Network conference uses St. Madeleine Sophie’s vision as a lens to the past, present, and future 


Avery Kim '24

Students, educators, and RSCJ gather to explore the Network mission.

Impassioned speech, the scribble of note-taking pens, and the laughter of Sacred Heart students, educators, and Religious of the Sacred Heart (RSCJ) filled a conference room at the Pallottine Renewal Center in Florissant, Missouri November 6 to 9.  Program attendees gathered from 16 Network schools, flying in from cities such as San Francisco, Houston, Miami, and Chicago, to participate in “Living Our Sacred Heart Mission: St. Madeleine Sophie’s Vision for Education: an Exploration of the Past, Present, and the Future.”  Juniors Madeleine Hooper and Avery Kim along with Ms. Anna Wichorek, Upper School Theology Teacher, represented Sacred Heart Greenwich at the discussion tables.    

Sister Suzanne Cooke, the RSCJ Provincial for the United States and Canada, opened the conference with lectures delving into Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat’s cultivation of the Sacred Heart mission and the historical contexts of her life.  Born in Joigny, France, St. Madeleine Sophie grew up amid the political and religious confusion of the French Revolution.  She opened the first Sacred Heart school in Amiens, France in 1801, one year after she founded the RSCJ order, which takes its initials from the French Religieuses du Sacré-Coeur de Jesu.  Despite her physical fragility, she was resolute in her goals, enabling young women to transform a male-dominated society through their faith and intellect, according to

“Sophie was a seeker,” Sr. Cooke said.  “I hope all of us in this room are seekers in some way.”

Sr. Cooke explained the context of one of St. Madeleine Sophie’s most famous quotes: “For the sake of one child, I would have started the Society.”  St. Madeleine Sophie stated this after an international student at a French Sacred Heart school returned to Mexico to work with the marginalized and poor.  Sr. Cooke emphasized how St. Madeleine Sophie hoped for alumnae and alumni to be self-directed learners, remodeling society through service.  Madeleine noted the program’s impact on her own responsibility as a Sacred Heart student.

Avery, Sr. Karam, and Madeleine take a break from conference activities.  Courtesy of Miss Parker Hanna

“St. Madeleine Sophie’s vision was to educate young women, and she was relentless in this mission,” Madeleine said.  “Learning about this has inspired me for the rest of my life, and I hope to carry on her mission.”

St. Madeleine Sophie met Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne in Grenoble, France in 1804.  St. Rose Philippine fulfilled her goal of establishing Sacred Heart schools in North America after her arrival in St. Charles, Missouri in 1818.  Conference attendees toured the original St. Charles Academy of the Sacred Heart, the St. Louis Villa Duchesne school, and the Shrine of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne.  St. Rose Philippine also opened a novitiate for RSCJ sisters in Florissant, near the central location of the Network conference.

Students reflected on St. Rose Philippine’s work with appreciation, while also cultivating a contemporary awareness of the enslavement and discrimination present at the time within the region’s schools, society, and economy.  Sr. Cooke shared that the Society of the Sacred Heart is currently working with descendants of slaves towards recognition and reconciliation.  She discussed using the past to provide perspective on present and future instances of injustice.

Conference representatives also considered the modernizing effects of the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (Vatican II).  Panelists Sister Sharon Karam, Sister Reyna González, and Sister Diane Roche taught attendees about Vatican II’s impact on Latin America, diverse faiths, and the Sacred Heart education.  They highlighted the RSCJ’s goal of delivering God’s love through the education of children, an occupation which points to future generations.  Madeleine described her intention to carry on this inherited Sacred Heart vision.

“I think everyone should get the same opportunity to learn about St. Madeleine Sophie because it would instill a new level of gratitude for their education,” Madeleine said.  “I plan to teach people about Sacred Heart’s mission and help spread the newfound appreciation that I have for the mission of our school.”

Madeleine speaks about Vatican II on behalf of her discussion group.  Avery Kim ’24

The youth, educators, and RSCJ engaged in intergenerational conversation, during which Sr. Roche and Sr. Karam observed the hope, energy, and long legacy of Sacred Heart determination present in the student representatives.  Sr. Roche shared with students that they were the future for whom the Founding Mothers worked.  She noticed their inner resemblance to these past figures. 

“You are all so full of echoes of the best of us,” Sr. Roche said.

In French, St. Rose Philippine’s surname means “oak tree.”  The metaphorical tree of Sacred Heart education that St. Madeleine Sophie and St. Rose Philippine planted in France and Missouri has since expanded to sustain a global canopy.  The current Network encompasses over 150 schools in 41 countries, including 25 in the United States and Canada.

The conference closed with student case projects.  Youth attendees created presentations to display the understanding they gained during the program, competing for a feature on RSCJ and Network platforms.  The winning team designed and proposed Open Heart, a hypothetical website to promote intergenerational dialogue as well as service-oriented connections across the Network.

Sophie was a seeker.  I hope all of us in this room are seekers in some way.

— Sr. Suzanne Cooke

Sr. González spoke to the youth attendees about broadening the perception of vocation.  She acknowledged the expectations adults place on students, and encouraged them to give their burdens and worries to God and pursue purpose through their passions and goals.

“It is important to ask every day, ‘what is my call?'” Sr. González said.  “What is your call today, as a young woman, as a student?  Tomorrow, who knows, but ask for today.”

Featured Image by Avery Kim ’24