St. Antoinette d’Orléans

From Jason John Edwards, Obl.S.B.’s continuing series on monastic saints.

Antoinette d’Orléans Longueville was born in 1572 in the castle of Trie, near Gisors, eighth of a family of nine children.  Her mother was first cousin of Eleonor of Bourbon, Abbesse de Fontevraud, and of Antoine de Bourbon, father of Henri IV. At 16 she married Charles de Gondi, Marquis of Belle Isle, a young 19-year-old. They lived two years at the Court of Henry III but retired to the castle Machecoul after the assassination of the King. They had two sons.  After twelve years of marriage, the marque was killed while he was preparing to storm Mont Saint Michel.  Antoinette entrusted her children to their grandparents and entered the religious life.

On October 23, 1599, at the age of 27, she entered the Feuillantines in Toulouse to lead a hidden life and “to kiss the Cross of my God.” On October 31 she received the habit and the name of Sister Antoinette of Saint Scholastique. In 1604 she was unanimously elected Prioress.

Mother Antoinette de Sainte-Scholastique was named Grand Vicar of the Abbey of Fontevraud in 1605. She was in charge of helping her aunt Abbess, Eléonore de Bourbon, in the reform of the abbey.  In 1606, she met Father Joseph of Paris. During their first interview, Mother Antoinette could not stop crying, and the Capuchin promised never to see her again.

However, shortly after this interview, while he prayed before the statue of Notre-Dame des Ardilliers, he received in an prompting the order to help the Benedictine.

In 1610, a papal brief allows Madame d’Orléans to choose between three alternatives after the death of the abbess: to stay in Fontevraud as a simple nun; to retire to Lencloître, a monastery dependent on the abbey, to carry out the reform; or to leave everything to return to the Feuillantines.

On July 26, 1611, she entered the merged priory of Lencloître. Shortly thereafter, a writ of Paul V allowed Madame d’Orleans to establish the reform in the whole congregation and to organize, next to the Priory of Lencloître, a religious seminary. The novices were trained and then sent as chaplains or confessors in the different convents. However, Madame de Bourbon-Lavedan, the new Abbess of Fontevraud, a supporter of a more moderate reform, was hostile to the project of Madame d’Orleans, especially since Lencloître attracted a greater number of postulants, and thus gradually supplanted Fontevraud. At the beginning of 1614, Madame de Bourbon-Lavedan refused to pay the pension she owed for the maintenance of the thirty young religious of Lencloître and dispersed them throughout the various houses of the order.

The dispersion of the young religious destroyed all hope of succeeding in the reform without a struggle, the thought of which was repugnant to the peaceful spirit of Madame d’Orleans and Father Joseph. From there was born the thought of establishing an independent and autonomous Benedictine congregation.

On October 25, 1617, Madame d’Orléans settled with 24 nuns of Lencloître in a new monastery built in Poitiers.  As soon as she entered this poor house, she asked to be taken to the little chapel, which was to serve as a church while waiting for the other to be built.  But as the key was not found, she was compelled to go up to the dormitory, where, having her mind deeply occupied in God, she paused for some space of time before a window, her eyes raised to Heaven, and turning at that moment to her daughters, she said to them in this same spirit of prayer, “Sisters, we have not come to this place for a change of air, but of life.”

However, due to the cold and dampness of the monastery, several nuns died. Madame d’Orleans was herself swept away by this disease at the age of 46, on April 25, 1618.

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