“There is always one moment in childhood

when a door opens and lets the future in.”

[Deepak Chopra]

Euphrasie’s happy school days passed all too quickly and it was when she reached the age of thirteen that a door did, in fact, open and let the future in – a door that she did not particularly want to go through.

She had grown and matured over the years and her parents, looking to the future, thought that the time had come for Euphrasie to leave school and learn a trade or skill which would enable her to earn a decent living in time to come.  However, knowing how happy she was in school, they dreaded telling her of their plans. They had given her a good education – better than most working class girls could expect, but now she needed to move out of childhood and learn to provide for herself and her future. What better way to do this than to learn a trade?

Euphrasie’s mother had a good friend in town called Mademoiselle Roget.  This lady owned a laundry and had a very good reputation as a laundress.  She also trained young girls in laundry work.  It happened that at this time a vacancy came up in this laundry training course and, hearing about it Adele, Euphrasie’s mother, never one to miss an opportunity, managed to secure this place for her young daughter. When telling her of their plans, Adele said to Euphrasie, “Mademoiselle Roget is a very good woman.  She seems to be very stern but she has a kind heart, she is very fair and trains her girls well.”

Euphrasie was quiet and thoughtful as she bowed to her parent’s wisdom and did not seem to be too unhappy at the prospect of learning a trade.  Her feelings were mixed though – to leave school and move into an adult world was quite frightening in some ways but in another way it was the beginning of an adventure which opened up unchartered possibilities and opportunities  that she felt ready to embrace.

The following Monday morning, Euphrasie was up early, ready to meet what this new day and this new adventure would bring.  As she entered her workplace she was met by Mademoiselle Roget who looked her over sternly.

“You are very small but if you are a hard worker like your mother, you will do! “ Then came her first instructions, “Now remember, no talking is allowed in the laundry during working hours.  This job needs nimble fingers, concentration and good judgement!”

During her first days as an apprentice, Euphrasie was assigned to washing and wringing – washing and wringing – continuous washing and wringing!  The work  was so hard and tedious that, as she returned home each evening, her arms and legs felt as though they might fall off!  As time went on though, she progressed to washing and ironing, handling delicate linens and laces that were fashionable among well- to- do ladies of the time.  She found herself working with precious and fragile fabrics some of which she had never seen before.  It was painstaking and laborious work especially since they used quite primitive and basic methods  – flat irons which were heated on wood stoves –charcoal – tongs and boiling water.  In spite of this Mademoiselle Roget, taught her trainees to see their work as a beautiful and exacting art, worthy of the utmost attention and devotion.  Euphrasie took her apprenticeship very seriously.  She grew to love her laundry work and in time became very skilled.  Adele and Louis were proud of their daughter’s progress though they still regretted having had to take her out of school. They talked to her godfather, Uncle Francis about this and he offered to come and teach her three times a week.  With her work, her studies and involvement with church groups, Euphrasie’s days were very full.

It was around this time that Euphrasie’s mother gave birth to another daughter and Euphrasie was overjoyed.  Her delight knew no bounds when she was asked to be godmother to her new little sister.  Like Euphrasie herself, because she was so frail and sickly, the baby was baptised soon after birth.  They named her Eugenie.  For eight days, Euphrasie, raced between home and work as she tried to care for the younger members of her family. She spent much time cradling her little sister who seemed to be sleeping her life away. One evening, as she lay in her mother’s arms, Eugenie fell asleep forever. The Barbiers were heartbroken and Adele never really recovered from this sad loss.

Life, of necessity, soon resumed its old routine and Euphrasie’s days became as busy as ever.  However, Euphrasie still clung to her ‘impossible dream’.  “Someday,” she thought, “someday I will become a missionary,” and secretly she saw her present experiences as training  and preparation for a needy mission that was waiting for her somewhere in the world

A new curate arrived in her parish when she was about fifteen.  He was devout, enthusiastic and energetic.  After his first sermon, Euphrasie felt that, through him, God was speaking directly to her so she went to speak to him and told him about her conviction that God was calling her to be a missionary sister in some needy foreign land.  Father Lefournier was astounded.

‘A sister?’ he asked, ‘a missionary? Have you ever heard of a woman going to foreign lands as a missionary? I certainly haven’t!’

Not wishing to discourage the young girl, he advised her, ‘Go home and start working on the 3P’s – Prayer, Patience and Perseverance.   Try to grow closer to God every day of your life and in His own good time God will show you what He wants!’

Though he regularly guided and encouraged Euphrasie’s spiritual growth and asked her to write in detail the reasons why she wanted to be a missionary and what this would mean to her, he made no attempt to find out if there was such a thing as a missionary religious order for women.  Meantime she continued to work on her 3P’s especially the middle one – Patience!

Was that long cherished dream of Euphrasie’s really going to be impossible?

Sister Louise Shields, Rndm