Confinement: What have I done with this time?

Article by Sister Madeleine Villepontoux
Province of Europe-BFMN

To the rhythm of liturgical celebrations, Sister Madeleine Villepontoux, 88 years old – a member of the community in Saint-Martin-d'Hères, France – shares her experience of confinement following her positive COVID-19 diagnosis last October.


Autumn has set in and unfurled its beautiful colors that the faint sun attempts to illuminate...

October 20, 2020: The Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus spent joyfully in prayer. However, the very next day: "complete confinement." Positive cases of COVID-19 are confirmed in the house, including me (albeit asymptomatic). Enforced rest along with – like a ribbon wrapped around a gift – severe, unexplained back pain. I find it difficult to move, but it goes unnoticed from within the few meters of my room. One week and a CT scan later, and the verdict is in: a spontaneous spinal fracture. It is very difficult to accept because it is very painful and will probably take much time to heal.

October 26, 2020: I am hospitalized and confined to a room by myself because of my positive COVID-19 diagnosis. The days go by with no visitors, no TV, no radio, and only one companion, the thing I feel the most: intense pain. Well, I still have a phone, which means I can learn about the terrible car accident in Caen. Among the victims are three sisters from the community of Cormelles-le-Royal and a friend of mine. Sister Agnès Schuler and her friend do not survive this tragic accident. It is no longer me who I have to worry about, but rather about the suffering of the Congregation and those affected. In the face of this tragedy and suffering, what is a broken vertebra?

November 1, 2020: All Saints' Day, and I am alone in my hospital room. I try to pray when I'm not too sleepy from the morphine: 'Lord, I offer you what you allow me to live, for the Congregation, for the Chapters ahead, and for every person who suffers, especially women.' During this confinement, I try to confine myself with Christ, bringing people to him for him to enlighten them. Then arrives the verdict to repair my fracture: Surgery? No, that's too risky. The remaining option is to wear a back brace for three months. I already know the answer! At least the choice is clear, but it's difficult to accept. I refuse to in my head, and then, as I reflect over it, I tell myself that I'm lucky to have treatment, luck that many people don't have. So, I put it on, the step is taken. Looking back, I don't think I asked for my own physical health to improve, but rather that of others?

December 1, 2020: Discharged from hospital in the late evening for senior residential care. It's dark, it's cold, it's raining, and a blustery winter wind blows through the air. I experience the feeling of entering a dark, very dark tunnel – and, once again, confinement. I admit that even in suffering, I have time, lots of time, to try to reflect and pray. What have I done with this time? Enhance my prayer for the sisters in the community and for the residents – to leave myself. Gradually, I find my bearings among the community, who I meet mostly at mealtimes. It is sometimes challenging, but I am not cocooned. I must cope.

Advent and Christmas: The season passes slowly, given what I'm able to do, wrapped snugly in a back brace, which hinders my movements considerably. But the feast finally arrives of joy, sharing, and hope before this mystery of God's love, who sends his Son among humankind to save us. I try to be helpful during the preparations. It's an unusual Christmas.

January's end: Phew, no more back brace! This doesn't solve everything, though, as the pain continues. I must learn to live with it, in the knowledge that I must be careful. After the snow departs, spring begins to show its face. The park meadows are adorned with a rainbow of flowers: bluebells, crocuses in various colors, and daisies. Nature returns and calls us to live again with her.

February 30, 2021: Lent has begun, but it's not over yet. I walk with him because I expect to receive from him alone the help I need to adapt to his will and move forward towards Easter. This great mystery of Christ who died and rose among us, for me.


Through all these experiences – which may seem like a mountainous road with summits, valleys, and sometimes risky bends – I feel that God has always been present in my life and that I could call on him when things became more difficult. He accompanied me, and he continues to accompany me because I am precious in his sight. Still, nothing comes easy or is laid out in advance. Every day, we must get back on the road. The only thing he asks of me, it would seem, is to make myself available and to trust in him. Here, in this mission of mine, it is he who can transform hearts.