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The Society of the Sacred Heart set priorities for the next eight years in its 2008 Chapter meeting and, in so doing, addressed the challenges ahead for Sacred Heart Education.

The Chapter invites The Community of the Sacred Heart and those who are involved in Sacred Heart Education to develop six ‘Habits of the Heart’ as educational movements for our time.

At the Sacred Heart Schools ‘Conference of Heads of European Schools in Europe’, November 2009, Sister Delores Alexandre, rscj spoke of these six Habits of the Heart in her keynote speech. Her presentation and words are inspirational. We use them to reflect on our challenges forward in continuing to develop and embrace the philosophy of education founded by Madeleine Sophie and her companions and nurtured today by Members of the Society of the Sacred Heart, our schools and our nominated Trustees.

The six Habits of the Heart are:

  • Contact

  • Search

  • Journey

  • Dialogue

  • Contemplation

  • Work


‘The challenge for us is to enter into contact with and listen to the joys and suffering of humanity, poverty, inequality, exclusion, violence and destruction of our environment….. It is a challenge also, at this time, to encourage and make it possible for children and young people to live in contact with their own hearts.’
Society of the Sacred Heart, Chapter 2008

Our educational programmes need to support the deeper meaning of our existence. Sophie would frequently refer to that deep dimension of life and used symbols such as ‘the spring’ or ‘the seed’, all of them referring to the hidden and secret dimension of the person as her greatest asset.

‘There are springs that remain unknown for a long time; they exist, but some obstacle prevents them from rising to the surface. Remove a bit of dirt, push aside that which hides it and immediately see appear the flow of clear clean water.’
Conference 1847 vol.11, p.20


‘We wish to promote an educational style that furthers the search for justice, peace and the integrity of creation, in all our relationships and commitments. We need to find a new vocabulary to continue to walk with young people in their search for God and the meaning and value of life.’
Society of the Sacred Heart, Chapter 2008.

Our educational programmes need to promote creative thinking in order for our young people to respond to new situations and relationships. In education today, we are facing many shifting circumstances. It is important that our young people become accustomed to inventing new solutions, and to expressing themselves through creativity whilst mobilising all their energies to produce, invent and improve their environment.


‘The Heart of Jesus incarnate in history…calls us to new relationships with others. Our vocation… moves us into an ongoing reciprocity to live, journey and share among ourselves with others. We heard a strong call to continue to walk with young people. We need to be present for them, in their search for God, meaning and value for life.’
Society of the Sacred Heart, Chapter 2008

In our education of young people it is important that we transcend the limits that are imposed on us by our environment, to break through boundaries and project oneself to that which lies beyond. A basic attitude to foster in education is one of ‘thinking outside the box’. We encourage our young people not to be trapped by the immediate or the ‘appearance of things’. Our role as educators urges us to develop in our pupils the ability to imagine and create their futures and to set their course accordingly.


‘We have entered into a rich and deep experience of dialogue, convinced that dialogue is the way for today’s world…we are more aware that to understand others and journey with them we must enter into their reality and allow ourselves to be changed by their lives.’
Society of the Sacred Heart, Chapter 2008

When we educate with dialogue there are some assumptions. We exercise freedom and we are independent of the dominant position. We are not afraid to express our opinions and we are not pressurised by approval or disapproval, rather we present our opinions in a positive way and we are ready to enrich ourselves with others’ opinions. It is a continuous learning process, and we learn from each other’s opinions.

Sophie possessed a strong belief in the permeability of the human being, in her or his capacity to listen and to be transformed. Some of the verbs she used to discuss the educational relationship are: put before them, ask, inspire, speak, teach, stress, and develop a love and relish for, repeat often, make known the danger and speak of it vividly, make suggestions gently…
Const. 184-185


‘Contemplation is at the core of our spirituality and leads us to discover the depths of our humanity. This urgent call challenges us to keep hope alive in a world where violence, fragmentation… threatens the survival of our planet. We strive to give witness that a world of love, hope, justice and peace is possible.’
Society of the Sacred Heart, Chapter 2008

To be contemplative is to be in touch with reality, as Jesus was. It has to do with, not only looking, but also with listening, feeling, touching, speaking and being silent. True contemplation invites us to enter into a universe of new meanings, becoming accustomed to using the language with which we express ourselves in a Gospel like manner. The Christian community invites us to contemplate life and allow ourselves to have the focus of our perceptions shifted. A Christian educational institution is a privileged space in which to learn to be contemplative and to see reality in the light of the Gospel.


‘Men and women of different cultures, religious and spiritual traditions search for God and work to make our world a habitable place with a future for humanity and all creation. Together, and especially with people who are poor and most vulnerable, we long for the transformation of reality. We join the efforts of partners in the process of transformation of reality and to work for justice, peace and integrity of creation.’
Society of the Sacred Heart, Chapter 2008

This Habit of Heart nurtures the need to make an effort to work. Rigour in intellectual work was one of Sophie’s strongest convictions. In her time, the most widely held opinion was that educating girls was not worthwhile; it was not proper for women to study or undertake positions that required reflection, intelligence or intellectual discipline. Her decision at that time to devote the Society of the Sacred Heart to the provision of education for young women was counter-cultural and risky.

Her educational plan, from the early grades on, stressed the development of the habits of reflecting, discovering, asking questions, analysing situations, discussions, lessons learned…. She focused all of her efforts on having Sacred Heart pupils become accustomed to thinking before deciding, observing, not being fooled by appearances. This is what she called ‘putting a solid foundation beneath their feet’, which is another way of saying to ‘furnish their minds’.

Today, Sophie would encourage us to enter the world of technology, to take an interest in bioethics, information society, ecology…. but always respecting her core conviction of the purpose of education: to put all that science at the service of the person.

To work is to unfold each person’s enormous potential for creativity, which needs to be developed and nurtured.

All these Habits of the Heart are already hidden like a seed in each one of the children and young people we educate.

The most precious part of our task as educators is to enable our pupils to flourish.

These six Habits of the Heart, as articulated in The Society of the Sacred Heart Chapter, 2008 are an inspiration to us as we continue to embrace the Sacred Heart’s educational philosophy into the 21st century.

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