a loving family was insufficient to hide the dark side
of life: slave traders on shore, the untimely death of
her father, a move to a bleak boarding school on the mainland
away from all that was peaceful and secure, the loss of
her mother as a young teenager.
spark of compassion for others in a similar plight grew
in this young woman's heart to consuming dimensions. When
she heard of the work of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge,
who took in women and girls caught in abusive, destructive,
and dangerous situations, her heart nearly burst: this
is where she belonged. And the Sisters' home was in the
very neighborhood of her boarding school. God had brought
her here for a purpose and she responded with all her
heart. In 1814 she entered the Congregation of Our Lady
of Charity of the Refuge and took as her patron, St. Euphrasia.
Mary Euphrasia's generosity and trust in God grew and
soon she was given responsibility for the care of a group
of girls and later appointed as the leader of the community.
Her zeal knew no bounds; she wanted all God's children
to have a safe place to grow and learn about their loving
Creator. She believed that every person was of deep importance
to God, with a personal calling or purpose to belong and
to make a difference with her/his life. She continued
to grow strong in her confidence that God loved her unconditionally.
She was led through daily prayer and deep listening to
God and her own spirit to form a community that was missionary
(apostolic), allowing for opportunities to reach out to
the whole world in search of the wounded in spirit and
also formed a Contemplative branch of the community, closely
linked to the apostolic Sisters through prayer. With the
blessing of the Church, amid some painful misunderstandings
of some of the hierarchy and many of her own Sisters of
the Refuge, Mary Euphrasia formed the Sisters of the Good
Shepherd in Angers, France in 1835. She was an ingenious
and practical leader who attracted the assistance of other
dedicated women and many like-spirited persons. By the
time of her death in 1868, she had established 110 centers
in 35 countries, including North America. Today approximately
5500 Sisters', active and contemplative, serve God's people
in 68 countries.
Mary Euphrasia believed in the Good News, that God was
like a compassionate Shepherd. Christ of the New Testament
had revealed God as an ABBA (Father), whose love was boundless
by creating us with dignity. He himself gave his life
to the Father's redeeming mission of salvation, through
the Spirit's work of transforming each person into God's
holiness. Mary Euphrasia was courageous to act always
in light of this same mission: to love and respect the
dignity of the person and do all she could for the sake
of people's welfare.
She modeled her faith in God to her Sisters in her own
manner of person and the priority she placed on prayer,
respect for people, and love of her calling.
Taking Jesus the Good Shepherd as the quest in her life,
happiness for her was to know she was following the graces
that her loving God provided in her life. Fidelity to
these graces instilled a depth of peace and contentment
in her that others noticed. This practice of fidelity
to her calling is what created oneness with Christ, her
Her strong interior life (relationship with her God) meant
for her that God would be her defense and her Shepherd
all through her life. This gave her the self-confidence
to act for the good in spite of sometimes severe personal
criticism. Her complete trust in God meant for her to
trust in others as well. People responded to her humble,
respectful way of relating.
No one, including Mary Euphrasia, loved suffering in
and of itself. She knew suffering was a reality in most
people's lives and worked to make their existence happier.
It was in going about doing this "Holy Work" of
the Good Shepherd, that many days were full of physical
and emotional pain. She saw her suffering as a positive
reality. She believed and taught her sisters that life,
growth, and hope can be born through pain, sorrow and
disappointment. She and her sisters claimed the symbol
of the Shepherd, who lays his life down for others.
Life of the Church
Mary Euphrasia found a home in the Church through its
sacramental life, liturgical year, and the scriptures
as signs of the living presence of Christ in the world.
The Eucharist, for her, was the greatest gift of God's
mercy, the mystery of God's love for her. In receiving
the Eucharist we are each joined with Christ who is given,
blessed, broken, and transformed.
zeal is validated through the Church be extending and
protecting her mission. This is the work and doings of
the Spirit, which animates the mission and works of the
Church. Mary Euphrasia's joy was knowing that she and
the Church were one in Christ and with all the people
Euphrasia was herself transformed by her fidelity to
the people of God. The Church declared this fidelity
holy: she was made a saint in 1940. St. Mary Euphrasia
probably said on that day, "I couldn't have done it without
you." In fact, she always would say this in her
many encouraging letters sent to the sisters ministering
around the world.
is just one story of a person who felt the inner movement
of God in her heart and responded. God did the rest...and
the harvest was overflowing and her joy complete. Each
person can ask, "How is the merciful, Shepherd
God speaking within me...how can I listen and act more