The Hundred Years War, civil and religious wars, and French rebellions left Beauce, a wheat-growing region of Chartres, France, in dreadful misery, and hampered the improvement of life in society and the growth of education and labor. The greater number of parishes remained neglected. Father Louis Chauvet, the young and learned parish priest of Levesville-La Chenard, was challenged to give the laborers the opportunity to have their children educated. He also needed a group of women to teach the children, visit the poor, and care for the sick. So, he bought a piece of land from the parish council and built a house, which became the cradle of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres.
In 1696, Fr. Chauvet gathered four country girls who were imbued with the yearning to seek God and serve their fellowmen. Marie Anne de Tilly, a young girl of the nobility, prepared and led her companions to teach children and to visit the impoverished and the sick, in a community first known as Daughters of the School. Their charism is lived by the Sisters to the present day.
Charged with the transmission of the Christian Faith, Fr. Louis Chauvet and Marie Anne de Tilly put their efforts together to bring evangelization to the highest point.
The early demise of the Founders (Marie Anne de Tilly in 1703 and Fr. Louis Chauvet in 1710), however, was the foundation’s way of bearing the cross. But it was this same cross that gave life to the congregation.
In 1708, Fr. Louis Chauvet entrusted the Daughters of the School to Bishop Paul Godet des Marais of Chartres. The bishop provided them with a house, an Ecclesiastical Superior, and gave them his name: Sisters of St. Paul.
In 1727, four Sisters of St. Paul disembarked in Cayennes French Guiana, where they ministered to sick soldiers in a military hospital and also had charge of an elementary school for children. They stayed on in Cayenne without replacements even after the French Revolution. Instead of soldiers, political prisoners arrived whom they cared for with the soldiers.
In 1792, the French government confiscated all Church properties and all convents were closed. The Sisters were disbanded. Only a few stayed with the current Superior General, Mère Marie Josseaume. They lived in cramped quarters and earned their living with needlework.
When Napoleon rose to power, the Prefect of Chartres granted the Congregation the right to exist again. He also placed at the disposal of the Sisters the house in Rue St. Jacques, which is still the Mother House.
After receiving from Napoleon I an official decree of status, the Congregation resumed its activities in France, Antilles, Martinique and Guadaloupe.
The year 1848 saw the first foundation in Hong Kong. From there, the foundation spread out into other parts of Asia, to Vietnam (1860), Japan (1878), Korea (1888), Thailand (1898), China (1900), and the Philippines (1904). There are at present 20 completely indigenous Provinces.
Africa and Madagascar welcomed the Congregation in 1950, and Brazil and Indonesia, in 1960. At the same time, the Congregation extended its frontiers in Europe and North America. Rome became the seat of the General Council in 1962.
Today, the Congregation has 4,000 members of 28 nationalities and is serving 28 countries in many ways.