We are often asked what brought us to the United States.
The short answer is, “The Catholic Church.”
There’s a lot more to the story than that, of course. Here is how it happened.
In September of 1990, we entered into the Catholic Community of the Beatitudes, in the south of France. It was a big jump for us. The day we made the decision, we were visiting the Community and just before the start of Vespers, I suddenly felt terrorized, like someone who is about to jump from a cliff. I had to leave the chapel in panic and in tears. That same night, Christian woke up in a cold sweat: he had just had a nightmare that he was stripped of everything, left with absolutely nothing.
Despite these understandable apprehensions, we were not discouraged.
“The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” –Pope Benedict XVI
We were giving our lives to God, leaving the comfort of a beautiful home, great friends, and beloved parents behind to follow Christ. It was not going to be easy.
In 1997, we sold our house and shared the money between our five daughters and the Community.
We kept just enough to offer our family one last trip to the US, to visit all our friends there.
It was fantastic: Wyoming, Washington State, California. Everywhere we went, we found a deep spiritual longing. Our commitment to the Community triggered tons of questions from our friends. Each time we said to each other: if only we could bring the Community here!
On the last day of our trip, we left our oldest daughter, Mathilde, behind in Seattle, for only a year of studies. We couldn’t afford to pay for more than that.
Upon our return to the Community, we attempted to share our desire of an American foundation with our superior, without success. There was a lot of primal anti-Americanism in the Community at this time. I never understood why.
On October first of this same year, Christian wrote a letter to St. Therese of the Child Jesus for her feast day, asking her to be able to go to the States before the end of Mathilde’s school year in Seattle.
On December 31st, the Community’s tradition was to draw a patron saint for the coming year. Christian drew St. Therese!
On January first, 1998, another tradition was to write a letter to Mary on her feast day as the Mother of God, to entrust the whole year to her. Christian and I both entrusted to her our desire to found a house for the Community in the USA. We even gave her a map of the US with the places where we’d like to start: Colorado, the West Coast….
February 8th: As the relationship with our superior was growing tense, we visited our moderator to express our sufferings and desires. He told us then that the Franciscan University of Steubenville, in OH, would love to welcome the Community. He couldn’t find anyone suitable to send there until we came to talk to him. What a coincidence! Hope grew in our hearts!
Holy Thursday 98: a trip was scheduled for May to the US. Christian was part of the trip. The goal was to find a place to start something for the Community: San Diego, Steubenville, or maybe New York.
Christian left for the US on May 1st with one of the sisters. The trip was very difficult. Sister was not an easy person to travel with. They met many interesting people, but nothing definite came out of the trip. Christian was convinced that our moderator needed to meet with a Cardinal or an American Bishop. At least, his prayer request of being able to be in the States before the end of Mathilde’s school year was answered. Thanks to very good friends in California, he was even able to be with her at Disneyland to celebrate her 20th birthday. He returned home on May 23rd, Mathilde’s birthday!
May 31st, for Pentecost weekend, our moderator was in Rome for a big gathering of all the charismatic communities. He didn’t see how he could meet a Cardinal, but by chance ran into Cardinal Stafford, who loves the Community! Cardinal Stafford, previously archbishop of Denver, introduced our moderator to Archbishop Chaput, the new Archbishop of Denver, Colorado, who right away offered a convent to the Community and even wanted to pay a salary, starting in 1999!
Doors were opening!
In September we were sent to Mortain, the formation house of the Community in Normandy. The Community hadn’t yet decided who would be part of the Denver team. The time in Mortain was very stressful, as people kept trying to discourage us from thinking we’d be part of the US founding team. It’s not the place for a family, it will be too small, too difficult. The warfare was fierce! We tried to remain trustful and to surrender everything to the Lord. We prayed to all our favorite saints: St. Joseph, St. Therese, Padre Pio, St. Francis and St. Claire, St Rita… The Annunciation’s words, “how is this going to happen?” became our motto…
In January 99, we received a New Year’s card from a very good American friend of ours. He told us that he had contacted the archbishop of Denver’s secretary to give a $5000 contribution for the foundation of the Community in Denver! We were totally flabbergasted! What was the Lord preparing?
March 25th, 1999, on the feast of the Annunciation (!): our moderator asked us to visit him again, but this time to let us know that, yes, we will be part of the Denver team and that we will be leaving in July! Finally! Our prayers were answered!
We met the team for the first time at then of June: two seminarians, two sisters, and a lay lady. We had no idea of what we would be doing in Denver, or of what would be expected from us. We prayed, opened the Bible and received this passage: “Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.” Acts 9:6 (conversion of St. Paul). The mission was clear: God would be in charge!
We still had many difficulties to face on the way, many question marks, many trials. But as the angel answered Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you…” and on July 21st, 1999, we set foot in Denver, with our three youngest daughters, Marion, 15, Pauline, 11, and Charlotte, 4. We were standing on Saint Catherine of Siena’s parking lot with our suitcases… The adventure began!