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Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Our Founder

On November 24, the Sisters of Divine Providence gathered at their Province Center in Melbourne, Kentucky, together with Bishop Foys, to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the beatification of our founder, Blessed John Martin Moye.

Born in 1730, in Cutting, France, Moye has had a profound effect on the diocese of Covington, centuries hence and half a world away. The congregation he founded established schools throughout the region, and has served in education, health care, and parish ministry in untold institutions since the Sisters first stepped onto Kentucky soil in 1889.

Working as a priest in Metz, Moye was responsible for a parish that extended well beyond the city and its three churches. He developed a concern for the education of the children in the countryside, especially young girls who, he found, knew as little about their faith as they did about the world outside their small villages. Marguerite Lecomte was the first woman to volunteer in this effort, in 1762.

When setting out for her first assignment, Sister Marguerite described this exchange:

Father Moye had me come and said: “My daughter, I am going to take you to your post; I can give you a little something, but if you wish to abandon yourself to Providence, you will have more merit…” I was in my first fervor, nothing cost me, I responded: “Yes, Father, I abandon myself to Providence. The preparations were quickly made; the basket with a little something for the road and off we went!”

And so it was that those first teachers were well trained for their mission, but were rarely well provided for. One history of the congregation describes their intrepid venture, saying, “They went without material provision and lived in great poverty depending for their sustenance upon their own industry, the charity of those they served, and especially their trust in God.” It was this last element of their charism that eventually won over the wary villagers and earned them the title “Sisters of Divine Providence,” for they seemed heaven-sent to their students and their families.

Once the congregation was firmly established in France, Father Moye set his sights further afield. He felt called to travel as a missionary to China, an endeavor so dangerous that he felt certain he would not return. During his ten-year sojourn he founded another women’s congregation, the Christian Virgins, with the same mission and charism as the Sisters in France. It was the first establishment of a women’s congregation in China.

When Moye returned to France in 1784, he established a motherhouse for the congregation and named Sister Rose Methains as Superior General. The Sisters and their ministries flourished until 1789, when the French Revolution suppressed the schools and scattered many members of the congregation back to their villages or abroad to exile. Father Moye, Sister Rose Methains, and a few others escaped to Trier in Germany. Always seeking to serve, they found a great need among the soldiers of this new war. In consequence, while working with his Sisters in a hospital, John Martin Moye contracted the typhoid fever that would claim his life. He died on May 4, 1793. The spot where he was buried (in a common grave, with uncounted others) is now a public square.

Father Moye’s reliance on Divine Providence was no mistake. Though he died amid difficulty and anonymity, he was beatified by Pope Pius XII on November 21, 1954, and the Sisters of the Congregation of Divine Providence today still live the fundamental virtues he encouraged:

  • Simplicity. “To be direct and true in our relations with God, with others, and ourselves.”
  • Poverty. “Strive to leave behind the goods of this world to be free for the mission confided to us by God.”
  • Charity. “Undertake whatever we can to fill needs, to relieve distress, and to announce the beatitude Christ promised.”
  • Abandonment to Divine Providence. “To go where we are sent; to adapt to circumstances in the grace of the present moment without worry or overeagerness; and in the face of difficulty to do calmly what depends on us and leave the rest to God.”

The lasting legacy of Father Moye and the Sisters of Divine Providence lives on in our schools, our students, and the wisdom of our charism. It was with justified confidence that Blessed John Martin Moye advised his Sisters: “Abandonment to Providence is the virtue that earns you your name. To practice it, remain without preference and without attachment, casting all your cares on the bosom of God. Providence never forsakes those who confidently abandon themselves to it.”

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