Rose Virginie Pelletier was born on 31 July 1796 at Soullans, inFrance. There were seven children in the family of Dr and Madame Pelletier. Rose was born at the time of persecution of Christians in France. Dr Pelletier and his family carried on the practice of their religion despite the dangers and worked for the poor and sick of the district. . Eventually the family’s work with the poor and giving refuge to priests meant they had to flee to the island of Noirmoutier. This was where Rose began school in 1808. She was a spirited and intelligent child, lively and strong willed. One of the sisters in the school warned: “Virginie, pay attention for you will surely be an angel or a demon.” Rose replied: “I shall be a nun, I know I shall have to be thoroughly broken in, but I shall be a nun some day.”
The Revolution followed the family to Noirmoutier and there were still times of danger and trouble. But through it Rose’s faith was nurtured especially by her parents’ example. While at school, Rose found a life-long friend in Madomselle de Lignac, one of the younger teachers. Through the suffering of homesickness, loneliness, misunderstanding and the austerity and frigidity of an unbending Principal, Rose was encouraged and befriended by Mlle de Lignac.
During her four years at boarding school Rose developed a deep yearning to help and heal because of her own suffering. Her vocation was shaping itself. But she had no real idea where it would lead. She often dreamed, since hearing from sailors at Noirmoutier, about little black children and she could not forget them. In her dreams little black girls would beg her: “Come to us, and teach us to know Jesus and to love him.”
From Mlle de Lignac Rose learned of the work of the Refuge. The Refuge Sisters were founded by St John Eudes in 1641, to care for women and girls in distress and disadvantaged by the society of the time. Eudist spirituality shaped Rose in her vocation and is still a driving force and foundation of the Good Shepherd spirituality and charism. Rose was fascinated by the work of the Sisters and she felt herself strongly drawn to know more about their work. One night, in secret, she managed to visit the nearest Refuge and she came away convinced that this was the place she was to go.
She met strong opposition from her Principal, her guardian and even Mlle de Lignac. But she was determined and finally her guardian gave in. Rose Virginie was 18 years old when she entered the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge at Tours in 1814. She found great purpose in her life from that time and eagerly began work with the women and girls, called “penitents”. Rose drank deeply of the words of St John Eudes: “Remember that a soul is worth more than a world.”
She established the Magdalena, now known as the Sisters of The Good Shepherd many penitents sincerely wished to devote their lives to Christ more fully through a religious life of contemplation and penance. She opened a boarding school, a house for orphans, bought new property to house the growing community. The Tours Refuge hummed with new life! Mother Euphrasia was gifted with skills for organizing and planning. She drew her inspiration and energy from long hours of prayer, her one aim being to seek out the will of God and do it.
From 1836 the Order spread all over France and then Europe, England, America and Asia. The work was wide and varied but always to the one end – the salvation of souls, always with one kind of person – girls and women who were distressed, rejected and in deep need of shepherding.
The Good Shepherd Sisters were founded in New Zealand in 1886 at Christchurch. The first sisters were from Ireland. They looked after girls and women, often referred from the courts. Their work is very much focused on bringing and sharing the merciful love of God with those especially burdened in today’s society. Many people just seem to need someone to walk with them in their pain and hurt; but others need to be carried in love and prayer, back to the fold. The Good Shepherd sister devotes herself to the specially burdened and marginalised in our society and through her prayer, her faith and trust in the Good Shepherd, she is enabled to bring each person to the Lord.
New Zealand: www.goodshepherd.com.au