Lyon, France, May 21, 2022 / 04:00 am (CNA).
In 1859, the year that he died, St. John Vianney offered a cross to Pauline Jaricot, who will become the Church’s newest blessed on Sunday.
As he did so, he said these words: “God alone as witness, Jesus Christ as model, Mary as support, and then nothing, nothing but love and sacrifice.”
Jaricot was a prominent figure in 19th-century French Catholicism but is less well known outside France than Vianney, who played a significant role in her life.
She met the priest when she was a child. Her parents had a house in the country, in Tassin, near Lyon, within the parish of Dardilly, where Vianney served. He sometimes came for lunch at the Jaricot house on Sundays, until he was appointed Curé of Ars.
Jaricot was born in Lyon on July 22, 1799, in the wake of the French Revolution and six months before Napoleon Bonaparte’s coup d’état. The Lyon region was an important center of resistance against the Revolution and Jaricot was baptized by a refractory priest.
She was the last of seven children. Her mother was a silk worker — a job with a low income — but thanks to her factory-owning father, the family lived in prosperity in the center of Lyon, next to Saint-Nizier Church.
It was in that church that her life changed one day. At the age of 17, she was listening to a homily that shook her to her core. Up to that point, she had lived a Christian life tinged with vanity. But on Christmas 1816, she took a vow of perpetual virginity in a small chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary on the hill of Fourvière, a district of Lyon lying west of the old town.
In 1815, the family moved to another location in the city, near the neighborhood of La Croix-Rousse, where impoverished silk workers lived. After her conversion in 1816, Jaricot began to pray intensively and decided to dress like the silk workers, to be close to the poor and a sign of Christ’s presence among them.
She kept going to the Saint-Nizier Church (where she is buried), but also began to attend the Church of St. Polycarp in La Croix-Rousse (which today contains her heart). There, she formed a parish group with silk workers known as the Réparatrices du cœur de Jésus méconnu et méprisé.
During long hours of prayer, she had heard Jesus lamenting humanity’s ingratitude. She created the group in reparation and to console Jesus through prayer and action. The group’s spirituality centered on the Eucharist and devotion to the Cross.
One day, Jaricot heard some troubling news from friends of one of her brothers, Philéas, who was a seminarian in Paris. The Society of Foreign Missions of Paris, founded in 1663 to evangelize Asia, was in financial difficulty.
With other members of her group, she began to collect money for the Society every Friday in the streets of Lyon. From this emerged the organization known at first as the Association of the Propagation of the Faith and later as the Society of the Propagation of the Faith.
In 1922, Pius XI would add the title “Pontifical” and today it is the oldest of four Pontifical Mission Societies, an umbrella group of Catholic missionary societies under the pope’s authority.
As the initiative spread, Jaricot’s spiritual father asked her to devote herself yet more intensely to prayer. It was a difficult time for her because she wanted to be active. But in this period, she wrote the book “Infinite Love in the Divine Eucharist,” a simple but profound meditation on the Eucharist read by generations of French Catholics.
In 1825, Pope Leo XII organized a great Jubilee, asking Catholics to pray the rosary for the protection of the Church and the world from dangers such as anti-clericalism and irreligion.
In response, Jaricot founded the Association of the Living Rosary. The idea was simple: 15 members of a group would combine together to recite the full 15 decades of the rosary every day. The initiative was a great success in France and soon spread beyond it.
Several Living Rosary groups continue to thrive in Lyon. Their members sometimes meet in locations associated with Jaricot, such as the Maison de Lorette. She acquired the house on the Fourvière Hill in 1832. Together with other women, she formed a small lay community there called the Filles de Marie (“Daughters of Mary”). They followed a rigorous routine of prayer and activities such as promoting the Living Rosary and visiting the sick.
Jaricot’s health was precarious and in 1835, she set off for Mugnano, a town in southern Italy hosting the relics of St. Philomena. She was drawn there by stories of miracles obtained through the saint’s intercession.
On the feast of St. Philomena, Jaricot received Communion near the shrine containing the relics. Seated in an invalid chair, she experienced a healing later known as the “great miracle of Mugnano.” The chair can be viewed at the shrine today.
When she returned from Italy, Jaricot brought back some small relics, which she offered to St. John Vianney.
Thanks to the Society of the Propagation of the Faith and Association of the Living Rosary, Jaricot’s fame spread far and wide. She received letters from around the world from missionaries and Church figures. But her final years were marked by deep suffering and lived in the shadow of the Cross.
At the time of her conversion, Jaricot had heard Jesus ask her in prayer: “Would you like to suffer and die for me?” She wrote in a notebook that “I offered myself as a victim to the divine Majesty.”
Appalled by the condition of Lyon’s workers, she offered to buy a factory in 1845 that she hoped would serve as a model Christian enterprise. But she was swindled and the project was a great failure. She spent the rest of her life trying to pay off the debts of those she had convinced to invest alongside her.
Her reputation diminished greatly and, at the end of her life, she was included in the list of the city’s poor. She died almost alone in 1862.
After her death, a long text was discovered that is considered her spiritual testament. It contains these words: “My hope is in Jesus! My only treasure is the Cross! I will bless the Lord at all times and his praise will be continually in my mouth.”
Jaricot is best known for the organizations she founded. But her beatification on May 22 will draw attention to her deep spiritual life, marked by devotion to the Eucharist and the Cross, surrender to the divine will, and unfailing hope in God. Her relationship with God was so intense that some authors have described her as a mystic comparable to the great St. Catherine of Siena.
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