If you start a research about the origins of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, you will soon find a reference to the “Providence of the Pieux-Secours”. We will try to explain what this was and what is its importance to us.
Providences are a typically French invention. The first providences appeared between the late 17th century and the beginning of the 18th, in the urban centers of Lyon and Saint Etienne. Their objective was to serve the less fortunate children, offer them education, and initiate them in the silk looms work. From the beginning, providences were typically institutions for women. Their goal was to separate girls and young women from the danger of wandering and prostitution.
Nowadays, we call these institutions “foster homes”, but at that time they were called “providences” because the first one was opened in the so-called “Hospital of the Providence”. The work was in charge of the “Pious Ladies of the Company of Sainte Françoise”, who rented the hospital on the hill of Fourvière in Lyon and welcomed girls from 8 to 20 years old.
Many providences were founded by religious women and other were entrusted to them to better ensure the Christian education for girls.
The French Revolution of 1789 and the expropriation of properties that belonged to the Church brought with it the disappearance of the providences and every assistance work directed by religious and priests. But wars are not the solution of the people’s problems: from 1800, many girls were forced to prostitution.
On the other hand, the invention of the Jacquard loom in 1801 made the demand for fabric textiles grow up. There were many entrepreneurs who were willing to finance the installation of looms in the popular districts of Lyon, especially in the Croix-Rousse (ie. “the neighborhood of the Red Cross”, because of the colour of a cross that was erected there). The Croix-Rousse was an area of old convents with large and high ceiling rooms, perfect for the installation of the new Jacquard looms –who were higher than the traditional ones. The convents of the Croix-Rousse, expropriated and abandoned during the revolution, were ideal for the new workshops.
The new and prosperous style of work required manpower. Men, women, boys, and girls were necessary for the task. Much of the work in the manufacture of silk fabrics had traditionally been carried out by children and especially girls in very precarious conditions.
In any case, there were still many girls on the streets who were marginalized and exploited. Various associations of good Christians appeared, because they felt the need to respond to this social emergency. These lay Christians were not alone. A group of priests who had settled in the old Chartreuse of Lyon were the touchstone to the new evangelization required by the French society.
In 1818, there were seven providences in Lyon for orphan girls. Two of them had been founded by a young 30-years-old priest: Father Andre Coindre. However, there was no providence for children, neither in Lyon nor in the whole region.
Andre felt the call to put and end to this situation, so he founded in 1818 a providence dedicated to the children and young people of Lyon. Since he was vicar in the Parish of Saint Bruno, the first location was one of the “cells” (ie. small houses) of the old convent of the Carthusians, next to the parish. Its location was ideal, since it was in the textile quarter of the Croix-Rousse.
Later, Andre Coindre and his father bought a nearby land because the place was too small. He moved his works for boys and gave it the name of “Providence of the Pieux-Secours”. When he founded the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, his first work, three years later.
In a forthcoming post, we will continue to deepen into the “Pieux-Secours” in its 200 anniversary.