A bit of history
Hélène de CHAPPOTIN was born on 21 May 1839, in Nantes, an important trading port, particularly with the Antilles, where part of her paternal family still lived.
It was Pentecost Tuesday of that year.
Arriving at her parents’ home the last of seven children (two of whom had already died as infants), she was welcomed with great joy into a large household: her parents and an uncle and an aunt on her mother’s side with their six children actually lived in harmony in the same house, in the winter in the city of Nantes and during the fine weather in the country on the family property at Le Fort. We know that, as the youngest child, she took pleasure in attracting the affectionate attention of everyone…
Hélène, surrounded by affection, will always remember the happiness and the lively atmosphere of her early childhood. Later she would write: “dear old FORT, one of the most vivid tenderness of my past”.
She was baptized the next day, May 22nd.
At home, it was her mother who took all the responsibility for human and religious formation, while her aunt Aurélie provided the academic instruction … because the girls did not go to school, but the rules of the day were strict and respected!
This somewhat ‘wonderful’ period lasted for about ten years, until the de Chappotin family moved to Vannes. There, Hélène felt a certain solitude, far from the lively group of 10 cousins!
The little girl born in the month of Mary!
Mary of the Passion recounted an astonishing event from the time of her stay in Vannes. She was about 10 years old, she wrote, when she had a sudden inspiration during a walk along the docks of the city: “The Angelus rang on 21 May, and all alone I knelt down under the tall trees, telling heaven that I was the little girl born in the month of Mary and that she should be kept and blessed. At this memory I still feel my soul in touch with God.” (‘Récit Confidentiel’ to Father Raphaël, 1882, quoted in the First Biography of Mary of the Passion)
It seems that she had neglected this delicate touch of heaven on her life for several years. And yet she gradually learned to reread, as a grace not to be lost, that the great events of the beginning of her Christian life had all taken place, like her birth, during a month of May, the ‘month of Mary’: her baptism, of course (1839), her first communion and confirmation (on the same day, in 1850, on the feast of the Blessed Sacrament).
When she entered the Sisters of Mary Reparatrix (1864), a congregation with a strong Marian charism, she realised that until then she had not responded with a sufficiently great love for the Blessed Virgin who had kept and blessed her. During the major 30-day retreat that prepared her for her first vows, she prayed in the simplicity of her heart to grow in this love. In divine harmony, she made her consecration on May 3 (1866), in Tuticorin, India. And she would later testify that she had been granted her request: “Privileged child of Mary, who placed all my anniversaries in her month, I did not find my devotion to Mary as I would have wished it to be. (…) I believe that my God fulfilled my desire, and that on the day of my vows, the love for my Immaculate Mother was engraved in my soul forever.” (excerpt from her ‘Récit Confidentiel’ to Father Raphaël, 1882)
God always gives more than we can ask or even conceive, says St. Paul (cf. Eph 3:20)!! Something like this did indeed take place. By awakening in Hélène a simple joy at being born under the sign of Mary, He would lead her imperceptibly to learn from the Mother of Jesus how to realise her particular call to follow Christ, this Jesus Crucified who had already spoken to her heart since the very brief time she had spent with the Poor Clares of Nantes (1860-61). Henceforth, it would be with Mary that she would learn to
remain under the shadow of the Spirit,
respond “here I am” in order to collaborate in the Father’s plan,
know who Jesus is, the Saviour,
and to accompany Him in His mission to the cross, to ultimate point of self-giving.
The religious name she received on taking the habit (Mary of the Passion) became like the ‘programme’ of this journey. It expresses externally the name that she had heard internally in the Poor Clares, without having understood it at the time: “Mary Victim of Jesus, and of Jesus crucified”.
But that is not the end of the story of this little girl born in May!
Through painful events, she (who had never imagined being a foundress) would be led to share with others this vocation, at the heart of the Church in mission: a very Marian way, humble and hidden, all of love, of bearing witness to the living Christ, of collaborating in the coming of His Kingdom.
From the faithful “yes” of Mary of the Passion, the missionaries of Mary were born, and Saint Francis adopted them under his mantle…
Our charism is lived in the fundamental attitude
that was Mary’s in her Ecce and the Fiat:
she offered her whole being
in complete and loving disponibility,
in faith and humble service,
so that the Spirit might carry out
the Father’s work in her.
After all, aren’t all of us FMM born in the month of Mary, too?
Let us give thanks on these two days, the anniversary of the birth to life (21 May) and the birth to the life of God (22 May) of our foundress,
And let us pray: let us ask the Lord, with simplicity, through the intercession of Mary of the Passion,
that the love of her Immaculate Mother may grow in us.