Sophie’s Fire began, I suppose, the moment Sacred Heart hired me as a temporary, part-time employee in the fall of 1972. I was halfway through a PhD at UCLA when I married and moved to the Bay Area, where I fully planned to finish my graduate work. Seeking a temporary job and wanting to stay in a school setting, I applied for a part-time secretarial position at Sacred Heart Schools. The high school happened to need a French teacher for one class, and as I had both a degree in French and a year’s experience as a T.A., I was hired for both positions. I never left.
Over my forty years at Sacred Heart, I’ve taught French and English; served as English Department Chair, Dean of Faculty, and Academic Dean; directed the Senior Honors Independent Study Program; and coordinated the ESCJ (Educators of the Sacred Heart), a group of over 200 faculty and staff who are committed to learning more about the charism and heritage of our founding mothers.
In 2006 I was invited to join the Formation to Mission Committee of the U.S. Network Board, which plans national conferences for Sacred Heart faculty and staff. In 2008, for reasons I’ll never understand, I was invited to address the leadership teams of all 22 U.S. schools on my relationship with Madeleine Sophie Barat. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t feel at the time that I had one, but I’d just finished writing a novel and was in need of a new project, so I agreed. Over the next six months I read everything I could get my hands on about Sophie and discovered in the process that our lives overlap in many key areas. She began to live for me in the present. Aside from my lifelong affinity for French culture, we are both passionate about literature and harbor a borderline obsession with Dante; we both love children and teaching; we both have enormous faith in the power of women to transform society; we both love knitting and vineyards and singing while we walk along the beach (she sings chants ~ I sing Joni Mitchell); the list goes on. Rather than the distant, pious figure I’d imagined her to be, she turned out to be passionate, witty, funny, at times even edgy—the kind of person I would have loved to call a friend.
A couple weeks before my scheduled talk, my poet friend Marcia—who’d read my earlier novel and had just read the speech—met me at our favorite café. She threw the sheaf of papers onto the table, looked me in the eye, and said, “You have to write a novel about this woman.” Because I always do what Marcia tells me, I did. And I’ve had enormous support along the way, in particular from the RSCJ.
In my 2008 talk, I reference the possibility that it was Sophie who sent me onto the property in the fall of 1972. On more than one occasion I have wondered if it isn’t Sophie who has directed this entire journey, including the novelization of her life.
Resources and Suggested Reading
Carreel, Marie-France. Sophie Barat: Un projet éducatif pour aujourd’hui
Charry, Jeanne de. Sainte Madeleine-Sophie
Choudhury, Mita. Convents and Nuns in Eighteenth-Century French Politics and Culture
Fraser, Antonia. Marie Antoinette: The Journey
Hansen, Ron. Mariette in Ecstasy
Iezzi, Ernesto. Chiesa e Monastero delle S.S. Rufina e Seconda in Trastevere
Kilroy, Phil. Madeleine Sophie Barat: A Life
Luirard, Monique. Madeleine-Sophie Barat (1779-1865): Une éducatrice au coeur du monde, au coeur du Christ
Luirard, Monique. Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat in Paris: A Spiritual and Religious Pilgrimage
Magraw, Roger. France 1800-1914: A Social History
Maguire, C.E. Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat
McMillan, James F. France and Women: 1789-1914
Mogador, Céleste. Memoirs of a Courtesan in Nineteenth-Century Paris
Moorehead, Caroline. Dancing to the Precipice: The Life of Lucie de la Tour du Pin, Eyewitness to an Era
Perdrau, Pauline. Les Loisirs de l’Abbaye
Religiuses du Sacré-Coeur (2010, Paris)
Richardson, Joanna. The Courtesans: The Demi-Monde in 19th Century France
Rogers, Rebecca. From the Salon to the Schoolroom: Educating Bourgeois Girls in Nineteenth-Century France
Stock-Morton, Phyllis. The Life of Marie d’Agoult, Alias Daniel Stern
Williams, Margaret. Saint Madeleine Sophie: Her Life and Letters
Wright, Wendy. Sacred Heart: Gateway to God
My PhiloSophical Vocation, the speech I gave in 2008, can be found on http://sofie.org/resources/founding-mothers/madeleine-sophie-barat under resources.