Blessed Rosalie Rendu
Today the Church celebrates : Bl. Rosalie Rendu, Daughter of Charity (1786-1856). Jeanne Marie Rendu was born September 9, 1786 at Confort, a district of Gex in the Jura Mountains. She was the eldest of four girls. Her parents, simple living mountain people and small property owners, enjoyed a certain affluence and true respect throughout the area. Jeanne Marie was baptized the day she was born in the parish church of Lancrans.
Jeanne Marie Rendu was three years old when the Revolution broke out in France. From 1790 it was mandatory for the clergy to take an oath of support for the civil Constitution. However, many priests, faithful to the Church, refused to take this oath. They were chased from their parishes, some were put to death and others had to hide to escape their pursuers. Jeanne’s family hid those who stayed to minister to French Catholics, claiming that they were hired farm hands. Jeanne made her first Holy Communion one night by candlelight in the basement of her home celebrated by one of these covert priests.
Her father died when she was nine years old, and her 4 month old sister a few months later. Jeanne Marie, aware of her responsibility as the eldest, helped her mother, especially in caring for her younger sisters. Educated for two years at an Ursuline boarding school in Gex, France, she began working with the Daughters of Charity at the local hospital.
At age 16, Jeanne Marie went to the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity in Paris to join them, taking the name Sister Rosalie. The intensity of her new devotional life harmed her health, and she was transferred to the house in the Mouffetard District, one of the poorest areas in Paris at that time. She worked with the poor and the sick in the slum for 54 years, teaching catechism and reading to young women.
In 1815, Sr. Rosalie became Superior of the Community at rue des Francs Bourgeois. Two years later the Community would move to rue de l’Epée de Bois for reasons of space and convenience. All her qualities of devotedness, natural authority, humility, compassion and her organizational abilities would be revealed. Sister Rosalie was the “good mother of all” without distinction of religion, political persuasion, or social status. She accepted donations from the rich which she gave to the poor. To assist those who were suffering, she started a free clinic, pharmacy, school, orphange, child-care center, youth club for young workers, and a home for the elderly poor. Extreme hardships were common in the Mouffetard District. Epidemics of cholera followed one after another. Lack of hygiene and poverty exacerbated the situation. She herself was seen picking up dead bodies in the streets.
During the uprisings of July 1830 and February 1848, barricades and bloody battles were the marks of the opposition of the working class stirred up against the powerful. Archbishop Affre, Archbishop of Paris, was killed trying to intervene between the fighting factions. Sr. Rosalie was deeply grieved. She herself climbed the barricades to try and help the wounded fighters.
In 1852, Napoleon III decided to give her the Cross of the Legion of Honor. She was ready to refuse this individual honor but Fr. Etienne, Superior General of the Priests of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity, made her accept it.
Always in fragile health, Sr. Rosalie never took a moment of rest, always managing to overcome fatigue and fevers. However, age, increasing infirmity, and the amount of work needing to be done eventually broke her strong resistance and equally strong will. During the last two years of her life she became progressively blind. She died on February 7, 1856 after a brief acute illness.
She was beatified on November 9, 2003 by Pope John Paul II.
“If you want someone to love you, you must be the first to love; and if you have nothing to give, give yourself.”
~ Blessed Rosalie Rendu