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JUBILEE 325 YEARS - 1684-2010

 
It is a JUBILEE YEAR for the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo, the Sisters look back with nostalgia and gratitude at what the Founder and the Founding Sisters have been through as a Congregation. From the days of its founding, three hundred and twenty-five years ago, this Congregation has been involved in Christian Education, sharing the Compassionate love of God with the least and little ones of society. As this article goes to the press, one can merely highlight the significant events that cover up the long journey of the Foundation to the Present juncture of the 325th Anniversary.
 

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The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo of Wez-Velvain was founded in 1684, by Fr. Adrien Bresy, parish priest of Wez in the diocese of Tournai, Belgium. Fr. Adrien Bresy chose St. Charles Borromeo as the patron of the Congregation because the First Death Centenary of St, Charles was celebrated in 1684, it coincided with the year of the Foundation. Besides St. Charles was a great pioneer of Christian Education in the diocese of Milan, and had a great love for the poor and the abandoned. Our Founder was inspired by this towering Saint of the Sixteenth Century.
 
“Wez, became famous during the second half of the seventeenth century when a Community of Religious of St. Charles established themselves in order to give free education to the young girls of the commune and to look after female mental patients…The humble parish of Wez which counted about three hundred souls had the glory among all the neighbouring communes to open the first school.” (Records: Historique de Wez)
 
Belgium in the Seventeenth Century was devastated by war, plague and famine. The Belgium of yester years extended into Holland, Germany and Northern France and together with these states was constantly a disputed area with its boundaries and political situation changing after each war. Belgium was called the “Battle field of Europe”. The History of Europe is in a way the History of Belgium. It had no existence of its own until 1830.
 

A terrible plague broke out in 1668 in the region of Tournai, in the countryside of Wez, Lesdaines, Perrones and other villages, the ravages of the plague were by far more terrible. As a result, the plague claimed many victims, entire families were wiped out. The survivors had neither the strength nor the courage nor the means to work on their farm lands, this led to wide spread famine.

 

This is the background which moved Fr. Adrien Bresy, to compassion; the people were like a flock of sheep without a shepherd. It is to reach out to these lost ones that the Congregation was founded on September 27, 1684. Founder, Fr. Adrien Bresy permitted the co-foundresses to live in the presbytery and he moved his residence to the nearby castle which housed the seminarians of the diocese. The School of the presbytery, as it was called, had already started functioning in a part of the presbytery in 1682. The five young ladies, three from Lille, France and two from the parish of Wez, committed themselves to the education of the children of the parish. Their names were Marie Catherine Warquain, Elizabeth Lepe, Ann Marie Lepez, Marguerite Delrue and Marie Barbe Delrue. While teaching the children to read, write and to count, the young ladies were at the same time forming themselves in a true religious spirit under the guidance and direction of Fr. Adrien Bresy. After the period of novitiate they made their religious vows on November 25, 1685 and became the living foundation stones of the Congregation. This date marks the official and canonical existence of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo. Mother Marie Catherine Warquain was appointed as the Superior.

 
Since, St. Ignatius of Loyola and St, Charles Borromeo were contemporaries, our Founder and First Sisters were influenced by Ignatian Spirituality and followed the monastic and contemplative pattern of life of the seventeenth century. Sunday Schools were the popular means of education of the masses. Parents were obliged to send their children to these schools where catechism and the rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic were taught.
 

The Congregation grew slowly but surely, the following events mark the development of the Congregation:

  • From 1684 to 1835 the number of sisters was limited to twenty. The Congregation consisted of only one house at Wez. The constructions, extensions and transformations was confined only at Wez .
  • In 1835 Mother Catherine Henno, Superior in agreement with the ecclesial authority of the Bishop of Tournai admitted more than twenty religious. In 1849 the number of sisters rose to thirty-two and in 1858 there were forty sisters.
  • Soon the community of Wez accepted to part with some of its members to found a new community at Peruwelz in 1861, nearly two centuries after the Foundation of the Congregation.
  • On October 1, 1919 the First Co- adjutrix postulants were admitted, they made their Profession on April 27, 1922.
  • The celebration of the two hundred and fifty years of the Foundation of the Congregation opened a New Era, a new thrust in the Congregation. On September 22, 1929, Mgr. Mederlet visited Wez and was pleased to bless the Four Pioneers for India. The Missions in India was established in 1929, with the starting of Little Flower Convent, at Ranipet, in the then Archdiocese of Madras. The sisters in Belgium lived and worked in union with their sisters in India, supporting them with their prayers, sustaining their missionary efforts by their works and sufferings. Mother Josephine Allard, the Mother of the Missions spared no pain to keep up the missionary spirit of the Congregation.
  • In 1980, Mother Ann Marie Carlier, Superior General, delegated her Councillor, Sr. Marie Henriette and Sr. Benedicta, the Provincial Superior of India to apply to Rome for pontifical status. The Congregation received the Decree of Pontifical Right in September 1982
  • The Indian delegates started increasing as the number of vocations started declining in Belgium so The First General Chapter was held at the Provincial House Bangalore, in 1978.
  • The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo at the threshold of its third centenary, responded to the call of the Bishop pf Anatuya, Mgr. Jorge Gottau C.Ss.R. to pioneer the foundation in Argentina in 1984.
  • There was a spurt of Foundations in the Distant Missions supported by volunteers from the Indian Mission: Poland in 1994, Italy in 1996 and Tanzania in East Africa in 1997.
  • Reading the signs of the time and responding to the call of the laity as active collaborators along side religious congregations, the First group of  S.C.B. Associates were inaugurated at Villa Borromeo in April 2005 with the approval of Bishop Bernard Moraes, Archbishop of Bangalore.
  • The General Chapter of 2006 proposed a gradual transition of the General Administration of the Congregation to India as Sr. Benedicta Lobo and all the General Councillors were from India and the expansion of the missions in India covered the length and breadth of the Country. The temporary administrative office and convent is located at Thane in the Archdiocese of Mumbai which is well connected by land, sea and air to national and International destinations. The next move is to Kalyan for a permanent abode for the sisters and a Home for Senior citizens.
  • The most recent gift for the Jubilee of three hundred and twenty-five years is the presence of the Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo at Ticul in Mexico.
 

After three and a quarter centuries, we are exuberant at the growth of the Congregation, and the development of education especially of girls, giving them the much needed rightful place in society and the world. Given below is an extract from the local newspaper, “Feuille der Tournai, dated November 12, 1856 (Translated):
“ Besides the care given by these good Sisters to the psychiatric patients and to the women temporarily brought for reasons of age or health, they also have a free school for the poor children and a boarding school for children of well-to-do families …these servants of the Lord shine through the practice of noble virtues. To a fervent piety they add a zeal full of self abnegation for the comfort of the unfortunate ones. They work with dedication to the holy duty for which these Christian ladies had bade goodbye to the world. They find their joy in accomplishing their compassionate task, be it in the care they give to the women afflicted by illness, be it in the formation of the mind and spirit of the young students entrusted to their care…They have renounced the attraction of the world in order to give themselves with an undivided heart to the task that they have chosen and for which the Creator has given them strength. In their holy place of seclusion, their life divided between prayer and duty, they enjoy consolation unknown to the world. Without that deep faith which animates them, they would not be able to accomplish the noble mission they have accepted.

 
During the early years of the Congregation the ministry was limited to the inmates of the campus but during the latter part of the twentieth century, vocations in Europe started dwindling and the services were gradually transferred to the laity. There is acute paucity of priests so the sisters are called upon to attend to pastoral ministry.
 
In conclusion, it is our sincere hope that the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo will find new ways of keeping alive the vision of our Founder, our pioneers and predecessors within the world and the church. We cannot afford to slacken because it is widely acknowledged that our efforts to live the motto of Faith, Toil and Progress are indeed the work of God. We raise our hearts in thanksgiving to God, our Mother of Divine Providence and St. Charles Borromeo for all the blessings bestowed on the Congregation and it’s Mission.
 
Foundation of the Congregation of the Sisters of St.Charles Borromeo -325