In the 17th century, in France, young girls and women were often the victims of sexual abuse, social oppression and gender discrimination. Fr. John Eudes was greatly touched by their sufferings and in 1641 he responded to this urgent need of his time by starting the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge to help young girls and women in distress.
Towards the end of the French Revolution in 1796, Rose Virginie Pelletier was born to the Pelletier family in Noirmoutier, France. At a tender age she had suffered the painful separation of her dear father, two of her brothers and her beloved mother from this world. As a young dynamic innovative and courageous girl she joined the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge on 29th May 1814 against her guardian’s will and took the name of Sr. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier. She grew in the experience of God’s merciful love, as she related to the girl children and women, who were burdened in this exploiting environment. This work of compassion appealed to the very depths of her inner beauty, and looking at the shepherd in the Bible she was inspired by the verse, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep and I will find them a place of rest.” (Ez: 34/35)
Sr. Mary Euphrasia added a new dimension to the vision and spirit of Fr. John Eudes. She saw in the faces of distressed girls the image of God, pleading for reconciliation and yearning to surrender totally to God. She was touched by their aspiration which inspired her to found the Magdalene’s – who were consecrated to God, for prayer and work. Thus on 11th November, 1825 four pioneers received the habit as the Sisters of St.Mary Magdalene, later on known as “Sisters of the Cross” and currently known as the “Contemplative Sisters of the Good Shepherd”.
In 1829, the Bishop of Angers, requested Sr. Mary Euphrasia to recreate a Good Shepherd Centre in his Diocese for girls and women who were in trouble. Requests poured in from various parts of France to open new houses. Sr. Mary Euphrasia’s zeal ignited more strongly. She ran short of Sisters who could be sent to different places. Unless the ancient administrative statutes of Our Lady of Charity were engaged to the movement of the spirit, there could be no sharing of sisters or goods with other communities. Thus, born the idea of the ‘Generalate’! Most of the members of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge could neither understand Sr. Mary Euphrasia’ s deep compassionate love nor grasp her broad vision.
Sr. Mary Euphrasia dared to respond; struggled like St. Paul and fought the good fight in establishing the Generalate. In 1835, after having traversed on a long and rocky road, the Generalate finally received papal approval; under the title of “Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge of the Good shepherd of Angers”, later on known as the “Congregation of Our Lady of Charity the Good Shepherd”.
In Sr. Mary Euphrasia’s words, “Since we are all shepherdesses we must not be attached to one little corner of the earth. We must rouse ourselves; we must be ready to go ahead. One town, one foundation will not satisfy our zeal, it must embrace the whole world. Wherever there are sheep to be gathered into the fold, we must not fear to go and pitch our tents even on the most distant shores”.
Sr. Mary Euphrasia listened to the word of God, was bold enough to venture into new avenues, and thus the Congregation grew enormously. Without telephone, fax, e-mail or air travel, she founded in her lifetime 110 houses extending to all the continents. It was a dream come true, as the sisters touched the Indian soil.
Sr. Mary Euphrasia in 1868 having fulfilled her call and extending her mission to various continents of the world, it was time for her to bid farewell. On 24th April 1868, Sr. Mary Euphrasia entered into eternal rest in the lap of Jesus the Good Shepherd.
Sr. Mary Euphrasia’s beatification took place in 1933 and her canonization in 1940 which made her to be known as St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier. Today, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and the Contemplative Sisters of the Good Shepherd serve in 74 countries, embracing the world with their zeal for the salvation of all people.