March 20, 2005 - #40
Sister Claire Madeleine of Saint-Paul of Chartres
For the past six years, the local Lyceum Club has elected a Woman of the Year in honor of International Women's Day on March 8. This year the vote was unanimous: the members of this women's club all voted for Sister Claire Madeleine, a member of the Order of the Sisters of Saint-Paul de Chartres. A ceremony in her honor was held at Town Hall on Tuesday evening, March 8, with a standing room crowd in the municipal council chamber. Deputy mayor Nicole Gréaux presented brief biographical information about the nun's life, then mayor Bruno Magras presented Sister Claire Madeleine with the Medal of Honor of Saint-Barthélemy. The entire order of Saint Paul de Chartres, a community that has been present in Saint Barth since 1855, was honored on March 8 through the intermediary of Sister Claire Madeleine, The reception concluded with a champagne toast and the Chorale Aux Bons Choeurs lead the entire room in singing the Hymm of Saint Barthélemy.
Born Rita Francoise Gréaux, Sister Claire Madeleine is originally from Lorient. One of six children in a religious family, Rita was just 18 years old when she decided to leave Saint Barth for Martinique and join the provincial convent of the Sisters of Saint-Paul de Chartres. Along with three other young women from the island, who became Sister Irene, Sister Emerance and Sister Tarcicius, she set sail for Fort-de-France on July 9, 1942 on a sailing ship, the Marie Stella. After two years as a novice, Rita decided to take her vows and chose the new names of Claire, in memory of an outstanding nun, and Madeleine, for the woman who loved Christ above all else. The young nun spent a year at the clinic Saint Paul while deciding on a career, and eventually became a nurse. She went to nursing school in Guadeloupe and graduated with honors in 1952. Sister Claire Madeleine was a nurse for 16 years in the general surgery unit at the hospital in Pointe-a-Pitre. Her next post was as head of the group of nuns working at the hospital in Lamentin (Martinique) for the next seven years, and she continued to work as a nurse at the Sainte Hyacinthe Hospital until 1978, when she moved to a hospital in Saint-Martin. After 11 years on an island so close to her native Saint-Barth, her congregation authorized her to move to the Hospital de Bruyn in March 1989. She worked at this hospital in Gustavia until her retirement in July 1993, at which time she joined the two nuns who serve the church in Saint Barth.
Founded in the 16th century by Countess Anne de Tilly, the Order of the Sisters of Saint-Paul de Chartres is dedicated to helping mankind and the poor, as well as educating children. The Order was present in Guyana as early as 1817 to aide convicts, and was then asked by the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of the Navy to bring 12 nuns to Martinique and another dozen in Guadeloupe. Throughout epidemics, hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions, the Sisters remained steadfast in their devotion to the inhabitants of the French West Indies, even at the risk of their own lives. Once they were started working at the military hospital in Saint Martin in 1853, the nuns began to make regular visits to Saint Barth. They helped Father Irénée de Bruyn with the work at the hospital de Bruyn, and until civilian nurses started working on the island, the local population benefited from the care of the nuns. At present, the Order of Saint-Paul de Chartres has 300 members throughout the French West Indian islands, where they have various careers. The three nuns serving the church in Saint Barth are head nun Sister Marie Michele, Sister Veronique, originally from Vitet, and Sister Claire Madeleine.
More to come