Quel Jour Magnifique!

Posted: 16th November 2017

Visitors from Sainte-Marie de Neuilly

Wednesday 15th November was a red-letter day in the annals of St Augustine’s Priory.  We were delighted to welcome two visitors from a Parisian school, Sainte-Marie de Neuilly: Véronique Philouze, Directrice Collège-Lycée, and Sabine Chauvet, Responsable de division 5ème.

But Sainte-Marie de Neuilly is no ordinary school.  You may remember that in 2015 H.E. Cardinal Vincent Nichols visited St Augustine’s Priory to celebrate our 100 years on this site in Hillcrest Road.  This followed our marking of our 100 years in England in 1911.

But, prior to that, our community of nuns, the Augustinian Canoness Regular of the Lateran, and their school had occupied premises in Boulevard Victor Hugo in Neuilly, Paris.

One of our religious community and pupils in the grounds at Neuilly

Founded in 1634 the community and school had occupied a central position in Paris in the Rue des Fossés-Saint-Victor, but when the centre of Paris was renovated in the middle of the nineteenth century these buildings were demolished and the community and school relocated to Neuilly where they remained until 1911.

The Augustinian Canonesses Regular of the Lateran at Neuilly

On their departure for England the Neuilly premises were rented to Madeleine Daniélou who founded the Communauté Saint-François-Xavier and opened Sainte-Marie de Neuilly in 1913.

Hosted by Mrs Raffray, Mme Philouze and Mme Chauvet joined us for Mass in the Chapel where we said the Our Father in French, and then met Mr Alejandro, Ms Gandi and Mme Assemat of our Modern Languages Department where they began to draw up detailed plans for an exchange programme.  We are enthusiastic to build links with Sainte-Marie de Neuilly and, as a bilingual hub, this opportunity to work with our Parisian sister school in promoting the French language and culture is an opportunity not to be missed.

We will also be planning an Association visit to Paris, taking in a visit to Lisieux on the way, a place special to our nuns and to St Augustine’s Priory still.

After lunch our visitors were taken on a tour of St Augustine’s Priory and noted some architectural similarities with the Neuilly school, our nuns obviously wishing to retain reminders of their Parisian roots when the Hillcrest Road site was designed.

We have a great deal in common with Sainte-Marie de Neuilly both in our Catholic heritage and in the extraordinary stories of courageous women.  One such is the story of the Armenian nun, a member of the community at Sainte-Marie, who travelled to and from Russia smuggling out Solzhenitsyn’s manuscript of his book, The Gulag Archipelago – an act which, had she been discovered, would have resulted in her being sent to the gulag herself.  For l’audace is central to the work of Sainte-Marie de Neuilly – just as courage is to ours.

We were so happy that Mme Philouze and Mme Chauvet were able to join us for this wonderful day and are looking forward to our growing collaboration and friendship, forged in the history of extraordinary women both here and in France.

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