Saint Mary Euphrasia Pelletier, Founder of Sisters of the Good Shepherd

Rose Virginie Pelletier was born in 1796 on the beautiful and remote island of Noirmoutier, France, where her parents were exiled by the French Revolutionaries. She grew up as the 8th child of Dr Julian and Anne Pelletier in a time of turmoil and conflict. From a young age, she learned compassion for others, as the family often took in hungry children, sick people and refugees.

She experienced much suffering in her own life, including the death of her parents and her sister at an early age. As a teenager, Rose was sent to boarding school at Tours, where she became familiar with the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity. The order cared for women and girls in difficulty or danger including those abandoned by their families or orphaned and some who had turned to prostitution in order to survive.

Rose entered the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity and became a religious sister in 1814 at the age of nineteen, and was given the religious name of Sister Mary Euphrasia. She desired to devote her life to serving God through prayer and helping young girls and women who were abandoned by their families, orphaned, or in desperate social situations.

Only eleven years later, when she was twenty-nine, Sister Mary Euphrasia was elected Superior. In the same year, she founded the Contemplative Sisters of the Good Shepherd, closely linked to the Apostolic Sisters through prayer, whose mission is to pray for the women served by the active sisters. Under her leadership, the congregation spread from France to all five continents, with 110 new foundations during her lifetime. From then on, her life was one of total dedication to the mission which she carried out with great joy and zeal.

With the blessing of the Church, amid some painful misunderstandings of some of the hierarchy and many of her own Sisters of the Refuge, Mary Euphrasia formed the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Angers, France in 1835. She was an ingenious and practical leader who attracted the assistance of other dedicated women and many like-spirited persons.

In 1854 Saint Mary Euphrasia commissioned a tunnel linking the newly purchased St Nicholas abbey and the existing Sisters of Good Shepherd convent. Saint Mary Euphrasia saw the tunnel as a way to access the abbey whilst still upholding the monastic life of the Sisters by not leaving their grounds, and also respecting the Bishop’s authority. Despite the project having support from the Mayor of Angers and the Prefect of Maine-et-Loire, it was seen as an impossible task due to cost, and scale due to leading under an imperial road for 25 metres. Despite difficulty and dissuasion, the project went ahead with the excavating and building of the tunnel taking three months and the help of 50 workers and all Sisters. The tunnel is still used today, and is revered as a symbol of St Mary Euphrasia’s audacity and dedication.

By the time of her death in 1868, she had established 110 centres in 35 countries. Her motto has remained as a guide for the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, "One person is more precious than the whole world".