Heart of Our Foundress
ST. Mary Euphrasia
Once 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.
But 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.
A 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.
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.
She 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.
MISSION (Spiritual Quest)
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.
FAITH IN GOD
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. The symbol of the Shepherd
who lays his life down for others was claimed by her and her sisters.
SACRAMENTAL 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,
Her 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.
Mary 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.
This 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?"