1666: Community life
When the little Charitable Schools had been running for about four years, Nicolas Barré shared with the young women ‘the strong urge and inspiration’ he had been feeling for some time now: that if they were happy to do so, the women could live as a community in a spirit of total trust in God’s providential care.
Marguerite tells us how it happened. “He put the idea before us like this: ‘Go and have dinner with your sisters who teach at the Carmelites and then invite them to come and have dinner with you at the Penitents and see if you can live in union with one another.' We did what he asked, through obedience, but quite blindly, not understanding the mystery... No sooner said than done!" A wonderfully human insight that was typical of Nicolas Barré’s wisdom and spirituality.
He later explained the kind of life he was offering them and they accepted “wholeheartedly.” The first sister appointed to take charge of the group was Françoise Duval to be succeeded in 1670 by Marguerite Lestocq. Madame de Buc, a lay woman, was named as the first administrator and took responsibility for the material administration of the community.
The spirituality that was to sustain the Institute through the centuries and the characteristics of the way the sisters would “instruct and educate” were already visible in this first group. Most striking was their total dependence on the Providence of God. As early as 1669, the first sisters signed an extraordinary document expressing their total trust ‘in the wise, loving, and all powerful Providence of God’, relying upon it uniquely and always for their maintenance and upkeep.
Nicolas Barré made the virtue of ‘abandonment’ the very foundation of the apostolic spirituality of this first group of dedicated apostle-women. For them ‘abandonment’ was a strong, positive, active, all-embracing, integrating virtue of total trust in a loving God. It presupposed detachment, disinterestedness, not seeking any rewards for oneself, and a spirit of inner freedom in all areas of their life and work. Though Nicolas Barré was to give this community a simple rule, the women were not bound by any official vows. Hence they were free to move and to live close to the ordinary people, not confined by the cloister as religious women were at that time.