Sacred Heart Devotion & the Visitation Tradition

Written by Visitation Alumna, Anne Williams, ’82, Director of Salesian Studies at The Convent of the Visitation, Mendota Heights, MN

Art Work by Michael O'Neill McGrath, OSFS

Art Work by Michael O'Neill McGrath, OSFS

Most Catholics are aware of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But not as many know that a Visitation Nun, born in France in 1647, was instrumental in promulgating the spread of this worldwide devotion.

Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, entered the Visitation Community at the Monastery of Paray-le-Monial, France. It was there that she began to receive in her prayer, visions of Jesus, asking her to share the message of his heart burning with deep love for his people.

The vivid images she saw were challenging her to spread to others the message that the Heart of Jesus, was a treasure of love and mercy, which offered sanctification and salvation.

As a monastic, contemplative nun, Margaret Mary could not literally go out and spread the message, so she collaborated with her confessor, a Jesuit priest named Father Claude de la Colombiere.

Father Colombiere was instrumental in verifying Sister Margaret Mary’s revelations as authentic and in promoting devotional practices to the Sacred Heart as she had relayed in her messages from Christ.

The Visitation Sisters were asked to devote their prayer and dedication to the Sacred Heart to make reparation for hearts grown cold throughout the world.  While Sr. Margaret Mary’s private devotion to the sacred heart was not new, Visitation was the first religious group to publically consecrate themselves to this devotion.   Sr. Margaret Mary and Fr. Claude were canonized, Saint Margaret Mary in 1920 and Saint Claude de la Columbiere in 1992.

Contemporary Devotion

During this past year of celebrating the 400th Anniversary of the Visitation Order, our school community focused on the Sisters’ motto “Live Jesus”.   In the words of the Visitation founder St. Francis de Sales, “To ‘Live Jesus’ is to have the name of Jesus engraved on one’s heart.  It is to allow that name to become one’s own true name, to allow one’s entire self—body, thoughts, affections, actions, decisions, work, devotion—to be animated by the reality of the person known by that name.  To allow Jesus to live, you do not simply learn about Jesus or pray to Jesus or even imitate Jesus.  One surrenders the vital center of their being – your heart, as understood in the wholistic biblical sense, to another living presence.”   (Letters of Spiritual Direction, Thibert)

Art Work by Michael O'Neill McGrath, OSFS

Art Work by Michael O'Neill McGrath, OSFS

How do you Live Jesus? The spirit engendered by the founding Saints, Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal, suggests that is it by doing little things in the midst of our ordinary and busy lives.   Living each day well, and rising to the daily challenges to treat yourself and others with love.

In this issue of Vision you will read many examples of how students and alums Live Jesus by modeling gospel values of peace and justice with the result that they have become catalysts for positive change.   Visitation students are taught to look carefully at existing social issues, cognizant of their responsibility to help solve these problems, particularly those of marginalized peoples. Students are often exposed to people and organizations that are making contributions to justice and peace in our global community.   As St. Francis de Sales exhorts, “to carry God on the tongue with beautiful words, to carry God in the heart with beautiful affections, is not everything.   We must carry him in our arms with good works.”

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus can serve as a synopsis of Salesian spirituality.   Jesus’ heart — alive, pulsing, and burning — actively yearns for each one of us to be nourished in our relationship with Him.  Then, inspired and fueled by this profound, unconditional love, we are invited to reach out to our brothers and sisters in the world.

As I write this column, the Visitation Community is preparing to welcome two special visitors from Paray-le-Monial, France.  On March 8 and 9, Father Edouard Marot and Sister Alicia Beauvisage of Paray-le-Monial, France will present conferences in Mendota Heights on the devotion to the Sacred Heart.   They have been on an eight year world tour, often with the relics of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.  Father Marot describes Devotion to the Sacred Heart as devotion for today, not an archaic tradition, because it is about tapping into the love of Jesus’ own heart.

If you would like to learn more about Devotion to the Sacred Heart or Saints Margaret Mary Alacoque and Claude de la Colombiere, stop in at the Salesian Office or contact me at awilliams@

“Everywhere, in society, in our villages, in our neighborhoods, in our factories and our offices, in our meetings between peoples and races, the heart of stone, the dried up heart, must change into the heart of flesh, open to one’s brothers, open to God. The survival of humanity depends upon it. It is beyond our power. It is a gift from God. A gift of His Love”  (John Paul II, October 5, 1986, at Paray-le-Monial).

“The abundant spiritual fruits which devotion to the Heart of Jesus has produced are widely acknowledged. Expressing itself notably by the practice of the holy hour, of Confession and Communion on the First Fridays of the month, it has contributed towards encouraging generations of Christians to pray more and to participate more frequently in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.” Pope John Paul II, October 5, 1986

*Published in Vision Magazine, Spring 2011. Shared here with their kind permission.

4 Responses

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  1. dear anne,
    thanks for this lovely refelction on the Sacred Heart and the Visitation. I didn’t realized that Alicia Beauvisage was a Sister from Paray….she was a very lovely woman…i enjoyed meeting her when she and Father did the program at Vis in March. My visit to Paray on the Salesian Pilgrimage in ’09 was for me the most spiritually touching day…since I was raised Presbyterian most of what I know about the Sacred Heart has been learned as an adult and it is a most beautiful reality of my faith now. Keep up all of the good work you are doing as Director of Salesian Studies. peace,sr. suzanne Mpls Vis

  2. Dear anne, Ever since I read this, your piece, on Living Jesus in the School’s Vision magazine a few weeks back, I’ve had it in my heart to tell you how much I loved it. Just reading it again sparks the same response in me. “Finally, some else gets it and has developed Francis de Sales thoughts and ponderings to relfect our contemporay way of living it.” With appreciation, SKatherine

  3. Anne,
    I’m with the Sisters in their response to this post. It’s just lovely to read it. I am grateful to your sister, Elizabeth, for getting this up here! My daughter was named after St. Margaret Mary (Marguerite Marie Alacoque). I will point my family to this inspiring and informative piece on her namesake. Again: Thank you!

    Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde,
    Visitation Companion

  4. […] The vivid images she saw were challenging her to spread to others the message that the Heart of Jesus, was a treasure of love and mercy, which offered sanctification and salvation.”  (click to read more…) […]

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