Mother Marie-Madeleine Caseau and Sister Lazare de Seilhac, OSB
Congregation of St Bathild
Mother Bénigne Moreau
Mother Bénigne (1924-2020) was born Odile Moreau on 10th August 1924 at Baume-les-Dames, baptised on 24th September 1924 at Voulaines, a village on the Côte d’Or where her family, who remained ever dear to her heart, had a property. After training as a nurse, she entered the postulate at Vanves on 13th November 1936, and received the habit under the name of Sister Bénigne on 8th September 1947. After her profession on 21st November 1948 her skill in forming relationships soon earned her the position of assistant to the guestmistress. Nevertheless she was very soon, in November 1952, sent to reinforce the community in Madagascar. She made her permanent vows at Ambositra on 18th December 1953. Nominated prioress of Ambositra in 1959, she developed a great affinity with the Malgasy culture. She was glad to support the foundation of Mananjary and to prepare that of Joffreville. She played an important part in the creation of the Union of Religious Superiors of Madgascar.
Her election as Prioress General of the Congregation in June 1975 brought her back to France. It was a great sacrifice for her to leave Madagascar, for she felt in harmony with the country and the various aspects of its culture. This experience helped her to have a deep understanding of what it meant for the brothers and sisters to return from a foundation to which they had given their lives.
During the twenty-three years of her absence (she had returned only for two General Chapters) the community at Vanves had lived through plenty of events: the first foundation in Vietnam, the fusion with the last monastery of Fontevrault, a foundation at Benin, the transfer to Saint-Thierry, the modification of the status of Vanves. The revision of the Constitutions was in progress. During the years after the Second Vatican Council her experience would be precious for the forming of the Statutes of the Congregation of Sainte-Bathilde and for the transition which this implied. She who had no affection either for law or for change used to smile at being the ‘last Prioress General and first President’. The Prioress General had to be also prioress of Vanves. She needed to face complex situations. She accumulated the two charges of prioress of Vanves and Prioress General, and later President of the Congregation from 1975 to 1989 during a period of great change in the life of the Church. Her clarity of vision allowed her to be a key figure in the formation of the CIB (Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum); she was invited to Rome with Mother Flavie, abbess of the Abbey of Limon, for the Congress of Abbots of the Benedictine Confederation.
In accompanying the revision of the Constitutions she maintained excellent relationships in Rome with the Congregation for Institutes of the Consecrated Life, helping them to realise what the Benedictine Sisters of Sainte-Bathilde really were. Working with P. Denis Huerre, who valued her highly, she prepared with the Council of the Congregation the request presented to the General Chapter of 1981 to be associated with the Congregation of Subiaco.
One of her great sorrows was to be unable ever to go to Vietnam because of the political situation. She supported and guided life at Etoy, with our sisters, the Deaconnesses of Versailles and of Saint-Loup, remaining warmly attached to anything which advanced Church unity. The presence of Sister Edith (a Deaconness) at Vanves during the year 2019 did her much good. At the General Chapter of 1989 she passed the baton to Mother Emmanuel, remaining Vicaire, while Mother Beatrice de Martigné was Counsellor, and Mother Emmanuel relied on her. Often the Council was held at Cours, a house which belonged to the congregation, and of which she was very fond. Her talent for external relationships helped many people, often priests, to find again the way of hope and of peace after spending time at Vanves.
She remained prioress of the community of Vanves till 2003, taking a vivacious interest in speculation about a future life. She saw the position of Vanves at the gate of Paris as essential, a great port of call for anyone, with the presence of the AIM, and fully open to anyone in distress, either sisters or anyone who felt welcomed for what they were, without judgment. During the years she spent as superior Mother Bénigne was a great supporter of AIM. For many years she was a member of the Council of Administration. She had always particular consideration for the officials of this organisation, especially those who lived there, and she was always welcoming to members of the international team at their meetings two or three times a year. She continued her care for communities of the Benedictine family on all continents well after her time as superior. Monks and nuns passing by Vanves, whether as members of the AIM or not, benefited always from an open fraternal ear. She suppported no less the AMTM (the Association of Friends of the Monasteries across the World), the association which so helps the AIM, and had a warm friendship with several of its members.
After a year spent in the community of Martigné-Briand she returned to Vanves, where she made herself available to several sisters, accepting in faith the profound changes which were taking place, not always seeing the need for them, but serenely accepting them, until advancing age obliged her to play a less full part in the activities and to spend a little more than a year in her room in the infirmary, with some ‘absences of mind’ which she patiently accepted.