Origen vs. Madeleine Sophie Barat

The madcap Elate Eight continues today as Origen faces Madeleine Sophie Barat. To make it this deep into the bracket, Origen defeated Hilda of Whitby and Juana Ines de la Cruz, while Madeleine took out Mesrop Mashtots and Columbanus.

Yesterday in YET ANOTHER tightly contested battle of Lent Madness 2022, José Hernández squeezed past James Holly 52% to 48% to snag the second spot in the Faithful Four.


The term “kitsch” wasn’t even around when Origen was building the foundation of systematic theology for the church.

What is left are papyrus that capture the work of Origen to understand the Bible and our understanding of God and faith.

Certainly, I can show you the many times theologians both ancient and modern that have written dissertations discussing the influence of Origen on the church.

But really, you’d need some libation after that dry work (theologians aren’t known for their levity or brevity). Several drinks have assumed the name Origen.

Or perhaps you need an icon In Which to venerate Origen

Or perhaps I could show the items used to torture Origen for his presumed heresies when he disagreed with the leadership of the church.


But really what Origen would want for me to show you so the Bible. To truly understand God, you must seek God’s presence, God’s faithfulness and God’s consistent love in the pages of the Bible that Origen spent his life studying.

Anna Fitch Courie


Madeleine Sophie Barat

“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived 12 little girls in two straight lines…the smallest one was Madeline”.

So begins each story in Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline series. The vine-covered home is in fact a boarding school, where Madeline and her classmates are watched over by Miss Clavel. The school is supposedly modeled on a Sacred Heart academy; even the way that Miss Clavel is a “miss” and not a “sister”--sisters of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus preferred their students to call them Madame, the common practice of other French orders of the period (though Bemelmans thought calling a nun “Miss”, as in Mademoiselle, would make more sense to American readers than the technically correct “Mrs.”)

Madeleine Sophie Barat lived a difficult life in a tenuous time–and despite her more modern (at least by the standards of Lent Madness!) pedigree, she hasn’t exactly generated much in the way of kitsch. But the powerful legacy of her pedagogy, and the Sacred Heart schools that still credit her inspiration today, make this little connection to the famous book series seem like the right place to start. And just like Madeline, Madeleine Sophie Barat was herself the smallest (read:youngest) of the sisters committing themselves both to the education and nurture of young women, and to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And just like Madeline, Madeleine Sophie was intrepid and indefatigable, and unafraid of everything, even her own scars.

Madeleine Sophie had to be brave from her first breath. This author of this young adult novel imagines herself into Barat’s life story (as a childhood companion) to tell the story of Madeleine’s life–from her premature birth in a house fire, to practicing her Christianity “underground” in the midst of revolution, to championing her new religious order to open schools all over France, then Europe, and then the world.

While struggle makes some people bitter, understanding hardship made Mother Barat sweet. Rather than making poor children try to learn while they were hungry, Mother Barat and her Sisters instituted snack time, or goûter. While some sources describe the meal they provided as a cake, I learned from one commenter that it was actually an enriched brioche with dried fruits or nuts added. Let them eat kitsch! 

Madeleine Sophie Barat was beloved among the nuns she led for her gifts of spiritual direction, and her own strong life of prayer. If you’re looking for something practical to express your Barat fandom, there’s no shortage of rosaries and other prayer beads on the market for you!

In the early days of the order, Madeleine and her companions did lacework in the evenings to help financially support their mission of education for all. Let this vintage French “Holy Card” of the Sacred Heart, bordered in lace, help inspire you to stand against educational inequality today.

And when you need a break, rest your head on this surprisingly chic throw pillow. The pillow is patterned with powerful yet simple words of the Mother Superior, and advertised with similarly simple copy: “Love this powerful Catholic Lady!” Me too, RedBubble.com. Me too.

Love can make you do crazy things. For Madeleine Sophie, it meant teaching catechism in a secret Christian community in spite of possible imprisonment or even death, and ultimately leading the Society through four different French regimes and their accompanying religious tensions for the sake of children’s education. And for this little girl, it meant picking an obscure saint for Kindergarten trivia:

Whether you use prayer beads, a habit, or even a piece of cake, think about how you might “dress up” as Madeleine Sophie Barat today, striving after her example of patience, thoughtfulness, and bravery.

— Eva Suarez


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75 comments on “Origen vs. Madeleine Sophie Barat”

  1. My bracket is completely busted (sorry, Bishop Holly) so it's on to voting for Sister Madeline today.

  2. Madeleine Sophie Barat, for sure. Both of my daughters went to a Sacred Heart school.

  3. Cake, a young adult novel, and kindergarten make for excellent kitsch. My vote goes to Sister Madeline.

  4. Speaking only on the kitsch level, I'll take rosaries, the Sacred Heart, throw pillows, and love any day. Icing on that cake is a 60-year dedication to teaching girls, and a middle-ground perspective on most things. Go, Madame!

  5. After a hard day of teaching, I need a Madeleine Medal to remind me to pray constantly, and rely on the sweet sustenance of the Spirit for strength! Madeleine (and her brother) survived the French Revolution -- a very good example to remember when facing a challenge!

  6. Sr. Madeleine has better kitsch, but Origen’s contributions to Christian thought are powerful.

  7. While I am guessing that Sophie will not prevail in the overall bracket, my heart has swelled as I see how many are learning about "our" beloved Sophie. Her example and words (e.g., Be humble, be simple, and bring joy to others.) bring hope in difficult times. Plus, how can you not love a saint signified by "cake".

  8. Thank you, Eva Suarez, for your wonderful write-up of Mother Barat today! She’s my Golden Halo pick for this year and I just keep loving her more!

    1. I too would love her to prevail. Through her work and inspiration, millions of girls have been educated, and educated well, that might otherwise had little or lesser learning environments. She represents such heart, but also a well-thought out ethos that is practical for daily life.

  9. This was hard for me; my husband was a systematic theologian but carried that through to his place in the modern world. But even understanding Otigen because of my close association with dear husband, I, as ateacher, had to vote for Madeleine.

    1. Moi aussi (the daughter of said systematic theologian). Though as a lover of kitsch, kudos to Origen for being such an inspiration!

  10. Madeleine Sophie Barat has the best quote of the Lent Madness tournament.
    “We do not live with angels, we have human nature and we must forgive it.” I am a Barat fan so she gets my vote.

  11. Il y longtemps, à Paris,
    dans une vieille maison aux murs recouverts de vigne
    vivaient douze petites filles.
    La plus petite s'appelait Madeleine.
    Great writeups today, bloggers! I have to vote for "Madame"! I foresee "Cake vs. Cure" in the final round, and I don't know what I'm going to do. Today I will simply remember to keep snacking.

    1. Clever intro! It took me a few minutes, but my long-ago conversational French class saved the day.


  12. First of all, congrats to Ann Fitch Courie. It feels like whenever I read a particularly beautiful blog piece, by the time I get to the bottom, Ann's name will be there. i am impressed with all the bloggers, of course, but there is something about Ann's writing which prompts my admiration. That being said, I voted for Madeleine because in a previous post Eva Suarez literally brought a tear to my eye as I read about Madeleine's love and sense of responsibility for her students. Today, I thought it was very clever using the brioche as a piece of kitsch, although on its own there is nothing "kitschy" about a beautiful piece of brioche. This has been a fun year (I can't believe Easter is just over a week away!), although I am still protesting Jerome's loss.

  13. Both are worthy of the Golden Halo. Both persevered in educating others in the Way of Christ at great risk to themselves. Origen died of his injuries after being beaten, and passed on a vast collection of influential writings which profoundly effect us Christians today. I am casting my vote for Origen (who was there at the beginning), and wish Miss Barat well in the race.

    1. Try this one. Recipe calls for citron and golden raisins, both of which were probably available to the school's cooks, though you could easily sub in many other types of fruits and/or nuts as the season and the availability warrant.

      I have said this before: I do miss the Saintly Sprinkles group of recipes that used to be in the Scorecards.

  14. She so had me with Madeline and Miss Clavel. The video put my vote over the top! Mademoiselle Barat pour moi.

  15. Seriously, folks, Madeleine had a big heart and educated girls, but her desire to please children strikes at my teacher and parent heart which knows children need structure and limits.

    1. I doubt that the children lacked "structure and limits," which can exist along with kindness and pleasing a frightened, homesick new student. (I am also a parent and former teacher.)

  16. Well I figured Origen had it in the bag, and I actually am intellectually drawn to cast my vote there, but Madeleine captured my heart (and I worked in education for 25 years, so there's that). And oh that video. I think my vote went for Madeleine mostly because the blogger did such a marvelous bit of research! I was surprised to see that Madeleine has a strong lead at this point.

  17. From a researcher on founders of Orders of women reilgious: Sophie gets my vote, hands down. Cannot recall another woman founder of the "modern" age (after 1750) in the contest. Let her win, and we all get cake!

    1. I thought Mother Teresa of Calcutta founded the Missionaries of Charity sometime in the middle of the 20th century?

  18. In honor of the teachers who paid for our lunches from their own pockets when we were young, my brother and I vote for Madeline.

  19. We even have the book so my first direct line to a saint so I am now rooting for this years golden halo to go to Saint Barat

  20. Although Madeleine Barat did many wonderful things she called indigenous people savages in letters written to her RSCJ sisters running a boarding school for Potawatomi children in America. This RSCJ boarding school was also part of the system of colonization and assimilation of indigenous children.

    1. I hadn't come across that yet in my research Elaina, but I'm sadly not surprised. Though she was of course a creature of her time and place, other people in her era could understand those practices were wrong (and not even to mention the failure to listen to the voices of the Potawatomi people themselves). Thanks for teaching me about a complicated legacy.

    2. You are so right about the troubled treatment of both indigenous peoples as well as the enslaved. As Eva says, both Sts. Phillipine Duchesne (who came to the U.S. on behalf of the RSCJ) and Madeleine-Sophie Barat were products of their time and reflected the prejudices of those years. So proud of the Society of the Sacred Heart which has acknowledged the problematic treatment that the sisters perpetuated in the past and honors indigenous people (e.g. the Powtawatomi) that the sisters tried to serve. https://www.readkong.com/page/bicentennial-2019-5167045