Begins in 17th Century Brittany, France. The country was recovering from years of civil war and people were suffering materially and spiritually. Into this situation came missionary priests, mainly Jesuits, who traveled the country reviving people’s diminished faith. But how to sustain this once the missions were over? In response, retreats began to take place and, in 1663, a retreat house was opened in Vannes – but just for men.
Catherine de Francheville had helped the priests during the missions and in the first retreats for men. Not surprisingly, she was keen to offer the same Spiritual Exercises for women! But she had to fight for it since at the time it was frowned upon for large numbers of women to gather without men present…..
Once opened the retreats flourished with quickly growing numbers coming to the house. But the difficulties didn’t stop and soon Catherine was forced to surrender the house as the authorities became increasingly hostile. Catherine took to the countryside giving itinerant retreats, all the time fighting to regain a house for the retreats. In time, the house was re-established and women came to help Catherine in the retreats. In 1675, this work and the community running it were recognized by both Church and Civil authorities.
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