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janet erskine STUART- A Great Educator and Spiritual Director

Janet Erskine Stuart was born in Cottesmore, Rutland, on October 11th 1857, the youngest daughter of a Church of England clergyman.  As a teenager she began searching for the meaning of life which led her to become a Roman Catholic at the age of twenty-one and subsequently three years later to become a nun in the Society of the Sacred Heart.  From the time Janet Stuart made final profession, she held leadership roles, first as Mistress of Novices, then as Superior, and finally as Superior General of the Society of the Sacred Heart, a position she held from August 27th 1911 until her death on October 21st 1914.

As Mistress of Novices, Janet Stuart understood the novices in their spiritual journey despite their experiences of desolation and of thorny passages; she was a mother to them. She taught the novices to pray, to reflect, and to ask God what He wanted them to be; she encouraged them towards the glory of God.  She understood clearly that all results and fruit in our souls must come from God alone.  The state of shame and confusion is good, she said, “but let the sunshine of God’s mercy and goodness and love penetrate your soul, vivify it, strengthen it, fill it with light and warmth.”  She taught her novices to pay no more attention to their moods than a reasonable person with serious duties on hand pays to the weather.  She encouraged them to give one steady look of faith, hope and love at the crucifix and then press on. “May God give to each one a heart as clear as a diamond, too noble, too pure to let itself be disturbed by petty misunderstandings, little prejudices, mean and unworthy thoughts. Do not let yourself get upset by what anyone may say but go on your way simply to God.”

Janet Stuart was a woman of God who drew her faith in God from prayer.  To be with God in adoration was the source of her joy, her strength.  She longed to live for God alone in her thoughts and actions. In moments of joy, tension and suffering she relied on God.  She said, “Let your mind rest quietly in the thought that God is with you, within, around, above you, most intimately within you.”  To live with Janet Stuart was to live in an atmosphere of love and trust. “To be a joy bearer and a joy giver says everything”, she said, “for in our life, if one is joyful it means that one is faithfully living for God”.

Affectionate and loving, Janet Stuart was so thoughtful and full of fun and merriment that no one could resist her.  All of life was a school to her; we are taught now by one set of circumstances, now by another.  She believed that God does not ask a perfect work but infinite desire, a desire which she encouraged all her religious to cultivate in their way of life and mission. She insisted on all being Saints and she would say, “Saints are not born perfect but become so.” The person “must win its fulfillment by struggle and endeavor, by choice, self-discipline and deliberate act.  Until the soul has found itself, the true person does not stand revealed, but we see now one side, now another, as each power is tried and tested and the possible solutions of life’s difficulties are examined one by one.” “.. training the heart and lips to song gives courage to the soul”, she said and, “when faced by trials learn to laugh, being reproved give thanks, having failed determine to succeed”... When speaking about poverty as a vow she said, “The true spirit of poverty is in doing without and suffering inconvenience without complaint”.

Janet Stuart was an educator. “Our education is not meant to turn the children out small and finished but seriously begun on a wide base.  Therefore they must leave us with some self-knowledge, energy and purpose.”  By studying the needs of each person, Janet Stuart did all she could to smooth the path for them. She cared for all with courage and joy and she never failed to listen.  She had a great heart and a mind rich with the treasures of learning. 

During her three short years as Superior General, Janet Stuart accomplished an amazing amount both in what she did and in what she was to all the people of God.  She served whole-heartedly and appreciated all that was of God and of his creatures. She was not only a model for the religious but also a model and guide to her beloved family and, through her writings, to many people even up to this present day. In her administration, Janet Stuart united prudence and steadfast constancy with a mother’s love and a winning manner. Easy of access, selfless and considerate, she won to herself the love and devotedness of all. Conspicuous in her were obedience, trust in God, love of truth and simplicity.

Our beloved Mother Stuart, Janet Erskine Stuart, wanted all her daughters, Religious of the Sacred Heart “to give all, to love all, to trust and hope in God alone.”  She said, “We are like the captain of a ship in a fogbank off Newfoundland.  We don’t know what may loom up out of the impenetrable fog but trust it all to God.  He will see us through it.”

Janet Stuart said, “If we love well and much we shall need no other preparation for death”.  She loved well and much and so was well prepared for death when she died on October 21st, 1914, at Roehampton, England.  May her soul rest in peace.

In studying Janet Stuart’s life, I have been encouraged to appreciate my life more and to eliminate the fear of challenges and differences. Janet Stuart encourages me to leave what is not for God, to live totally for Him. She has instilled in me a greater love of generosity and finally, and most importantly, she has increased my faith in my vocation.

Patience Kyarisiima, RSCJ