‘Tragedy should be used as a source of strength.
No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is,
if we lose hope that is our real disaster!’
[Dalai Lama X1V]
1845 heralded a year that was to bring tragedy and heartbreak to the Barbier household! Euphrasie was now sixteen years old and her sister Nathalie a year younger. Nathalie had left school not long after Euphrasie and had begun her training as a seamstress in a workroom run by the Sisters of Providence. The girls were very close and realised how lucky they were to be getting such good training and to have steady jobs. Laundering and sewing would always be needed and would provide a reasonable income in the years ahead. Both girls were dedicated and reliable workers and they worked from dawn to dusk six days of the week but they looked forward to Sundays when they would have time to spend at home, cooking, cleaning and taking care of the younger members of the family thus giving their mother a well-earned rest.
It was on a sunny Sunday morning that the clouds of tragedy gathered over the Barbier family. Euphrasie and Nathalie were upstairs cleaning and dusting and no one was clear as to how the accident happened. Had Nathalie been cleaning the open window or had she just sat down on the window ledge to rest? Whatever the circumstances Nathalie lost her balance and went plunging head first through the open window to land on the paved courtyard below. Horrified, the family rushed outside. Louis ran to fetch the doctor, Adele spoke gently to her injured daughter while Euphrasie, practical as ever, grabbed towels to mop up the dark mass oozing from Nathalie’s head. When Louis and the doctor arrived they found the family sitting around the patient who, by this time, had come round and was trying bravely to smile up at them. Carefully they carried her upstairs and put her to bed.
“She will be stiff and sore tomorrow,” said the doctor “but there is nothing broken, just a cut on the head. Let her rest and sleep. She will be all right in a few days.”
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief and gave thanks to God for Nathalie’s narrow escape.
Months passed and the incident was almost forgotten apart from the fact that the children were strictly forbidden to play near open windows! Then, less than a year later, Nathalie came home from work one day feeling very ill. The doctor was sent for and, after examining her and asking for symptoms of her condition – blinding headaches, vomiting, spasms of paralysis, confusion. He told her parents,
“I am afraid that your daughter has suffered a serious injury to her brain, a blood clot has formed causing congestion. She will need constant nursing but sadly there is nothing that I or any other doctor can do for her.”
The Barbiers were absolutely inconsolable as they realised that Natilie would not be with them much longer. In the weeks that followed, Natalie’s condition deteriorated rapidly and they were constantly at her side. She lay still and silent as a stone, her mind beyond reach. So it was that one night, as her parents and Euphrasie sat watching and praying at her side, in the dim candlelight, Nathalie’s short life ebbed away and came to an end. She was not yet sixteen years old!
Euphrasie proved to be a tower of strength to her parents and family at this sad time though she herself was overwhelmed with grief and shock and she missed her sister greatly. Externally, life went on but it would never be the same, for a gentle, loving, shining light, which had brought such happiness to all, had been extinguished.
One Sunday morning, not long after Nathalie’s death, Euphrasie went as usual to Mass at the nearby Cathedral. There she listened attentively, hanging on every word, as a visiting missionary bishop spoke about his life on the missions and asked for help for his poor mission. He was an old man, tall, bearded and bent, obviously worn out from the many hardships he had endured. Euphrasie, who had never lost sight of her own precious dreams of one day going to a missionary country, felt her hopes rise and with the impetuosity of youth, went to speak to the bishop after Mass, told him of her hopes and dreams and even offered to go and work in his poor mission.
The bishop listened intently and stoked his long beard thoughtfully. “My dear young lady, this is a wonderful offer,” he said, “but you are very young and I do not know you. Why don’t you ask your parish priest if he thinks you are ready for missionary life!”
The parish priest, Fr. Lefournier was neither amused nor enthusiastic and as a way of stalling the inevitable, told Euphrasie once again to put in writing her reasons why she thought God was calling her to be a missionary. “That will keep her busy for a long time,” he thought! However, to his amazement Euphrasie returned a few days later with a sheaf of neatly written pages. When reading it he was surprised that someone so young could put her thoughts so clearly, logically and with so much common sense. He was spurred into action realising at last that God was indeed calling Euphrasie to become a missionary and he began making enquiries about congregations of Missionary women.
Quite by chance, [or was the Spirit at work], he saw an advertisement for a missionary community called the Sisters of Calvary. Founded only in 1840 by 1848 they were flourishing and growing in numbers. At this time they ran a very good boarding school for girls in Cuves, a village in eastern France and at the same time they were preparing themselves to go to the foreign missions.
Euphrasie was overjoyed when Fr. Lefournier gave her this information. She had never doubted that she would eventually find the missionary group that God wished her to join. Her plans and dreams were now falling into place and she was full of hope!
Next time: Opposition and sad goodbyes.