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Saint Mary Euphrasia Pelletier 3rd Class Relic

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Saint Mary Euphrasia Pelletier
Founder of The Contemplative Sisters of the Good Shepherd

Cloth touched to the relics of Blessed Mary Euphrasia Pelletier

Rose Virginie Pelletier was born on the island of Noirmoutier, off the coast of France, on July 31st, 1796. She was the ninth child of Dr Julien Pelletier and his wife Anne. Two years earlier, during the French Revolution, the Pelletiers had been deported from Soullans to Normoutier as "suspects", leaving their five remaining children in the care of their grand-parents. Although later released, the couple were forced to stay on the island. Since there was no priest on the island, Dr Pelletier baptised his daughter himself. Rose Virginie grew up an "only" child until the return of the five older ones. The Pelletier family often took in hungry children, sick people and refugees whom Dr Pelletier looked after. His death in 1806 was a great loss for everyone. Rose knew loneliness - at age ten, she had lost a father and three sisters.

For almost twenty years there was no girls school at Noirmoutier. Three Ursuline sisters opened a school in 1808 and Rose Virginie was one of their first pupils at the age of 12. Rose enjoyed school. She had a quick, brilliant mind and impressed both teachers and students with her superior ability. In addition, she was impetuous, impulsive with a headstrong nature and often clashed with authority.

By 1810 Mrs Pelletier was gravely ill. Of her nine children, three had died, one was a prisoner in England, two had enlisted in the navy. Being left with her oldest daughter and two youngest, Mrs Pelletier decided to return to Soullans. She placed Rose Virginie in boarding school at Tours run by one of her friends, Mrs Chobelet. For Rose Virginie, the freedom of life on the island was now only a memory. She felt cut off from her family and found life in boarding school very hard. The harshness of the principal was tempered by the warmth and encouragement of an understanding teacher, Pauline de Lignac. When in 1813 she learned unexpectedly that her Mother had died and that the funeral was over, she thought she would "die of sorrow". She expected to return home but this desire was refused by her guardian (her sister's husband).

Near the boarding school was another convent which the students visited on special occasions in order to serve meals. This was run by Our Lady of the Refuge, an order founded by St John Eudes, providing care and protection for women and girls who were homeless and at risk of exploitation. Rose Virginie was attracted to this mission and wrote to her guardian seeking permission to join the sisters. Her guardian refused permission. The boarding school principal likewise disapproved the idea. Rose Virginie persisted in her dream and eventually her guardian relented, on the understanding that she was not permitted to take vows before she turned 21.

In 1814 Rose Virginie joined the Tours Refuge. Before taking the habit, she was asked to choose a saint's name. When her first choice "Teresa of Avila" was rejected as too "famous", Rose Virginie then chose "Euphrasia" (a little known saint from the north of Africa) and became known as Sr Mary Euphrasia. She brought joy to the lives of this elderly community worn out by the hardships of the revolution. Her period of preparation before vows allowed maximum time for reading the scriptures and the lives of the saints. The young women in care responded well to her kindness and energy. Her own experience of coldness and strictness at boarding school meant that she knew first hand the value of understanding, acceptance and love. She prayed much for the girls to recognise God's love in their lives. In 1817 Sr Mary Euphrasia made her religious profession by taking vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and zeal for souls.

After seven years of work among the young women in care, Sr M Euphrasia was elected Leader of the community. At age 28, being much younger than the other sisters, she was reluctant to accept this responsibility. However, assured of their support she embraced this role and embarked on new projects. Four years later, the refuge housed 70 boarders and 80 orphans. An innovative step was to establish a contemplative community within the refuge, allowing boarders to become nuns. Canonical laws of the time were very strict about conditions of admission to religious life and to circumvent this, the Magdalens were formed. In 1825, the first four women received the habit of the Sisters of St Mary Magdalen. These followed a rule adapted from the Carmelites, a contemplative order in existence for some centuries. The Magdalens (known today as Contemplative Sisters of the Good Shepherd) lived a cloistered life and offered their prayer and work for the success of the work of the refuge.

Sr M Euphrasia dreamed of being able to do more for God - she longed to be able to help girls in many other places and in other countries as well. Not sure if her dreams were of God, M Euphrasia asked a dying Magdalen sister, "Will you ask God to let me know whether my desire to build more homes for girls is inspired by God?" A few days after her death a bishop asked Sr M Euphrasia to found a refuge in Angers.

On June 6, 1829 the sisters from Tours arrived in Angers to found the refuge. The early days were extremely harsh due to lack of funds. The boarders and sisters were often hungry. Father Breton who had been instrumental in encouraging the Bishop of Angers collected more donations. Count de Neville whose mother had left 30,000 francs for the re-establishment of a refuge in Angers, also helped. The convent, named Good Shepherd after the original Anger refuge, was dedicated on July 31, 1829 after which M Euphrasia returned to Angers.

Within two years the situation had deteriorated and in 1831 M Euphrasia was named Leader at Angers. Once again, she called on Count de Neville's help. His vision for the spread of the work and his financial assistance was a great support to M Euphrasia. Confronted with the enormity of the task, M Euphrasia hoped that other refuges of the sisters of Our Lady of Charity would come to their help. This was not to be because of the tradition that each refuge was independent and autonomous. At the same time M Euphrasia was receiving request from bishops in other French cities asking her to found more refuges. A plan slowly developed in her mind - a vision of a network of refuges where resources and staff would be shared in common.

Bishop Montault of Angers encouraged M Euphrasia in her vision, recognising that there would be strength in numbers. Others, however, saw this differently. Many objected, including some of her own sisters. M Euphrasia prayed much throughout this difficult time and on the Feast of the Assumption she wrote a letter, outlining her plans and how she had met with opposition to Cardinal Odescalchi in Rome. The letter began "Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word". Not long after, M Euphrasia had a dream in which she was visited by a Cardinal who said that he had been appointed by God as protector of the work. M Euphrasia experienced peace and two months later a favourable reply came from Cardinal Odescalchi. On 16th January,1835, the sisters were startled when the convent bell rang three times, all by itself. At that very hour the Pope had issued a decree approving the Generalate - thus began officially the existence of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.

With S M E as the first superior General of this fledgling congregation, it expanded quickly in the 33 years that transpired before her death on 24th April, 1868. Young women were attracted to the congregation and new houses were established in other parts of Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa and Australia, the latter in 1863.

SME was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1940 and is now known as Saint Mary Euphrasia Pelletier.

Quotations from the writings of St Mary Euphrasia Pelletier

"Though old stars burn out and die, look to the new and even beyond"

"Go after the lost sheep without other rest than the cross, other consolation than work, other thirst than for justice."

"It is well known that I had neither riches, nor talent nor external charm, but I have always loved, and I have loved with all the strength of my heart."

"You have to adapt to all circumstances. Do the best you can, while remembering that, according to the spirit of our calling, we must be everything to everyone."

"Do well all that you do"

"Love the girls, love them very much"

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