In his spiritual ascent, Father Triest was certainly inspired by the medieval mystics. A figure like John of Ruysbroeck was surely not unfamiliar to Triest. His texts reveal almost literal quotations when he writes of divine love that makes his heart burn.

During his time in the seminary, he became acquainted with Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Vincent de Paul. These contemporaries of the 17th century made their mark on French spirituality. As bishop, Francis held a plea that everyone was called to holiness and tried to start an all-new community of sisters who would nurse the sick at home. However, his Sisters of the Visitation had to observe the cloister and eventually became enclosed nuns.

Vincent de Paul was deeply influenced by Francis de Sales and developed a whole new view of charity. He saw the poor as his Lords and Masters, who had to be served with love and respect, and he called on all to see the living icon of Christ in every poor person. Vincent would breathe new life into charity, especially with the foundation of the Daughters of Charity, who were committed to the care of the poor.

John of Ruysbroeck

Saint Francis de Sales

Saint Vincent de Paul

When he founded his congregations, Triest was greatly inspired by these two saints, but when his proposal for his Sisters to be absorbed into the Daughters of Charity was refused, the Bishop himself instructed Triest to write a Rule of Life for the Sisters and, as a result, start his own congregation. For their way of life, he chose a distinct combination of contemplation and charity, and found inspiration in the writings of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. His contacts with the Trappists influenced him to give Cistercian spirituality a place in his congregations. Mother Placida, the Sisters of Charity’s first superior, had a history with the Bernardines, and for many years Father Bernard, the Brothers’ first superior, had worked at Byloke Hospital in Ghent, which was run by Cistercian sisters.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Mother Placida

Father Bernard de Noter

We should set the full extent of Triest’s work against the backdrop of the French Revolution, with the Church losing its worldly power. He sought and found a way for the Church to increase its relevance to society again, not through the restoration of power but by the radical experience of the message of love as proclaimed in the Gospel by Jesus Christ and by allowing this message to take shape in the development of concrete works of charity for the poor.

With his founding of religious congregations of brothers and sisters, Triest gave the Church and the world a new form of religious life. In a very powerful way, he went back to consecrated life in its original form, but with a specific apostolic, diaconal mission in society.