The Motherhouse of the Sisters of the Child Jesus is situated at 48 Rue du Barbatre, a few streets from the College des Bons Enfants. This is the impressive headquarters of the Congregation begun by Canon Nicholas Roland. This has been the Motherhouse since its very beginning in 1670. Directly across the street is the original facade of the old Carthusian Monastery (now a newer building) where Father Roland made his annual private retreats. It was at the door of this convent that Adrien Nyel met Father De La Salle for the first time – March 1679. Nyel was in town at the request of Mme Jeanne Dubois Maillefer, a wealthy lady of Rouen and a relative of De La Salle. She had given Nyel money and encouraged him to begin a free school for boys in Reims. Nyel was calling upon the Sisters for their aid, and that of young Father de La Salle, to whom he bore a letter of introduction. Since he was a stranger in town, Nyel was invited by De La Salle to be his house guest while they both worked on the preliminaries necessary to start a free school. People would be less inclined to discover (and jeopardize) Nyel’s plans if he stayed with De La Salle than if he stayed elsewhere. The Sisters proudly display an early drawing of the encounter between Nyel and De La Salle.
“God, who directs all things with wisdom and moderation, and who does not force the will of men, wishing to have me completely occupied with the care of the schools, involved me unexpectedly and in a short time, so that one commitment led to another without my being aware of it.”
— De La Salle
In a conference room near the chapel is a large painting of the Nativity which used to be in the chapel and which De La Salle will certainly have known there, possibly fostering his devotion to the Child Jesus. The tall stone chapel is original to the Founder’s time. The wooden paneled chapel is at right angles to the stone chapel and connects with it.
Nicolas Roland & His Death
In the house, the Sisters have a chasuble belonging to Fr. Roland, which De La Salle probably used when he celebrated daily Mass for them here. (The lining of this chasuble is presently to be seen in the Hotel de La Salle.) The Sisters treasure the death mask of Fr. Roland who had refused to allow his portrait to be painted. Fr. Roland, having been too harsh on himself, succumbed to an epidemic in the orphanage.
The Canon of Reims and Founder of the Sisters died in this convent on April 27, 1678, eighteen days after De La Salle’s ordination. Here he is buried in the floor of the crypt. On Fr. Roland’s death, his good friend De La Salle became the unofficial protector of the Sisters. He said daily Mass for them in the same chapel that they still use today. Ten years later, in 1688, Louis de La Salle, De La Salle’s brother, was ordained in this chapel. After Roland’s death, De La Salle wrote the preface to the published works of Nicholas Roland, and he brought the De La Salle influence to bear so that the Sisters were able to secure official recognition as a Congregation. These Letters Patent, issued in 1679, are kept in the House Archives. It was from the Sisters’ chapel here at Rue du Barbatre that Adrien Nyel was buried after the Requiem Mass celebrated by De La Salle in June of 1687 and attended by all the Brothers of Reims with their pupils.
- This place has been described as a key providential moment in De La Salle’s life. Why do we focus so much on this particular scene with Adrian Nyel? Aren’t there others as well?
- What could have been some of the other reactions that De La Salle could have made to Adrian Nyel’s interest in starting a school for poor boys in Reims?
- Why do you think it was that De La Salle responded to Nyel in the way he did? Was there evidence from earlier years, or from his personality, that could support your answer?