The Good Shepherd Congregation has a twofold reason to celebrate. This year is the 165th anniversary of St. Mary Euphrasia’s purchase of St. Nicholas Abbey. We are also in the midst of preparing for the millennium celebration of the Abbey. The remembrance of these two historic events invites us to revisit the beautiful pages of the congregation’s history and to have a foretaste of the coming celebration in August 2020.
St. Nicholas Abbey, founded in 1020 by Foulques III or Foulques Nerra, Count of Anjou, housed a monastery of Benedictine monks until the French Revolution. The monks were expelled in 1791 when the national government seized the abbey. Having been declared the property of the department, the abbey served different purposes: military hospital, barracks, jail, etc. The abbey was abandoned in the early 1850s and the owners of Royal Manufacturers of Sailcloth of Angers, Mr. Joubert and Mr. Bonnaire, attempted to buy it. The department finally decided to sell the abbey and put it up for auction on August 21, 1854 for one hundred thousand francs. Subsequently, the Congregation of our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd of Angers acquired the abbey on November 30, 1854 for one hundred six thousand francs.
Nazareth, a farm located two kilometers from the Mother House, was transformed into an agricultural colony in 1852 to accommodate young prisoners from various French prisons. An increasing number of young girls came and Nazareth quickly became insufficient to welcome them. It is said that St. Mary Euphrasia saw St. Nicholas Abbey from her office window and knew the property was up for sale. She was hesitant to purchase the abbey because of its deplorable condition and the prohibitive cost. Mr. Vallon, Prefect of Maine-et-Loire, encouraged and reassured her, saying, “Buy, Madam! God will pay!”
In spite of the expenditure of the earlier acquisition of Nazareth in 1846, significant endowments and the unfailing support of benefactors made possible the purchase of St. Nicholas Abbey. Furthermore, the dowries of Sister Marie of St. Therese de Jacoby (Dutch) and Sister Marie of St. Peter de Coudenhove (Austrian) contributed greatly to the acquisition of the abbey.
The Mother House was filled with tension on November 30, 1854. The Annals tell us: "In the choir of the nuns, on all the altars within the cloisters and in front of all the statues of the saints, our venerated Mother Mary of St. Euphrasia had candles placed and lit. The community observed the silence of a retreat day. All our sisters prayed as they went about their work because the city of Angers was selling the Abbey of St. Nicholas on that day and our worthy Mother so desired to buy it…. What joy we felt when we were told in the evening, “St. Nicholas is ours!”