Sister Madeleine Sophie Barat, MSC
Sr. Madeleine Sophie Hebert, MSC
1912 – 2015
Sr. Madeleine Sophie Hebert, MSC was born Fay Wilhelmina on August 29, 1912 in Morgan City, Louisiana to Katherine Beatrice Vinson and Julius Peter Hebert. She attended Sacred Heart Catholic School in Morgan City and was taught by the Marianites of Holy Cross. Early on, she was impressed by the dedication of the Sisters and felt a call to become a Marianite. Under the direction of one of the Sisters, she taught kindergarten the year following high school graduation. At 18 years of age, she entered the Marianites on September 8, 1930. She made her first vows on August 9, 1932, her final profession on August 9, 1935 and embarked on what would become a lifetime of remarkable experiences.
Completing a degree in education at Loyola University in New Orleans, her early years were spent in elementary education as teacher and principal in Catholic schools in New Orleans, Franklin, Morgan City, and Ville Platte. What she described as very surprising was the call from the Marianite Provincial in early 1955 to begin studying hospital administration at St. Louis University. Successfully completing the course of studies, she became the first administrator of Opelousas General Hospital in Opelousas, Louisiana. Sister Madeleine remained seven years in that role, guiding the hospital from its beginnings and initial struggles to becoming a growing and developing major health care institution in the region.
In 1964, she was elected Superior General of the Marianites to lead the world-wide congregation. For thirteen years Sr. Madeleine served in this position from the motherhouse in Le Mans, France. She learned to converse and carry out business affairs in French while overseeing the implementation of the changes demanded by the Second Vatican Council for all religious congregations.
In 1977, she returned to New Orleans and was again called into leadership by the Marianites. This time she was named to a two-fold role of provincial councillor for the Louisiana Province and President of Our Lady of Holy Cross College. While one of these positions would have been challenge enough, Sister was able to fulfill both, due to her generosity and dedication to the Congregation. In 1982 she left New Orleans and went to the Diocese of Alexandria-Shreveport. There she ministered as co-director of the Permanent Diaconate Program, assisted with the archives of the Diocese, and rendered service at Maryhill Retreat Center in the bookstore.
Being well aware of her many gifts, the Marianite leadership asked Madeleine to use these skills to write the Annals of the Congregation. She spent time between Louisiana and France organizing and writing this history. Following the completion of the Marianite Annals in 1994, she assisted in the Congregation’s Development Office, and in 1996 began work as Congregational Historian and Assistant Archivist.
Some of the notable firsts in her life include:
-First Marianite to serve as principal at St. Mary of the Angels Elementary School, New Orleans.
-First Marianite to earn a master’s degree in Theology at St. Mary's College in Indiana.
-First Marianite to give a presentation at the National Catholic Education Association.
-First Marianite to study and earn a degree in Hospital Administration.
-First administrator of Opelousas General Hospital.
-First religious elected President of the Louisiana Hospital Association.
-First Marianite to be re-elected to three terms as Superior General since Mother Mary of the Seven Dolors, first Superior General of the Marianites in the 1800s.
While all this is remarkable, what is exceptional is the heart permeating these experiences. Sr. Madeleine's heart was the classroom for countless students, parents, Marianites, family members and friends who listened to her instruction and were molded by her example.
Sharing some reflections on her life, Sister explained that each day was a day of gratitude because in each step along her journey she had held fast to trust in God's Divine Providence. While remaining in awe at the responsibilities entrusted to her over the years, she recalled that she "never doubted that good would result" because of her devotion to the Sacred Heart stemming from her earliest years at Sacred Heart School. She stated: "He has always been and continues to be there with outstretched arms listening to me, waiting to assist me." Through very keen and wise blue eyes, she explained she was now waiting to let go more completely into those waiting arms.
Possessing a charisma unique among the Marianites, Sister Madeleine was 103 years, one month and four days old when the Lord finally opened his arms to her at Our Lady of Prompt Succor Nursing Home on October 3, 2015 at 9:15 a.m. She had been preceded in death by her parents and her siblings: Connie Lee, Billie Krauss, and Julius Hebert.
To celebrate her life, a wake service and Mass of the Resurrection were held on Thursday, October 8, 2015 at Prompt Succor Nursing Home. Sister’s body was laid to rest in St. Landry Cemetery, Opelousas, LA.
As Fr. Tony Rigoli, OMI, said at her funeral, “The epitome of a dedicated religious, I truly believe the reason Sister Madeleine Sophie lived 103 years is that the Lord wanted as many as possible to have been touched by this amazing Marianite.”
Some of the comments heard from friends and former students add to the story:
I’m not sure whether to pray FOR her or TO her . . . She was a powerful influence during my formative years . . . Would that we could all leave such a legacy of grace as she has . . . I haven’t known many person like her; I thought Sr. Madeleine would live forever . . . She was always interested in others – rarely if ever spoke about herself . . . During many years and in many ways I have been touched by an angel, you, Sr. Madeleine; thank you . . . Even in her 90s, Madeleine was alert, commanding, and sharp as a tack in her comments. She was certainly the kind of a person that no biography could ever capture. With deep gratitude in our own hearts for having shared life with her, we say: Thank you, Sr. Madeleine!