Hero – a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities.
This past weekend was the Women’s March. I’d like to take this opportunity to share a bit of the story of a woman who is one of my heroes.
How did a woman who was born Rose-Virginie Pelletier in 1796 and became a French Roman Catholic nun become a hero of a Baptist girl? Well, as a child growing up, I heard stories of Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon who were Baptist missionaries who helped many people during their lifetimes. They were women who served God as they felt called, and I found their stories inspiring. Then a group of conservative, largely white male Southern Baptists hijacked the denomination in a very political, fear-based manner. My childhood pastor, my college pastor, my seminary professors, the churches I had served – all either left the denomination or were kicked out. I felt robbed of my Baptist heritage and my Baptist women heroes.
I served as a therapeutic foster parent for, then joined the staff at Maryhurst in Louisville, Kentucky. Maryhurst was the first agency started on American soil by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Its mission had always been to serve women and children in greatest need. There I learned many of the stories of the founder of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd – this Rose-Virginie Pelletier hellion turned Sister Mary Euphrasia who was all of 4’9” tall but stood very tall in my eyes.
While there are many stories, I’ll share only my favorite which has served as a continuing inspiration. At the request of the city of Angers, France, Mary Euphrasia founded a convent there. While she officially reported to the Cardinal, the Bishop of Angers sought to have authority over Mary Euphrasia’s affairs. When he refused to approve her travel between the cloistered motherhouse and a former monastery across the street which she had purchased to serve those with failing health, she came up with a brilliant plan to remain under authority and serve the needs of the people.
Mary Euphrasia sought permission from the city to dig a tunnel under the street to provide access between the two properties without officially leaving the grounds. Supposedly, she got all the permissions and plans and hired workers to come in during the day and blast the rock, and the women and children carried away the debris during the evenings. I was privileged to go with a group from Maryhurst on a pilgrimage to the motherhouse in Angers in 2000. I walked through that tunnel. Each step was a reminder of something my mother used to say – “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” The way may not be easy. It may require the assistance of others. It may take some ingenuity or hard labor or courage or grit. Or maybe it will take all of that.
The Bishop of Angers thought Mary Euphrasia to be ambitious and disobedient. She followed a higher calling – a calling to serve women and children in greatest need. That included prostitutes, abused girls, female outcasts . . . . She inspired many. Sisters of the Good Shepherd have been sent from the motherhouse in Angers around the world to follow that call. Rose-Virginie Pelletier was rewarded by God and by Rome and was eventually canonized as Saint Mary Euphrasia.
And she continues to inspire me.