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Sunday, November 11, 2012

A letter from the US Provincial ... Janet Stuart: Why We Celebrate Her Memory

Please note the information on Janet Erskine Stuart below that follows Barbara Dawson's letter was written by Sue Acheson, RSCJ (1954-2015)

November 11, 2012

Dear Friends:

This week we celebrate the birthday of Janet Erskine Stuart RSCJ, a world-renowned educator who led the Society of the Sacred Heart into the 20th century. We are happy to launch a new ministry of the Society of the Sacred Heart in the United States appropriately named The Stuart Center for Mission, Educational Leadership and Technology. The Stuart Center is a place dedicated to the Mission of the Society of the Sacred Heart and it is located in Washington DC, at the former CEDC building at 821 Varnum Street NE., a short distance from Catholic University of America.

The MISSION of the Stuart Center is to support and further the educational mission of the Society of the Sacred Heart by working with Religious of the Sacred Heart, collaborators and social justice groups to strategically respond to the educational and justice needs of our country and the world, to support the development of new projects and initiatives, to strengthen technology at the service of mission, to focus on youth and leadership and to provide conference space for religious and social justice groups aligned with our mission.

The VISION of the Stuart Center is to be at the forefront to foster a more just society through educational initiatives, technology and leadership development in collaboration with groups whose mission is aligned with that of the Society of the Sacred Heart and to support RSCJs to live mission to the fullest.

The Stuart Center is comprised of five offices, under the leadership of Sister Vicky Rajca RSCJ:
The Office of Educational Initiatives and Leadership, Director, Imma DeStefanis RSCJ

The Office of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, Coordinator, Diane Roche RSCJ

The Center for Education, Design and Communication (CEDC), Director, Laryn Kragt Bakker
The Office of Ministry, Director, Fran de La Chapelle RSCJ

The Conference Center, Director,Vicky Rajca RSCJ
It is through collaboration with a wide variety of organizations that the educational mission of the Society of the Sacred Heart realizes its fullest impact. Together we will respond more effectively to the needs of our community and our world. We ask Janet Stuart’s blessing on this 21st century educational venture.

We invite you to visit our website,, which will be launched on December 15th. Please feel free contact the staff to become better acquainted with the vast range of projects and services that will be available or stop by and visit!

With great hope,

Barbara Dawson RSCJ
Society of the Sacred Heart, US Province 

Janet Stuart: Why we celebrate her Memory

Why is the centenary of her death worth celebrating?Why is she someone whom we want to remember in the 21st century?

One reason is simply that she was a wonderful writer whose letters –especially those written during her extensive travels around the USA and Latin America between 1898-1901 – bring the environment she observed vibrantly alive. Devotees of blogs and of Twitter can admire her imaginative, concise, lively essays on various aspects of spiritual life or of community life – many of which still have something pertinent to say about relationships and the love of God.

Secondly, she was the first rscj at ‘senior management’ level in English speaking world to interpret the spirituality of the Society in a context we can recognize as ‘modern’ She installed electricity and the telephone at Roehampton, travelled in trains and motor cars, had regular dealings with lawyers, house agents, and government inspectors.  She experienced the struggle to respond to pressures for changed whilst remaining faithful to the core values of the charisma she inherited. Today we might make different choices, and are not at all concerned, as she was, with safeguarding a monastic lifestyle.  However, our freedom to be open to different ways of living religious life only ‘works’ because we have learned the lessons she inherited from St. Madeleine Sophie Barat and passed on in her own early 20th century idiom, of a person-centered spirituality that is rooted in the love of the heart of Jesus.

A third reason for remembering Janet Stuart is that she was the first Superior General to be able to exploit improved transport opportunities in order to respond to the challenge of establishing ‘Cor Unum’ in a global organization.  Where Sophie Barat had to wait months for letters to pass between France and America, and where Mabel Digby (Stuart’s predecessor) was inhibited by ill health and by a political instability in Europe that directly threatened the continued existence of religious orders in some parts of the continent, Stuart could take advantage of a window of relative calm between 1911-1914 to embark, literally, on a project to visit every community from Australia to America, from Chile to Japan.

The conferences she gave at each stop challenged religious to live up to high standards both in their religious life and in their professional lives as educators.  More importantly, the way she delivered them created a felt impact that meant the visit was cherished long afterwards – communities of sisters many of whom were ‘far from home’ felt recognized, valued, encouraged, part of the greater whole.  Although there was no attempt at acculturation, let alone enculturation, her round the world tour did evince a desire to listen and to know individuals in what was at the time a large and expanding organization.  She wrote that she had ‘great plans’ for the future, though they needed time to develop. She was tragically not given that time, but used the time she had in a way that perhaps laid solid spiritual foundations for the radical changes that were to take place after the Second World War.

The official photograph taken of Janet Stuart in 1911 when she was made Superior General rather overwhelms one with its ‘stuffiness’.  To a modern eye, the habit is stifling, and the curtained bookshelves in the background add to the impression of an outdated propriety and repression of individuality.  The individual seems absorbed into the organization, and into the values she must, as Superior General represent. However a closer look at the face within the wimple creates a more sympathetic effect.  It is an authoritative, open and intelligent gaze, with a hint of humor – at once reflective and engaged. In an essay written in 1904 Stuart wrote of how a personality can most fully reveal itself to an observer through a countenance that is ‘in repose’ and unconscious of itself’ whilst ‘fully turned to the observer … following its won thoughts’.  Intentionally or not this photograph seems to capture that idea.  It is a face that gazes out of a 19th century religious culture into the 21st century – a speaking expression, with which one could even now hold a constructive and meaningful conversation

The above was written by Sue Acheson, RSCJ and taken from the Society of the Sacred Heart England and Wales Providence website.  For further info on Janet Erskine Stuart, click here.


For your reflection…

There is much talk about the future of religious life. The case of LCWR brought the internal discourse of many congregations into the public sector.  Janet Stuart straddled two worlds, crossed the 19th and 20th centuries.  It was a time when a rapidly changing world brought both possibilities and resistance; excitement and fear and a definite uncertainty about the future of religious life at that time.  Are we not now at a similar point?

How can we as Religious of the Sacred Heart in the Province of US and Canada, like our sister Janet…

  • Make the environment, which we observe vibrantly alive?
  • Interpret the spirituality of the Society in a context we today recognize as “modern”?
  • Maximize the new technologies of an ever increasing globalized world to build our Cor Unum both here and internationally?
  • Respond to the needs of the world with the authority born of a deep life of prayers, an open and intelligent gaze and a hint of humor?

As the Stuart Center begins this new journey we also offer the Prayer for the New Year written by Janet Stuart.

Heavenly Father, unseen Companion of our life, give us faith and eager expectancy as we begin this fresh stage of our journey.  Take from us all fear of the unknown and teach us to wrest treasures from the darkness.  As the days come and go, may we find that each of one is laden with happy opportunities and enriching experiences; and when this year is ended may our best hopes be more than ever fulfilled.

Editors Note:  With regard to the above reflection, I would ask: How can we as Alumnae and Alumni of the Sacred Heart, like our sister Janet ... 
  • Make the environment, which we observe vibrantly alive?
  • Interpret the spirituality of AASH in a context we today recognize as "modern"?
  • Maximize the new technologies of an ever increasing globalized world to build our Cor Unum both here and internationally?
  • Respond to the needs of the world with the authority born of a deep life of prayers, an open and intelligent gaze and a hint of humor?

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful news. I have joined an effort in Northern Michigan to establish a Regional Catholic High School (see and would love to be in touch with anyone who might be able to guide us in this process. We have already contact Sacred Heart in Bloomfield Hills and had a presentation on curriculum from their Curriculum Director.

    We are also engaged in trying to get grants to use technology in the spirit of John Paul II, to evangelize. I'd love to get more information about your own efforts in this regard.