Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat, R.S.C.J., (December 12, 1779 – May 25, 1865) is a French saint of the Catholic Church and was the founder of the Society of the Sacred Heart.
Madeleine Sophie was born on the night of December 12, 1779, in Joigny, France, next door to a house fire at a neighbors. The stress and terror of the fire caused Sophie’s mother, Madame Madeleine Fouffé Barat (1740–1822), then pregnant with her third child, to go into labour. Born two months premature, Madeleine Sophie was considered so fragile that she was baptised early the next morning in St. Thibault Church, just a few yards from the Barat family home.
Although her parents had arranged godparents in advance, there was no time to call them to the church and so, at five o’clock on the morning of 13 December 1779, Louise-Sophie Cédor, a local woman on her way to early Mass, and Sophie’s older brother, Louis, stood in as her godparents.
Madeleine Sophie was born into a financially comfortable family whose ancestors had lived in Joigny for generations and were proud of their roots in Burgundy. Her father, Jacques Barat (1742–1809), was a cooper and vine-grower. Both professions were respected trades, with centuries of French culture and spirituality behind them. The Barats were Jansenist Catholics, and Jansenism is often said to have shaped Sophie’s spirituality profoundly.
Sophie’s older brother Louis was a serious boy and a brilliant student. His parents encouraged his interest in studies and employed a tutor for him at home. Shortly after entering the Collège Saint-Jacques in Joigny at the age of nine, Louis decided to become a Catholic priest.
In 1784, at the age of 16, Louis left Joigny to begin his studies for the priesthood at the seminary at Sens. Louis was ordained a deacon, but, because he was too young to be ordained, he was obliged to return home until he was 21.
Louis became a teacher of mathematics at his old school and decided to take on Sophie’s education. He taught her Latin, Greek, history, natural science, Spanish, and Italian providing Sophie with an education rarely available to young women and girls at that time.
When Sophie returned to Paris, she was introduced to Joseph Varin. Varin wanted to create a women’s order devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and involved in the education of young women that would complement the work of the Fathers of the Faith.
On 21 November 1800, at the age of 21, Sophie abandoned her dream of becoming a Carmelite and, along with three other women living in the Paris safe-house, took her vows as one of the first members of this new religious congregation, marking the foundation of the Society of the Sacred Heart. However, because the French authorities had prohibited devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the society was initially known as Dames de la Foi (“Women of Faith”) or de l’Instruction chrétienne (“Christian instructors”).
The first school was opened in Amiens in northern France in September 1801 and Sophie travelled to this important provincial city in order to teach. Sophie made her vows, 7 June, 1802. The new community and school grew quickly. A school giving classes to the poor of the town was opened. In December 1802, at the age of twenty-three, Sophie became Superior of the Society of the Sacred Heart.
During her 65-year leadership, the Society of the Sacred Heart grew to include more than 3,500 members educating women in Europe, North Africa, North and South America. Madeleine Sophie Barat died at the general motherhouse in Paris on Ascension Day, May 25, 1865. In 1879, she was declared venerable and was beatified on May 24, 1908. On May 24, 1925, she was canonized by Pope Pius XI.
Her mortal remains are located in an ornate reliquary in the church of St. François Xavier in Paris.
One of her earliest biographers was Louis Baunard, who wrote Histoire de la vénérable Mère Madeleine-Sophie Barat, fondatrice de la Société du Sacré-Cœur de Jésus, (Librairie Poussièlgue Frères, 1ère édition en 1877, 4e édition en 1879).