On the 12th of July 2005, the Vatican and the French Embassy to the Holy See announced that the Society of the Sacred Heart will no longer continue its mission at the Trinità dei Monti Monastery located at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome. The Monastic Communities of Jerusalem will take over the Monastery, the school, and other ministries by the summer of 2006.
The General Council of the Society of the Sacred Heart wrote a letter to the whole Society concerning the Trinità dei Monti “a subject that is very close to our hearts”, and in it they shared the following details of the long process which led to this decision.
It is important to remember and understand that the Trinità dei Monti was never owned by the Society of the Sacred Heart. It had belonged to the Order of Minims for over 300 years and was confided to the Society by the Diplomatic Conventions of 14 May and 8 September 1828 between the Holy See and the Government of France, for the purpose of educating young girls. Throughout its history, generations of French and Italian religious, as well as Religious of the Sacred Heart from other countries, have carried out the mission of the Society at the Trinità, in the context of a complex situation and the sometimes competing demands of the various political entities involved (the Holy See, France and Italy). God alone can measure the corporate generosity, courage, creativity and fidelity of 178 years!
For over twenty years, the provincials of France and Italy and the General Councils have been preoccupied by the question of the Society’s continuing presence at the Trinità. This preoccupation has echoed that of successive French Ambassadors to the Holy See who, while appreciating our long history there, have been realistic about the aging of both the French and Italian provinces and, periodically, have raised the question of the future. In November 2002, the French Embassy to the Holy See, which had obtained considerable funds from the French government to renovate parts of the Trinità, approached Sr. Clare Pratt as Superior General of the Society of the Sacred Heart, to ask what our plans were for the future and, in view of undertaking more renovations, to demand a significant reinforcement of personnel for the coming years.
Faced with this request, in March 2003, the General Council of the Society, in concert with the Provincial Councils of France and Italy, made the decision that the Society of the Sacred Heart will withdraw from the Trinità no later than the summer of 2006. Sr. Clare Pratt communicated the decision to the French Ambassador to the Holy See, Pierre Morel, and the President of the French Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard in June 2003.
The decision to leave the Trinità was met with sincere regret on the part of Ambassador Morel. In a letter to Sister Pratt on 18 February 2005 he wrote:
“Allow me to tell you once again how much we regret this departure. The spiritual influence of the Community, the quality of the school, the contribution of the House of Welcome, Saint Joseph, all give witness to a mission that has been inserted and very appreciated for a long time in the life of Rome. The formation sessions, “Art, Science and Faith” have been a recent addition which has nicely rounded out this whole endeavour. I never miss an opportunity to underline the value and the richness of this work…”
Once Ambassador Morel knew that the decision was definitive, he set out to find another (French) religious congregation to which to confide the Trinità in its ensemble: the convent, the church, the Istituto Sacro Cuore (the school in its various sections), the Petite École Française (administered by a separate Association) and the Centre d’Accueil, the hospitality center, that has welcomed thousands of young people and families since its opening in 1975.
The congregation that will replace the Society at the Trinità is the Monastic Communities of Jerusalem (Fraternités Monastiques de Jérusalem). This congregation of monks, nuns and lay people whose vocation is to live “in the heart of the city, in the heart of God” was founded in 1975 in France by Fr. Pierre-Marie Delfieux, who is still Prior of the Communities. Over the years they have expanded to several other countries. (More can be learned about them through their website http://jerusalem.cef.fr). Although they have never run their own school, a number of them are teachers, and the congregation is very willing to embrace the spirit and practice of Sacred Heart education.
For a variety of reasons, the “loss” of the Trinità affects the whole Society, particularly the provinces of Italy and France. For many Religious and Alumnae/i of the Sacred Heart, the question that is perhaps uppermost is “What about Mater?” Throughout the negotiations we have insisted that we (religious, alumnae/i, pilgrims and visitors to Rome) will be assured of continuing access to Mater and, in the new accord, that access is clearly stipulated. Part of the vocation of the Communities of Jerusalem is welcome: of the city and its citizens, of guests, of outcasts, of the poor, of children.
There is a passage at the end of the Book of Life of the Communities of Jerusalem that gives a sense of the place of Mary in their lives, and helps to assure us that they will understand and value the place that Mater holds in so many hearts:
“Our communities are specially consecrated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
You should be able to turn to her each day…
Because she is the mother of fair love, she will help you to love.
Because she is the light of prayer, she will help you to pray.
Because she loves the mystery of silence, she will introduce you to its secret.
Because she loves you, you too must learn to love her.
With Mary, do all that Christ bids you and, like her, rejoice! Mary leads the way from the Jerusalem of today towards the new Jerusalem…
At Bethlehem Mary gave you the eternal God become a little Child. At the foot of the cross she stood near her Son while he died for you. In Jerusalem she will reveal the true face of Emmanuel to you.” (§177)
We pray that this transition time may be a time of collaboration in a spirit of welcome and love. May St. Madeleine Sophie, whose own life was so affected by the Trinità, help us to see that this moment too is a “time of grace” in which God is present -- in our gratitude for the past, in our letting go of the present, and in our openness to the future.
From Vatican Information Service (VIS)
Agreement on church and convent of Trinità dei Monti
VATICAN CITY, JUL 12, 2005 (VIS) - Today in the Vatican, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, secretary for Relations with States, and Pierre Morel, French ambassador to the Holy See, signed an "Avenant" (modification) to the diplomatic conventions of May 14 and September 8, 1828, and to the "Avenants" of May 4, 1974 and of January 21, 1999, concerning the church and convent of Trinità dei Monti in Rome.
A communiqué released today reads: "Recalling the French character of this important foundation, the international agreement expresses recognition for the work done there since 1828, with great zeal and competence, by the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
"Taking note of the impossibility of the aforesaid society continuing its mission, the church and convent of Trinita dei Monti will be entrusted, from September 1, 2006, to the 'Fraternité monastique des Frères de Jerusalem' and to the 'Fraternité monastique des Soeurs de Jerusalem'."