6th November 2020. Rennes, at the Providence community on Rue Lorgeril, the phone rings continuously on this feast day. And flower deliveries come and go. The Community’s television set is on: Sisters Jean, Marie-Hélène and Maryvonne await the verdict of the ballot box in the United States. A particular sign of this community: two centenarians live there out of three members! Sister-Marie Hélène LE HIR was 100 years old on the 9th April.
At the heart of this confinement, Sister Jean HENON, the centenarian of the day, gives herself up to confidences. At each of the questions, she closes her eyes, concentrates and gives us a broad smile, where we feel at the same time the lightness of a child, the strength of a vision or even a strategy, an assertive female presence and a good dose of realism and positive energy. In the end, words of wisdom shared for today. Account of a direct, cash and spontaneous interview.
Does religious life have a future?
Dedicating one’s life to God is a gamble and I tell myself that it has marked my entire life, since my early childhood. I had that desire. Of course it faded for a while, but I quickly regained that desire. The image I had then was: «I want to convert the little Chinese!» and I also heard this with the Eucharistic Crusade. My family environment was also very supportive, without bigotry but with a sense of duty. Anecdotally, when the Sisters sent me to Canada, the only daughter in the family, it could have upset my parents. My father said to me, “We’re asking you to do it, so you have to do it.”
I believe that religious life has a future otherwise. Religious life is a sign, I think it marks people. A niece said to me: “I am struck: you have given your life to God, there are joys that you have deprived yourself of, and I have also answered him: I have had others that you have not had! The joy of giving, of transmitting to young people what one is, that gives a purpose to life. Another of my relatives often said: Sister Jean? She was the one who had the most children in the whole family!”
A religious life differently, because it is a special sign in the Christian community, it is to bear witness in a life given to Christ, completely. There are different ways of giving oneself to God and this is a special mark. The Church is made up of these different faces. I think that this can continue to interest young people in the future, especially in the educational field. There is something to do!
My life was marked by a spirit of abandonment to Providence. It was abandonment to God in all phases of my life. And the other aspect is that I love community life, constant contact with others. This challenges you and you «check» because it is not easy!
What do you want to say about girls’ education?
Women transmit many things, the father also, but through the mother many things pass. If the mother does not have solid foundations, there is something missing in the education of the children. This requires care.
What are your longevity secrets?
Our genetic heritage no doubt plays a role, my mother’s sister died at 105. She was also a Sister of Providence and was in the service of the laundry of the Vieux Cours school in Rennes, for 50 years!
The other aspect is how to approach life. I have often said to my mother: “It is not the things that affect you, it is the way you take them. Each one makes his life and what he is depends on how we accept it. Jean-Marie de la Mennais liked to say: «Do all that is in your power and entrust yourself to God».
I have always taken a step back from things and decisions and I do not feel guilty about the past. I tell myself that if I made such and such a decision at the time it was the right one because we did not do anything and therefore I have no regrets.
What would you say to young people who might be worried?
I understand them, the atmosphere is not cheerful. We complain and we moan a lot. I want to say: what you have, so much better for you, but if you don’t have it why wouldn’t you be happy anyway? Happiness is in itself and not in outer things.
It is in itself and not in things, as St Augustine said: “Search your heart!” I appeal to the resources I can have within myself, not to what I don’t have, and as my mother also said, “If you want to be happy, never compare yourself to others.”
Happy birthday to Sister Jean – Simone HENON, former Superior general of the Daughters of the Providence of St-Brieuc
“On this anniversary day, my heart is filled with gratitude…
Sister Jean Simone HENON, was born on 6th November 1920 in Planguenoual, (France, Côtes d’Armor, 22). She studied at Providence in Saint-Brieuc where she obtained her State Certificate in 1938 and her Baccalaureate in 1941. In February 1942, she entered the Novitiate of the Congregation at Providence, founded by Father Jean-Marie de la Mennais and the first Sisters : Marie-Anne Cartel, Marie Conan et Fanny Chaplain. She made her first profession in 1943.
She was then sent to schools as a teacher and then held various positions of responsibility over the years:
1943-45 at St. Anne School in St Brieuc, 1945 at the School of Guingamp,
1953 at the Vieux Cours in Rennes,
1956 at la Providence School in St-Brieuc,
1958-60 at Notre Dame de Lourdes School in Canada,
1960-61, again at the Vieux Cours in Rennes, then at St Malo in 1961.
In 1964, she was elected General Councillor, then in 1970, Provincial Superior.
In 1977 she went to Combourg where she was administrator of St Joseph clinic run by the Sisters.
In 1985, she was elected Superior General and served two terms, from 1985 to 1995.
In 1995, she was again in Combourg as Superior of the community.
Since 1998, she has been in Rennes at the Providence community at de Lorgeril Street.
The Sisters of Providence, her sisters, stress with joy how Sr. Jean took on all the different positions “with a deep spirit of faith and trust in Providence, a woman of great openness, fraternal simplicity and many other qualities that we greatly appreciate.”
Let us also pay special tribute to the Providence community of Rennes, which includes two centenarians: Sister Marie-Hélène LE HIR and now Sister Jean HENON surrounded by Sr. Maryvonne NIVOIT – Sr. Jacques.
Father de la Mennais to the Sisters: “Make them women and Christians.”
Sister Jean prefaced the document “the Providence: Our School – A Family – its History” which presented the outcome of the restructuring of the Providence School in Saint-Brieuc in 2014. Here’s what she wrote.
“Children, young people and adults who go to the Providence School every day, do you know that you are part of a long history begun in this place in 1820 by the Daghters of Providence, a religious congregation founded in 1818 by Abbé Jean-Marie de la Mennais?
It was indeed in October 1820 that the first Sisters gathered here several hundred little girls from Saint-Brieuc to teach them reading, writing, numeracy, manual work and especially to make them know Jesus and his message of love. To the joy of all, the Chapel was completed and inaugurated in 1854.
Throughout the past years, it is often necessary to face the difficulties of the beginning and adapt to the circumstances of life: laws of separation of the Church and the State in 1905, dissolution of the Congregations in 1913-1914, reception and care of wounded soldiers in part of the premises of La Providence during the two wars of 1870 and 1914-1918, finally in June 1940, the occupation of a large part of the School by the German army.
Nevertheless, over the years, the Providence developed and became a Secondary School that received students from kindergarten to the final classes. In 1957, a reorganisation of the schools in the city centre brought together the Primary classes and the College. Since then, other changes have taken place in the school map. The Providence and Saint-Charles School have merged to form a single and great entity: the first and second cycle are at St-Charles and the Primary classes at the Providence.
The work begun in 1818 was able to dig its furrow despite winds and tides, thanks to women who did not hesitate to devote their lives to God and to engage in a mission of education of young people.
From the beginning, the orientation had been clearly given by Jean-Marie de la Mennais: «Make them women and Christians ». Does this message not echo what Pope Francis said on 27th September, 2013: “It is beautiful to educate in the Faith! Helping children, young people and adults to know and love the Lord more and more is one of the most beautiful adventures; the Church is being built”. This adventure was lived by hundreds of women who gave their lives, and in this gift of themselves to God, they found joy and happiness.
Today, the torch has passed to educators who are happy to continue the work initiated by the Sisters of Providence.
Look, dear young people and adults, you have your roots in a beautiful and eventful history! Now you continue this long chain of successive generations assured of God’s presence on the path of life.
So, “good wind” in the boat of the Providence!”
Sister Simone Hénon, former Student, Sister of Providence, Former Superior General
In the twinkling of an eye of history, La Providence School is 200 years old in October 2020. On 11th October 1820, the Sisters moved into the Enclosure of La Providence.
In October 2020, this marks the 200th Anniversary of La Providence, Sr Jean wrote a message to Stéphane GUINARD, headmaster of the Providence School in St-Brieuc. Here is one extract :
On my own behalf and as a former student and head of the congregation, I thank you for continuing to write the history of this house. The benevolence of God-Providence is constant and accompanies you. So, do not be afraid!
In prayer I entrust to God all the young people whom you form and their families.”
To the children. “Be happy at school… PROVIDENCE”
At the official inauguration of the end of the work at La Providence School on 21st April, 2018, Sr. Jean said :
“In my name and on behalf of all the Sisters, I express my joy at the existence of the School… PROVIDENCE, witness to a history that began 200 years ago.
Do you kids realise how lucky you are to go to school? Many children around the world are deprived of going to school where as they are thirsting to learn like you. Think of them!
Be happy in your School entrusted to your teachers all full of attention to you.
To this school I wish long life!
May it always find its dynamism in the spirit of Jean-Marie de la Mennais, who drew in God alone his trust in a Father full of love, always present and who wants our happiness.”
«Jean-Marie de la Mennais? For me he is a model and a spiritual Master»
In a call to testify about Jean-Marie de la Mennais, Sr. Jean explained the following:
“For you, who is Jean Marie de La Mennais?
He is a man of deep faith, a priest full of zeal, attentive to the needs of the Church and society of his time. He did not shy away from any obstacle to carry out the work of God.
What touches me in his life?
What touches me in his life is this:
When he has discerned and seen the need for something to be done, he goes to the end, without sparing his pain. Among many other possibilities, I note a very revealing fact: convinced that the formation of priests is indispensable to restore the Christian fabric after the Revolution, he does not hesitate on the spot to set out on horseback at Tréguier, even masking his identity, to buy back the seminary buildings.
Why is J.M. de la Mennais important to me?
He is both a model and a spiritual Master:
A model, because he is driven by deep convictions that make him act.
A spiritual Master because his life is entirely centred on “God alone”, a God Father, always present to his children and in whom one can abandon oneself with confidence.”
Many thanks to Sr. Maryvonne Nivoit and Sr. Madeleine Roulin for clarification.
If you want to send a message to Sr Jean : email@example.com