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L’Escale Louise de Marillac at Fresnes, an Experience of Ephata

May 31, 2021

Between the fear and the confusion which often strike the relatives of detainees, the Daughters of Charity are there; four Sisters and some volunteers keep doors and hearts open for the families of detained persons. Since the arrival of the first two Daughters of Charity in Fresnes in 1755 to care for the sick and to teach children, the Company, impelled by the Spirit, has never ceased to open itself to the continuous call of Christ in those who are poor. Sister Madeleine at the ambulances, another at the laundry room, some at the door, at the dispensary, at the school for girls… all this in collaboration with the inhabitants of Fresnes: no less than two communities in the same street.

The guest house for persons released from prison

In 1904, after the separation of Church and State (Combes Law), the Sisters took in around a hundred girls. The then Sister Servant, Sister Carola, obtained permission to keep the house open. In gratitude, she had a key made to symbolize the opening which she placed at the foot of the statue of the Virgin in the community chapel. Since then, “openness” has remained at the heart of the community projects of the Daughters of Charity in Fresnes.

The main house of the Community and for families of detainees

Today, a multicultural Community of four Sisters animates the work of L’Escale Louise de Marillac and tries to live Ephata on a daily basis. L’Escale is a safe shelter and accommodation, a haven of peace for the families of detainees incarcerated in the prisons of Fresnes, Fleury-Merogis or other detention centers in the Ile de France region. We mainly welcome families from provinces more than 200 km from Paris or those from other countries.

Tania, our current guest

L’Escale was opened in August 1989 in response to an appeal from the families of detained persons. Ever since, the doors have always been open; the Community lives in rhythm with the visitors’ area in the prisons in order to offer a place where families may rest and lay down their burden before and/or after a difficult visit with an imprisoned family member. Above all, it is necessary to safeguard the emotional and family ties that are likely to break down during the incarceration, trial, and release because prison destabilizes and weakens family bonds. The idea of ​​opening L’Escale was very controversial at that time because prison environment was frightening. For the Sisters, it was a matter of breaking down the walls of fear with the audacity of charity in order to open up, go towards and encounter these families.

The Community has had to adapt over time and according to events to be able respond to the needs of the moment while remaining attentive and open to new challenges. During this period of the pandemic, other individual calls or calls from probation and integration counselors and partner associations working in prisons were received, with requests to welcome persons being released from prison, those in very precarious situations, and migrants asking for temporary or long-term assistance, depending on needs.

To live in such a mission demands rootedness in prayer, a heart-to-heart conversation with the Lord who continually tells us: Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me (Mt25,40). Like Mary, it calls us to be always attentive to meet the needs of persons regardless of their beliefs, races or cultures, to listen to them, and to often remain silent and speak only through a simple gesture or a smile because words may sound hollow, unintelligible and useless in the face of the depth of their family tragedies: “Courage, He is there!” (cf. Mt 14,27).

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