Sister Armande Huiban was born at St. Denis in the department of the Seine on March 8, 1920. Her family moved some time later to Allonnes in the Sarthe where Armande’s sister, Suzanne, was an invalid at the nursing home of Pont-Croix. An aunt and several cousins came from time to time for family visits. Of a childhood both intrepid and daring, Armande would say she had developed “a taste for risk and adventure.”
Thanks to a priest of Holy Cross, she entered the Marianites on July 22, 1941, and began her postulancy at the motherhouse in Précigné. Armande was one of the first to enter the novitiate after the centenary of our congregation. At the reception of the habit on July 25, 1942, she received the name Sister Mary of St. Francis of Assisi and soon adopted her patron’s strong ideas including: I love the inaccessible.
Armande pronounced temporary vows on August 8, 1943, and began her life as a teacher at Précigné and at Saint-Denis d’Orques. Following her final profession on August 10, 1946, Sister taught at Lyon for eight years. This was a part of her life that remained very dear to Armande as it did to her students who remained much attached to her. At the time of her death, the community received this testimony from one of her students: “Sr. Mary Francis was for us a model of rigor, a building block and constructor of our professional and adult lives. For all of that we are most grateful.”
In 1954, Armande returned to the Sarthe and continued her devoted teaching in the schools at Précigné, Beaumont-sur-Sarthe, Laval and Chateau-du-Loir. From 1964 to 1967, she was Mistress of Novices at the Solitude where she also assisted with English-French translation as needed.
A major change in her life occurred when Armande was sent to the Marianites’ St. Joseph Clinic in Le Mans to prepare herself for a diploma in nursing. From 1973 through 1980, Sister exercised her new profession as a nurse at Clinique Ste. Croix, while at the same time living in local Marianite communities in the Maillets and the Cygnes. During the five years from 1980 to 1985, Sister devoted herself as a missionary nurse at the Jalchatra Hospital in Bangladesh where she ministered with our sisters at the leprosarium.
Following her return to France, Armande was named Coordinator of the community and director of the retirement home at Notre Dame de Gazonfier, a task she fulfilled for four years, from 1986 to 1990. From 1991 through 1995, she lived in the community of Pontvallain and visited the sick at the nursing home. Her last active mission was to help out as a volunteer in the welcome office at the Carmelite convent in Alençon.
To put a crowning end to this richly intense life of giving herself to the children, the sick and the poor, Armande participated in a pilgrimage to the Holy Land before retiring. She profited fully from all the sites of the Old Testament and was very touched by all the places where she could pause and meditate for a longer time. She was always first in line to see things and to hear the guide. Having desired to do this all her life, Armande welcomed this opportunity as a marvelous grace. Following this, she moved to Notre Dame de la Solitude where she lived with the senior sisters. Sister participated as much as possible in the life of the community and was always an agreeable companion, knowing how to share the things she found or had seen on any outing. Always, she marveled at the beauty of nature, much like her patron, Francis of Assisi.
Armande treated herself to a bit of gardening at the edge of the Solitude property where, in a wooden box, she cultivated all sorts of multicolored plants. She watched carefully and rejoiced as her “plantations” grew. She also decorated and filled vases and pots with flowers to put on the various floors of the Solitude, where she cared for them faithfully. Besides the plants, Armande loved the birds and fed them each day with the crumbs that fell from the dining room tables.
In addition to nature, Sister was an avid reader of history and philosophy. For her sisters in community, she prepared feast day cards which she decorated and distributed with much pleasure. Eventually her health failed completely; she was diagnosed with malignant cancer and told she had four months to live. Not wanting her sisters to see her suffer, Armande herself asked to go to a nursing home. She was sent to the medical center at Parigné-l’Eveque where she spent her last months.
Despite her great pain and generalized fatigue, Sister Armande had the joy of celebrating her seventy years of religious life at the medical center in the company of Sr. Suellen and the congregational assistants who were in Le Mans, as well as the sisters from the Solitude and surrounding areas, On June 18, the chaplain of the Center celebrated the same ceremony of Jubilee that Sister had not been able to attend at the Solitude the day before. He had even arranged with the Center a place to welcome Armande’s loved ones and share a reception and refreshments which the sisters had brought for the occasion. The community and Sr. Armande were grateful and touched by this delicate attention.
Sister went home to God on July 17, 2011, at the age of 91. Her funeral Mass took place on July 20 at the Solitude. Her family, former colleagues from the Clinique Ste Croix, the sisters of various communities and her friends, present with us in person or in spirit, accompanied her with their prayers and their affection. Sister Armande’s body reposes in the conventual cemetery of Holy Cross in Le Mans.
May the Lord grant Sister Armande the peace that he promised to his faithful servants.