Theme 2 - Summary

Sophie Barat and Joseph Marie Favre (1791-1838)

At the General Council in 1815 Sophie Barat was confirmed as the founder and leader of the Society of the Sacred Heart. As the Society grew and expanded rapidly Sophie’s task became ever more demanding and she progressively found it difficult to manage her energies. She became ill frequently, but in 1823, during a visit to Grenoble in the south of France, Sophie Barat collapsed and became seriously ill.

It took her many months to recover and in the following year, during her retreat in Chambery, Sophie Barat met Joseph-Marie Favre (1791-1838), a priest who became her friend and guide for several years. They understood each other since Joseph-Marie also grew up in a Jansenist family and he had experienced a similar negative impact of this theology on his own life.   He also understood the effects of Louis Barat’s treatment of Sophie, first in Joigny and then in Paris. In the course of own life’s journey Joseph-Marie had discovered a spirituality centred on the love of God,  and he challenged Sophie to reflect on her understanding of the spirituality of the Heart of Christ and of what this could mean for her and for the Society of the Sacred Heart. He suggested that her inner struggles could become the ground and place of her spiritual growth and the basis of her leadership, truly founded on the love of God revealed in the Heart of Christ.  

Sophie Barat was 45 in 1824. Accepting Joseph-Marie’s challenge took immense courage. It meant transforming the Jansenist image of God into which she had been born. Joseph-Marie assured her that by so doing she would recover a sense of her own goodness which in turn would enable her cope with the ever increasing demands of her leadership of the Society of the Sacred Heart. He also recognised that such transformations happen slowly. He patiently assured her each time she had doubts and hesitations, about herself and about her leadership of the Society of the Sacred Heart.  Sophie also had the support of another friend in the Society, Louise de Limminghe, who knew Joseph Marie Favre and indeed had introduced Sophie Barat to him.  

Sophie Barat in 1838

To Sophie’s sorrow, Joseph-Marie died in 1838. Before his death he told Louise de Limminghe that he knew Sophie had not yet reached a resolution to her inner pain and struggles, though he was sure that ‘sooner or later grace triumphs’. How and when this would happen was hidden from him then and from Sophie Barat.  And yet, throughout all these years Sophie Barat continued to govern the Society and few knew the price she was paying interiorly. Then in 1839, at the age of 60, Sophie Barat faced serious public challenges to her leadership and to the unity of the Society of the Sacred Heart.  How could she face these now?

Texts for reflection

Letters of Joseph Marie Favre to Sophie Barat

God is calling you to an intimate union with Him. You must overcome all that impedes this relationship. YOUR CONTACTS WITH PEOPLE are not the least of these obstacles. Keep them to a minimum and only when necessary. Let go of everything which does not absolutely require your involvement in the exercise of your responsibility. By being united to God you will do more in a quarter of an hour than in a whole day’s pouring out of frenzied activity. Neither is ENTHUSIASM the least of obstacles: restrain yourself and moderate your actions in such a way that you are more attentive to God than to the chaotic nature of your occupations, which, however necessary, are less important than your great spiritual ideal. Furthermore, your duty to God and to yourself comes before your duty to your neighbour. And you can only give out of what you have. Go to communion as often as you can; your poor soul needs it so much; every day would be best.


               Joseph-Marie Favre to Sophie Barat, Arith, 15 December 1824

The pains, scruples and worries of your dear mother are partly due to her temperament and partly due to the false guidance she has been following for a long time. But they are due most of all to the devil who aims solely to make her waste precious time by useless self-occupation and by making her examine her conscience endlessly, like a squirrel going round in circles.

       Joseph-Marie Favre to Louise de Limminghe, Chambéry, 5 May 1830/31/32  

Trust and the love of God gladden the heart, uplift the soul and make it capable of the greatest undertakings, whereas fear and mistrust depress and sadden the soul, shrink the heart, dull the spirit, ruin the health of the body and disturb rhythm of the spiritual life.   God did not come down upon the earth to be feared but to be loved.     How can you mistrust a God who infinitely loves you, who wishes only for your health and happiness?  How can you mistrust your dear, kind brother Jesus who has suffered so much to save you, who has made so many sacrifices, so that you could share in his glory and his treasures? How can you mistrust this loving and gentle heart that only wishes to be loved and to give love?  Such mistrust can only come from the devil. Let it never be intentional.

                       Joseph-Marie Favre to Sophie Barat, Chambéry, 25 August 1832.

I am troubled and greatly saddened to see you still the unfortunate slave of anxiety, mistrust and fear. All these weaken your soul, undermine your courage, harden your heart and take up your time needlessly and painfully with your poor self. This ruins everything, distracts you from your essential duties, and deprives you of the ability to communicate and of that gentleness of approach which wins people. It will undermine health both of mind and body, with no benefit to God, to yourself or to your good neighbour.  In the name of our kind and loving Saviour cast all your fears, all your anxieties into his Heart which burns with love for you.

       Joseph-Marie Favre to Sophie Barat, Tamié, par Conflans, 12 January 1834.

Are you in the right place and doing what God wishes?  

Who could doubt this since you are called to it by God and the Society?   It is for you to stay where you are and discharge your role to the best of your ability. Cast aside as genuine illusion all thoughts of abandoning this responsibility which God has entrusted to you, for this would be to follow a path of selfishness. Look back no longer, lest you risk, like Lot’s wife, being turned into a pillar of salt.

                      Joseph-Marie Favre to  Sophie Barat, Tamié, par Conflans, 27 June 1834.

I invite you, I beg you, to set out on the path of love, obedience, trust and holy liberty. No more worries, no more deliberate turning back. Only joy, trust, love and courage in our good and loving Jesus who for so long has been asking for your heart. He only awaits the moment when you will quite gently, simply and lovingly, like a little child, abandon yourself to his sacred and loving care, with total, childlike trust, so that He can unlock and bestow upon you the indescribable treasures of his Heart which burns with love for you.


          Joseph-Marie Favre to Sophie Barat, Tamié, par Conflans,  1834

You will expand the shrivelled heart of your beloved superior, you will advance the glory of the Sacred Heart and the prosperity of your new-born Society. I wish, I desire, with all my heart to see this soul act in complete trust and simplicity and in particular, with complete freedom in the way of obedience, despite her futile fears, her endless doubts and her confused views. Such open, courageous and obedient behaviour would rid her of this shroud of scruples which almost completely overcome her, divert her from her most important tasks and distance her from the love of the Sacred Heart and from religious perfection.


  Joseph-Marie Favre to Louise de Limminghe, Chambéry, 24 November 1834.

In the normal course of Providence God only creates saints by saints. So you must become holy in order to make others holy. We can only give out of our abundance, so that we do not empty ourselves completely. A mother who neglects her own nourishment kills herself and kills her children.

      Joseph-Marie Favre to Sophie Barat, Chambéry, 24 November 1834.

I have learnt with great sorrow that you are in very poor health. Take some rest and relaxation as well as the remedies prescribed. Allow them [doctors] to treat you as they think best and not according to your own wishes. Do you not need robust and vigorous health to fulfil the greatly increased and varied obligations, so complicated and exhausting, as those for which you are responsible? Heavens above, Mother, in running down your health by overwork, sleepless nights and mortification, are you not also weakening the whole Society?

         Joseph-Marie Favre to Sophie Barat, Albertville, 14 February 1837.

You must realise that only by a miracle of grace can your worthy Mother give up her long-standing tendency to guilt and penance which she has grown used to. It is a habit which must be treated like a chronic illness, with gentleness, care and patience. Sooner or later grace triumphs over all obstacles, no matter how great they seem.

               Joseph-Marie Favre to Louise de Limminghe, Tamié,  par Conflans, 24 December 1837

Process for reflection on the inner life of Sophie Barat, 1815-1839

Theme 2

Read the Summary and the Texts which accompany this theme


As you reflect on the life of Sophie Barat from 1815-1839 reflect also on your personal biography, on the elements which formed you at each stage in your life.  This personal reflection will enable you to accompany and to understand Sophie as she makes her journey.

Pointers which could help your reflection.

Sophie Barat became critically ill in 1823 and during her convalescence she met Joseph Marie Favre.  

Think of times of illness in your life. What happened to you then? What effects did the events have on you?   

How do events in your own life help you understand the experiences of Sophie Barat?  

Further reading:   Madeleine Sophie Barat. A Life; The Society of the Sacred Heart in 19th century France


In the evening time, take time to speak with Sophie Barat about your life and your concerns at this time; about her life and her experience. Bring this reflection into sleep. In the night hours while we are asleep the spiritual world is open and present to us. Sophie Barat belongs to that reality. As a transformed being, she is alive, active and ready to help us.

10 October 1800 9 September 1817 contents
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