Emilie D’Hooghvorst, foundress of the Congregation of Sisters of Mary Reparatrix
A call, a dream, a reality
Emilie was born on October 11, 1818, the third of four children. She had two brothers, and sister who died in infancy. Both parents were very Catholic. Emilie was close to her father and shared his love and respect for the Jesuits. He was involved in the government of Belgium and though quite liberal at first, he later evolved towards conservatism.
When Emilie was a teen-ager the family traveled together to Italy where they spent six months. Back in Liege she attended soirees and parties and soon her parents began to talk to her about marriage. Even though from a young age she had a deep desire to “be for God alone,” she followed the norms of the time. Her only condition was that her future husband had to be “virtuous and pious.” She found Victor d’Hooghvorst to be a perfect match. They were married October 1837. Emilie wrote about him: “Victor was an artisan of peace, within the family and everywhere. He was very generous, always helping those in need.”
They had a happy marriage, growing in love and understanding of each other. They had four children: Adrian, born in 1838, Edmond, in 1840, Olympe, in 1843, and Marguerite, in 1845.
In early January 1847, Victor and a friend went on a hunting trip to the Pontine Marshes in central Italy where both contracted malaria from which Victor died the 10th of August in Warfusée, Belgium. After Victor’s death Emilie made a vow of perpetual chastity.
For the next four years she lived in Warfusée,her parents’ home, attending to their needs and participating in their social life. Her free time was spent in prayer and helping the poor of the surrounding area. Her mother died September 14, 1850 and her father on June 4, 1851.
Soon after, Emilie wrote: “The death of my father cut the last thread and my life changed completely.” Given that her oldest brother Théodore inherited the Warfusée property Emilie soon moved to Boulevard de la Sauvetière in Liège.
In June 1851 she met Fr. Petit S.J. while she was visiting her aunt in Bauffe. They had a brief conversation, in which she shared her call. Fr. Petit said to her: “Continue to follow this route. I understand your desire to dedicate yourself to reparation.” Eventually he became her spiritual director. Neither of them could imagine how could she realize her call to a “solitary and unknown life.”
One day, in the spring of 1854, she had the idea of moving to France with her four children and of enrolling her two sons in one of the Jesuits’ boarding schools. She would live in Paris with her two daughters, their teachers, and whatever employees would be necessary according to the social conventions. Emilie spent that summer in Bois-l’Evêque, her property in the outskirts of Liege, with her four children. In October she brought the two boys to their new schools in France: Adrian, 16, to Vanes, Edmond, 14, to Poitiers.
Back in Belgium she said her goodbyes to her extended family and at the beginning of December went to spend a few days in her aunt’s house in Bauffe. There she was on the morning of December 8, praying in the chapel, while in Rome Pope Pius IX, surrounded by a multitude of faithful, bishops, and cardinals, proclaimed that Mary was preserved of original sin by the merits of Jesus-Christ Savior of the world.
Six years later, while on retreat, Emilie writes for the first time about that day. She recounts how she experienced Mary confiding to her, one mother to another, how she wished that faithful people would surround her Son with love, repairing for the offenses of others. Emilie promised Mary that she would dedicate her life to Jesus and invite others who would love her son with special tenderness.
Emilie stayed in Bauffe until the 20th of December when she traveled to Bois-l’Evêque. The next ten days most have been hectic, exciting, and scarry because on December 31, 1844, at 6 o’clock in the morning, after Mass, she left “with all my people, we filled a railway car.”
The story is interesting, it almost reads like a 19th century novel. It is hard to imagine ourselves living at that time and under those circumstances, and yet we have all experienced love, death, joy, fear, strength. We have felt our hearts burning with a fire not of this world. We have done heroic or almost-heroic things for others.
We might use other words, but the Spirit of God also gently stirs the flames of love in our hearts and we become mothers, fathers, daughters, helpers.
Regardless of age, good or bad health, whether we live alone or with a bunch of people, we know that in this beautiful Universe all of us, creatures of God’s love, live for the other, the Other, the OTHER!
I promise that next time I will introduce the lovely First Companions!
Concepción González Cánovas, smr
Présentation Historique de la Société de Marie Réparatrice (1818-1953). Henri de Gensac, SJ. Rome, 1992.
The Beginnings of the Society of Mary Reparatrix (1855-1858). Journal of the beginnings of the Society, house of Paris, house of Strasbourg. Introduction and notes by Anne Marie Bertaud, smr. Translated into English by Emma Gravlin, smr.