Leonie Frances de Sales Aviat, OSFS(1844-1914)Religious Co-Foundress
Although September 16, 1844 seemed like any other day, it was destined to be known one day as the birth date of a saint! Leonie Aviat was born in Sezanne, in the region of Champagne, France. She attended the Visitation School in Troyes, where Mother Marie de Sales Chappuis and Father Louis Brisson exerted a profound influence on her. Having thus been formed at the school of St. Francis de Sales, she prepared herself for the mission with which she was to be entrusted: the foundation of a congregation committed to Salesian spirituality and to the evangelization of young workers.
The beginnings came in the year 1866. This was the time when large industrial concerns were attracting an underpaid labor force to the cities. This was the case in the city of Troyes, where spinning mills engaged young girls from the countryside.
Father Brisson, a zealous apostle, had opened, in 1858, a center where he would welcome young girls working in the mills. He decided, under God's inspiration, to establish a religious congregation to direct this important work. He found in Leonie Aviat an incomparable co-worker and a zealous apostle, like himself.
This young lady, who had earlier felt an attraction toward the contemplative life of the Visitation Order, was affected by the plight of young factory workers and felt herself called to the active apostolate. Thus the new congregation of the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales came to be founded. The congregation placed itself under the patronage of St. Francis de Sales, and identified completely with the spirituality and the educational principles of the holy Bishop of Geneva.
In 1868, the young foundress received, together with the religious habit, the significant name of Sister Frances de Sales. She made profession of vows on October 11, 1871. In 1872, she became the first Superior General of the Institute.
Under her guidance, the community grew in numbers, the social apostolate unfolded and girls' schools were opened. In Paris, the first residence for young ladies was started, an establishment which Mother Aviat directed for eight years. Thus, the apostolate of the Oblate Sisters extended to the different classes of society and to diverse forms of education.
After a period of difficulty through which so many foundresses must live in order to put down solid roots of holiness for their Congregations, Mother Frances de Sales guided her Sisters through the religious persecution in her native France and developed the works of the Congregation in Europe, South America and Africa. While maintaining the establishments that could be continued in France, she transferred the Motherhouse to Perugia, Italy.
On January 10, 1914 she died in Perugia after entrusting herself totally to God. To her last breath, she remained faithful to the resolution she had taken at the time of her profession: "To forget myself entirely." To her daughters she left, for all time, the very Salesian precept: "Let us work for the happiness of others." She was beatified in 1992 and canonized on November 25, 2001.
After her death, the Congregation opened a foundation in the United States of America where the miracle needed for her canonization took place. The Oblate Sisters staff three schools in America: Mount Aviat Academy in Childs, MD; Saint Bernadette School in Drexel Hill, PA; and Holy Cross Academy in Fredericksburg, VA.
Courtesy of the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales:www.oblatesisters.org
Vatican Biography and Canonization Homily by John Paul II