Leonie Aviat

Mother Frances de Sales

The Foundress

of the

Congregation of Oblate Sisters


Saint Francis de Sales

(Part Two)


     A Golden Legend in the pure spirit of the Gospel could be written from many other acts of this kind springing from the hearts of the poorest. Thence grew the Factory Apostolate, i.e., the apostolate from girl to girl. Father Brisson's annual spiritual retreat gathered between 400 to 500 girls.

     Father Brisson has been right: Leonie Aviat, under the name of Mother Frances de Sales, was the priceless auxiliary he had been hoping for.

     As he had a gift to awaken in the wealthy a burst of generous charity- equaling sometimes those of apostolic times- he took the ungrateful role of provider, always finding the money to pay the debts, accepting weariness, humiliations and spiteful opposition to accomplish his mission.

     With one accord, the Founders added to their apostolate elementary schools, the boarding schools for the daughters of the middle and upper classes.

     Having well established the houses in Troyes, Mother Aviat went to Paris to reorganize one of the boarding schools. Father Brisson wished all classes of society to benefit from the spirit of St. Francis de Sales, by the practice of his Spiritual Directory. Indeed it can be used by lay people, as well as by those in religious life.

     Mother Aviat was to stay eight years in Paris; it was a great sacrifice for her to leave the "Oeuvre Ouvriere", the principal aim of her vocation. It was a break in her life... How delicate were her feelings, however, in her compliance to the Will of God!

     "Let us be God's little tools and allow Him to use us according to his wishes."

     "Yes, my God, yes! Always yes to your Divine Will."

     The acceptance of the Will of God goes hand in hand with her faithfulness to live in the 'present moment.'

     "Let us live in the present moment to receive all the graces which it brings."

     "You must not wish to live outside the 'actual moment.' It contains the light that you must follow and the help necessary for each circumstance."

     In Paris, she was as successful with the high society school girls as she had been with the young workers. When, after her time there, she came back to Troyes, Father Brisson was going through a difficult time with the Ecclesiastical Aurthorities. This is the fate of all Founders. During the four years, Mother Aviat herself had to suffer misunderstandings from her community. She then put into practice what she taught:

     "The difficult moments, so painful to our nature, take us nearer to our Saviour."

     "Treat all obstacles as having been permitted by God. Let us establish charity and trust in our heart, so that we, Sisters, may practice what delights the Heart of God and obtains everything."

     "The spirit of charity is acquired by practicing humility."

     "Mother Frances de Sales is above all an eminent model of perfect charity. Her love is a wonder of strength and simplicity. How and why was she able to have so much simplicity and nevertheless be so strong? For her, strength and simplicity were the way of love. 'It is charity' Saint Paul says, 'that we become tied to perfection.' We have to look at the love alone before considering in turn these two virtues, so apparent and eminent in her, and so paradoxically interwoven." Card. Garrone

     In 1893, Mother Aviat was re-elected Superior General, which she was to remain until her death.

     "At her time when she took charge of her Congregation -once and for all-it seemed to her she heard these words: 'You will be Superior because I want to govern everything.' It was God speaking. It is not possible to say in a more exact way where she found the source of her simplicity. She depended entirely on God in whom she found the source of her strength. God used her as an instrument without resistance." Card. Garrone

     She gave a solid base to the foundations in existence or those being developed. There were already Missions established in South Africa and others starting in Ecuador, (South America). In Europe, her daughters were welcomed in Switzerland, Austria, England, and Italy.

     This was God's permission in view of the terrible storm that was to hit France when Religious Congregations would be scattered by the spoilation of their possessions. These laws came into force in 1903, In France, twenty-one well established houses, four in the process of being organized, and six where the Sisters worked in conjunction with the Oblate Fathers were closed on the same day, to be handed over to the liquidator. For the girls and for their families as well, it was more than grief, it was a deep affliction. Father Brisson, aged 87, could not go to live abroad; so he returned to his family home at Plancy, whereas Mother Aviat had to deal with the distressing situation. Thanks to the example of her generosity, all her daughters trusted her entirely. To save what they could from among the houses and schools in France, she asked some of the Sisters the sacrifice of wearing lay dress to continue their teaching and thus avoid for the families the sorrow of being cruelly forsaken. Others accepted to go to foreign countries. She herself went into exile with her assistants. The Mother House was transferred to Perugia. From now on, Italy was to become her second homeland. From there she perfected the new organization of her Institute, supporting the Sisters' courage by her visits and her letters.

     Her last and greatest trial was the death of Father Brisson. On the 2nd of February 1908, he died as the 'Nunc dimittis' was being sung in his church at Plancy. By a moving coincidence, on the same day the liquidator was putting up for the auction the very bed on which was dying the kind priest who had harboured so many unfortunate people.

     A fortnight before, as she was in her room at Perugia, Mother Aviat had a supernatural foreboding that the Servant of God was near his end, she wept. At that moment two of her assistants entered the room. When she told them what she felt, they tried to reassure her. "No" she insisted, "something is happening to Father Brisson." At that very hour he was receiving Extreme Unction. A short while later, a telegram confirmed her painful premonition. Mother Frances de Sales went immediately to receive his supreme blessing and his last sigh. At his funeral, she had the sorrow of being lost among the crowd without her religious habit, so as not to draw attention to the apostolate she was trying to save.

     In this trial she remained, the comforter for others: "Say 'yes' to the divine Will, following Father Brisson's example."

     "The cross unites us to our Saviour; let us summon up all our courage to bear it with confidence and trusting willingness."

     She still had six years of life in which to complete the Constitutions of her Institute, with a view to their definite approbation. His Holiness Pope Leo XIII had granted his approval for ten years in 1890. It had been extended because of the events in France. In her exile, Mother Aviat valued being near to Rome and getting direct advice from the Sacred Congregation for Religious. Father Brisson had communicated to her filial love for the Pope; she complied with Holy Church's teachings, for herself and for her Institute. In 1911, His Holiness Pope Pius X gave their Constitutions the final approbation.

     The task of the Foundress was fulfilled, God was going to call her, "to reward her with the abundance of His love", as Saint Francis de Sales promised in his Spiritual Directory, "to the souls who have done all their actions in the name of God and for His sole Pleasure."

     After a short illness (bronchial pneumonia), she died, comforted by the blessing of Saint Pius X, on Saturday, 10th of January 1914. An Oblate Father was there to administer Extreme Unction and give her the last blessing. With fervor and peaceful serenity, she said: "He is going to give me the last Sacraments; I deeply desire to receive Holy Communion, and I want to receive it now." After the anointing she again expressed this burning wish.

     Once she received Our Lord, she began a long thanksgiving, probably doing what she had often recommended to her daughters, "Abandon yourself in total confidence to the divine Will." Serene and peaceful was her agony. The priest suggested that she unite her heart to the litany of the Blessed Virgin he was going to recite. She then gave a beautiful smile, her last... It was for Mary whom she had loved so much.

     Very soon the news of her death spread through the town of Perugia. People flocked to the Mother House wishing to gaze for the last time on her whom they called 'the Saint...'

     Testimony was given by the two Reverend Mothers who assisted Mother Aviat during her long years at the head of the Congregation.

     Mother Pupey-Girard: "She was heroic, but with simplicity."

     Mother de Cissey: "Her love for our Lord was so ardent and her thirst for perfection so great, that she was urged to spread it and communicate it to those around her."


This is the end of Part Two.