People with Down syndrome are not often valued in society; they are often discriminated against and targeted for death. But one religious order in France, the Little Sisters Disciples of the Lamb, aims to give women with Down syndrome a community, where their sense of worth is acknowledged and celebrated.
The order was founded when Mother Prioress Line met a girl named Veronique, who has Down syndrome, but also felt a calling to religious life. Mother Prioress Line knew it would be difficult — if not impossible — for Veronique to find a religious community willing to accept her, so Mother Prioress Line founded the religious order herself, with the help of Dr. Jerome Lejeune, the Catholic scientist who discovered the chromosomal abnormality that causes Down syndrome. The order was canonically recognized by the Archbishop of Tours in 1990, and became a religious institute of contemplative life in 1999. Mother Prioress Line said that the goal of the order is:
… to allow those who have the ‘last place’ in the world, to hold in the Church the exceptional place of spouses of Jesus Christ, and to allow those whose life is held in contempt to the extent of being in danger from a culture of death, to witness by their consecration to the Gospel of Life.
The order is composed of women both with Down syndrome and women without it. They follow St. Therese’s “little way,” living a contemplative life of prayer, work, poverty, and sacrifice. “This achievement is only possible because it is supported by Sisters without Down’s syndrome who answered a call to love, dedicating themselves to God with their disabled little sisters to form a single community,” Mother Prioress Line said, adding:
That is why we are not two communities combined into one with Sisters without Down’s on one side and the Sisters with Down’s on the other. We are all one in the same community and the same family where all live at the same adapted rhythm. We share the offices and the same tasks of the Community where manual labor is adjusted to each according to her abilities.
The order is seen as one big family, and Mother Prioress Line said they are merely following the way of Jesus and St. Therese. “Looking at our Little Sisters throughout the day, we contemplate Jesus hidden in the heart of all, small and humble, Jesus has placed us at the school of love to the end,” she said. “It is a great joy, a great grace to be able to offer us to God through our Little Sisters. It is through this that they can be devoted to Jesus and become His spouses, small and well-loved.”