The Congregation of Our Lady of the Retreat in the Cenacle began in 1826
in the small French village of La Louvesc,
among a people whose faith had been deeply disturbed by the Revolution .
The founders, Father Stephen Terme and Saint Therese Couderc, were filled with a compelling love of Jesus Christ and tried to find the best means of making him better known and loved.
The shrine of Saint John Francis Régis at La Louvesc attracted large crowds, and Father Terme was distressed when he saw the disorder that often accompanied the pilgrimages. He took the initiative and opened a house to welcome women and girls, entrusting it to some of the Sisters of Saint Regis, a community which he had founded.
In 1828, events led to the appointment of Mother Therese as their superior, although she was only twenty-three years old. She soon realized that receiving everyone who wanted to come was incompatible with the demands of authentic religious life and apostolic service. She obtained Father Terme's agreement to accept only the pilgrims who would make their stay a time of serious prayer. When he made his own retreat in the fall of 1829, Father Terme discovered the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. He was soenthusiastic about them that he had the sisters immediately make thisform of retreat which united the experience of prayer with reflectionon the mysteries of faith. He then directed them to begin using thismethod with those who came to the house. Thus the founders were led by the Spirit to see retreats, along with religious instruction, as the means for achieving their purpose of reviving faith and furthering the kingdom of God.
Father Terme died in 1834 at the peak of his missionary activity.
In his will he confided his "daughters of the Retreat" to the Fathers of the Society of Jesus, who had assisted him occasionally in the development of the community. The Jesuits continued the formation of the sisters in lgnatian spirituality and the use of the Exercises. On August 15, 1837, Mother Therese was led in prayer to renewFather Terme's consecration of the Congregation to Our Lady and tobroaden it by pledging that henceforth she would act only independence on her. When she was put aside a year later, sheaccepted with faith and deep humility what she perceived to be anindication of God's will. Mother Therese surrendered to it completely and laid aside her authority. During the years of relative obscuritywhich followed, the retreatants as well as her sisters benefited fromthe riches of her heart, her prayer and her experience.
Until her deathin Lyons in 1885, she united herself more and more to the sacrifice ofChrist for the salvation of the world. She remained the grain of wheatburied in the ground while the Congregation which she personifiedfrom the beginning spread throughout France and beyond. The original inspiration matured and took a definite form.Gradually it became clear that the Congregation was evolvinginto one which reflected the spirit and mission of the communitygathered with Mary in the retreat of the Cenacle. The Constitutions of1844 officially recognized this biblical mystery as expressing thefullness of the vocation and gave the Congregation the name whichidentifies it. A series of diocesan and papal decrees, culminating in thedefinitive approbation of the Constitutions by the Holy See in 1886,confirmed the direction the Congregation had taken and recognizedits mission in the Church. The canonization of Mother Therese in1970 was a new sign of approval not only of her exemplary life but ofthe charism of her religious family.
The first assembly of the early Church praying with Mary and receiving the Holy Spirit remains the inspiration of Cenacle communities now located in many countries of the world. The Congregation affirmed its desire for this universality by establishing a Generalate in Rome in 1959. United in love with Mary and with each other, we continue to go forward on the path opened out by Father Terme and Mother Therese.
Beautiful pictures of Sablières, the native land of Mother Therese, video created by Jean-Pierre Reynier