1781 - 1858
The chapel at the Stella Maris Generalate at Broadstairs where Bishop John celebrated Mass on Saturday, 5th April 2008, to mark the 150th Anniversary of the death of Marie-Madeleine d’Houët, Foundress of the Faithful Companions of Jesus.
d’Houët founded the Faithful Companions
of Jesus in 1820. Her inspiration continues in our diocese today through the
work of the Gereralate and convents in Broadstairs and, though just outside the
diocese, the Gumley House Convent School in Isleworth, where many of the young
people in the west of the diocese have received their education.
Marie-Madeleine d’Houët was born in 1781 and grew up in central France in the aftermath of the French Revolution. In 1804 she married Joseph de Bonnault d’Houët and together they would visit the sick. But Joseph died less than a year later and three months after his death Marie-Madeleine gave birth to their son, Eugene. The young widowed mother still found time to continue her visits to the sick. She was aware of a growing desire to dedicate her whole life to God and to the service of others. In this she was much influenced by the Ignatian spirituality of the Society of Jesus.
She became convinced that God was calling her to found an order of apostolic women who would take their inspiration from Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the holy women of the gospels. She was determined that the society would take the name of Jesus and follow the Constitutions of the Jesuits. With two companions she began her work at Amiens in northern France in 1820. During the next ten years the apostolate expanded - other women joined her and further foundations were established in France. She had travelled to Rome in 1826 to seek the approval of Pope Leo XII for her order, which he duly gave. The Decree of Approbation was granted by Pope Gregory XVI the following year.
In 1830, France was again in a state of revolution and Marie-Madeleine was advised to continue her work abroad for the safety of her sisters. This fitted well with her missionary aspirations. She came first to England, then to Italy, Switzerland and Ireland, establishing twenty-seven convents in her lifetime.
In England the sisters took
charge of a school in Somers Town with the approval of Dr
James Bramston, Vicar Apostolic of the London District, and soon expanded their
mission to include schools at Tottenham and Hampstead. These schools catered for
poor children and were largely dependent on charity.
With other religious orders dedicated to the care of the poor, Marie-Madeleine decided to expand the mission of her order to include others. She established a first-class boarding school at Gumley House in Isleworth in 1841 and later a school for poor children alongside the main building. The sisters opened further schools in Ireland, and in north-west England at Liverpool, Birkenhead and Salford.
Before her death in 1858, Marie-Madeleine visited all her convents tirelessly - not only in England and Ireland but also in France, Switzerland and Sardinia-Piedmont. It is estimated that she made over 500 journeys in her life.
Her body was buried in Paris, but later removed to Upton on the Wirral and finally transferred to the Generalate chapel in Broadstairs, in Kent.
The tomb of Marie-Madeleine d’Houët in the Generalate chapel.
She was declared 'venerable' by Pope Paul VI in 1970.