Life in Pictures     

A life in pictures by Sister Melanie

Anthony Receveur was born in France in 1750. His life alternated between light and shadow, joy and suffering. “What joy”, he wrote, “how my heart rejoices when crosses fall on me”. “When I can see no way out, it is then that help comes”

May these pictures inspire you to see in the apparent paradox of light and shade, joy and sorrow, God’s loving guidance in your life.


The Call

THE CALL: At 7 years old, Anthony woke up one night and saw in the darkness a terrifying vision of evil. But then a soft light penetrated the darkness and he heard a voice say: “Anthony, if you knew the gift of God”. He arose and spent the rest of the night in prayer.


The Cave

THE CAVE: Shaken by this vision, he determined to become a saint and like his patron Anthony of the Desert, sought the solitude of a nearby cave to pray.


The Choice

THE CHOICE: As a student in Besançon he found city life attractive and forgot his vocation for a time. But on one occasion whilst on holiday at home, he returned from a morning’s hunting, pale and trembling and declared he would never hunt again.


The Rule of Life

THE RULE OF LIFE: Determined to lead a more serious life, Anthony discovered the Rule of St. Francis de Sales and through his reading he began to see how unconcerned he had been to live a truly Christian life.


The Seed

THE SEED: In Besançon Anthony discovered the benefits of enclosed retreats. In candlelit rooms with posters about ‘Thoughts on Eternity’ displayed on the walls, the seed of an idea was being formed. Retreats were to become the cornerstone of his future work as a priest.


The Vocation

THE VOCATION: Anthony became a priest in 1775 and was appointed as curate of Fontenelles. As he approached the village, his gaze firmly on the crucifix, he said: “I am convinced that I must follow a different path from the ordinary to achieve anything in my ministry”.


The Children

THE CHILDREN: The education of children, especially their religious formation, was very important to Fr. Anthony. Children were the key to parish renewal and he had the greatest love and tenderness for them.


The Retreats

THE RETREATS: Fr. Anthony pioneered retreats for ordinary people. These consisted of talks on the ‘Great Truths’, daily meditation and the Sacraments. But it was the eve of the French Revolution and opposition to religion was growing. The retreatants were often mocked and attacked during their great outdoor processions.


The Retreat House

THE RETREAT HOUSES: Amidst opposition, but in an effort to deepen the work already begun, Fr. Anthony decided to build two large retreat houses which would become a permanent retreat for people drawn to the life of work, silence and solitude.


The Foundation

THE FOUNDATION: Many enthusiastic men and women were eager to live in the new retreat houses, but revolutionary soldiers guarded the doors. However, on a night of exceptional cold between 18th and 19th November 1789, that drove the soldiers indoors, Fr. Anthony, cross in hand, called the people: “Come, it is God’s hour”.


The Christian Retreat

THE CHRISTIAN RETREAT: Fr. Anthony’s work flourished. Hundreds of people flocked to Fontenelles for days of retreat, prayer and reflection. Children were educated, work was provided for local people and the Brothers and Sisters lived a life of prayer and meditation.


The Expulsion

THE EXPULSION: Fontenelles could not escape the ravages of the Revolution and on a “glorious and ever memorable day”, 23rd October 1792, troops surrounded the retreat houses. The community was bullied, tied up, threatened with death and forced to leave their beloved Retreat. They were banished from France.


The Road to Exile

THE ROAD TO EXILE: For the next ten years, the community wandered through Europe pushed to their physical and emotional limits. They always carried a cross before them, and their distinctive white habits made a lasting impression wherever they went.


The Pilgrimage of Faith

THE PILGRIMAGE OF FAITH: Unable to stay long anywhere because of the advancing French army, the community carried their 'Retreat' with them. At one moment, unable to advance or return, Fr Anthony prayed and they renewed their total confidence in God.


The Grain Which Dies

THE GRAIN WHICH DIES: In 1803 Fr Anthony and the community were able to return to France, but Fr. Anthony then died in 1804, worn out by his labours. His aim had been to encourage people to meditate on the Word of God and ‘thoughts on Eternity’ and so embrace a truly Christian Life. He died humbly confident in God. Today, his work continues in communities known as The Christian Retreat.

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“Thank you for providing this place of peace and rest – so necessary in the madness of life”.