 395, cité par Dom LEMOINE, L’époque moderne – Le monde des religieux, Paris, Éditions Cujas, 1976, p. 213.. So, why the choice of the Feuillantines ? The only presence of numerous cistercian monasteries in the Troyes region cannot explain everything.

Indeed in the circle of Madame Acarie, two Feuillant fathers were very present : DomEustache de Saint-Paul and especially Dom Sans, later general of the order, who assiduously frequented the Blest from 1597 to 1607. He himself declared : « I have frequented her nine years or moreSans, 69 v° Procès informatif. ».

Furthermore, in this Toulouse monastery, had entered, to lead a life of penance, Antoinette d’Orléans et de LonguevilleWidow of the marquis de Belle-isle, she entered the Feuillantines in Toulouse on October 25th 1599 and professed herself there on January 6th 1601. Named, against her will, coadjutor of her aunt Éléonore de Bourbon, the Fontevreault abbess, to whom she succeeded. She resigned in 1611, and retired in Poitiers whers she founded the community of the Calvary Benedictines which still exists today. She died on April 24th 1618. Cf. DU MEGE, Histoire des institutions religieuses, politiques, judiciaires de la ville de Toulouse, Toulouse, Laurent Chapelle, 1846, p. 146-147., Catherine d’Orléans’sister, princess of Longueville, very near associate of Barbe Acarie to establish the Carmelite nuns in France.

Was Geneviève, induced in her choice by her circle where the Feuillants and their allies were very present ? It is possible. But, if the Feuillants environment was important, we can assert that that of the Carmelite one was greater. Geneviève had not left her mother between 1601, the date of her first vision of Saint Thérèse asking Barbe to bring her Carmelite nuns to France and June 1607, the date of her entry into the convent. She has therefore been, if not present, at least informed of all the plans, of all the discussions, and of all the toils her mother has had to assume to carry out the foundation. An event of great importance may also haved impressed the mind of the young girl of twelve, that of October 15th 1604, when the Spanish Carmelite nuns, after a long journey, entered into Paris amidst popular jubilation. On the bridge Notre-Dame, two coaches move towards the nuns. In one of them are Barbe Acarie and her three daughters among whom GenevièveMORGAIN (S.-M.), op. cit., p. 153.. On January 15th 1605, she is in Pontoise with her two sisters for the establishment of the Saint Joseph Carmelite convent, where all three serve in the refectory, as the community take their first meal and no doubt that on September 15th 1605 she went with her sisters who enter the Carmelite convent of Paris !

With such a background, choosing a « Feuillantine » life, Geneviève shows a pronounced personality, capable when not yet quite fifteen years old, to be free-minded, freely choosing a very austere state of life. But, contrary to all expectations, her dowry having already been agreed about with Dom Malachie, the Feuillants provincial, Geneviève gives up her projectR. F. Ferdinand de Sainte-Thérèse, op. cit., p. 38..

Monsieur and Madame Acarie had left their children free to choose a state of life. Little after, in June 1607, Geneviève entered, at fifteen, into the Paris Carmelite convent, wher she found again her sister Marguerite, who had just made her profession.

4) The choice of the Carmelite Order

The obituary notice of Mother Geneviève de Saint-Bernard Acarie, written by her sisters of the Carmelite convent of Sens, gives us the main reason why she changed direction : « Reading the Life of our Blessed Mother and hearing of our rule, one article touched her deeply. It is that we do not work together, but each in her cell to live more collected. Seeing that the ways of the Saint Benoît Order to which that of Saint Bernard belongs, does not demand such a great retreat, she told her mother that this Constitution of Saint Thérèse pleased her. Noticing that when she worked alone she did more work and that company amused her. God has many means to draw us to him and he used this innocent remark to draw her to the Carmelite orderArchives of the Carmelite convent of Sens, « Circulaire de la Mère Geneviève de Saint Bernard, 32 e professe du Premier Monastère –Le 12 septembre 1644 »..

Little before she entered the Carmelite Order, she wrote to François de Sales. We have no more trace of this letter but the bishop of Annecy mentions it in a letter to Nicolas de Soulfour, dated April 30th 1607 : « I must specify Mademoiselle Geneviève Acarie, {tooltipwho wrote to me the other day a letter which deserved an answer}{end-text} François de Sales, Œuvres, t. XIII, p. 286. {end-tooltip} ». At fifteen, she already impresses one of the greatest spiritual men of her time by her letters. This correspondence between Geneviève and François de Sales went on and the only letter to have reached us, certifies that this latter always had with her a certain familiarity and overall much frankness.

When she took the veil on June 24th 1607, Geneviève became sister Geneviève de Saint Bernard, through faithfulness to the founder of the Cistercian order. At the end of the year of he canonical noviciate, sister Geneviève not being old enough to emit validly her vows, only made her profession a year later, March 25th 1609Archives of the Carmelite convent of Sens, « Circulaire de la Mère Geneviève de Saint Bernard… », op. cit. at the same time as her other sister Marie, entered in the Carmelite Order in 1608R. F. Bruno, op. cit., p. 475, note 1..

5) The Foundation of the Carmelite convent in Chapon street

Sister Geneviève de Saint Bernard stayed rue Saint-Jacques till 1617, the year which, thanks to Madame Acarie’s prayers, a second Carmelite monastery was founded in Paris.

In the Procès Apostolique, «  Marguerite du Saint-Sacrement witnesses : « Madame Catherine de Gonzagues, princess of Clèves, then the widow of Monseigneur Henri d’Orléans duc de Longueville told me and disclosed to me the favour she received from God through the prayers of Sister Marie de l’Incarnation (…). In the year 1614 the said lady being in Amiens, where this servant of God was in her probation year as lay sister in the Carmelite monastery of the said town, she went to find her and showed her how she was afflicted by a displeasure she couldn’t in any way bear, seeing that the size of her only son was deterioratingMarguerite Acarie, Procès Apostolique, Riti 2236, f° 427. Evidence dated of the summer 1632. », begging her to pray for his recovery ! Sister Marie de l’Incarnation prayed intensely for the young duke de Longueville, and the latter was cured from his infirmity. Himself witnessed at the beatification case and confirmed the factsHenri d’orléans, duke of Longueville, Procès apostolique, Riti 2235, f° 494-495. Witness between December 5th 1630 and March 4th 1631..

As acknowledgement, and as she had vowed, the princess of Clèves founded a second Carmelite monastery in Paris, Chapon street. Herself and her son, Henry d’Orléans, duke of Normandy, the « miraculously healed person » endowed the convent with 30.000 pounds and 2.000 pounds of annual and perpetual revenueChroniques de l’Ordre des Carmélites de la Réforme de Sainte Thérèse depuis leur introduction en France, Troyes, 1856, volume III, p. 195.. The contract was concluded in 1616, but the foundation came across several difficulties.

The Mansion of Châlons, Chapon street, was chosen to set up the convent. But its owner, Clausse de Mauchaumont, bishop of Châlons, declined to sell it. Meanwhile, the new community settled in a neighbouring house, belonging to Madame ThiersaultMORGAIN (S.-M.), op. cit., p. 319., great friend of Madame Acarie and generous benefactress of the Pontoise Carmelite convent. This new Carmelite convent was placed under the protection of the divine maternity of the Virgin Mary (it was often called the convent of the Mother of God) and it was inaugurated on September 8th 1617Chroniques de l’Ordre…, op. cit., p. 196..

Mother Madeleine de Saint-Joseph was its first prioressProfessed in 1605, she was elected prioress of the Carmelite convent of the Saint-Jacques street in 1608 and reelected in 1611.. She appointed as under-prioress sister Geneviève de Saint-BernardChroniques de l’Ordre…, op. cit., p. 197..

After many bargainings, the sisters could finally purchase the mansion of Châlons in October 1619. The church was built, the choir for the nuns and a big dormitory, containing eighteen to twenty cellsChroniques de l’Ordre…, op. cit., p. 197., that is to say that very soon sister Geneviève experienced changing convent, building works, with all the noise, the worries and the ordeals which it generally brings.

It is in this period that François de Sales, in Paris at that time, goes to visit her. In a letter, written in Tours, to Mother Marie de Jésus Acarie, under-prioress in Amiens, September 21rst 1619, one reads :

« My dearest sister,
I didn’t want to see you less than I wanted to see your two dear sisters whom I have now seen, one in Paris, in the small convent [Mother Geneviève, Chapon street], and the other here [Mother Marguerite Acarie, prioress of Tours since 1618] (…) We have well reniewed the old friendship and spiritual alliance [your two dear sisters] and myself, and they are still my daughters, as in the pastFrançois de Sales, Œuvres, t. XIX, p. 23 and 25. ».

6) The Foundation of the Carmelite convent of Chartres

According to the Records of the Carmelite convent of Chartres, Bérullle « wished eagerly a monastery of our order to be in this town to honour more particularly the incarnation of the Verb and the divine maternity, objects of his tender devotionArchives of the Carmelite convent of Sens, notebook « Fondation du carmel de Chartres », f° 2. ». Mother Madeleine de Saint-Joseph shared this opinion and during the long bargainings which should precede the foundation, fetched to the convent of the Faubourg Saint-Jacques a young girl from Chartres, Mademoiselle Le Beau, to « see the character of the girls from this landIbid., f° 3. ». She was nineteen and took the name of Suzanne de Saint-Joseph. She had serious difficulties to ajust herself to the Carmelite way of life, so much so that Mother Madeleine contemplated her dismissal. One day, overwhelmed with this terrible threat, sister Suzanne de Saint-Joseph prayed earnestly and the prophet Elie apeared to her in the dormitory to tell her she would be a Carmelite nunIbid. . Finally she took her vows in Paris in 1617ERIAU (J.-B.), L’ancien carmel du faubourg Saint-Jacques, J. de Gigord-A. Picard, Paris, 1929, p. 482. and belonged to the founding swarm in Chartres in 1620.

The Bishop of Chartres, Philippe Hurault de ChevernyPhilippe Hurault was born in 1579 and was elected bishop of Chartres in 1598. He died on the 27th of May 1620. Cf. FISQUET (M.-H.), La France pontificale (Gallia Christiana) – Métropole de Paris – Chartres, Paris, H. Repos et Cie, Libraires-Éditeurs, p. 181-186. had examined the project and given his permission to found this conventArchives of the Carmelite convent of Chartres, file 4a « Foundation ». The text is completely written in Latin., since January 2 nd 1619. At the same time, he gave to Robert Bouette, dean of the chapter, and to the canon Claude Lebel, doctor in theology, procuration to establish the communityArchives Départementales d’Eure-et-Loir, H. 5403.. The town council gave his agreement on April 15th 1619LEPINOIS (E., de), Histoire de Chartres, Garnier, Imprimeur-Libraire, Chartres, 1858, t. II, p. 530..

On October 19th 1619, Mademoiselle d’AttichyMademoiselle d’Attichy took the veil December 24th 1619 in the convent of the Chapon street and professed on Christmas eve the following year. She died in 1656. Cf. Chroniques de l’Ordre…¸op. cit., p. 398., Michel de Marillac’s niece, who had offered herself as fouder, signed the letters of endowment of the future monastery : « Before the notaries garde nobles of our King in His Châtelet of Paris, who undersigned, was herself present Damoiselle Henriette d’Ony, the under age daughter of the deceased Messire Octavien d’Ony and when alive, chevalier seigneur d’Attichy (…). She had the firm intention of founding, and endowing for ever and in perpetuity the convent and monastery of the said Order which with the grace of God, would shortly be estblished and instituted in the town of Chartres, and for the said foundation of giving four thousand pounds tournois, so that the said convent and monastery may enjoy it, and those who would take care of establishing this latter, from now on, for ever, without any hope or will of revocationArchives of the Carmelite convent of Chartres, « Copie des lettres de fondation et dotation de notre monastère des carmélites de Chartres du 19è octobre 1619 », file 4a « Fondation ». ».

The ancient house of l’Huis-de-Fer, located in the Saint-Pierre street, below the hillock of l’Étape-au-VinLEPINOIS (E., de), op. cit., p. 530-531., had been prepared to welcome the sisters. Mother Madeleine de Saint-Joseph in cooperation with the superiors had chosen Mother Geneviève de Saint-Bernard, as prioress, Mother Marguerite de Jésus, as under-prioress, Sister Marie de Saint Jean-Baptiste, Sister Marie de la Passion, Sister Suzanne de Saint-Joseph, Sister Florentine de la Mère de Dieu, lay sister, and Sister Marie de la Trinité, noviceChroniques de l’Ordre…, op. cit., p. 398-399..

The seven sisters left Paris on June 11th 1620 ; « Monsieur du Clos, the confessor of the convent of la Mère de Dieu (Chapon street), Madame de Ligni, maîtresse des requêtes, Madame du May who had come to Paris with them, lead them to Notre-Dame, where they heard mass and took communion in the underground chapel where is kept the miraculous picture of the very Holy VirginArchives of the Carmelite convent of Chartres, notebook « Fondation du carmel de Chartres », f° 4 and 5.. They took possession of their residence the following June 18th.

The Bishop of Chartres, Philippe Hurault had just died. The episcopal seat being vacant, it is in the hands of Messrs Bouette, Grenet, archdeacon of Pinserais and of the canon Lenoir, vicars- general, that they submitted themselves by a document which they signed, to the obedience and juridiction of the Chartres bishopsThe Carmelite convent of Chartres has in its possession in its archives an act practically unreadable. But the date and the signatures correspond to the people who were present at this ceremony. It could be the act of obedience of the Chartres Carmelite nuns to the bishops of this town. Aso see LEPINOIS (E., de), op. cit., p. 531..

A. The ordeals of a young prioress.

The ordeals were not long to accumulate on the young prioress. First, Mother Geneviève seems to have carried the charge of prioress with difficulty, at least when beginning. She probably confided this to Monseigneur François de Sales, and this is the answer she received in July-August 1620François de Sales, Œuvres, t. XIX, p. 300-301. : « My dearest daughter,
What a comfort for you that it is God who made you superior, since you have become superior in the ordinary way. This is why His providence, at his service, must hold your hand so that you do well what he is calling you to. Think, my dear daughter, you must go genuinely led by this dear God, and not argue against this general rule that God who has begun the good in us, will perfect it according to his widom, so long as we are faithful and humble.

But, we will seek among his servants someone who is faithful. And I tell you you will be faithful if you are humble. But, will I be humble ? Yes, if you want. But, I do. So, you are. But I really feel I am not. Very well, for that is useful to become it more certainly […] as God has entrusted you with these souls, entrust him with yours, so that he carries everything himself, and you and your burden on you. His heart is large, and he wants your heart to have its place in his. Thus rest upon him, and when you make mistakes or faults, do not be astonished ; so, after having humbled yourself before God, remember that the virtue of God appears more gloriously in our frailty. In short, my dear daughter, your humility must be brave and courageous, and confide in the kindness of the One who has put you in charge ».

As it is generally the case when founding, financial difficulties worried the young prioress. In spite of Mademoiselle’s Attichy important endowment, the community did not have the neccesary resources to finish settling up. This is what François de Sales reminds her : « Remember that Our Lord does not want us to ask for our annual nor monthly, nor weekly but daily bread. Try to do well today, without thinking about the next day ; and the next day, try to do the same ; […] your celestial father who takes care today, will take care tomorrow, and after tomorrow, of your guidance, if knowing your infirmity, you only confide in his providence ».

In fact, the prompt arrival of two postulants, one of whom was well endowed, seemed to solve the financial questions, as furthermore, the convent quickly proved to be unhealthy and moving to Chartres itself became imperative. The young prioress already busy with many material problems, had to face others much more delicate.

B. Problems linked to the government of the Carmelite convents in France.

To understand the situation in which was Mother Geneviève, one must remember that between 1619 and 1622, the convents in France went through a serious government crisis. Till then, the Carmelite nuns were under the superiority of three clergymen, and through the privilege of exemption, they were withdrawn, for a great part, from the power of the bishops. About 1619-1620, the Carmelite friars, sons of Thérèse d’Avila, having prospered in France, tried to obtain the superiority over their sisters, the Carmelite nuns. Considerable trouble came from this. Some Carmelite nuns wanted to rally round the Carmelite friars, some bishops tried to take advantage of the situation to recover their full and entire rights over the Carmelite nuns of their dioceses, whereas many Carmelite convents wanted to be faithful to their three superiors in charge, as well as to their perpetual Visitor, Pierre de Bérulle, named in this office by the brief Cum pridem of April 17th 1614MORGAIN (S.-M.), op. cit., p. 254.. The Carmelite convents of which the three daughters of Madame Acarie were prioresses, belonged to this last group.

We have seen further back, that when they arrived in Chartres, Mother Geneviève and her sisters submitted themselves to the obedience and juridiction of the Chartres bishops, in the hands of the vicars-general, the episcopal seat being vacant. It was by surprise, in some way, and especially by inexperience that they agreeed to this formality. But they remained very uneasy. By her signature, Mother Geneviève feared, with reason, not to have respected the legislation proper to the Carmelite nuns. She turns to the chancellor de Marillac, who, in a letter of December 14th 1620, comforts her : « Your order usually much reveres the bishops and submits itself, but by respect, not by direction. Furthermore you submit to them in particular very much. Your confessors must be given by them their credentials to confess in the diocese, the nuns must be examined by them when they profess. The Trent Council asks the same when they take the veil and M. de Tours has had it said that he wanted to do this but it isn’t done and when Father de Bér[ulle] will be here M. du Val and himself will confer about it », but, he adds, very shroudly « I think you should show much reverence to M. de Chartres [the new bishop]. He is a great friend of the Carmelite Fathers and has been consecratedIndeed, the day before, that is december 13th, Léonor d’Etampes de Valencay, succeding to his cousin, was consecrated bishop in the church of the Carmelite friars. He solemly entered in his episcopal town on Christmas eve the same year. CF. FISQUET (M.-H.), op. cit., p. 186-193. [yesterday] in their church and for other reasons one can think and fear that he is really their friendArchives of the Carmelite convent of Chartres, letter of M. de Marillac to Mother Geneviève de Saint-Bernard, December 14th 1620. ».

It is in this climate of tenseness with the ecclesiastical authorities that took place the two first professions and that the community was allowed to sell her house in the Saint-Pierre street to a certain Monsieur LevesqueArchives Départementales d’Eure-et-Loir, H. 5410.. The sisters settled then in the street des Vasseleurs (or street des Lisses) in a house which conceded them the canon OzanArchives Départementales d’Eure-et-Loir, H. 5411.. On October 28th 1621, with much ostentation, they took possession of the new monastery which was put under the patronage of the Incarnation. Each nun was escorted by an important lady of the town and the Holy Sacrament was solemly exposed by the dean of the cathedralArchives of the Carmelite convent of Chartres, notebook « Fondation du carmel de Chartres », f° 5.. The agitated times they were going through and which summoned up all their energy, perhaps explain why the choice of this place very quickly proved to be not very wise.

A short time after their transfer to the new monastery, the canon Bouette, the bishop’s delegate, came to visit the nuns and demanded they lifted their veils. Mother Geneviève declined strenuously. Monseigneur d’Etampes, the new bishop, hearing this, was annoyedLEPINOIS (E., de), op. cit., p. 531 and Archives of the Carmelite convent of Chartres, Letter of Mother Geneviève to Monsieur Duval dated June 6th 1622 where she relates the event..

He decided to go himself to the Carmelite convent. And this is how the Order’s Chronicles state the event : « M. d’Etampes, appointed bishop, honoured the mothers with his visit and proposed to them to sign a document he had brought ; the Carmelite nuns used to obey blindly, signed it without even being informed of what it said ; but having heard afterwards, that by this act acknowledging the Lord Bishop as their superior, they were parting from the Order and were taking engagements contrary to those of the brieves , they were very embarrassedChroniques de l’Ordre…, op. cit., p. 399. ». He even threatened to bring from Bordeaux the Carmelite nuns who, at that time, were trying to free themselves from Bérulle’s subjection, to come under the juridiction of the discalced Carmelite friars with whom Monseigneur d’Etampes was very friendlyMORGAIN (S.-M.), op. cit., p. 338-343 and 351-354.. This mention of the Bordeaux Carmelite nuns was especially crual, for Mother Geneviève obviously knew that her sister, Mother Marguerite du Saint-Sacrement was living there a real calvary…This latter, sent there by the three superiors to bring back the dissident sisters (pro the Carmelite fathers) to the established order which she was one of those who prized it most, saw that her great sweetness, her understanding of her sisters, her wisdom failed completely, so much so that she was expelled from this convent in July 1622MORGAIN (S.6M.), op. cit., p. 450-451.. This quarrel which completely perturbed the French Carmelite convents, was going to trouble Mother Geneviève a great part of the year 1622.

C. The support and the advice of faithful friends.

She seeks for support everywhere. On April 28th 1622, Michel de Marillac writes to her again to remind her that only the General of the Oratory order is the visitor of the Carmelite nun convents but that the « Fathers of the Oratory order are not [their] superiors and that they are free to choose their confessors. Overmore, he fears, if the Carmelite convents are brought under the authority of the bishops, a split in the order, since, at that time, each diocese ha dits own uses and customs. However, he insists so that confessors and preachers should be approved by the bishopsArchives of the Carmelite convent of Chartres, Letter of M. de Marillac to Mother Geneviève, dated April 28th 1622..

She also writes a desperate letter to Monsieur Duval. In her opinion, the dean Bouette is trying to « ruin the Order ». She fears that if one appeals to the King or to the Carmelite fathers, « this might be new pretences against [them] ». She ends her letter by asking him to show it to Father de Bérulle so that he may give his advice and interfereArchives of the Carmelite convent of Chartres, Letter of Mother Geneviève to Monsieur Duval, dated June 6th 1622..

Probably on the advice of Monsieur Duval, Mother Geneviève decides to write a small report to the bishop of Chartres to remind him the uses and customs of the Carmelite Order, and especially their relationship with the diocesan ecclesiastical authorities :
« You have wished us to answer you on a few requests you have made concerning our profession. We are all very willing to relate our life and condition not only to you, Lord, whom we revere and particularly honour, but to any person who enquires from us, not only as christians, but as nuns. Your command has obliged us to inquire more particularly about our order and its nuns, so that we satisfy you for our science and knowledge went no further than our obedience to our superiors on whom we rest for the conduct and the membership of our Order. So, Lord, satisfying your command, and beyond what M. du V. doctor and the King’s professor of theology, one of our superiors has summoned us to write to you we say :

-In the first article that we left the monastery of our order established in Paris by obedience to our superiors.

-In the second. The Constitutions of our order allowing us to leave our monasteries to go to found others. We left Paris to come to this foundation with the said obedience as we have learned it is done in all the other feminine religious orders and that it is written in the Pope’s bulls and the Ecclesiastical Constitutions.

-In the third and the twelfth, which are identical and concern the submission the nuns and the monasteries of our order make to the Lord Bishops. To this Monsieur Duval has answered, as he let us know, we consider he will have satisfied you, so we only let you know, Lord, that we are your must humble and most docile daughters and servants.

-In the seventh. We have no confessor who has not been examined an approved by you, Lord, or your great vicars, and as our constitutions allow us to take and choose them under this condition, and our superiors cannot take away this right from us, which our Mother Sainte Thérèse obtained for us, and she particularly recommended this to us as an essential point to keep her spirit in her order. Adding that the lack of this right could lead to not confessing very serious sinsArchives of the Carmelite convent of Chartres, draft of a memorandum addressed to the bishop of Chartres, without date or signature. ».

Fortunately, the matter was going to quieten down as Rome settled it vigorously in favour of the status quo by the bull Alias postquam of September 12th 1622. Gregory XVth, ordering the full accomplishment of the bull In supremo, forbade that the bishops, the archbishops, the diocesan authorities, the discalced Carmelite fathers « under any reason, pretence or argument, mingle in any way with the administration, care of the said Carmelite monasteries (…) and undertook to exercise any juridiction, superiority or correctionMORGAIN (S.-M.), op. cit., p. 443. ».

All this exchange of letters must have seemed very arduous to the reader, and without great interest for him ; and yet it brings forward the personality of Mother Geneviève, who, at twenty-eight, assumes for the first time, the multiple charges of a prioress : spiritual animation of the nuns, the mangement of ordinary life, the foundation of a monastery and its transfer the following year without great financial means, and all this with serious problems with her bishop !

This sad affair about the « governement of the feminine Carmelite convents » was at least to bring comfort to Mother Geneviève, the visit of her sister, Mother Marguerite Acarie. This latter, after having been expelled from the Carmelite convent of Bordeaux, in short, put on the street by her sisters, was sent for a year and a half to the Carmelite convent of Saintes, which, too, needed to be pacified. Then, she was called again to Paris. On her way back, in March 1624, she was allowed to visit the Chartres conventBOUCHER (J.B.A.), op. cit., p. 330, note.. From there, she came to the Pontoise convent, where she stayed a few days and, much moved and very fervently, venerated her mother’s tomb in the cloisterHistoire générale du Carmel de Pontoise, tome I, page 285., before rejoining Paris.

D. Life in the Carmelite convent, in Lisses street.

As we have seen above, the Chartres Carmelite nuns left their first residence for Lisses street in October 28th 1621. To face the expenses of this transfer, the community had relied on the endowment of Mademoiselle Baudouyn, Barbe de Saint-François by her religious name, the second professed sister of the monasteryShe professed herself September 8th 1621 at 36 and died July 16th 1641. Cf. Archives of the Carmelite convent of Chartres, « Livre des professions du couvent des Carmélites de cette ville de Chartres fondé le 14 juin 1620 ».. Her parents had promised to leave her share to her, but, « God who wanted the house to rely on no human help allowed the parents of the good sister to take away her share after her profession and only left her an ordinary dowry, which mortified her very muchArchives of the Carmelite convent of Chartres, notebook « Fondation du carmel de Chartres », f° 6. ». To comfort the little Carmelite nun, the Blessed sister Marie de l’Incarnation appeared to her and « told her she woul take care of the monastery, who would have the necessary, but would never be richIbid., f° 6 ». And the community always had the necessary even if the beginnings were very austere.

Madame Acarie overwhelmed with graces a few sisters of the community. What more normal than to help the convent where her daughter is prioress !

She made a few miracles. So, from September 17th to September 30th 1632, the committee in charge of the beatification case of the Blessed sister, travelled to Chartres to hear fourteen sistersCHATENOIS (de), Bienheureuse Marie de l’Inc…., historique de la cause 1622-1791, p. 47.. The most remarkable miracle was probably the recovery of sister Marthe de JésusProfessed December 8th 1622, she died October 21rst 1670. Cf. Archives of the Carmelite convent of Chartres, « Livre des professions… », op. cit. whom everybody thought at the point of death.

Suffering from continual fever and violent stomachache, she only owed her life and her prompt recovery to the imposition, by Mother Geneviève, of a piece of Madame Acarie’s clothes on her head. Immediately, « [she] felt a very sweet smell and very different from the most exquisite smells you can imagine »Riti, f° 438 r° quoted by BURKARDT (A.), Les clients des saints. Maladie et quête du miracle à travers les procès de canonisation de la première moitié du XVIIe siècle en France, « Collection de l’École Française de Rome » n° 338, École Française de Rome, Rome, 2004, p. 428.. Many other favours are attested in the Chartres community as relates Monsieur Burckardt in his work on the miracles in the canonization cases in the modern daysBURKARDT (A.), Les clients des saints…, op. cit. , and this must be alloted to her daughter Geneviève’s ardour to spread her mother’s worship.

The nuns stayed in Lisses street fourty three years. They lived there in great poverty and without enough space. Indeed, settled among several Chartres convents, they were never able to enlarge their property. The house was so small that they had to establish the cells in the attic where snow penerated in winter and suffocating heat in summer. The regular places were so narrow that the Queen Mother « who enterd from time to time, said, when she visited the other houses, that the Chartres convent was the rat trap of the order »Archives of the Carmelite convent of chartres, notebook « Fondation du carmel de Chartres », f° 13.. But as Madame Acarie had promised, the sisters were never short of the necessary and the Chronicles of the Chartres convent notice that « Our Lord was pleased to overwhelm them with graces to compensate what they were suffering for the Love of Him ; the holy pleasures they enjoyed were so considerable that they couldn’t talk of them to those who came after, but with tears in their eyes, regretting the happiness they had lost since they were more provided with the necessary things for lifeIbid., f° 13 et 14. ».

« These holy pleasures » didn’t seem to be the daily lot of their prioress. It is probable that in these difficult beginnings began the orison notes attributed to Mother Geneviève in an extremely rudimentary French – found below, improved ! – kept in a manuscript belonging to the archives of the Chartres monastery, Abrégé de la vie des Rses carmélites de France, carmel de Chartres. We read there in particular : « I went to orison with a sort of dryness and aridity. Nevertheless I complied to suffer all that God would like. Being in orison, I found five things. The first one was like an alienation of all my senses together, as overwhelmed with deep sadness and exteme weakness. The second one in melancholy which penetrated deep into me, weakening, not my body but my soul. The third was a thought, not a thought or imagination, but a firm belief that without this vow of obedience I have promised to God, I would be reduced and down in hell at this time. The fouth feeling an extreme sorrow seeing myself forsaken and deserted by the subsistence God has over his creatures to give them existence, life and subsistence in him. Going to the fifth, I felt relieved, relief which brought me greater works ; I felt I wanted to be consumed in God, by love and on the other hand God consuming in me by what he is himself, what is useless and poor, and giving it back to me in the perfect consuming of himselfArchives of the Carmelite convent of Chartres, Abrégé de la vie des Rses carmélites de France, carmel de Chartres, finished the last Saturday of January 1699, p. 135. We know that a « general superior » took the liberty of supervising the inner thoughts, and asked the sisters to sum up their orison ! ». This way of expressing herself, if this text is really Mother Geneviève’s, seems to justify one of the orders St. François de Sales had given her : « You must not refine so much, you must walk briskly »François de Sales, Œuvres, t. XIX, p. 300..

As in every life are present joys and sorrows. In spite of the modesty of her convent, the prioress has the pleasure to have it officially recognized by Louis the XIIIth in September 1631 and the Parliament registers the letters patent the following October 8thArchives of the Carmelite convent of Chartres, « Copie des lettres d’establissement des Carmelites en France » and « Extrait des registres du Parlement »..

About a year after, Mother Geneviève was going to go through a painful event with the coming through Chartres of the mortal remains of Michel de Marillac. We remember that this latter was was one of Madame Acarie’s most important associate in her work of introducing the the Carmelite convents in France, that he often visited the Acarie hotel, and that Mother Geneviève, when she was in trouble with the bishop, found in him an adviser devoted and competent. This latter, after having been involved in the « Journée des Dupes » affair (November 1630), was forced to exile by the cardinal de Richelieu. After having been taken to Lisieux and Caen, he was placed under house arrest in Châteaudun where he quickly died on August 7th 1632. When the chancellor’s body was transferred from Châteaudun to Paris, the funeral procession made a halt in Chartres. This is the account which delivers us the Life of Michel de Marillac written by his friend Lefèvre de Lezeau : « They arrived the first day in Chartres, where he was put down in the church of the Carmelite mothers, who, on the spot, sang vigils, and the following day, had mass said over his body. And when everything was ready for him to leave, they desired the coach loaded with his body should enter into their convent. Which was done. And then all these nuns did their prayers, one after the other, on the coffin, for a long time, and particularly Mother Geneviève de Saint-Bernard Acarie, whom they couldn’t move, [proof of the regard] she had for the deceased, whose merits and holiness she acknowledged for having longly conversed with himLEFEVRE DE LEZEAU (N.), La vie de Michel de Marillac (1560-1632), transcribed and adited by Donal A. Bailey, 2007, p. 399. ». She was the only one of the Acarie family to be able to give him this ultimate evidence of gratefulness.

Otherwise the Chronicles of the Chartres convent provide few details on their first prioress. The business of settling and the upkeep of the convent must surely have occupied her a great deal. But the exiguity and the extreme poverty of the place didn’t discourage vocations. Thus, between August 1621 and March 1642, the community registered 23 professions and only two deaths. Through this you can see the vitality of the Chartres convent. Mother Geneiève de Saint-Bernard, prioress from June 14th 1620 to January 6th 1628, and from April 2 nd 1637 to March 1643, received in her own hands, 16 professionsArchives of the Carmelite convent of Chartres, « Livre des professions du couvent des Carmélites de cette ville de Chartres fondé le 14 juin 1620 »..

The work accomplished by Mother Geneviève during her government is very positive. Indeed, the canonical visit, achieved by Father Gibieuf, general visitor of the Carmelite nuns, the year that followed Mother Geneviève’s departure to the convent of Sens, is not without noticing the regular life of this community : « We, Guillaume Gibieuf priest of the Oratory of Our Lord Jesus Christ, doctor in theology and superior of the Carmelite nuns following Sainte Thérèse’s reform, have visited this Chartres Carmelite monastery, called of the Incarnation, as is usual, and have found it very regular and their souls tending to perfection. Done in Chartres the twenty-seventh day of April sixteen hundred and fourty fourArchives of the Carmelite convent of Chartres, « Livre des professions du couvent des Carmélites de cette ville de Chartes fondé le 14 juin 1620 ». The end of this book contains the list and the reports ot the canonical visits done in the convent of Chartres under the old regime. ».

So, it is a convent « in good health » which Mother Geneviève was leaving in spring 1643 when she was elected prioress of the Carmelite nuns in Sens.

7) Prioress in the convent of Sens.

The foundation of this monastery is due to Lord Octave de BellegardeOctave de Saint-Lary de Bellegarde (1588-1646) was elected bishop of Causerans in 1614 and transferred to Sens on November 4th 1621. Then, the Chartres diocese was still suffragan of the Sens archdiocese but only for a few months since by the bull of October 20th 1622 Paris became an archdiocese with Chartres as firts suffragan. Cf. FISQUET (M.-H.), La France pontificale – Métropole de Sens, Paris, E. Repos, Libraire-Éditeur, p. 141-143., archbishop of Sens. Contrary to what certain authors have written, he never was bishop of Chartres. This bishop desired a Carmelite monastery in his epioscopal town. To this effect, he called Mother Marguerite du Saint-Sacrement for this foundation. She came with six nuns and a postulant. Conventual life began on July 2nd 1625Chroniques de l’Ordre…, op. cit. , t. IV, p. 1-2 . But already prioress of the convent in the Chapon street in Paris, Mother Marguerite went back to her convent as soon as that of Sens had settled.

Monseigneur de Bellegarde got to know Mother Geneviève through Bérulle, who, become cardinal, proposed that she, Mother Geneviève, came to Sens. With this aim Bellegarde had met her and it is said he had really appreciated her. Unfortunately for Bellegarde, because of Bérulle’s death, the project failedNOIROT (A.-J.), le Carmel de Sens 1625-1975, Imprimerie Moderne, Auxerre, 1975, p. 34.. Monseigneur de Bellegarde, Urban VIIIth’s representative to examine the beatification case of Marie de l’Incarnation Acarie, presided the opening of her sepulture, in the Pontoise convent, on August 2nd 1630 and was deeply impressed by the ceremonyR.P. Bruno, La Belle Acarie, op. cit. p. 594, note 1.. His devotion to Madame Acarie grew and this was another reason for him to bring to the convent of his episcopal city another of her daughters. The new superiors of the Order for France could fulfil the wishes of the Sens archbishop.

Mother Geneviève was thus elected prioress of the Sens convent in March 1643. When she entered the monastery, she said it would be her resting placeArchives of the Carmelite convent of Sens, « Circulaire de la Mère Geneviève de Saint Bernard… », op. cit.. Her necrological notice written by her sisters of Sens provides us with many details on the last eighteen months of her life.

She deeply impressed her Burgundian sisters, by her humility and her regularity. « Her short stay in our community has nevertheless left lasting souvenirs and the odour of the most heroical virtuesArchives of the Carmelite convent of Sens, « Circulaire de la Mère Geneviève de Saint Bernard… », op. cit. ». The sisters report that she prayed a great part of the night, only sleeping two or three hours, resting her head on a small wooden bench.

Very ascetic for herself, she proved condescending to others, letting, for instance, the community walk in the garden in the season of fruit, and be free to eat themR. P. Bruno, La Belle Acarie, p. 479, note..

Along the eighteen months she was prioress in Sens, she only had the joy to receive one profession in her hands, that of sister Suzanne de Jésus on September 23rd 1643Suzanne Le Grand was the daughter of Antoine and Antoinette de Chasserat. Two of her sisters preceded her in the convent of Sens. She died on April 18th 1697. Cf. NOIROT (A.-J.), op. cit.. About this nun, the necroligical notice of Mother Geneviève relates this fact, typical of youth of any time ! : « A novice, young and brisk, to whom this respectable Mother had had her make profession, answered once to a sister who was asking her to do something contrary to her taste : « everyone does as it suits her ». Our holy prioress reproved her severely for this word, in presence of the whole communityArchives of the Carmelite convent of Sens, « Circulaire de la Mère Geneviève de Saint Bernard… », op. cit., repeating to her afterwards, so often these words, that she became the most obedient of the noviciate.

Strict on other people’s virtues, she wasn’t less for hers. This is what she imagined to preserve her humility, as relates her necrological notice : « Being as fond of humilation as proud people are of honour and glory, in all circumstances this respectable Mother was clever to pass to the eyes of those who had for her the esteem her virtue deserved, as the biggest and the most abominable sinner ; having imagined to succeed a mean more admirable than imitable, spreading in the public anonymous letters, of an unknown nature, which warned the Lord Bishop of Sens to reprove and to blame the prioress of the Carmelite nuns of this townIbid. ». Thus, she put into practice the words of Jean de La Croix, Father of the Carmelite Order : he who wants to become spiritual, he says « will endeavour to be despised and will desire that all despise him. He will speak against himself and wish everyone shoud do the same »Jean de la Croix, OEuvres complètes, Desclée de Brouwer, Paris, 1949, p. 111.. She probably did this with the permission of an unwise confessor, but this risky affair, in the case of a prioress, could have caused prejudice to the whole community. It seems it didn’t and that Mother Geneviève kept all her credit with the bishop.

Indeed, as formerly her mother, Madame Acarie was called upon about the spirit of Jeanne Tavernier and others… she was called upon by the ecclesiastical authorities about difficult cases, and in particular about a young girl’s stigmata in Sens. The Beaune convent possessed five letters of Mother Geneviève de Saint-Bernard about this caseThese letters are reproduced in the book of NOIROT (A.-J), Le Carmel de Sens 1625-1975, op. cit., p. 44 à 48.. You can see through them the great qualities of wisdom and caution in Madame Acarie’s daughter ! Thanks to her gifts of judgment and her good advice, superiors soon found out that the « stigmatized » Jeanne Duperey was only a falsifier and that she mutilated herself to feign stigmata.

Death was soon going to fetch Madame Acarie’s third daughter. She fell ill with « double-tierce » fever. She received the last sacraments with much clear-mindedness. They were given to her by Father Gibieuf, who was already present, in Orléans, at the last breath of Mother Marie de Jésus Acarie, three years before. She gave back her breath to God on September 12th 1644, at the same age as her mother. « God who takes pleasure in noticing the merits of humble people, turned her burial in a kind of triumph. The bishop of Sens reserved this honour for himself with much clergy. The Reverend Father Gibieuf who had administered her and assisted her in her last moments, had already the stole for the burial, when the famous prelate arrived ; he gave up with joy this honour, not only by the respect he had for His Highness, but he knew besides the remarkable esteem he had always had for the virtue of the great servant of GodArchives of the Carmelite convent of Sens, « Circulaire de la Mère Geneviève de Saint Bernard… », op. cit..