MOTHER ELEONOR LEBRUN, SECOND SUPERIOR GENERAL
January 27, 1820 ~ December 27, 1877
Excerpts and adaptations from “A Letter From Mother Eleonore” translated by Sister Jean Bosco de Betttingnies, May, 1978
Douai, France, July 4, 1837
“The new mistress appears at the door of the top class: flower-print dress, brown hair, blue eyes, rosy cheeks; in spite of her small stature. . .and her mere seventeen years, this young girl, Isabelle Lebrun, ‘already commanded our respect’ says one of her pupils.”
Douai, France, December 21, 1877
“Today, December 21st, our Reverend Father has received a letter from Rome announcing the final approval of our Congregation by the Sovereign Pontiff. May God be praised a thousand times.” The sister writing these words to the Secretary General of the Congregation is Mother Eleonore Lebrun.
‘She is bending over the paper which she is covering with bold handwriting; is wearing a full black dress and a gold cross suspended by a ribbon; the white, goffered band, from which stray a few white hairs, frames a rather heavy, tired face, but the blue eyes express serenity and goodness.’
‘Such is Mother Eleonore as she spends her last day working at the Secretariate: in fact six days later on December 27, 1877, she went to her eternal reward.’ She was 57 years of age.
‘Forty years elapse between these two dates! What times were lived through in the Congregation by this sister who was the heart and soul of it for twenty-seven years, intimately involved in the work of Father Debrabant which was then in full development.’
‘During this time Mother Eleonore wrote a great deal; it is through this correspondence addressed to various people. . .that we get to know her and the first communities of the Congregation.’
Who Was Mother Eleonore?
Isabelle Lebrun was born in Tournai in 1820 , the eldest of four children, two sisters and a brother. When she was thirteen years old her mother died, her father having died a few years previously. Even at this young age, she exhibited an innate ability to manage her siblings and in the process was “training herself.” Her mother had left all four children under the guardianship of Abbe Derie, Vicar of the parish of Notre Dame.
When a boarding school opened in Kain in 1833, the Abbe placed Isabelle with La Sainte Union. Her sisters were placed in an orphanage in Tournai. Her sister, Adele , entered the Ursuline Convent at Saint-Saulve, near Valenciennes, taking the name Mother Alphonsus.
Her sister, Prudence, entered La Sainte Union and took the name, Mother Archange. She also became highly esteemed and later succeeded Eleonore as Superior General.
Their brother chose a military career, but died young of heart disease.
By 1837, “Mother Josephine took her on as a teacher, realizing that with all her natural gifts she also had a religious vocation.”
“After taking the habit on February 20, 1840, she became, at twenty-one, superior of La Bassee where she became ill’; it was in her invalid chair, a very sick woman, that she pronounced her first vows on January 16th, 1843.”
Once recovered, “Father Debrabant gave ‘his most precious gift’ to the boarding school at Douai, by making her headmistress there.” She never left Douai again.
Seven years later on March 2, 1850, Mother Eulalie was relieved of her office and the Founder gave the gold cross of the Superior General to Mother Eleonore. She was thirty years of age. Her term was to last twenty-seven years.
“During these years her mind and heart were continually occupied with the formation of her sisters , both as religious and educators; all her letters. . .are filled with this same preoccupation: how to deepen the religious life and help the apostolate of each sister in the family of La Sainte Union.”
In 1850, La Sainte Union numbered 58 houses, 230 sisters and 8,180 pupils. By 1877, 167 houses had been established, sisters numbered 944 and served 40,240 pupils.
“Mother Eleonore’s funeral took place on Saturday, December 29, 1877. It assumed the character of remarkable religious simplicity. An immense crowd, deeply recollected, very moved, gave it great dignity. Mother was buried in the cemetery of Sin-a-Noble. Two years later the remains were removed to Douai. According to the editions of ‘Biographical notes’, Mother Eleonore’s remains were laid one side of our venerated Founder. So Fr. Debrabant and his distinguished daughter, so closely united with him in all that concerned the welfare of the Congregation, who with her intelligence and her virtue , so well seconded him, were not separated in death.”
Mother Eleonore “came in due time with those great qualities of mind and heart which the time required. She portrayed to a very high degree the very virtues proper to La Sainte Union: intelligence, common sense, sound judgement, tact, self-possession, gentle yet forceful energy, dignity and goodness!”
Thus does the legacy she left us continue to this day.
“MAY GOD BE PRAISED A THOUSAND TIMES!”
Mother Eleonore Lebrun, SUSC
Christine Lacroix, SUSC
Archivist, USA Mission Area