From the Autobiography of Blessed Anne of St. Bartholomew
Third Book, Chapter 1
Deputation Sent From France
Some years before our departure for France, M. de Bretigny made a journey to Spain. He begged most earnestly of the Superiors of the Order permission to take some Spanish Carmelites to France; but he could not then succeed in his design.
Not having been able to get the Carmelites, he took home the writings of the Saint and had them translated into French. As in these works there is so much said in favor of France, the French servants of God who had devotion to our holy Foundress loved her more and more, and took new courage.
In several cities they gathered together some very virtuous high-born ladies to initiate them little by little into the spirit of this new Order. These reunions once well established, they asked permission of the king to found a monastery in Paris, desiring for this purpose to have Spanish Carmelites brought there; but in case the Carmelites were not willing, their plan was to have our Constitutions brought from Spain and be taught to these young ladies whom they had gathered together, with the intention of giving them the habit and making them daughters of the Order of our Holy Mother, St. Teresa.
This first foundation having been arranged, the servant of God whom I mentioned above, M. de Bretigny, returned to Spain, bringing with him three noble French ladies. They intended, if their enterprise was successful, to take Spanish religious with them to France. Besides, during their stay in Spain, they were to learn the language of the country.
Messrs. Rene Gauthier and de Berulle also went to Spain, not without meeting great dangers at sea, as they themselves narrated. For our Lord tried their courage in every way and on all sorts of occasions. But they were so faithful to God and so firm in their design, that nothing terrified them.
They were several months in Spain without succeeding in obtaining religious from the Order. Seeing this, M. de Berulle and the others did their utmost and labored for a whole year before obtaining from the Superiors of the Order what they asked.
The deputation sent from France had to endure much labor and many affronts; this, because it was not known what great servants of God they were; for they certainly were such—their works and the zeal they showed for the glory of God proved their great fervor. But in order that their virtue might be more purified, God permitted that they should not be esteemed at their proper worth. Some said that they were heretics, and other things of a similar nature. They suffered with much patience and humility, and, persevering in this way, their enterprise was crowned with success.
At last our Father General, Francis of the Mother of God, came to Avila with several Fathers of the Order to arrange for our departure. We left on the morning of the Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist.  Our Father General accompanied us a great part of the day. When he was obliged to leave us we begged his blessing. He gave it with an emotion that was shared by all the religious. In parting, both Fathers and daughters made a great sacrifice to God.
Two friars of our Order, great servants of God, two French priests, one of whom was M. de Berulle, and the other, M. Rene Gauthier, together with three Frenchmen on horseback, and several Spaniards, accompanied us on this journey. The three French ladies were alone in one carriage and the six religious in another. We were together in the inns.
The French ladies taught us their language; it must be acknowledged we did not make great progress in it; we learned sufficient, however, to understand most of what was said to us. But we did not speak fluently; we could, with difficulty, say only a few sentences. Our Lord wished to humble us in this, and I think it was best for us, for by speaking little we did not give disedification. Every nation has its own customs.
Blessed Anne of St. Bartholomew
“Every nation has its own customs,” wrote Blessed Anne. Truer words were never spoken. The influence of “Monsieur de Bérulle” upon the Carmelites in France grew and expanded as his authority expanded not only in the Church but also in government.
Considered by many as the founder of the French School of Spirituality, he collaborated with Blessed Marie of the Incarnation, better known as Madame Acarie, in the foundation of the first Discalced Carmelite monastery in Paris, the original destination of Blessed Anne and her traveling companions in 1604.
As a priest, Pierre de Bérulle was passionate in his ministry. Educated by the Jesuits, he had only been ordained five years earlier when he set out on his great adventure in Spain in the year 1604. In 1611, he undertakes another great project: the foundation of an Oratory in France similar to the Oratory founded by Philip Neri in Italy.
In the space of 18 years, Bérulle founded 40 Carmels and 60 houses for his Oratorians in France.
As his fame spread in the Church in France, he naturally attracted the attention of the royal family, as well. In 1625, he became a personal chaplain to Queen Consort Henrietta Maria of France, the wife of England’s King Charles I.
In 1627, Pope Urban VIII insisted upon creating him a Cardinal. And his influence in affairs of state continued to develop when he was named head of the queen’s council, then councilor of state. Through all of this, Bérulle’s influence on the French Carmelites remained firm.
But there was dissension. The Venerable Anne of Jesus, Blessed Anne of St. Bartholomew’s companion in making the original foundation, believed that Bérulle was leaving an imprint upon the Carmels in France that decidedly was not in keeping with the Teresian ideal. Further, she desired for the nuns to be directed by Discalced Carmelite friars. Frustrated, in 1607, she accepted an offer from the Archduke of Belgium to transfer to Flanders, where she founded Carmels in Brussels, Louvain, and Mons.
Blessed Anne of St. Bartholomew had moved from Paris to Pontoise where she was elected prioress (1605) and then assumed the same office in the Carmel of Tours (1608). But in 1611, she too was called to make the journey north. She left on 5 October, “the day following the anniversary of the death of the Saint.” She wrote that she “had no desire to go to Flanders,” but Anne of Jesus needed her in Mons, and she would go on to found the Carmel of Antwerp.
Meanwhile, in France, the spirituality of le Carmel Bérullien that so concerned Venerable Anne of Jesus continued to thrive without the Spanish foundresses. Cardinal de Bérulle died suddenly while he was celebrating Mass 2 October 1629, making the greatest ecclesiastical figure in France seem larger than life. His legacy did not fade.
Discalced Carmelite theologian François-Marie Léthel points out that the Bérullien influence is seen in the writings of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. For example, Christocentrism is one of the hallmarks of his French School of spirituality. Father Léthel indicates that Thérèse refers to the name of Jesus twice as much as she mentions “God”: more precisely, she writes the name of Jesus more than 1600 times, but she only makes roughly 800 references to “God” (Léthel 2011).
Antoinette Guise Castelnuovo has carefully documented the history of the Bérullien crisis in the 20th century. In response to the promulgation of the new Code of Canon Law in 1917, all religious orders were obliged to revise their constitutions, including the Discalced Carmelites. In France, disorder reigned supreme; every Carmel’s superior was the local bishop, and none of the local superiors consulted with one another. Thus, the nuns of the Carmel of Clamart—the post-revolutionary re-foundation of the original Carmel of Paris in Faubourg Saint Jacques—undertook the task to issue a set of constitutions in 1924 that might unify the Discalced Carmelites of the so-called “French Observance”. Getting Vatican approval for their text was another matter completely. (Castelnuovo 2015)
Every other Discalced Carmelite monastery worldwide turned to the general curia of the Discalced Carmelite friars for their care and direction. In short order, the friars’ revised constitutions for the nuns were approved in 1926. In France, no word of approval had been received yet.
At this point, St. Thérèse’s own sister, Mother Agnès of Jesus—then the prioress in Lisieux—saw an opportunity to restore a true Teresian spirit in France and make Venerable Anne of Jesus’ dream a reality, that the nuns in France might once again submit to the governance of the Discalced Carmelite friars in Rome.
Although Mother Agnès herself enjoyed an office that was hardly Teresian, having been named prioress-for-life by Pope Pius XI in 1923, she had gained a level of influence, unlike no other prioress, due to her tireless efforts to make Thérèse known, loved, and canonized. She set forth to use that influence to seek the imposition of the friars’ constitutions in France.
Castelnuovo describes the conflict between Mother Agnès and the Carmel of Clamart as degenerating from a struggle for influence into an all-out fratricidal war. Letters to the apostolic nuncio, the Sacred Congregation for Religious, even to the pope were flying fast and furious. Mother Agnès wrote in 1925 to the nuncio, Archbishop Cerretti, that she was confident that 12 to 15 monasteries would pass to the Teresian observance with Lisieux; she said the “Bérullien Carmels” who would stick with Clamart were blind.
In 1927, Mother Agnès sent a confidential report to the new nuncio, Archbishop Maglione, outlining why this or that Carmel—although desirous to adopt the friars’ constitutions—could not do so. In every case, although the nuns were in favor of the change, the superior (either the bishop or his delegate) prevented such a transition. Nevertheless, a handful of monasteries joined Lisieux and adopted the friars’ constitutions of 1926.
Sadly, Mother Agnès learned in 1931 that the prioress of the Carmel of Agen circulated a letter among her fellow prioresses in the circle of Bérullien Carmels, accusing those who followed the 1926 Constitutions like Lisieux of being “lax” and “mitigated”. In her historical study, Castelnuovo draws a distinct correlation at this point between the Lisieux-Clamart conflict in the 1920s and the constitutional crisis between the followers of Saint Maria Maravillas and the Discalced Carmelite friars in the 1980 and ’90s. The similarities are striking.
To resolve the conflict in France, the Sacred Congregation for Religious issued a decree on 20 September 1936 to impose the adoption worldwide of the 1926 Constitutions revised by the Discalced Carmelite friars’ general curia in Rome.
This was an unprecedented action that proved unsuccessful; the Bérullien Carmelites refused to accept the decree of the Sacred Congregation and continued to follow their French Observance.
Divine intervention finally came with the nomination of an apostolic visitator in 1948: the vicar general of the Discalced Carmelite friars who was himself a native of France, Blessed Marie-Eugène of the Child Jesus. It was a stroke of genius. Castelnuovo notes that Bérulle in his day had placed great importance in the role of a visitator. St. Teresa, for her part, had great recourse to the visitators to save her reform.
Marie-Eugène was known and respected by all, thanks to his preaching during the canonization of Thérèse. Now, he had 130 Carmels to visit; he began in September 1948 and completed his visits in March 1951, delivering his report at the end of the month. In the meantime, Pope Pius XII published Sponsa Christi and an Instruction concerning the cloister.
No longer was there simply a matter of constitutional conformity in France to deal with; Blessed Marie-Eugène also realized that the Carmelites needed guidance in the implementation of Sponsa Christi, as well. He set to work as an invaluable courier between the Holy See and the nuns, helping the pope to safeguard the contemplative vocation and helping the nuns to broaden their horizons.
In a final, grand effort to assure that his hard work would not be wasted and that the new-found unity of the Discalced Carmelite nuns in France might be preserved, Blessed Marie-Eugène of the Child Jesus took the bold step of assisting the nuns to organize themselves into four federations according to geographic location. Two federations in the north, conforming to the friars’ Paris Province, and two federations in the south under the care of the Province of Avignon-Aquitaine were established, and Marie-Eugène himself was the assistant to all four federations.
Anne of St. Bartholomew, M; Bouix, M 1917, Autobiography of the Blessed Mother Anne of Saint Bartholomew, inseparable companion of Saint Teresa, and foundress of the Carmels of Pontoise, Tours and Antwerp, translated from the French by anonymous, H. S. Collins Printing Co., Saint Louis.
Guise Castelnuovo, A 2015, ‘Femmes en réseau et centralisation romaine : le gouvernement des carmélites de France au XXe siècle’, Les Carnets du LARHRA, Gouverner l’Eglise au XXe siècle, pp.109-131, ffhalshs-01404512
Léthel, F-M 2011, La Lumière du Christ Dans le Coeur de l’Église: Jean-Paul II et la théologie des saints, Éditions Parole et Silence, Les Plans-sur-Bex.