Euphrasie Barbier, Foundress of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions, was born 4 January, 1829, at Caen, Normandy, France. She was the eldest of five children, four girls and a boy, born to Louis Desire Barbier and Jeanne Allele Le Clare. As the eldest child she learned early to care for and help her three sisters, Nathalie, Noemia and Marie Her little brother, Louis, was devoted to her.
Her father, Louis, was a shoemaker by trade and kept a little shoe shop in the Square near St Peter’s Parish Church, in the Place du Marche-au-Bois. Euphrasie attended the local convent school run by the Sisters of Providence from Lisieux. Euphrasie assisted daily at the 6 a..m. Mass in the parish church and mace her First Holy Communion at the age of nine, on the feast of the Blessed Trinity.
At school she showed herself to be intelligent, industrious and pious, with a very alert mind and a somewhat obstinate or stubborn character housed in an apparently frail body. She was small in stature. She left school at the age of 14 to help swell the family budget and was apprenticed to Mademoiselle Roget who ran a laundry business quite near the Barbier home. At 17 years of age Euphrasie was considered efficient enough to warrant her running her own laundry, which she did successfully till she decided, at the age of 19, to follow her vocation to the religious life.
Euphrasie did not enter the novitiate immediately. The Sisters of Calvary took her into their boarding school to finish her education. She was professed in 1850 and given the name, Sister Marie.
In 1851 she was sent with a companion to England to learn English, a language necessary on the missions. Later four other Sisters joined her and she was sent to Liverpool Teachers’ Training College to secure a Teachers’ Certificate.
Back in France the Sisters of Calvary had fallen on bad times and decided to migrate to England. Here they came under the care of the Oratorian Fathers and decided to forego their former missionary orientation and become attached to the parishes run by the Oratorians. Sister Marie, still missionary minded, decided she must look elsewhere and eventually, with due authorisation, offered herself for missionary work to the Marish Fathers busy with missionary work in Oceania.
By 1864 she had four Sisters ready to set out on the missions. These she sent to Napier to the Marist Mission there in February, 1865. At this time Napier belonged to the Diocese of Wellington. In Napier the Sisters opened a parochial school, St Joseph’s, on the hill, and significantly, in 1867, a Māori Providence, which in time expanded into St Joseph’s Māori Girls’ College situated now at Greenmeadows, Hawke’s Bay.
In 1871 a further foundation was made in the Wellington Diocese this time in the South Island at Nelson where the Sisters took over Father Garin’s School for Girls (at Mary’s) and opened a “Select” school at Father Garin’s request. This. later became Sacred Heart High School and finally Redwood College.
Like St Paul, Mother Mary of the Heart of Jesus made many journeys. She visited her New Zealand convents six times between 1873 and 1886. and her Indian Houses several times.
Within her Congregation she was honoured and loved. Countless letters. written by the Sisters tell of her extreme kindness to them in times of sickness, of anxiety or of bereavement. She was never too busy to listen, to counsel, to encourage. She was never too tired to be of assistance and her reiterated advice to Sisters in charge of communities and to Sisters caring for the children was, “Be a mother to them always – not a step-mother”.
Both men and women who saw her at work declared that she was a woman of prayer and of deep and sincere convictions. Many who met her over the years were impressed by her saintliness. Others saw her as a person who was determined to carry out God’s will as she saw IT. She was an excellent organiser. Her training of candidates was thorough. Some considered it severe as well. Her programme was spiritually, theologically and practically consistent and sound.
When she saw her Congregation growing and expanding, reaching out to New Zealand, Australia, the Islands, when she saw it. extending into the New World to Canada, then east to India and even mushrooming in the Old World, in England, in France itself and into Switzerland she joyfully voiced her favourite prayer ” to God alone be all the Glory’.
New Zealand: Our local sisters.