Feast Day: April 24
Rose Virginie Pelletier was born the eighth child of Dr. Julian Pelletier and his wife, Ann Mourain, in Vendee, France. Dr. Pelletier baptized his infant daughter at home because of the anti-Catholic persecution then raging. The Pelletier family was staunchly Catholic, and they continued the practice of their religion and of their works of charity among the poor and the sick of the district even amidst the dangers and persecution of the French Revolution.
In 1641, to provide care for prostitutes, St. John Eudes had founded the Institute of Our Lady of Charity. At age nineteen Rose Pelletier entered the convent of this Order, taking the religious name Mary Euphrasia, after an obscure Greek saint whose life she desired to emulate. The Sisters were struggling to rebuild after the French Revolution, and at first they welcomed Euphrasia’s energy and imagination. When she was twenty-nine the community chose her as superior.
Euphrasia was eager to establish refuges in other towns, but some Sisters feared that this would tax their meager resources. They called Euphrasia a spendthrift and frequently accused her of rash innovation, personal ambition, and insubordination. Yet Mary Euphrasia always conducted herself with the charity and trust she prescribed for her Sisters:
“According to Saint Clement, there is no more perfect image of the Deity than a soul that, whether in prosperity or in adversity, always maintains its interior peace. Remember that here below, everything is passing. Nothing should really afflict us except sin. Go straight on. Be like the fisherman who keeps casting his net always hoping to catch a fish. Then allow God to do the rest. He knows better than we do what is for our good. We are only feeble instruments in his hands.”
Euphrasia herself was not sure that her motives were heaven-sent. She asked a dying Sister to send her a sign from heaven if she was truly inspired by God. A few days after the elderly Sister died, a bishop invited Euphrasia to open a refuge in Angers. Euphrasia had the sign she had asked for, but her challenges were just beginning. She was frustrated by the lack of sharing among convents of the same Order and recognized that they would never grow unless they had a system for sharing resources and staff. When her Sisters resisted, she made the painful decision to leave the Order in which she had spent more than twenty years.
Euphrasia then founded the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd (Good Shepherd Sisters) and became its first superior-general. She set for her Sisters a major goal to save souls, especially those of young girls and women who had fallen into sinful ways of life either through seduction, other tragic experiences, or by willfully following their own evil inclinations. Mother Euphrasia’s one motive was always the salvation of souls. In fact, the Good Shepherd Sisters take a fourth vow, zeal for the salvation of souls, in addition to the usual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. She was obsessed by the limitless possibilities for saving souls in contrast with the present limitations of the congregation. But in all her works of expansion her trust was in God’s grace, not in herself.
In 1841 Mother Mary Euphrasia sent the first Good Shepherd Sisters to Louisville, Kentucky. By the time of her death there were almost 3,000 Good Shepherd Sisters in foundations all over the world. Today her Sisters are serving in sixty-seven countries. The saintly Foundress was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1940.
Ball, Ann. “Modern Saints-Their Lives and Faces.” Rockford: Tan Books & Publishers, 1990.
Gallick, Sarah. “The Big Book of Women Saints.” New York, NY: HarperOne, 2007.
Ghezzi, Bert. “Voices of the Saints.” Chicago: Loyola Press, 2000.
Featured photo from goodshepherdsisters.org