Madeleine-Sophie Barat (1779-1865) was born in France in 1779 in the little Burgundian town of Joigny. She went to Paris in 1795, at the height of the French Revolution, and initially considered becoming a Carmelite. However, her experience of Revolutionary violence in Joigny and Paris led her on another path. In 1800 she founded the Society of the Sacred Heart whose purpose was to make known the love of God revealed in the Heart of Christ. With this as its inspiration the Society took part in the restoration of Christian life in France through the education of young women of the rich and the poor classes.    

The Society of the Sacred Heart quickly expanded within Europe and beyond.  At the same time Sophie Barat also grew, transformed by her experience as leader and friend to so many women who joined her.  She learnt to face the impact of Jansenism within herself, her family, (especially her brother, Louis Barat, who became a Jesuit), and within the Church. Over many years and inner struggles Sophie came to understand that the true counter-balance to Jansenism was the lived experience of God’s love revealed in the Heart of Christ.

Sophie Barat had a natural capacity for friendship and she enjoyed a wide network of relationships, within her family, with members of the Society, with clergy, and with students and friends in all walks of life.  On another level, Sophie Barat was awake to the social, political, economic and religious currents operating in Europe and in the wider world of her time. Sophie’s awareness of their impact on the world of education ensured the Society’s contribution to the education and the promotion of women in her time and into the future.  

In exercising her role as founder and superior general Sophie Barat gradually shaped her personal style of leadership. This tended towards moderation, seeking the middle ground, accepting the possible, more realistic option, rather than the impossible ideal. She tended by instinct to consult rather than command. This style of leadership was different from contemporary practice and was tested several times within and without the Society, especially from 1806-1815 and 1839-1851.  Nevertheless, Sophie Barat remained the superior general of the Society of the Sacred Heart from 1806 until her death in 1865.  

Sophie Barat’s spiritual leadership of the Society was centred on the love of God revealed in the Heart of Christ. She was committed to a deep life of prayer and reflection, and she continually invited the members of the Society to see this as the basis for their inner lives and for whatever tasks they undertook.  The importance of such qualities was stressed in the original Constitutions of the Society of the Sacred Heart of 1815 and reaffirmed in the revised Constitutions of 1982.  They are also found consistently in the collection of Sophie Barat’s 14,000 original letters which remain a vital legacy to the Society and to the wider Christian community.

By the time of her death in 1865 Sophie Barat guided an international community of women who were inspired by a deeply held spiritual ideal and offered a service of education to women in Europe, North Africa, North and South America. No authentic portrait of Sophie Barat exists from her lifetime.  Throughout her life Sophie consistently refused to sit for a portrait or have her photograph taken.   Madeleine-Sophie Barat was canonised a saint of the Roman Catholic Church on 25 May 1925.

Themes, Texts and Reflections on the life of Madeleine Sophie Barat,

The focus of Themes 1, 2, 3 and 4 is on how Sophie Barat followed Christ faithfully throughout the course of her life. We see how her life gradually unfolded, and how she discovered her destiny. This was to initiate a community, the Society of the Sacred Heart, devoted to making known the Love of God revealed in the Heart of Christ pierced on Calvary.

Then in Themes 5 and 6 we see how Sophie Barat’s personal experiences marked her leadership and guidance of the Society of the Sacred Heart. From her personal relationship with Christ and her awareness of her spiritual task, Sophie committed herself to the members of the Society over the course of her long life. This in turn enabled them to fulfil their call and destiny in whatever country, culture and age they lived, and this continues to this day.  

The Journey with Sophie Barat ends with Theme 7, an Epilogue, and a summary of Sophie Barat’s life and fulfilment of her destiny.

Each Theme has three sections:

The Theme is introduced   

This is followed by texts from the life of Sophie Barat, mostly from her original letters and occasionally from primary historical material.

Then points for reflection are suggested for each Theme.

Further reading:  

Phil Kilroy:  Madeleine Sophie Barat. A Life (Cork University Press, 2000); The Society of the Sacred Heart in 19th century France (Cork University Press, 2012)


Reflecting on Sophie Barat’s life is a twofold process. On the one hand, we watch her life unfolding from her birth in 1779 to her death in 1865. On the other hand, we engage with various stages of our own biography, with what impacts on us as we reflect on Sophie Barat’s life experiences. Inner conversations, inner dialogues, will take place which give us new insights and new understandings, about ourselves as well as Sophie Barat.

Sophie Barat’s life experiences may awaken memories around our own lives, our own paths, our choices and decisions. In this context and at this depth, Sophie Barat’s biography speaks to us, in our own time and country and culture, now and into the future.  

These Themes, Texts and Reflection are not copyright and may be copied and translated.


Phil Kilroy         

Dublin, Ireland

10 October 1800 9 September 1817 contents
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