The mission of St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier came in the wake of the French Revolution.
As the blood-soaked French Revolution was coming to an end, a baby girl was born on an island off the coast of France. Her parents had been exiled there by French Revolutionaries. It probably saved their lives. The date was July 31, 1796. The baby was christened Rose Virginie Pelletier. She was the youngest of eight children.
Rose’s father died when she was 10, and her mom put her in a boarding school. Close to the school was a convent which belonged to the Order of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge. The order had been founded by St. John Eudes to provide care and protection for young girls who were homeless and alone and at a high risk of exploitation. Rose knew she wanted to be one of those nuns.
In 1814, completely taken with the nuns and their mission in life, Rose joined the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, located in Tours, France. She was given the name of Mary Euphrasia. About eight years after she took her vows, she was named Mother Superior of the convent.
Most of the sisters at Tours were older and had been victimized by the horrendous religious persecution of the French Revolution. The majority of them just wanted to live contemplative lives in prayer and solitude. Sister Mary Euphrasia founded a new community called the “Sisters Magdalen.” They would live a life of solitude and prayer raising needed funds through the making of vestments and church items such as altar cloths and altar bread. Today they are known as the Contemplatives of the Good Shepherd.
But Mary Euphrasia’s other calling was to help the orphaned, abandoned, and vulnerable young girls that seemed to be everywhere. In 1829, the bishop of Angers, France, asked Sister Mary if she would come to his diocese and establish a home there. She did as requested and went to Angers. She found an old factory, opened it as a home, and called it “Bon Pasteur,” meaning “Good Shepherd.” Soon other bishops were requesting her to come and open homes in their dioceses. Help for young girls alone and marginalized was on the way.
Mary Euphrasia felt it was her calling to fulfill all of the requests. Soon there were homes in Le Mans, Poitiers, Grenoble, and Metz. She quickly realized that her ministry was growing and would need a Mother General and a rule for the order. And so it was that on April 3, 1835, Pope Gregory XVI granted approval of the order known as the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd. From that day forward all houses of the order would be under the Motherhouse of the Good Shepherd located at Angers.
Having papal authorization for her ministry, Sister Mary was free to begin sending sisters to different parts of the globe. Convents were established in Germany, Italy, Belgium, and England. The order was subject to the Holy See, and a cardinal-protector was appointed to handle any problems that might arise. There were some bishops who wanted jurisdiction over the order, but the rule of the order did not provide for this. The pope defended Sister Mary and there were a few bishops who were not receptive to a nun who had the good favor of the Holy Father. This unwanted friction did cause some very unpleasant times for Sister Mary, but she stood strong and weathered the difficulties that arose.
Sister Mary Euphrasia served as Mother General of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd for 33 years. She died in 1868 leaving behind 3,000 religious and 110 Good Shepherd convents located in 35 countries around the world. She was canonized a saint by Pope Pius XII on May 2, 1940.
Today there are approximately 5,500 Sisters of the Good Shepherd, both active and contemplative, and they are located in 72 countries.
St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier, please pray for us.