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Lay movements: Part IX.

Sometimes we have our ideas and God has His. Thus it was with Sr. Jeanne Bizier who for thirty years was a faithful member of the Servants of the Holy Heart of Mary in Quebec, including a period as superior. She deeply loved her community, never anticipated leaving, and actually resisted until God's will was manifested firmly through others.

Sr. Jeanne was involved in youth work and in retreat work. She was the first woman in Quebec to preach retreats. The young people around her were coming alive in their faith and wanted to give their lives to God but not in the way of traditional religious life.

The precipitating event was the offer of a five-star hotel in Baie Comeau by a businessman after a retreat. He insisted she have it to start a community, but she in turn insisted that he offer it to the diocese. She said she had no intention of starting a community. However the Bishop believed she was called by God to a special apostolate, as did her superiors and spiritual director. So Sr. Jeanne relented.

The motel became the motherhouse; the hotel's bar was transformed into a sacristy, the dancehall into a chapel. The day Sr. Jeanne was released from her original congregation to this new apostolate, she professed vows in her fledgling community. This was in 1979. Myriam Bethlehem was born.

The community is essentially contemplative with an active component of evangelization. Members spend four to five hours a day in prayer, both private and communal. They have perpetual adoration. There are consecrated men, women, and also priests in the community that presently numbers 120 members. They wear a simple habit of a blue shirt or a blue dress for the women. There are also several thousand associate lay members.

There are now ten houses in Quebec, one each in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. Outside Canada there are houses of Myriam Bethlehem in Switzerland, Belgium, two in Haiti, and one now in Russia where all members speak Russian. Indeed education is a high priority. Several members have their Master's degree in Theology and one sister has just received her doctorate. There are some bilingual members in both French and English.

The houses serve as retreat houses, sometimes welcoming families. Visitors participate in the work and prayer of the community. Teams will also go out to give retreats in parishes, schools, prisons, and seniors' homes. They also facilitate a youth movement for various age groups, as well as a young couples' movement. In Haiti the bishop has asked them to teach people to pray and to set up schools of formation for the mission churches, providing basic teaching for lay catechists.

The central charism of Myriam Bethlehem is one of unity, the "communio" spoken of in the Second Vatican Council. The priests, brothers and sisters are to live as family with bonds of trust and fraternal charity, to be a witness for the world, a sign that points the way; "See how they love one another."

To contact the community (retreats available):
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Author:Wilson, Ann
Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Nov 1, 2001
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