A Brief Overview of the Spiritual Journey of St Mary Euphrasia Pelletier
Sr. Ana Cielo Matuloy, OLCGS
“Obedience must be the marrow of your soul”. St Mary Euphrasia, foundress of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, loved to say this to her sisters. She has all the right to say so for she herself has borne witness to this virtue, she who within her religious vocation, received from God and courageously responded to two more calls, the founding of a contemplative community within an apostolic congregation and later the establishment of a Generalate that paved the way for a more far-reaching mission. Let’s have a look at the journey of this audacious woman whom God gifted with a zeal that crossed cultures and boundaries.
A nun, not an angel nor a devil
It was in Noirmoutier, a small island in France, that Rose Virginie Pelletier grew into a child with deep sensitivity, to God and to his saving work. Born July 31, 1796, during the French revolution, she witnessed as a child, how her parents Dr. Julian and Anne would attend to people in need, the sick, the poor and hungry. Despite the social and political unrest, the mother made sure that all her eight children were well instructed in faith and in charity, something that Rose Virginie caught well.
It was also in this island where she heard stories from sailors and fishermen about young children from Africa being sold into slavery and she would dream of them pleading to her to save them. It was as if the universal mission was calling on her early in life.
Kindhearted though she was, the child was not without mischief showing a character not so easily controlled. Her Ursuline teachers once told her that if she is not careful, she will “either be an angel or a devil”, to which she replied, “I am going to be a nun!”
Call to Religious Life
These words of a young girl, will soon be realized as the seed of religious vocation began to grow during her teenage years. Following the death of her father, she was sent to a boarding school in Tours where something awaits her. Nearby is a house called the Refuge, a place run by the sisters of Our Lady of Charity, a congregation founded by St John Eudes in 1641 to help women on their journey to conversion. This idea of bringing back lost souls to God, soon became a burning desire in her heart. Not even the death of her eldest brother and later of her own dear mother, distracted her from this. Instead, her deep acquaintance with sorrow brought her closer to Jesus and to the Blessed Mother.
Amidst these, two of her closest friends in school left: Angelique Dernee, a fellow student, entered the Carmelites and Pauline De Lignac, a treasured teacher, joined the Ursulines. Despite their invitations to be with them and her own desire to consecrate herself to God, she remained and waited for her own time. Deep in her heart, she must have known God was calling her somewhere else, some place near. In 1814, at the age of 18, she herself entered Our Lady of Charity after much deliberation with her guardian and school mistress. Three years later, on September 9, 1817 she pronounced her vows and made herself the spouse of the Lord.
The Calls Within the Call
The young religious, who took the name Sr. Mary of St Euphrasia, became a well-loved sister not only by the girls but by her own community. She radiated a warm and joyful spirit, yet with firmness and authority. At the age of 29, though still lacking a few years, the sisters chose her to be the community’s superior. This is when another call came to her.
In her profound love for those girls and women in their care, she listened to the desire of their hearts to lead lives of penance and prayer. Aware of the difficulty of the mission of saving souls, having a group of sisters solely devoted to prayer and reparation would be an essential support to the work of the sisters in the apostolate. This is where the Magdalen Sisters was born. Sr Mary of St Euphrasia founded within the community, a group of contemplatives. Of them, she would always say, “In truth, I am their foundress.”
Another call came through a request for the presence of the sisters in Angers where more women await help. The community explored a few years but finding sisters to commit to the new mission was difficult. St. John Eudes, in the wisdom of his own time, had founded houses of the Refuge as autonomous. Mary Euphrasia recognized this as limiting the spread of the mission at present and wished for a Generalate, which can be the center of all the other houses from where help can be asked when needed. The idea was new and not everyone was agreeable. With much pain in her heart, she left the sisters she loved most to start on a new structure that she hoped will help bring the mission farther. In 1835, the Vatican approved as a new congregation the Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd in Angers. Before and even after this happened, she had to suffer greatly from oppositions from the local church authorities and even from her sisters. God’s will prevailed as vocations came and so were mission requests from various parts of France and later of the world. Yes, including Africa. She remembered those little girls she dreamt of as a child.
When she died on April 24, 1868, the mission has been spread to all continents, with 110 houses founded. Sr Mary of St Mary Euphrasia was canonized on May 2, 1940 by Pope Pius XII.
Our Call Today
As true daughters of St John Eudes and St Mary Euphrasia, the sisters of the two congregations continued the mission with attentiveness to the Spirit and to the needs and demands of our own time. In 2013, we heeded the call of healing and reconciliation and became one anew. We move forward continuously striving to become true shepherdesses after the Heart of God.
St. Mary Euphrasia, give us your zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Amen.