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In the footsteps of St. Julie and Francoise

Oct 7, 2019

In the footsteps of St. Julie and Francoise

In this Year of the Saint which marks 50 years since Marie Rose Julie Billiart became St. Julie, our St. Julie – pilgrims have already been to Rome.   This last weekend, though, our 1804 Society went on a very special pilgrimage in the footsteps of St. Julie and Francoise.

The 1804 Society is our student leadership team named after the year in which the Sisters of Notre Dame were founded by St. Julie, her friend Francoise and another friend Catherine Duchatel who died just a few months later.

In order to better appreciate their role, twelve members of the 1804 Society headed to Namur in Belgium where they met up at the SND Heritage Centre with Sr Margaret Walsh SND, who stepped down as Chair of Governors at St. Julie’s in July.   They were joined by Governor Mrs Smith and Mr Alderman, Mrs Jones, Mr Cooban and our chaplain, Mr Anderson.

While in Namur, our pilgrims visted the very first school and house where the Sisters taught and lived.   The following day, they went to Cuvilly to see St. Julie’s house and to pray in the very church she prayed in.  They went to Gournay – the scene of the famous episode where St. Julie escaped a mob who had come to kill her by hiding under hay in a cart. 

The pilgrimage continued to Compiegne where St. Julie had experienced a vision.  Compiegne is also the site of the signing of the Armistice in a railway carriage on 11th November, 1918. Interestingly, the Armistice was signed at 5:15 a.m. but only came into force at 11:00 a.m.   The visit there was very informative indeed and especially valuable to the A-level History students among the pilgrims.

And so to Amiens, where St. Julie and Francoise met in 1794 and where their friendship grew through a shared passion in education for girls.  It was in Amiens in 1804 that they took vows which established the Sisters of Notre Dame who founded our school.

After Sunday Mass in Amiens Cathedral, the group headed to Gezaincourt – where Francoise, a wealthy aristocrat, lived before she was imprisoned by French revolutionaries.  Happily, Francoise escaped the guillotine and the two women’s close encounters with death brought them together.  At Gezaincourt, the group took the opportunity to visit the Bagneux Commonwealth War Cemetery which was the most moving of experiences.

After an action packed three days, the 1804 Society returned – very definitely inspired by their pilgrimage in the footsteps of St. Julie and her friend, Francoise.