A new venture, inspired by a French peasant woman of 200 years ago, opens its doors to women and men seeking courses and spiritual refreshment
THE NAME Julie Billiart may not be familiar. That a Centre should be named after her implies that she is, or was, someone of significance. Marie Rose Julie Billiart was a French peasant woman who, with Francoise Blin de Bourdon, a woman from the upper classes, founded the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in /804.
However, you may think, so what? There were many Religious orders for women founded in the last century. But something new is happening with the present day members of this order. Some have joined with Christians of other traditions to found a new venture for women, named after the order's founder.
The Julie Billiart Centre in Clapham, south London, is a theology and spirituality centre offering day and evening courses, spiritual direction in the Ignatian tradition, and facilities including "Womenspace", "Colour and Clay", "Praying with icons" and Days of Renewal for Religious.
Many of the courses planned are for both men and women, on prayer, for parishes, on Scripture and on such diverse subjects as Creation Spirituality, and Re-founding Religious Life.
Another range of courses are specifically for women only, and any for men alone will depend on "requests and needs". The co-directors of the Centre, Sisters Magdalen Lawler and Myra Poole, both of Notre Dame de Namur, speak warmly of their founder's foresight in the promotion of education for women, the fruits of which are felt today in the women's movement, both in society and in the Church.
They are encouraged by her dictum that "we must have courage in the century we live in" and hope that the new centre will provide a context for exploring the insights summed up in her words: "How to believe and how to love."