Francoise Blin de Bourdon, Woman of Influence: The Story of the Cofoundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame. By Jo Ann M. Recker, S.N.D. de N. (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press. 2001. Pp. iv, 215. $14.95 paperback.)
"Tres affectueusement, votre mere en Dieu." Francoise Blin-French Aristocrat, Belgian Citizen, Co-Foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (1756-1838). By Jo Ann M. Recker, S.N.D. de N. [Belgian Francophone Library, Vol. 6.] (New York: Peter Lang Publishing Inc. 2001. Pp. xxxiii, 185. $55.95.)
These two biographies of Francoise Blin de Bourdon follow a similar pattern of development. Introductory chapters describe her life prior to her accompanying Julie Billiart in the founding of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. The chronological presentation continues through Francoise's years as Mother St. Joseph, companion to Julie and her successor as mother general. As the headings indicate, one volume assumes the reader's knowledge of French and therefore does not include translations of the numerous excerpts from the letters and other writings of Francoise Blin. Though the title of the Belgian Library text includes de Namur, while the other text states simply Sisters of Notre Dame, both books stress the significance of the move of the community from France to Belgium and its adjustment to the oversight of the Dutch/Netherlands government from 1815 to 1830. With her background in modern languages, notably French, Professor Recker also draws on the reflections of women literary scholars such as Carolyn Heilbrun, Adrienne Rich, and Brenda Daly. Woman of Influence highlights Francoise as companion and friend of Julie Billiart. Votre mere en Dieu recounts Francoise's admission that she appreciates being addressed as Mere (though she knows Julie prefers Sister) for its connotation of loving concern for the happiness of others.
The section on Francoise's life before the age of 38 details her aristocratic background, tells of her early education with Benedictine and Ursuline Sisters, her arrest along with other members of her family during the French Revolution, and her escaping the guillotine in 1794. That was the year she became associated with Julie Billiart, five years Francoise's senior. Since one aim of the books is to make Francoise better known, there is no interruption for a lengthy resume of Julie's life. Nor is there labored comparison or contrast between the upbringing of a favored French daughter of the nobility and that of a sickly child from Picardy.
It was not until 1805 that Julie, Franqoise, and a third member, Catherine Duchatel, pronounced simple vows. In the years preceding that ceremony several clergy, notably Joseph Desire Varin and Antoine Thomas, had encouraged Julie and Francoise in their work among less favored children. Father Varin envisioned Julie and her companions teaching useful skills to the poor of Amiens while Sophie Barat and her band conducted schools for the upper class. Inadvertently, the personal fortune and legacy of Francoise resulted in exodus from Amiens and the foundation in Namur, Belgium. After transferring what she could to her brother and sister, Francoise expected to found and support educational ministries for the poor. When she and Julie balked at the expectation of the Bishop of Amiens that the funds be placed in diocesan hands, they found themselves practically outcast from his diocese. …