“I have dreamed in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas. They have gone through and through me….. and altered the colour of my mind… and my life.”
Euphrasie was just six years old when the family moved from Louvigny back to Caen, a small town in Normandy, France. While they lived in Louvigny, Louis, Euphrasie’s father, had helped to manage the farm but now he wanted to take up his own trade once again – that of shoemaker. He found a suitable apartment near his shoemaker’s shop in Caen and when the day finally came for them to move, the children were breathless with excitement as they ran from window to window of their new home, pressing inquisitive little noses against steamed up glass, their eyes wide with wonder.
They gazed enrapt at the world below them, which was so different from the quiet, pastoral world of Louvigny. There were many houses and shops, with streets full of people hurrying about their business. Directly opposite their father’s shop rose the towering grey steeple of St. Peter’s church – now their parish church.
Once they were settled in their new home, the next very important task was to find a suitable school for Euphrasie and Natalie. So, one morning, Adele, their mother, took her two little girls to enrol them in the sisters’ school nearby. Their teacher was to be Sister Arsene and in time the two new pupils grew to love Sister very dearly. “Sister Arsene said….” became the catch phrase at home. Her word was law in school – and in the Barbier household as well! With the enthusiasm of many a six year old, Euphrasie declared that she was going to be a sister like Sr. Arsene when she grew up! ‘Out of the mouths of babes…..!’
Louis and Adele were delighted to see their children so happy in school. They were very bright and made good progress in reading, writing and arithmetic but the lessons they looked forward to most were those about religion. Each day they came home with tales of joys to come when they would be able to receive Jesus Himself in Holy Communion. These were the happiest days of Euphrasie’s young life and she blossomed in mind and spirit.
Happy and rewarding though it was, school was not the only source of education for the children. Louis, their father, was a man of wide experience and was well educated. He had, at one time, been a Napoleonic soldier and had seen service in Guadalupe, where he had been born and brought up. He had vivid memories of days filled with warm sunshine, sandy beaches and of being immersed in a sea of colourful tropical plants and flowers.
Sitting around the open fire at night with his family beside him he would tell gripping tales of travels and adventures, of strange people and their customs, of terrifying tropical storms and the hardships and dangers he encountered. He told tales of slaves and masters, soldiers and pirates, superstition and voodoo and most importantly of all he spoke of the brave missionaries who came and tried to bring God into the whole dangerous and volatile situation.
Euphrasie was spellbound as she listened to these stories especially! The seed of things to come was already being sown!
“I will be a missionary when I grow up!” she cried, “I will go across the sea and tell the poor people about Jesus!”
Louis laughed at his little daughter’s eagerness and enthusiasm and said,
” Euphrasie you are a good girl but you could never be a missionary.”
“Why not?” she asked, “why can’t I be a missionary?”
“Because,” she was told, “it is far too dangerous. Only big brave men can be missionaries. It is a very hard and rough life – no life for a well brought up young lady like yourself!”
“I wouldn’t be afraid!” declared Euphrasie and her face took on a determined look. It was enough for her to be told. “You can’t!” for her to want to prove to all that she could!
At the age of nine, impressed by her knowledge and eagerness, the parish priest allowed Euphrasie to join the First Communion class and, under the guidance of Sr. Arsene and after intense preparation on her part, the longed for day finally arrived. She received her First Holy Communion on Trinity Sunday and celebrated the event with her family. She was overcome and overwhelmed by the wonder of the moment and, for the first time in her life, lost for words! She knew and understood, even at this tender age that she now belonged to Jesus and that she would one day be a sister and live her life all for Jesus. As she outgrew childish games, Euphrasie said less and less about becoming a missionary but she still thought about it.
The dream of going to faraway places to bring the knowledge of Jesus to people who had never heard of Him became a real force in her life and she could not bear to have this precious dream laughed at, even in good humour!
Sister Louise Shields, Rndm