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The Daughters of Wisdom: a congregation of women in the Vendée

The Daughters of Wisdom: a congregation of women in the Vendée

Since 2015, within the framework of a scientific partnership between the Department of the Vendée and the Congregation of the Daughters of Wisdom, the Departmental Archives have been responsible for the management and development of the historical archives kept in the Mother House of the Congregation in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre

The Archives of the Vendée invite you to discover in a few chapters, episodes marking the history, the organization and the actions of our Congregation. Discover Chapter II. “The Daughters of Wisdom write their history”

Care of the sick by the Sisters of the clinic of Doctor Delay, Bayonne, 20th century (FDLS 8 Fi 4, view 5)

Since the 18th century, the Daughters of Wisdom, hospital sisters and teachers, have been keen to retrace the history of their Congregation, to present its evolution and its action through chronicles or the publication of historical works. Here is a brief presentation.





The Chronicles of Sister Florence (1750-1761)

Sister Florence, born Marie Anne Ladoux, was a contemporary of the founder of the Congregation. She entered the novitiate at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre in 1739 and made her first profession on March 9, 1740. First assigned to the general hospital in Niort, she became assistant to Marie-Louise de Jésus in 1748 or 1749 and remained at her side until her death in 1759. Then, she became the second superior of the Daughters of Wisdom, Sister Anastasie. In 1766, she was sent to Vannes and became the director of the newly founded hospital where she died in 1779. She began her work as a chronicler, probably in 1759. Her chronicles cover the history of the Congregation from 1750 to 1761, when she was close to the Superior General.

The original manuscript has disappeared; a printed version, published in a commented edition by the International Montfortian Center in 1967 under the title of Chroniques primitives de Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, is available online in an ocherized version (FDLS FA 1000).



The chronicles of Sister Agathange, “official” chronicler of the Congregation

Caroline Nogues, Sister Agathange, was born in Lorient on September 5, 1791.

Page de titre du 2e volume des chroniques de Soeur Agathange (FDLS FA 2)

She spent three years in the prison of Mont Saint-Michel, then became successively second mistress of the novitiate at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre (1821-1831), superior of the hospital at Pontorson (1832-1839), first mistress of novices at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre (1839-1848), and finally, superior of the house of education in Rennes (1848-1851). Returning to Saint-Laurent in 1851, she was given the task of writing the chronicles of the Congregation; she continued her work until the eve of her death in 1873 (personal file preserved under the reference FDLS J 3-1).

Her chronicles in 12 manuscript volumes have been digitized (FDLS FA 1-FA 12). They cover the history of the Congregation “from the year 1701, the time of its foundation, to the present day (December 31, 1866).

Chronicles and Revolution, a recomposed history

Sister Agathange’s chronicles are particularly useful for finding information about the work of the Daughters of Wisdom during the Ancien Régime and the Revolutionary period, as few original documents from these periods have been preserved. Sister Agathange’s research is full of anecdotes that bring to life the daily life of the sisters during the difficult hours of the Revolution.

Thus, from 1790 to 1800, the community of Brest became the refuge and “headquarters” of the Congregation. Already serving the hospital in Brest since 1777, the sisters managed the supplies for the hospital of the Navy from 1784 on. On October 23, 1789, they also “agreed” to take charge of the care and remedies.

However, as early as 1790, the nuns suffered the first persecutions linked to the Revolution and to the opposition of the population: searches of their apartments, arson, etc. The pharmacists of the city did not want them to be killed. The pharmacists of the city accused them of not having the qualities required to practice their profession and “some individuals from Brest” demanded the government of the hospital (FDLS FA 2, vol. 2, p. 623-658). They even went so far as to hide Father Duchesne, Superior General of the Montfortians, who was forced to disguise himself by wearing their costume and several aliases (Sister Saint-Lazare and then Sister Saint-Méen).

They agreed to conceal their religious insignia and to change their costume (September 17, 1792), but refused to take the oath since the law did not oblige them to do so (FDLS FA 2, vol. 2, p. 694). In 1794, the Revolutionary Committee set up shop in the hospital in Brest and those condemned to death were taken to be tortured in the cart they used for the hospital (FDLS FA 2, vol. 2, p. 806).

These few significant facts show the interest of the chronicles which are precious sources to testify to the relations developed between the superiors of the Congregation and the civil or religious authorities.

Close to the authorities of the Congregation, Sister Florence and Sister Agathange were privileged witnesses of its evolution. They have left an invaluable source for tracing the history of the Institute.
Other sisters, who remained anonymous, continued their work.
In all, 20 volumes of chronicles, from 1701 to 1913, can be consulted in the inventory: Congregation of the Daughters of Wisdom – Administration, members of the congregation and history of the establishments run by the sisters. A presentation (for the first three) and tables of contents for the following ones (searchable in full text) facilitate research.