Walking in the Footsteps of Saint Julie
By Judy Back Gerwe
To my great privilege, the leadership team of the Ohio Province of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur invited me to attend a pilgrimage where the foundress of the order, St. Julie Billiart, worked and lived. There were nine of us who took part in this amazing adventure led by Sister Marie Kelley, SNDdeN.
We began our journey at the Mother House in Namur, Belgium. The sisters have had this house since 1809, although it underwent renovations after it was bombed during WWII. A recent addition to the Mother House is The Heritage Center, a place that shares the history, expansion, mission, ministry and spirituality of the Sisters of Notre Dame.
During the pilgrimage, we boarded a bus to Cuvilly, France, where St. Julie was born. The sisters purchased the original site of her childhood home, although it had been destroyed by fire. They rebuilt the home according to its original design and added an oratory for prayer. There is also a residence for the sisters on the site that is staffed by sisters from the Congo. We visited with them and celebrated Mass in St. Eloi Church, the church where Julie was baptized and received her First Communion.
St. Julie was required to flee her home during the French Revolution because of her strong Catholic faith. She was taken to Gournay. Once it became too dangerous for St. Julie to hide there, she was transported to Compiegne in a cart hidden under hay. St. Julie was befriended by the Carmelite sisters there but had to move five times for her safety. It was in Compiegne that St. Julie had a vision of beginning a religious order.
While in Compiegne, the Countess of Baudoin visited her and asked her to go to Amiens. There, St. Julie met Franciose Blin de Bourdon, the co-foundress of the order and her best friend. The two of them began the order of the Sisters of Notre Dame in 1804. The sisters opened orphanages and schools to educate girls and the poor. It was also there that Julie was cured of her paralysis and was able to walk and talk again.
We took a day trip to Ghent in northern Belgium to visit the oldest SNDdeN school still in existence, dating back to 1812. It remained an SNDdeN school until 2002, when the sisters left the area. However, it still carries the charism of the order in its mission. We also visited Antwerp, where the sisters set sail for the U.S., Congo and other nations via the Schmeld River and English Channel. Leaving their country, many sisters went to share God’s goodness in the world.
The entire experience was absolutely amazing. It gave me insights into St. Julie’s patience, humility, trust in God and joy – qualities each of us can aspire to in our own lives. I enjoyed a couple of days of quiet contemplation at the end of the trip and was able to process some of the sites and activities.
I am so grateful to the sisters who invited me to follow in the footsteps of St. Julie as we celebrate her 50th anniversary of canonization.
After reading this article, please pray the Prayer of Vocations
You have created us for some definite purpose.
Grant us the grace to know the path
You have planned for us in this life
and to respond with a generous “Yes.”
Make our archdiocese, parishes, homes and hearts
fruitful ground for Your gift of vocations.
May our young people respond to Your call
with courage and zeal.
Stir among our men a desire and the strength
to be good and holy priests.
Bless us with consecrated religious and those called to a
chaste single life, permanent deacons,
and faithful husbands and wives,
who are a sign of Christ’s love for His Church.
We commend our prayer for vocations to You, Father,
through the intercession of Mary our Mother,
in the Holy Spirit,
through Christ our Lord. Amen.
– Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr