Ordo Visitationis Beatissimae Mariae Virginis
|June 6, 1610
|Bishop Francis de Sales
Jane Frances de Chantal
|Religious Order of Pontifical Right for women
|1,529 members as of 2020
|Latin: Vivet Jésu
English: Live Jesus
The Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary (Latin: Ordo Visitationis Beatissimae Mariae Virginis), abbreviated VSM and also known as the Visitandines, is a Catholic religious order of Pontifical Right for women. Members of the order are also known as the Salesian Sisters (not to be confused with the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco) or, more commonly as the Visitation Sisters.
The Order of the Visitation was founded in 1610 by Francis de Sales and Jane Frances de Chantal in Annecy, Haute-Savoie, France. At first, the founder had not a religious order in mind; he wished to form a congregation without external vows, where the cloister should be observed only during the year of novitiate, after which the sisters should be free to go out by turns to visit the sick and poor. The Order was given the name of The Visitation of Holy Mary with the intention that the sisters would follow the example of Virgin Mary and her joyful visit to her kinswoman Elizabeth, an event celebrated in Christianity as "The Visitation".
De Sales invited Jane de Chantal to join him in establishing a new type of religious life, one open to older women and those of delicate constitution, that would stress the hidden, inner virtues of humility, obedience, poverty, even-tempered charity, and patience, and founded on the example of Mary in her journey of mercy to her cousin Elizabeth. The order was established to welcome those not able to practice austerities required in other orders. Instead of chanting the canonical office in the middle of the night, the sisters recited the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary at half-past eight in the evening. There was no perpetual abstinence nor prolonged fasting. The Order of the Visitation of Mary was canonically erected in 1618 by Paul V who granted it all the privileges enjoyed by the other orders. A bull of Urban VIII solemnly approved it in 1626.
The special charism of the Visitation Order is an interior discipline expressed primarily through the practice of two virtues: humility and gentleness. The motto of the order is "Live Jesus".
A foundation was established in Lyons in 1615 followed by Moulines (1616), Grenoble (1618), Bourges (1618), and Paris (1619). When Francis de Sales died (1622) there were 13 convents established; at the death of Jane Frances de Chantal in 1641 there were 86. The order spread from France throughout Europe and to North America. As of 2021[update], there are about 150 autonomous Visitation monasteries throughout the world.
The Order of the Visitation has been present in Portugal since 1784, maintaining today three monasteries: in Braga, in Vila das Aves and in Batalha. The Sisters of the Visitation in Portugal produce and distribute the emblems of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (like devotional scapulars) as Margaret Mary Alacoque did in the past.
At the French Revolution in 1789 when all the religious houses were suppressed many of the French Sisters took refuge in other Catholic countries. The sisters in Rouen, northern France, fled to Portuguese monasteries, having only escaped the guillotine by the death of Robespierre in 1794. In 1803 six sisters left Lisbon in an English packet ship and while at sea they were attacked by French pirates. They were spared because of their nationality (they were French not English) and were returned safely to the Spanish seaport of Vigo. After a brief sojourn in Spain three of the Sisters made a second attempt to cross from Porto and without further encounters with pirates arrived in Falmouth on 29 January 1804. They later journeyed to Acton and founded the first monastery of the Visitation on English soil on 19 March 1804. They subsequently re-located to Waldron
In 1835, the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary of Dietramszell acquired Beuerberg Abbey (Kloster Beuerberg), in Eurasburg, Germany. Between 1846 and 1938 they ran a girls' school and a home for nursing mothers at Beuerberg Abbey, and afterwards an old people's convalescent home. The abbey still belongs to the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary.
The nine Visitation Sisters from Madrid, Spain came to Colombia in 1892 and founded the first Monastery at Santa Fe, Bogotá.
The Visitation Sisters came to Ireland in 1955 and founded a Monastery at Stamullen, Co. Meath. When Mother Mary Teresa O’ Dwyer, Superior of the Visitation Monastery of Roseland, England learned that the Brothers of St. John of God were moving out of Silverstream, she applied to the Bishop of Meath for permission for the Order of the Visitation to enter his diocese. Staffing problems were solved by borrowing three Sisters from America. The Visitation Monasteries of St. Paul Minnesota, Brooklyn New York and Atlanta Georgia each lent a Sister.
In 2005, six Visitation Sisters from Manizales, Colombia, came to South Korea. The Monastery of the Visitation was established in Jeongok-eup, Yeoncheon County, in Gyeonggi Province, South Korea.
See also: Catholic Church in Poland
The Visitation Sisters (Polish: Zakon Nawiedzenia Najświętszej Marii Panny, or, siostry wizytki) were first invited to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth by the Polish queen-consort Marie Louise Gonzaga, who was heavily involved as a patron and supporter of the Catholic church. Her wish came to pass with the arrival of 12 nuns to Warsaw. The Warsaw Visitandines' numbers would quickly increase and the convent funded two more, in Kraków and Vilnius, before 1700. Following the partitions, the order was robbed multiple times by foreign armies and it suffered under sanctions imposed by the occupying powers. Currently there are four Visitationist convents in Poland.
The first convent was built on Krakowskie Przedmieście, near a royal residence. The nuns were officially enclosed the same year, 1654, however soon after, they would have to leave their cloister twice due to threats from hostile armies - this would happen again some centuries later, when the sisters were driven out to house Napoleonic soldiers. Since their founding, Wizytki, as they are called, managed schools and pensions for girls, taking care of the urban poor. The sisters were forbidden from teaching after the fall of the January Uprising (1864), as one of the many efforts by the Tsar to erase any Polish national influence in education - along with the pension, the novitiate was closed, meaning no new sisters could be taken in. Wizytki only resumed training novices in 1905. The oldest of the Visitationist convents was also involved in the Warsaw Uprising, when the sisters voluntarily opened their cloister to guests and sheltered the vulnerable civilian population. As stewards of one of the most prominent historical landmarks in Warsaw, the sisters were also involved in art conservation. Under communist rule, the same convent was a space of contact and exchange with clergy in countries such as Hungary or Czechoslovakia.
The convent in Kraków attributes its conception to a miracle performed by Francis of Sales, who answered the prayer of bishop and founder Jan Małachowski when the latter was drowning in the frozen Vistula river. Five nuns from the Warsaw convent moved to Kraków the very same winter, but the enclosed convent proper would only be established in the summer of 1682, the following year. In Kraków too, the sisters were heavily involved with girls' education, which was the only reason the convent was not forced to disband under Austrian occupation. Thanks to its good reputation, it even received foreign students. During and after the first world war, the convent came to rely on goodwill for income.
The aforementioned convent in Vilnius was disbanded and the sisters forcefully expelled to France in 1841 by the order of Tsar Nicholas I. In 1901, the Visitandines came from Versailles to Poland, where they found a new home in a newly-built convent in Jasło, that received them officially in 1903. Like its sister convents, the Visitandines of Jasło managed a pension for women and girls, although its capacity as a school was not formally recognised; their educational activity ceased with the outbreak of World War I. During World War II, the sisters were once again displaced and the convent first converted to a war hospital and then detonated. The Visitandines returned to the ruins in the 1950s and the slow process of rebuilding begun; in 1966, the church was consecrated again as part of the wider celebrations of 1000-year anniversary of Catholicism in Poland.
In 1942, the Visitandines of Vilnius were expelled once again. They were forbidden from wearing the habit and had to live among civillians for the remainder of World War II. In 1946, the bishop Stanisław Adamski invited them to Siemanowice Śląskie. In the year 2000, the convent in Siemanowice was closed and the sisters moved to Rybnik. The Visitandine sisters in Rybnik are mostly elderly.
In the United States there are 10 monasteries in two federations. The monasteries of the First Federation live the purely contemplative life, observing papal enclosure, with solemn vows, and have retained the traditional habit of the order. Of the ten monasteries of the Visitation in the United States, six belong to the First Federation.
Sisters of the Second Federation add apostolic work to their contemplative life.
The Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy was founded in 1848 as the Wheeling Female Academy in downtown Wheeling, West Virginia and in 1865 assumed its current name. While grades five through twelve were all female, Mount de Chantal's Montessori and Elementary schools were co-ed. The school ceased operations on May 31, 2008, and the nuns re-located to the Georgetown Visitation in Washington, D.C. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, before being razed on November 7, 2011.
A notable saint of the order is Margaret Mary Alacoque, who reportedly received the revelations of the Sacred Heart of Jesus resulting in the First Friday Devotion and Holy Hours.
Another notable figure of the Visitation Order was Marie Martha Chambon, known for having reported a series of revelations from Jesus and having introduced, at the beginning of the 20th century, the devotion of the Chaplet of the Holy Wounds (or "Holy Wounds Rosary").
On May 10, 1998, seven Visitandine nuns of the First Monastery of Madrid, Spain, martyred during the Spanish Revolution of 1936, were beatified in Rome by Pope John Paul II.
The nuns were members of the Madrid House of the Order of the Visitation. In early 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, as religious persecution intensified, most of the community moved to Oronoz, leaving a group of six nuns in the charge of Sr Maria Gabriela de Hinojosa. By July they were confined to their apartment, When a neighbour reported them to the authorities, and in November 1936 their apartment searched. Nevertheless, they refused to seek refuge in the consulates.
The following evening, a patrol of the Iberian Anarchist Federation broke into the apartment and ordered all the sisters to leave. They were taken by van to a vacant area and shot. Maria Cecilia, who had run when she felt the sister next to her fall, surrendered shortly after and was shot five days later at the cemetery wall in Vallecas on the outskirts of Madrid.
In 2010, in honor of the worldwide Jubilee Year for the Visitation Order, Pope Benedict XVI granted a plenary indulgence to those who would make a visit to and pray in a Visitation monastery.
Léonie Martin (1863-1941), the third sister of Thérèse of Lisieux, became a nun of the Order of the Visitation after many failures and hardships in her life. She received the veil on the 2nd of July 1900 at the Visitation in the French city of Caen and took the name Sister Françoise-Thérèse. On the 24 January 2015, the process for Leonie's beatification began and she is now known as Servant of God.