“The story of the life of Madame Rivier is almost solely the story of her devotion to the Blessed Virgin,
of an uninterrupted reciprocity of trust and favors, of prayers and graces
obtained by the intercession of the Virgin Mary.”
-Monsieur Hamon – The first biographer of Blessed Marie Rivier
It is in Montpezat, at the foot of the Pietà, that little Marie Rivier lets herself be seized by a mystery that is beyond her comprehension. From this long contemplation of the dead Son being offered and of his broken-hearted Mother, she will learn the depths to which an offering of love can lead. Like Jesus and Mary, Marie Rivier’s heart will become ever more deeply a heart filled with compassion.
We can affirm that, from her childhood to the very last hours of her life, Marie Rivier placed herself totally in the hands of the Virgin Mary. Over the course of their encounters, a kind of complicity was created between Marie Rivier and the Virgin Mary, one that deepened over the years.
The Virgin Mary is Marie Rivier’s foremost formator. She teaches her Jesus Christ and the meaning of adoration and offering. The mystery of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple is the perfect response to the deepest desires of Marie Rivier’s heart: “She always wanted her life to be a continuous Presentation: Here I am!” The feast of November 21st is closely linked to the offering of Jesus, the perfect Servant, who offered himself for the salvation of the world: Holocausts and sin-offerings you do not require, so I said: “Here I am to do your will” (Ps 40). Therefore, it is not surprising to see Marie Rivier in awe before the mystery of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple: “This feast suffocates me by the ardent desires it awakens in me to sacrifice myself with Jesus Christ”.
The Birth of a Foundress
The Foundress, Marie RIVIER, was born in Montpezat, France, on December 19, 1768. She was not yet five years old when she felt a strong urge to dedicate her life to God to teach catechism to children. Deprived of the use of her legs following a fall she had at the age of sixteen months, she tirelessly begged Our Lady: “Blessed Virgin, heal me and I will gather children for you. I will make a school for them and teach them to love you.” It is there, at the foot of the Pietà that our Congregation was born.
At this School of the Cross and of the heart, Marie Rivier takes on ever more deeply, the sentiments of Jesus and his Mother. Her heart learns to love, to love tenderly, intensely, to the very end.
With Our Lady of Mercy, her compassionate heart opens to all types of suffering.
Partially healed on September 8, 1774, she obtained her complete healing three years later on another feast of Mary, that of her Assumption. From then on, she only lives to fulfill her promise, certain that she can expect everything from the Blessed Virgin Mary. This confidence in Mary will be hers for the whole of her life.
On November 21, 1796, the Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple, in the midst of revolutionary turmoil and against the rules of human prudence, faithful to her promise, she founded her Institute, with the approval of the Vicar General of the Diocese, Monsieur Régis Vernet, priest of Saint-Sulpice who became the Counsellor and Father of the new foundation. With four companions, she consecrates herself to God and dedicates herself to the Christian instruction of youth.
Her burning love for God, her daring zeal, her passion to make Jesus Christ known and loved to the ends of the earth, her tender and boundless charity for the afflicted, the poor and the abandoned children, made Pius IX call her the Woman Apostle. She died in the hunger of her zeal on February 3, 1838. Saint John Paul II beatified her on May 23, 1982.
Marie Rivier founded 149 schools during her lifetime. She predicted: “My daughters will cross the seas”. Less than twenty years after her death, the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary under the auspices of the Blessed Virgin Mary began to spread to other European countries and established themselves in America. The daughters of the Woman Apostle have crossed the seas. Foundations have multiplied on all four continents: America, Europe, Asia, and Africa.
The Interior Strength
Marie Rivier was convinced of the urgency of prayer for an apostolic life. She placed particular emphasis on the spirit of prayer, the “interior retreat”, the presence of God, the state of adoration, and offering. She was convinced that “nothing could be done without prayer”. She attributed all that she had accomplished through the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
THE NAMING OF A CONGREGATION
Upon hearing the name, “Presentation of Mary in the Temple,” and the brief explanations that her devout spiritual director, Msg. Pontanier gave her on the significance of this feast, Marie Rivier suddenly felt filled with great joy and deep conviction that her most cherished wishes would be fulfilled; that the community that she so wished, be born; and that the Blessed Virgin Mary herself wanted to preside over its birth, under the patronage of one of her most touching mysteries.
The following day November 21, 1796, “was a day of extraordinary fervor.” Marie Rivier’s supernatural joy spread to all in the house. All of them received holy Communion from Monsieur Pontanier, and all of them dedicated themselves to Mary with unanimous and devout enthusiasm, which is the sign of celestial inspiration, and of great things to come.
After the ceremony Monsieur Pontanier gave her a seal bearing the initials of the “Ave Maria,” as he said to her: “Take this, for it will be the seal of your house.” It was the seal of the Sulpicians. The devout Foundress took the seal with respect, kissed it several times, and did not want to part with it for the rest of the day.
This is the way the Institute of the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary was founded on November 21, 1796, the feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple.
Marie Rivier never forget that it was under the patronage of Mary that her Congregation was born.
“My children, always entrust yourself unreservedly to the Blessed Virgin Mary. At the beginning of our Congregation, it is She who did everything…” (MR)
- Taken from Venerable Marie Rivier by F. Mourret translated by S Alice Lebrun, pm