The saint of the day for September 26 is St. Thérèse Couderc (1805-1885), founder of the Society of Our Lady of the Retreat in the Cenacle (Sisters of the Cenacle).
In the early part of the 19th century, the Church in France was beginning to take on new life after the disarray of the Revolution. When Marie-Victoire Couderc was a young woman, her father brought her home from school to participate with the rest of the family in a mission to be given at the little town of Sablieres, in the South of France, near the hamlet where she was born. One of the missionaries was an energetic and zealous diocesan priest name Stephen Terme.
During the mission Marie-Victoire revealed to Father Terme that she would like to enter religious life. Now Father Terme had recently founded a small group of sisters, called the Sisters of St. Regis, to serve villages without Christian schools, so he offered to take her right away to the novitiate of the Sisters of St. Regis. Victoire’s father was not pleased with this idea. After all, she was needed at home to help her mother care for the new baby in the family. But after some time at home, he eventually relented, and Marie-Victoire became Sister Therese.
Fr. Terme saw the need for a hostel for women pilgrims. He had no money, but he did have a great deal of trust in God, and before long the hostel opened. Sister Therese was sent to La Louvesc, first as novice director, then as superior, and when La Louvesc was named the mother house of the small congregation, she was named the superior general.
There was a problem, however. Business was booming. The sisters took in everyone who came to the door, and they didn’t always have beds for everyone, so they spread straw in the corridors. And not only was the place crowded, but it was also noisy and unruly. So Mother Therese went to Fr. Terme and convinced him to make an important change: from then on, only women who were willing to pray for several days would be able to stay there.
Under the influence of Mother Therese, what was originally a hostel was taking the first step toward becoming a retreat house, where women could deepen their prayer and grow in the spiritual life. The process was completed when Father Terme introduced to the sisters the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. These became an important element in the spirituality of the Cenacle Sisters, as well as a way of helping the women who came to their houses to draw closer to God.
In due time, the ministry of retreats was separated from the ministry of teaching school, and the congregation which would be called the Cenacle was born. This spiritual ministry is continued today in many countries throughout the world by the Sisters of the Cenacle.
Spirituality of St. Therese Couderc
Throughout her life, Therese Couderc grew in responding to the loving call of the Good God. Many of us are afraid that if we surrender ourselves to God, then God will ask of us the very thing we hate the most, and our lives will be miserable. St. Therese recognized, on the contrary, that this total self-giving — like that of Jesus who gave himself for us (see Galatians 2:20) — is the only way to be happy.
Oh! If people could understand beforehand the sweetness and the peace enjoyed by those who would hold nothing back from the Good God! How he communicates himself to the soul who sincerely seeks him and who knows how to surrender herself. Let them just experience it, and they will see that therein is found the true happiness which they are vainly seeking elsewhere.
(To Surrender Oneself, 1864)
Therese Couderc knew that the God to whom she was saying “yes” was good. But one day in 1866, when she was thanking God after Mass, she had a mystical vision of the goodness of all things. This is the way she described her experience:
I saw as in letters of gold this word Goodness, which I repeated for a long while with an indescribable sweetness. I saw it, I say, written on all creatures, animate and inanimate, rational or not, all bore this name of goodness. I saw it even on the chair I was using as a kneeler. I understood then that all that these creatures have of good and all the services and helps that we receive from each of them are a blessing that we owe to the goodness of our God, who has communicated to them something of his infinite goodness, so that we may meet it in everything and everywhere.
Both the goodness of God and of creation, and the call to surrender oneself, are characteristics elements in the spirituality of Saint Therese Couderc, and have been passed down to the Sisters of the Cenacle, who pray to live out of this vision of goodness and this call to give all to the Good God.