This is the first major biography of Madeleine Sophie Barat (1779-1865) since the late nineteenth century. Born in France on the eve of the Revolution, Sophie Barat was caught up in the movement to restore and recreate society devastated by violence and war. She founded the Society of the Sacred Heart in 1800 and this community of women developed an educational project which was rooted in France and soon spread throughout Europe and the Americas. Sophie Barat led this rapidly expanding congregation of women for sixty-three years. Several times her leadership was queried and challenged both within and without the Society and only in 1851 was it finally accepted without question. By the time of her death the Society of the Sacred Heart numbered 3,359 members. Written within the perspective of women's history, this biography tracks Sophie Barat's development from her childhood in Joigny, a town in the Bourgogne, to her death in Paris in 1865. She was marked by several profound movements in French society and by political events such as the Empire of Napoleon, the restoration of the Bourbons as well as the 1830 revolution in France and the 1848 revolutions in Europe. She was also caught up in the perplexity of chauvinism and internationality, between gallicanism and ultramontanism, and she had to pick her way through the tangled webs of these movements. Within a turbulent and changing world Sophie Barat created new spaces for the education of women and these had an impact on society in general far beyond Sophie's own expectations and lifetime. Sophie Barat originated from a thoroughly Jansenistic part of France, the region of the Yonne. In the course of her life she made a significant inner journey from conceiving God as severe and judgmental to imaging God as full of warmth and tenderness, an image expressed in the devotion to the Sacred Heart. Barat tried to convey this image of God to her colleagues and she was especially concerned that this image would be reflected in their approach to the education of children. Sophie Barat was canonised by the Catholic Church in 1925.
Phil Kilroy deconstructs the hagiography created around Sophie Barat after her death in 1865 which was enshrined in the many biographies of her. The complete letters (14,000 originals) and the manuscripts which form the basis for this biography have never been used in any account of the life of Madeleine Sophie Barat.
Phil Kilroy is a full time independent scholar and a member of the Society of the Sacred Heart