In September 1789, the year that the French Revolution broke out, Louis-Marie Baudouin was ordained priest. Refusing to obey a law to bring priests under the control of the revolutionary government he was imprisoned twice. After this he went into exile in Spain where he lived for five years. While in exile he thought of all those suffering in his own country and he longed to be able to do something. He returned to France in 1797. However, he had to go into hiding again in Sables d’Olonne from where he set about, in secret, providing for the spiritual needs of the people who had been deprived of Mass and the sacraments for a long time.
It was there he met Charlotte-Gabrielle Ranfray.
Charlotte was a Hospitaliere Sister in La Rochelle. After 17 years of community life, doing the work she loved, her life was shattered as one of the effects of the French revolution was the closing of many convents. On meeting Louis-Marie he invited her to forget “the sweet solitude of her monastery and live in the midst of the world in order to go out to the poor; the helpless; the children who were in need of education; all the sick who needed nursing; and to help priests in their mission of evangelisation”.
Then began the Congregation of the Daughters of the Incarnate Word, now known as Ursulines of Jesus.
On July 2nd 1802 Charlotte Gabrielle Ranfray arrived at Chavagnes-en-Paillers, in La Vendee, France in a cart, with five companions. In this parish devastated by the revolution they came to open a modest boarding school for young girls, at the request of the new parish priest, Louis-Marie Baudouin.
In post revolutionary France the first Sisters were involved in rebuilding the Church through prayer, educating children, nursing the sick, working with priests and restoring family life.
As time went on the Sisters began to increase in numbers. During the following 32 years, community spread into other parts of post-revolutionary France. Chavagnes-en-Paillers became the cradle of the congregation.
Letter to Sr Agnes Trail as she left Chavagnes for Edinburgh:
“To the glory of Jesus & Mary & for the love of Jesus & Mary, let us go and save souls in this large (grande) island. Here is the word to my daughter Sr Agnes. Jesus said to his apostles when sending them on Mission: ‘ learn from me that I am gentle and humble of heart’. Give yourself, my daughter, completely to the practice of these two virtues.”Signed LMB Priest 1834
And so our journey spread outside of France. Sr Agnes Trail and Sr Margaret Clapperton following their formation in Chavagnes arrived in Edinburgh with five French sisters to open the first religious house post-Reformation in Scotland. This was the beginning of the movement of the congregation outside of France.
The Family of the Incarnation celebrated its foundation on 28th July in Chavagnes en Paillers, France. This family has the same sap, roots in common, the same family spirit: the Spirit of the Incarnate Word.
Their members are:
We commit ourselves to follow a path of life according to the Gospel, enlightened by the mystery of the Incarnation,in the footsteps of Louis Marie Baudouin. In the United Kingdom and Ireland there are two branches of the family at present – the Ursulines of Jesus ( UJ’s), and four Associate Groups centred in London, Swansea, Edinburgh and Dublin.