Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 12, 2022 / 09:00 am
Deep in the hills of the Indre region of southern France, a community of religious sisters with Down syndrome faithfully live out their vocation of contemplative prayer.
It’s the only religious community in the world that welcomes sisters with Down syndrome, Mother Line — who serves as prioress — told CNA.
And now, the community seeks able sisters from America to join it.
A ‘joining of two vocations’
Les Petites Sœurs Disciples de l’Agneau, or The Little Sisters Disciples of the Lamb, was founded by the “joining of two vocations,” Mother Line told CNA in a translated interview.
In 1985, a young woman with Down syndrome — Sister Veronica — met Mother Line. Sister Veronica had already received her vocational calling to become a nun but had been turned away by several religious communities.
Mother Line recognized Sister Veronica’s call to become a nun, so the two began living together — hoping that other young women with Down syndrome who felt a call to religious life would join the community.
Mother Line said that at the time, the Church and religious communities did not understand “how a person with Down syndrome could have a call from God” to join religious life.
But Mother Line, who had studied psychology and taught the Catechism for many years, saw that the people she worked with who had Down syndrome were “very spiritually inclined.”
As time went on, more women with Down syndrome joined the community, and the Church saw the need for its existence.
In 1999, the Little Sisters was established as an official religious institute of contemplative life by the archbishop of Bourges, Pierre Plateau.
By 1995, the community moved to Le Blanc, in the Indre region of France, where the sisters reside now. Today, seven sisters with Down syndrome live alongside Mother Line and Sister Florence, where they fulfill their vocations together.
A life of contemplative prayer and work
The Little Sisters live in a beautiful priory, tucked away in the French countryside, where the divine meets ordinary life.
Their private chapel, built in 2010, is situated on rolling acreage within a park, surrounded by woodlands, and especially conducive to private prayer and contemplation.
Mother Line says those with Down syndrome are “particularly inclined to the contemplative life,” and that the sisters have taken up the saying of St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa): “Do small things with great love.”
“We follow the path of Teresa: ‘major actions are beyond our realm,’” the community’s website notes. “We will never be great theologists. Our life is very simple and without a doubt similar to the secret life of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph of Nazareth.”
While the Little Sisters organize each day around prayer and worship, they also are inspired by the Benedictine way of life, which balances prayer and work.
“It is very important for the Little Sisters to be kept busy,” Mother Line said.
As such, the sisters spend much of their time cultivating their gardens, harvesting vegetables, weaving scarves and bags, and even making tea from medicinal herbs — which they sell in special shops where other convents sell their goods.
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Most important of all, Mother Line said, is for others to recognize that these women have a genuine calling.
“We are not an institution for people with disabilities, we are a community,” Mother Line said, emphasizing how each sister chose to come and live in the community.
“They really have a call from God; it’s a vocation,” she said. “It’s not the parents who decided that they are going to live with the community simply because it’s a really good place to live. It is really the sisters who made the decision.”
‘Able’ sisters needed
Mother Line says that the Little Sisters are able to fulfill their religious vocations because they have the support of “able-bodied sisters” like her and Sister Florence, who have dedicated their lives to this mission.
She says the community especially prays that able sisters from America may join them.
“In Europe, it’s very, very difficult looking for help — for young women who would like to join the community and share their lives with people with Down syndrome,” Mother Line said.
Mother Line added that Americans have a different outlook on those with Down syndrome than Europeans do.
“They are considered as human beings [in America],” Mother Line said. “In Europe, most people with Down syndrome go to live in institutions. It is right that in the United States, people with Down syndrome stay in their family.”
The sisters said they hoped CNA’s article “will maybe help find young women who want to come to France” to join the community.
“We’re ready and happy to welcome a young American woman,” Mother Line said.
She added that the community was ready to welcome young women with a call to come and live in the order so that they can take what they learn with the Little Sisters back to the United States and start similar communities that will flourish and thrive.
For young able women who have already received their religious vocation, the Little Sisters offer retreats for those who want to see whether the Lord has called them to this mission.
Mother Line emphasized that the call to live with sisters with Down syndrome is a “lifelong commitment.”
“You have to be trustworthy and faithful,” she said, adding that the lifestyle could be demanding at times and requires a lot of patience.
But for Mother Line, the joys of life with the Little Sisters outweigh any challenges.
“We learn from them, particularly spiritually … a lot about forgiveness. They’re very good at forgiving, and that’s a difficult one,” Mother Line said.
“They are teaching us how to be on the path to God.”
Edie Heipel is a former Political Correspondent for CNA's Washington, D.C. bureau. She previously worked in communications for Center for Renewing America, served in the Trump White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and has been a contributor to various outlets including The Federalist and The Charlotte Lozier Institute. She is a graduate of Wheaton College.
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Sister Mariana, Sister Roziane, and Sister Isabela Guimaraes are three blood sisters who embraced their call to religious life in the same congregation: the Institute of the Sisters of Our Lady of Good Counsel.