Tuesday, April 24, 2007

St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier: Sisters Can Be Good Shepherds Too!

"The habit we wear must be zeal, and that zeal must embrace the whole world."
–St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier

Like many of her companions in the great century of French saints, Mary Euphrasia became a nun young, founded a new order, sought to enlighten the uncatechized Catholics of the Enlightenment Era, received opposition from within and without, and finally triumphed in humility through Jesus and Mary. But despite the similarities, Mary Euphrasia definitely has a story all her own.

Mary Euphrasia was born Rose Pelletier in Noirmoutier, an island off the coast of France where her family had taken refuge due to civil wars on the mainland. Rose's father died in 1806 and her mother in 1813, and the teen was sent away to board in a convent in Tours, and became a novice there the very next year. The convent was run by The Institute of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge, founded by St. John Eudes in 1641 to "rescue prostitutes and protect young women in danger." By 1826, Rose, now "Mary of St. Euphrasia" was elected its superior, and her first act in this role was to set up the "Magdalen Sisters" a group for older reformed prostitutes which combined prayer and manual labor.

Mary's gifts of leadership soon became apparent, and the Bishop of Angers asked if she could open a convent there. Mary complied, and after several months, handed its operation over to others and returned to Tours. But a mere two years later, the house was in danger of closing due to lack of spiritual direction and funds. The bishop begged Mary to return, but by the time she had gotten the house back on firm footing, the Sisters of Tours had revolted against her, and Mary stayed on as prioress of Angers. Finally, after Mary opened four other houses and similar struggles ensued, she became convinced they must have a central organization to survive. Despite accusations of ambition and self-interest by some of the sisters, and control struggles with several bishops, Mary persisted with her plan. "Sister Euphrasia is truly humble and hates to publicly question authority," one of her contemporaries said, "but when it comes to doing what she believes is God's will, she is quite capable of taking over the country."

In the end, Mary's humility won out, and in 1835 she received papal approval for her institute, Our Lady Of Charity of the Good Shepherd. Mary rejoiced when hearing the news, saying, "Having brought to birth all of our young Sisters in the Cross, I love them more than life itself." By the time she died of cancer in 1868, there were 2,760 Good Shepherd Sisters in 110 convents throughout the world.

Besides saving wayward girls from the streets, Mary made sure her sisters concentrated on education, for she believed every child, no matter how destitute, was loved by God, had unique gifts, and was capable of improvement. A woman of action, Mary personally left no writing on education, but a book Conferences and Instructions (published in 1907), which was compiled by her sisters from conferences and personal talks she had given, is still in use today. While her group always kept Saint John Eudes' original inspiration and devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, her innovations and zeal for souls kept his goals relevant for these changing times. Mary was canonized in 1940, and her book, as well as the nearly 1,500 personal letters she had written to her sisters over the years, keep her fire alive not only for the Good Shepherd Sisters, but for all souls who boldly seek God's will.

Fighting Irish Thomas: Catholicism, Politics, Saints, and Notre Dame

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