Mary Euphrasia Pelletier
upon a time, two hundred years ago, on the remote but beautiful
Island of Noirmoutier, France, a daughter was born to exiled
prisoners of the revolution in France. Little Rose Virginie
Pelletier delighted in her prison-island amid the pines and
sand overlooking azure waters.
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
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.
Sr. 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 heart.
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 Shepherd
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 of God.
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 faithfully?"
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