Mother Janet Erskine Stuart
Janet Erskine Stuart was born November 11, 1857 in the Anglican Rectory of Cottesmore, Rutland, England. As a child of thirteen, she set out on a solitary search for Truth, having been urged to this venture by a casual remark of one of her brothers that every rational creature must have a last end. The search for this last end took, she said, seven years and brought her to the Catholic Church at the age of twenty-one. In 1882, she entered the Society of the Sacred Heart at Roehampton, outside of London, where she was to spend 30 years of her religious life. Named Mistress of Novices soon after her profession, she became Superior in 1894, and 17 years later was elected the sixth Superior General of the Society of the Sacred Heart. While Superior General, Janet Stuart set as a goal to know all the religious personally and visited every community in the Society throughout the world.
Janet Stuart's influence extends throughout the world primarily through her writings. Religious of the Sacred Heart as well as many other congregations and individuals committed to spiritual growth and educational excellence have been inspired by her conferences, essays, and poetry. Among Stuart's best known works are Highways and Byways of the Spiritual Life (1909) and The Education of Catholic Girls (1912).
Janet Erskine Stuart died a few months after the outbreak of World War I, on October 21, 1914.
from the Society of the Sacred Heart, England and Wales
Janet Erskine Stuart, RSCJ
Sacred Heart Chapel Roehampton: The History and Restoration of a Sacred Space
Celebrations for Janet Erskine Stuart 100th Anniversary (Centenary)
Network of Sacred Heart Schools, United States Centenary Celebrations
Janet Erskine Stuart Prayer (2011)
Pilgrimage Video (2011)
Presentation (May 2009) from Janet Stuart relative (pdf)
"God Writes Straight with Crooked Lines," The life and legacy of Janet Erskine Stuart with Shirley Miller, RSCJ (February, 2007)
Mother Stuart in her own Voice (pdf)
Select Quotations from Janet Erskine Stuart, RSCJ (from the LIfe and Letters of Janet Erskine Stuart)
Historical Perspectives of Sacred Heart Education with Fran Gimber, RSCJ; used with Prayer
Resources for Historical Perspective:
M. Keraly, RSCJ, quoted in Journey of the Heart, p. 54-55
M. Monahan, Life and Letters of Janet Erskine Stuart, p. 101
Janet Erskine Stuart: Seeker, Educator, Animator and Spiritual Guide with Suzanne Cooke, RSCJ (pdf)
Books by or about Mother Stuart
from Gutenberg: The Education of Catholic Girls
Life and letters of Janet Erskine Stuart by Maud Monahan
Quotes from Mother Stuart
Try to render all possible service to others, not talking of the thing, but doing it. If you are known to be a person who loves to serve, many opportunities will come in your way, to your great inconvenience perhaps, but to your far greater profit and instruction.
Your life is a sacred journey. It is about change, growth, discovery, movement and transformation... It is continuously expanding your vision of what is possible, stretching your soul, teaching you to see clearly and deeply, helping you to listen to your intuition.
In a storm things loom larger than life, but when things calm down again one remembers that God’s action is always there unerring and all powerful.
Life faces you with courageous challenges at every step of the way. You are on the path, exactly where you are meant to be right now,...and from here, you can only go forward, shaping your life story into a magnificent tale of triumph, of healing, of courage, of beauty, of wisdom, of power, of dignity, of love.
I sought God everywhere in His creatures. He seemed to me to be in the heart of creation drawing all things to Himself.
God is always new and his presence gives new life.
It is a great and true principle that at the bottom of every discouraging thought there is an untruth and at the bottom of every helpful thought of God and of our soul there is a truth...
If we love well and much, we shall need no other preparation for death; squandering ourselves and what we have on God and on our neighbors, that is the best way to prepare for it.
Train their hearts to a love of religion and all the virtues it inspires. If we do other than this, we are simply giving instruction. Our aim is to turn the hearts of children to God.
There are ways of educating: one, to give heart, mind, energy, everything to working for the children - doing things for them. The other is to try to teach the children to work for themselves. And this is the higher of the two.
Prayer for a new stage in life:
Loving God, unseen Companion of our life, give us faith and eager expectancy as we begin this fresh stage of our journey. Take from us all fear of the unknown and teach us to wrest treasures from darkness and difficulties. As the days come and go, may we find that each one is laden with happy opportunities and enriching experiences; and when this year reaches its completion, may our best hopes be more than ever fulfilled.
We are all God's property, and our life must be one wild bird's song of praise, one wild flower's face looking up to God.
One more lesson must be mentioned, the hardest of all to be learnt – perfect sincerity. It is so hard not to pose, for all but the very truest and simplest natures – to pose as independent while being eaten up with human respect; to pose as indifferent though aching with the wish to be understood; to pose as flippant while longing to be in earnest; to hide an attraction to higher things under a little air of something like irreverence… It is very hard to learn to be quite true; that entails more personal self-sacrifice than almost any other virtue.
The quality of our joy depends on the spring from which it is drawn. Where do we seek our joy? How does it come and go? Watch its flight as of birds...Does it soar or flutter? Is it steadfast or changeable? Does it go by days, by moods, by self-love, by the adventure of circumstances?... To be a joy-bearer and a joy-giver says everything; it means that one is faithfully living for God and that nothing else counts, and if one gives joy to others we are doing God's work. With joy without and within, all is well. I can conceive no higher way. Joy is the most heavenly atmosphere found on earth - we ought to cultivate it as a duty always.
Cultivate the wish to learn, rather than the wish to be taught. Be determined to "pick up" and do not wait for the Professor and the pedagogical devices of his or her craft...Do not think that lessons will do it, if you wait for lessons you will wait a life-time...If we wait to be taught, we shall never learn.
There are two ways of educating: one, to give heart, mind, energy, everything to working for the children - doing things for them. The other, to try to teach the children to work for themselves. And this is the higher of the two. It requires more prudence, more foresight and there is less immediate return. We ought not to do things for the children which they ought to learn to do for themselves. We want to make them independent of us.
Beware of extremes, beware of inhuman efforts, of violent measures, of all that drives you off your balance....Don't attempt the impossible....Take yourself as you are, whole, and do not try to live by one part alone and starve the other. Control, but do not kill....
It is an arduous journey, a great undertaking, not a little or easy thing...sing every way you can. God gave song to give heart and courage and joy in life...if not with the voice, sing with the spirit and understanding; sing by words of courage and hope, praise and thanksgiving. Call out to one another by high thoughts and spiritual ambitions; these are the songs of our country.
Those who make the most demands on us really render us the greatest service. This is true for us and for our children.
We are called to a fuller, richer, higher life within...-called to work with God, to walk with God, to have influence with God....
Above all remember that you are the cherished object of our Lord's most tender love. May He convince you of this.
So we must remember that it is better to begin a great work than to finish a small one...the work in the rough...may look ugly and yet be full of promise...A piece of finished insignificance is no true success... Our education is not meant to turn the children out small and finished, but seriously begun on a wide-basis. Therefore they must leave us with some self-knowledge, some energy, some purpose...If they leave us without these three things they drift with the stream of life.
Education is a complete whole, an organism; that given by the Society is such. Our method of teaching is complete in itself: its final cause is to give God souls… to make them love, we must take their whole being…not be satisfied with the work of the mind alone, nor think exclusively of the will, but of the whole.
A runner to win the prize must despise everything else: fatigue, comfort, praise, any ties that would hold back or interfere with the singlehearted purpose to run till the prize is attained. That was the kind of person we should have seen had we known St.Stanislaus...he shone as a star of first magnitude, as a racer who bounded to the front at once by his uncalculating generosity and the singleheartedness of his love.
We must remember that each one of our children is destined for a mission in life. Neither we nor they can know what it is, but we must know and make them believe that each one has a mission in life and that she is bound to find out what it is, that there is some special work for God which will remain undone unless she does it, some place in life which no one else can fill....We must bring home to our children and to ourselves also, the responsibilities of our gifts. We must put our talents at interest not bury them in the earth and the reason is sufficient, that they are God's.
We take our children as a trust and train them for eternity. As trustees, we are given charge of these minors....We are responsible under the trust to keep them from evil and train them to good; to "whatever things are true, modest, just, holy, lovely, of good fame," in which there is any virtue or praise of discipline. Remember that the principal end is training to good; keeping from evil is not an end but a condition. A soul kept from evil for a time, not trained to positive good, to discern, to act, to judge, to do good, would leave us quite unfit for life. Whereas one leaving us even young and undeveloped, but having a positive love for good, an attraction for it and some practice, is fitted for life, at least to begin the battle. Our education would be quite a failure if we turned out nonentities without color or character or individuality.
There is a deep-down unity, but there is no forced uniformity. The spirit is one, but its manifestations are many ... no one is 'made to order' of this or that shape, but each gives what she can for the common good; the common good demanding for its own sake, as well as for hers, that she should remain - herself.
... Among human beings, strong personalities are most entirely and permanently themselves; and without fear of losing themselves can challenge the currents of circumstances to play upon them, adapt themselves to new conditions. Change has not passed upon what was deepest in their souls, but the discipline of change has called out its deepest response. They have changed but that change was growth. They are unchanged; and that unchangeableness is their truth."
Written by Janet Erskine Stuart about Mother Georgia Stevens, RSCJ and several other Religious of the Sacred Heart.
There are two ways of preparing children for the government of themselves in after-life, one direct and the other indirect. The first has its merits, it is quick in results, often very successful. It fosters piety, inculcates some clear principles, dictates the main lines of action, and by rule and maxim, fits the being into its place in the world, and gives it means to do its duty creditably. The indirect method is longer and less clearly defined. It aims at giving a guiding light within, and power to climb a difficult path, and pick a way through unknown country by that light. This must be waited for, and slowly developed, but in the end it is of greater worth. The training of the Sacred Heart aims at this. God hears our unuttered desires and as they are satisfied they grow. ... The more we desire and attain the more we shall desire and the more attain. ... that is why our life is so immense."
Your letter was a consolation to me, for it is so good to find a fault frankly faced and humbly owned. I look on it as a grace for you to have had this experience - it reminds me of what I used to be told as a child - 'It takes twelve falls to make a horsewoman' - so I should not like you to ride without a fall. One learns thus. Tighten your hold on God again...
We bring up the children for the future, not for the present, not that we may enjoy the fruit of our work, but for others... Therefore, we must have to do with things raw and unfinished and unpolished... WE must remember that it is better to begin a great work than to finish a small one. A piece of unfinished insignificance is no success at all. Our education is not meant to turn the children out small and finished but seriously begun on a wide basis. Therefore they must leave us with some self-knowledge, some energy, some purpose. If they leave us without these three things, they drift with the stream of life.
The higher we want to fly, the greater the risk, but that is the glorious part of it. The great uncertainties in which we trust God, the breathless risks we run, with no assurance but our great trust in God, that seems to me to be of the essence of our life and its beauty. This will grow upon you; you will get your balance in the risk and get to love it.
Joy is the song or psalm of the spirit under the pressure of happiness, and to give God the fullest and best service possible, we must train our spirit to sing that psalm continually.
Where will our courage, confidence, joy and generosity stem from? The practical conclusion is to let God work God's way upon us, and to correspond with God's grace. The inner life is all in that. God working, we corresponding, listening to His word that speaks within, commanding, inviting, praising, reproving, asking. That is our real life, going on uninterruptedly, which , if we are too busy with exterior things, we lose sight of. An irreparable loss - there is so much to be done, and no time to lose. The work is done in silence, tranquility and recollection, and without them it is not done at all.
St. Joseph's silence kept him so much in touch with God; at each crisis or turning point in life, God's voice was heard indicating the way. He waited and prayed and took counsel with God. Was not St. Joseph a markedly singlehearted man of great purity of intention? 'Always seek the Beholder of the heart.' A thing not learned in a day, but by constant practice of letting go of the human standard. To seek simply 'What does God think, judge, will, in this matter?' is an eternal thought, judgment and decision that will give peace, strength and stability. All human thoughts and wills flicker so feebly. This is a steady light.
The little opportunities [for being humble and loving] are treasures, they are like gold dust and we should have an enthusiasm for them.
Judge kindly; that is the heart of everything.
In prayer it is often the very best just to leave yourself face to face with God without saying anything.
It is always here and now, there is always the present moment to do the very best we can with, and the future depends on the way these moments are spent.
We live much more under secular supervision than of old; it is unavoidable if we want to do our work for children: all the more necessary then to strengthen ourselves in truth, in personal humility, in independence of the world, in the tendency to hiddenness which is characteristic of God's work in the universe.
On willing acceptance of criticism: To very unenlightened people criticism comes as a personal injury. To beginners it is a serious trial, but to the proficient a most encouraging and interesting communication.
God is so simple that truth, sincerity and simplicity are the nearest copy we can make of Him.
The Presence of God is the best remedy against pride, vanity, sadness, resistance. It gives the three lights we pray for in the blessing of the candles: Light without, to see our way for action; light within, of the Holy [Spirit], for our inner life; hereafter, light eternal: we pray that we may be presented in heaven like the lighted candles in our hands, that is especially the light of faith; we may go and ask it with assurance of Our Lady who has in her arms the Light of the world. .
On Modesty: Think what this is for an educator to possess: to be one in whose presence people are inclined to control themselves, whose presence brings calmness to the mind and makes composure possible. It is an inward principle of discipline which communicates itself.
Modesty in its perfect beauty is not the characteristic virtue of sub-normal natures, who have to rouse themselves with difficulty from mental and physical and spiritual somnolency, it is not the virtue of the limp and the drooping and the dragging and the lacadaisical, they have another battle to fight - to acquire dynamical energy, motor power of some sort. Modesty is the homage of the strong and the resolute and expressive, keeping themselves in hand.
Religious Modesty which tends to droop, and blush, and hesitate, and utterly efface itself, fails of its end with young, forceful things, which do not hesitate or efface themselves! In these cases there is another virtue to be first acquired, that is: resolution;
In itself simplicity is the opposite of duplicity or multiplicity. It is one-ness, integrity, consistence, the being one with oneself, i.e., not a dual personality. It is like all other virtues natural or supernatural, a golden mean between two extremes.
The unsimple ways and manners are found in the intermediate layers, those who are uneasy and anxious to be something which they are not and so become unreal. So, a simple manner belongs to those who are at ease in being themselves, not anxious to be taken for anything else, content and not afraid.
The unsimple manner comes of having something to be afraid of, the ambition to be taken for what one is not (more rich, important, intelligent, instructed, etc.).
Supernatural simplicity belongs to those who are not only one with themselves but one with God. It is more than the 'simple life,' it is the life of union. God is simplicity itself - one act; the nearer we come to God, the less complicated we become.
An analysis of simplicity: 'Avoids all singularity.' So much of the silly cunning of self-love is just that, and causes endless entanglements. 'I have my privileges, exemptions, special hours, special allowances.'
Anything to say: 'This law is not for me.' It is very deep in some natures, and singularly silly; the grace and strength of being like everyone else is lost, and for what?
An analysis of simplicity: 'Chooses always the most straightforward and obvious line of conduct.' Here is both a means to acquire, and an indication of it. There are people with whom, when they ask a question or permission, one has to ask oneself: 'What do they really want?' Their ways are neither straightforward nor obvious.
Self-control is so vital to the conduct of life that no price is too great for the habit; it is so indispensable that no kind of duty can be well done without it, and no action is too small in which to practice it. It is a vain expectation to hope that self-control and unselfishness will come forth at command in a crisis, when they have not been practiced in the small occurrences of daily life. The rare crises of life reveal us to ourselves, but we are made in the small victories or defeats of every day.
On Practicing Simplicity: Cultivate a real love of truth. This is not a cheap investment but a valuable one; it takes real labor to be truthful (not exaggerated, not literal, not rigid). A great part of the expense is the attention it calls for.
Devotedness for souls in a spirit of zeal, forms the second half of our vocation; it is not a secondary thing, but essential to our vocation.
We could not do better than look at our Mother Foundress's zeal, for she possessed it in rare perfection. As we have already seen, our vocation consists in the spirit of prayer and the spirit of zeal.
The interior, contemplative spirit of prayer is in itself the most perfect spirit, and must be the foundation of ours. But there is the active life that we must lead - a life of work for souls, and the mixed life becomes relatively the most perfect only when the active life is, so to speak, grafted on our interior life, and our zeal is the overflow of the love and grace that God has given to us in prayer.
Some seek perfection in the contemplative life only, others are more inclined to the active life, but in our vocation we must combine the two.
Zeal is principally shown forth in actions, less in words, and it should be our earnest desire to use every opportunity and means to improve, always bearing in mind that what we learn is not for ourselves, but to be able to teach, and so fit ourselves for one of the means used by the Society to save souls.
Real zeal is courageous and invulnerable, because unselfish and self-forgetting. It can be put to any kind of work; it is indefatigable and never says 'too much'; it is persevering; it never gives in.
The apostleship of prayer: It is open to all at any time; it is the surest means of exercising zeal; it is infallible, though there may be nothing to show for it. We have not got the full spirit of the Society unless we have zeal for God's cause, and the wish to bring others to God.
Everything has a meaning and is a symbol of something else; everything raises the mind to mysteries and leaves it there, and after all mystery is the true home of the Christian mind. We grow weary of things we can understand; it is the life of faith, most at home when reason fails us: then our soul finds ever more firmness, assurance and joy. Then we come to a mystery, it is reaching the enveloping, strong presence of God, and our faith rests, exults, and rejoices in it.
Days full to the brim; serious work, not languidly done, not sadly done (that would be taking back from the completeness of our gift), but wholehearted work; and if we are tired at the end of such a day, then blesses fatigue; we have all Eternity to rest, and only this short life to labour and to give.
Remember that whatever happens...you must say, according to circumstances, joyfully and thankfully or humbly and submissively or bravely or if need be, defiantly to the troubles within, "This is part of the story and the story of God's love for you and yours for Him."
The way to do much in a short time is to love much. People will do great things if they are stirred with enthusiasm and love.
Our thoughts are very important. Do we make enough effort to lift our minds out of the little groove of daily difficulties?
…May peace be your gift to all who come near or depend on you. May God’s presence be ever your living joy and the central fact in your life, from which will flow patience, calmness and an unquenchable joy, with that in your soul you can meet anything and each trial will be a small treasure to offer Him…
Study the crucifix - it is a constant companion of our life, and there is great grace attached to any meditation on the Passion, no matter how clumsy or unskillful.
One day of fervour is worth a thousand tepid days.
Remember that the source of happiness is within ourselves. Nothing outside can give it, even if you make your circumstances ideal. Nothing can take it away.
The special grace of spiritual joy is that it tends to diffuse itself; dispositions of soul are easily communicated. The most blessed thing is to be an active element of joy. Joy brings God himself near.
We do not seek the showy, the great; a smaller work done with perfection often calls out more love and faith than that which is great and show - (as in the great Gothic cathedrals, the hidden carving is the proof of the builders' faith). Our most skilled workmanship and loving care should go to those things that no one but God can see.
It is a false notion that to be honest we must always speak our minds, etc.; to glory in always being outspoken may only mean that we are unmortified and unrestrained, weak, and wanting to our ourselves out. Silence of prudence means silence of mortification, holding in check our chattering tongues. Without silence no real purity of heart, no real devotion to the Holy Spirit, no real teaching from God who cannot make His still small voice heard in the talkative soul.
Just as the soul must rule the body, so must our spiritual life rule our outward life, and exterior work and activity then become the overflow of what we have received from God by means of our interior life. All that is not so gained is lost labour, personal work, of little value in the long run.
In order that our work may be the overflow of our interior life we must pray more than we work, not of course as to time, but by the intensity with which we give the whole of the powers of our soul to our prayer, and one such intense act of prayer is of more value than half an hour of vague prayer. There should be no vagueness in our interior life, we should know at all times what we are aiming at, and be able to give an account of our souls as to where we are going and why.
Joy is the song of the spirit under the pressure of happiness.
Love is the gift of self; all forms of the gift of self for the love of Christ are devotion to the Sacred Heart.
Every friendship with God and every love between God and a soul is the only one of its kind.
You begin every day, just where you are, no matter where. It is always here and always now.
If really lived, our life has nothing to envy any other. But it must be so anchored in the land of faith and hope, so faithful in renunciation, so full of prayer and washed daily by contrition.
We must go to the duties which contain for us the will of God and the means of growing in His service and love. It does not matter what or where, we will take it as it comes. And if the sea of life is angry and troublesome for our navigation, we shall bear in mind that the harbor lights will surely appear one day, perhaps soon, and we shall be in port.
Take up your cross...the cross is different for each one, so we often make the mistake of thining that we could bear any other better than our own. But, our own is the only one we can bear, whether is beour character, our duty, or some suffering. It is the cross that God has portioned out to us, and we must carry it gladly, without hesitation, enthusiastically, even as He did. And, he carried both His and ours.
With regard to the causes of joy and sorrow, let us for our own guidance bear in mind that the sources of joy are deeper than the sources of sorrow. The sources of sadness are temporal, are in ourselves, the sources of joy are eternal and are in God.
Every life that is led very near to God is a life in which great sorrows and great joys meet no close union with God is effected without real suffering, and that the fruit of suffering is joy.
God gives to His nearest and dearest what God chose for Himself; great joys and great sorrows, and they are so interwoven that it is hard to say where one ends and the other begins
The joys and sorrows are not aimed at us from a great distance as bolts, but God personally handles our life, adjusting it day by day to our capabilities and our correspondence. When we feel ourselves in such a Master-hand we may well be quiet and hopeful.
Things to be observed: The joy follows the sorrow in each case, as the flower breaks from the thorny branch, not the thorny branch from the flower. This is a mark of sorrows and joys that come from God. Those of God's enemy are mostly in the other order, the joy first and the bitterness afterwards: remorse, disappointment, etc.; that is a thought that spring teaches us every year, looking at the black thorns and knotted branches - 'I know that the hawthorn and the roses will break from these dry black stems,' say this to every sorrow.
The best and greatest things in our lives, we cannot see or feel, but we can trust. God expects it. Most of us feel that the work we are called on to do is in some way beyond us, by quantity, by quality, by responsibility, etc. God sends it to us and will give us the means of carrying it through. But God expects also that we should show the good will of doing what lies in our power. What lies beyond it He will do, even if a miracle were necessary. If we fill our water jar with water (this we can do) God will change it into wine.
The work is God's, not ours. We are not dispensed from labour and thought, but from trouble of mind. If we understand God's meaning we shall keep our peace of mind all through.
Our duties in the coming year are God's gifts to us: all that is best and most unselfish, most devoted, most spiritual; all our most loyal faith and obedience must respond to the call.
God has never found fault with anyone for trusting too much and expecting too much of Him.
It was at Christmas that our Lord, as it were, took His first plunge into the heart of our troubles, of our difficulties, of our experiences, into the heart of the life we are leading. And that, not as someone standing at a distance, but as thrown into the stream---feeling the shock, the human astonishment at what took place around Him---feeling the poverty, the pain, the isolation in which He was left. He loves that we should sympathize with Him in it
What do we want to bring up? Not good nonentities, who are only good because they are not bad. There are too many of them already, no trouble to anyone, only disappointing, so good that they ought to be so much better, if only they would. But who can make them be more?… Those who have to educate them to something higher must themselves have an idea of what they want; they must believe in the possibility of every mind and character to be lifted up to something better than it has already attained; they must themselves be striving for some higher excellence, and must believe and care deeply for the things they teach. For no one can be educated by maxim and precept; it is the life lived, and the things loved and the ideals believed in, by which we tell, one upon another.... If we want integrity of character, steadiness, reliability, courage, thoroughness, all the harder qualities that serve as backbone, we, at least, make others want them by the power of example that is not set as deliberate good example, for that is as tame as precept; but the example of the life that is lived, and the truths that are honestly believed in.