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Pauline Jaricot

30 November, 1999

Pauline Jaricot founded the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Through this society lay people can contribute to the organisation of the missions. It was Pauline’s sense of self-sacrifice that was the stimulus to setting it up. John Murray PP tells the story. ‘Little sister you cannot come; but you shall take a rake, […]

Pauline Jaricot founded the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Through this society lay people can contribute to the organisation of the missions. It was Pauline’s sense of self-sacrifice that was the stimulus to setting it up. John Murray PP tells the story.

‘Little sister you cannot come; but you shall take a rake, rake in heaps of gold and you shall send it to me in barrels.’ They were prophetic but painful words, spoken – perhaps unthinkingly – by an older brother to his young sister.

He may not have realized how much his words hurt his little sister. He would go on to become a priest on the missions in China. She too, had hoped for such a missionary enterprise but would answer the call nearer to home. But let us trace the story back before these words were spoken.

Christian family
Pauline was the last child of a strong Christian marriage of Antoine and Jeanne Jaricot. Her parents were well-to-do, owning a silk factory in the great provincial city of Lyons. Faith was practised and passed on in her home and although France was still caught up in the struggles of the revolution which began in 1789, the impact was less felt here than in the capital, Paris.

She was close to her brother Phineas and often they shared a common interest in missionary stories. He confided in her one day his desire to travel to China and give his life in the service of the Lord there. When Pauline spoke of her desire to accompany him, she received a word about rakes and barrels which she did not fully understand.

Dramatic change
The young industrialist’s daughter was early introduced into the hectic social life of the richer Lyons families. She did what was expected for someone of her rank, attending the balls and fashionable coffee shops which were part of a sophisticated scene. She attracted many admirers and for a while she revelled in that milieu.

Then one day during the season of Lent 1816 she heard a sermon in her local church on the theme of vanity which changed her life for ever. The romantic books and love songs, the expensive hair creations, the stylish hats and silk dresses were all laid aside.

Pauline began to dress in cheaper clothes and even sold her jewellery and gave the money to the poor. Somehow she knew that she was not being called to the religious life but to live the life of a lay apostle.

Intense devotion
She deepened her prayer life and would often spend hours before the Blessed Sacrament in adoration. Indeed, in 1817 she started an association of ‘those who make reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus’.

It was in this same year that while praying, Pauline had a vision of two lamps. One had no oil; the other was overflowing and from its abundance poured oil into the empty lamp. To Pauline the drained lamp signified the faith in France while the overflowing lamp represented the faith of new Christians on the missions. Their faith could revitalize the faith in her homeland.

One evening while the family were playing cards she was sitting by the fireside and had another of those ideas for which she was to become well known. ‘Circles of Ten’ described her plan – people would commit themselves to sacrifice a sou (roughly a penny) per week. Each person would find ten other friends to do the same and so on. The words about rakes and barrels were beginning to come true.

However it was in the following year that the seeds of the later ‘Propagation of the Faith’ were sown. Pauline appealed to two hundred young women and girls who were working in her brother’s factory to make a weekly contribution of a sou from their wages to help abandoned babies in China.

The seed grew and in 1822 the Society was formally constituted. In that same year she arranged for the printing and distribution of information should be communicated and this led in turn to the diffusion of the inspiring stories of the missionaries who were in other parts of the world. The Society of the Propagation of the Faith was born.

Another area which grew under Pauline’s vision was the devotion and prayer to Mary. At the time she felt that the rosary was a neglected prayer. She founded an association called ‘The Living Rosary’ for people who would pray the rosary and make it better known.

Groups of fifteen were organized and in these she saw the ‘good, the mediocre and others who have nothing to offer but their good will. ‘Fifteen pieces of coal, one is well lit, three or four are half-lit and the rest are not lit at all. Put them together and you have a blazing mass.’ In time the organization would also distribute prayer leaflets, pictures and rosaries.

Yet not all of Pauline’s ideas were clothed with success. One dream was of creating a Christian town with a community of workers where men and women could be paid a living wage and everyone receive a living education, and the sick and aged would have their needs met. This time, with the advice of the Cure d’Ars, St. John Vianney, she gathered a group of wealthy people who each were willing to contribute a large sum
into a common fund. This capital would be the fund with which she would finance her idea. Sadly the man to whom she entrusted this capital stole the money. ‘You are a victim of fraud,’ Pauline’s lawyers simply told her.

What was sadder for her was that the association which she had founded earlier and which had gone from strength to strength, refused her help, too. Pauline went back to the Curé who had earlier inspired her original idea.

The great French mystic saw that she was now entering a new phase of her journey to sanctity. His words were full of wisdom: ‘Through the hands of the Blessed Virgin, the good God frequently grants one of the greatest gifts -an understanding of the Way of the Cross.

But her life of sacrifice and recent disappointment had taken its toll and as a result Pauline died in 1862. Her life had seemed to end in poverty and failure. Yet she breathed her last words, ‘Mary, O my mother, I am yours.’

Pauline was declared Venerable on 25 February 1963. In 1962 Pope John XXIII had stated that it was Pauline who ‘thought of the society, who conceived it and made it an organized reality’. In this month of October, the month in which we particularly think of the missions, we would do well to remember this lay apostle who had such a fire for the Lord and such creative ideas for spreading the Word.

This article first appeared in The Messenger (October 2007), a publication of the Irish Jesuits.