5 Warren Avenue
Tarrytown, New York
May 27, 2021
A Thank You Letter to Jean Gailhac
My dear and venerable Father,
I want to tell you the story about how I finally got to know you.
My first memory of you was when I was thirteen and arrived in Tarrytown as an Academy freshman. Your picture – that of a young French priest in his forties – seemed to be hanging everywhere! We read Gailhac of Beziers by Helene Magaret, a book I came to know even better in the novitiate as we rehearsed scenes from the book for impromptu productions to fill our “free time” on Wednesdays. Yet, I cannot say that you had any influence on my decision to enter the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. Daily, in common with my sisters, I said the prayer for your beatification yet, if the truth be known, your letters left me unmoved.
After Vatican II, when all religious congregations were directed to return to the spirit of their founders, I began to be aware of the work of an international RSHM Sources Commission that was studying your letters very carefully. The insights of members of this Commission were invaluable as we redrafted our Constitutions, for “the spirit of Gailhac”, YOUR SPIRIT, now became the touchstone directing our understanding of mission and community.
In 1982, I was invited to collaborate with others on a four-volume history of the Institute. I remember being very enthusiastic about the project, especially since the core of this history was to be the three first general superiors – M. St. Jean Cure Pellissier (1849-1869), M. Ste. Croix Vidal (1869-1878), and M. St. Felix Maymard (1878-1905). Of course, you would be present in the texts as Founder of our congregation, but this history was to be written from the perspective of the women who led during its founding decades. During the first eight years of the project, my eyes were fixed on M. Ste. Croix Vidal. For me, she was the central character in the second volume of the history.
Everything changed in 1990, the year the Institute commemorated the 100th anniversary of your death! It occurred to me, at that time, that I could trace my own family back only three generations, to my great grand-parents, but I only knew their names , their hometowns and a few stories about several of them. With you, my father, it was very different. I knew all the details of your life: your times of consolation and desolation, your joys and your misunderstandings, the time you fell into the water, your tireless zeal and your final diminishment. Then, with the suddenness of grace and without my consciously inviting you, you, my Father, presumed to enter my life!
It felt like a miracle! Your letters became treasures to me and since my French is still far from perfect, I read them more by heart than by head. I began to understand your vision, born of a lifetime of reflection on the scriptures, especially Paul and John. What had once seemed repetitious, now felt like a clear, encouraging reminder that I can become the woman I was called to be – one with Christ, turned toward God, continuing his redeeming Work in the world.
I experience you now as Gerard Manley Hopkins once described his understanding of the Paraclete: “One who comforts, who cheers, who encourages, who persuades, who exhorts, who stirs up, who urges forward, who calls on . . . who calls me on to good.”
You are more than an inspiration to me. Alive in God, you are my companion on the path of discipleship. How can I thank you enough for your miraculous visit in 1990.
Your loving daughter in Christ,
Kathleen Connell, RSHM