“When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that is the end of the story.
It may be just the beginning of a great adventure! Life is like that.”
(Peria Chodron – ‘When things fall apart.’)
It seemed to Euphrasie that things were indeed falling apart! The thought of going back to school at the age of nineteen years with girls who were much younger, absolutely terrified her. However, she was also convinced that in a strange and oblique way, the Lord was preparing her for her future mission. She had, from an early age, learnt to trust the Lord and so her prayer now was, ‘Not my will but yours be done!’ So she applied herself with her usual enthusiasm and generosity. Observing her Sr. Marie Guyot and Sr. St. John soon came to realise what a huge mistake they had made in insisting that Euphrasie went back to school to improve her education, for they now saw, with careful observation that she was both intelligent and experienced, far beyond their other pupils with regard to maturity and sound judgement.
One day, Sr. Marie Guyot called Euphrasie aside as her class was being dismissed and asked, “The novices are moving into a new wing at the convent this evening, do you still wish to join them?”
Surprised and scarcely able to believe what the implications of this question meant, she answered, “Yes, Yes, Yes!” as joy and thanksgiving bubbled up within her. She did not need a second bidding. Now she felt that at last, after so many delays and disappointments, she was beginning her true life. She flung herself heart and soul into her Novitiate training and found a true friend and guide in her Novice Mistress, Sr. St. John.
Though she applied herself seriously to her new way of life, her old sense of fun was never far away and at recreation time many a laugh centred around the pranks of the tiny Novice with dancing eyes and witty tongue!
She was a good companion at work as well and pulled her weight in every way even when it came to the unpleasant jobs. She certainly was no shirker! Always eager to learn new skills, she willingly taught others what she knew and gave them the benefit of her experience.
It came as no surprise then, that because of her former training and experience, Euphrasie was put in charge of the laundry but she found that the work here was so much harder than any she had ever done before. The laundry was poorly equipped and, in fact, was quite primitive. There was no such thing as tapped water. All the water they needed had to be carried in buckets from a huge stone trough which was situated quite a way from the convent.* The water that supplied this trough came from a little stream which flowed down a steep hillside nearby.
In winter the icy water and the harsh mountain winds that blew down ferociously upon them, left them frozen with cold, their hands numb and chapped. The laundry itself was draughty with little heat so, chilblains on their hands and feet ached and itched. Morning and evening the young sisters rubbed the sore patches with lard or dripping but there was little relief until the valley of Cuves was green once again in the hot summer sunshine.
Yes, life was extremely hard but all persevered and remained steadfast because they saw themselves as missionaries in training and every hardship was a step towards their final goal.
One day, Sr. Marie Guyot called the group together to give them the news that they would all be clothed in the habit of the Sisters of Calvary on August 6th 1849 and would from that day become novices. There was great rejoicing among Euphrasie and her companions and, unable to contain their happiness and gratitude, their preparations for this special day began immediately. However, in the midst of all the excitement no one noticed that their beloved leader, had grown very pale and thin. They didn’t see the gradual deterioration in her general health or the fact that she often went apart from the group to hide her pain and weakness and her distressing cough. So it came as a terrible surprise and shock to all, that not long before the Clothing day dawned, their kindly, wise leader was dead! She was just twenty eight years old. They laid her to rest in their tiny little chapel.*
Life had to go on and some days later Sr. St. John was chosen to serve as their new leader. Trying to cheer up the young distraught sisters, she told them,
“Come, the clothing ceremony must go ahead. Dear Sr. Marie Guyot would have wished it so. She has gone to her reward in Heaven but God’s work on earth must go on! We are the ones chosen to continue this work.”
August 6th was a day of quiet joy for Euphrasie and her sisters in spite of their recent sorrow. As they received and were clothed in the Habit of the Sisters of Calvary, each one was given a new name as a sign of the new life that they were now embracing. Euphrasie became SR. MARIE OF THE SACRED HEART.
Euphrasie or Sr. Marie of the Sacred Heart, as she would now be known, became zealous in her prayer, devotions and duties for she wanted to serve God perfectly and immediately. However, as her good friend and teacher, Sr. St. John, wisely pointed out – ‘all growth in the spiritual life takes time and needs patience and perseverance otherwise you could become a spiritual burnout harbouring mountains of scruples, and with little joy in your life!’
Sr. Marie of the Sacred Heart, though zealous for the things of God, had much to learn!
- The trough mentioned can still be seen in the little village of Cuves though it is no longer in use.
- Marie Guyot’s tomb lies to this day in the tiny chapel in Cuves. We as sisters have visited her tomb as part of a pilgrimage to celebrate the 150 years since our founding.
Next time: Upheaval in France – London beckons!
Sister Louise Shields, Rndm