I don’t often remember my dreams, but when I was 15 I had a dream that surprised me so much that I couldn’t possibly forget it! While I was helping the FCJ sisters to clear up after a retreat, one of them suddenly threw out the question, ‘So are any of you going to be an FCJ?’ I hadn’t thought about it before, but that night I dreamt that I said ‘Yes’. I was flabbergasted, but it set me thinking and began my journey to becoming an FCJ. 50 years later, I have no regrets!
After my dream, I avidly read the life of Marie Madeleine d’Houet, foundress of the Faithful Companions of Jesus and was fascinated and inspired by her journey. She had been a wife, widow, and mother, before ever becoming a religious. She was a woman of such deep faith and utterly in love with Jesus, so courageous, and so determined, whose greatest desire was to do what God wanted. This is summed up in a moment of deep prayer ‘My God, I desire only for myself and my son the fulfilment of your holy will; grant me the grace to accomplish it as soon as it is made known to me.’
Some years after her husband’s death she got to know the Jesuits and was strongly drawn to live their spirituality of finding God in all things, in companionship with Jesus. In prayer she was led to believe that God was asking her to found a women’s congregation following the same Rule as the Jesuits, based in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, but with its own particular slant. She wanted to take her inspiration from the women who had remained faithful to Jesus at the foot of the Cross. The Society of the Faithful Companions of Jesus was born, in Amiens, France, on the night of Holy Thursday, in 1820. Marie Madeleine and two companions began their apostolic work with seven poor children whom they ‘instructed in the faith, taught to read, to write and to sew’ and ‘trained for domestic service.’
Rooted in the Spiritual Exercises and our Jesuit Constitutions, FCJs try to ‘find God in all things’ and to be women standing at the foot of the cross with Mary and the holy women, as that cross is experienced today. Our mission is actually ‘to BE faithful companions of Jesus’. This means developing a strong personal relationship with God in prayer, and letting that flow into companioning God’s people anywhere and in any appropriate way. It makes discernment central to our lives, to help us discover how to live out the values of Jesus, personally and as a Society, and respond to the needs of our contemporary world.
Spurred on by the call of our last Chapter to be ‘women of outrageous hope’ and to ‘desire to be the gentle human face of God’, our ministry of companionship, includes education, retreats, spiritual guidance, counselling, faith development, active promotion of faith and justice, parish and diocesan work, and care of the elderly, immigrants, prisoners and the victims of trafficking.
In Westminster diocese we have three communities. In Poplar, FCJs are actively involved in responding to the needs of the local community, while in Somers Town and Isleworth we have two secondary schools, Maria Fidelis Convent School and Gumley House Convent School. We also work in parish-based catechesis, and projects responding to the specific needs of vulnerable women and men in this corner of the world. But the special ministry of all of us is praying for the people among whom we live and work.
More information about the Faithful Companions of Jesus can be found at www.fcjsisters.org.
Rita McLoughlin FCJ