Fifty years ago, the Petites Soeurs des Champs became Little Sisters of the Assumption

When the 2011 General Chapter mentions the dimensions of exchange, inter-relations, inter-congregation as an opportunity to move out of ourselves and discover the richness that is brought to us by what is different, it is appropriate to recall the arrival in the Congregation fifty years ago of the Petites Soeurs des Champs. (The issues of the Pain de Chez that appeared on the 11th July and 4th October 1962 would help us in that.) 
 
Jean-Baptiste Delpech, a young priest of the diocese of Montauban, who had been assigned to a rural parish at Gandalou in the south-west of France, discovered there the dechristianised state of the rural setting. He analysed the situation in much the same way as Etienne Pernet was to do fifteen years later: a faith that had too few roots had been swept away by the French revolution, wars etc.; to that could be added the birth of the industrial era and of capitalism. It was necessary to re-evangelise the inhabitants of the rural areas as well as those of the cities. So, in 1844, he founded the Congregation of the Petites Soeurs des Champs (Little Sisters of the Countryside) asking them to commit themselves wholeheartedly to a life that mingled country life with farm work and also care and attention to rural households, all with the aim of "re-christianising" the whole environment. 
 
As Etienne Pernet was to send "his daughters" into the midst of the working families, Jean Baptiste Delpech sent "his daughters" into the midst of the rural population. "The setting that was chosen was different, and the means were also different, but in both we can see the same passion for the salvation of souls, the same preferential love for the ’unimportant’ people, those belonging to the poorer sections of the people and especially those who were ill; we find the same intuition that, in order to extend the reign of God, it was important to enter into ’a setting’, and we find the same choice ’of women, and religious women’, for this mission. 
The ’Petites Soeurs des Champs’ used to set out ’for the day’ as the LSA set out ’for the mission’. They were loved for their work, their gaiety, their courage and for the cheerfulness with which they carried out all the tasks that were confided to them." 
 
After the death of the founder in 1887, the Petites Soeurs des Champs encountered many difficulties. In 1962 they numbered some forty sisters, in five houses. When the question arose of merging with another Congregation, the choice was for the Little Sisters of the Assumption. This was ratified by a decree from the Sacred Congregation of Religious, in Rome, dated the 10 July 1962. 
 
It was on the 27 September, at Malause (mother house of the Petites Soeurs des Champs), that the "final act sealing the union" of the Petites Soeurs des Champs with the Congregation was carried out: thirty-eight sisters renewed their vows before Mother M. Ste Elisabeth "according to the Rule of Saint Augustine and the Constitutions of the Little Sisters of the Assumption". Two others followed a time of formation at the novitiate in Joinville and/or Grenelle. Today there are still six who are living in different communities: Issoudun, Villerest, Grenelle and Valence d’Agen. 
 
Sister Marie-Claire, General Secretary, Little Sister of the Assumption
24/09/2012
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