Charity for the souls in Purgatory is one of the most touching characteristics of our Catholic Church. From the earliest ages of Christianity prayers and good works have been offered for the dead bonding the Church Militant with the Church Suffering.
However, it was not until the late 19th Century that a special Order was created for the relief and deliverance of the faithful departed through spiritual and temporal works of mercy. The Order of the Holy Souls Helpers is one of the most beautiful stones that marked the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Founded with the special purpose of assisting the souls in Purgatory by the various means which God has revealed, this religious Order of women rose at a providential epoch.
In a century very much like our own, where material interests, indifference alternated with unbelief, the ancient practices of prayers and Masses for the dead had been for the most part swept away.
When God intends to manifest that He is, so to speak, the original Author of any special work,” says Father Garside, “often he writes His cipher on some lowly heart which the world ignores; He comes suddenly and foreshadows to it some indication of His will, the full meaning of which will not be clearly unfolded, until the divinely chosen hour shall have arrived for its executions.”
So it was with the origin of the Helpers of the Holy Souls. This order existed only as a pious idea in the heart of a young girl destined to be its foundress, Eugenie-Marie-Joseph Smet. (Blessed Sister Mary of Providence.)
As a little girl she would puzzle her playmates by a remark, “the souls are in prison, a fire, but the Good God asks us only for a prayer to let them out and wo don’t say it.” As a young woman, she once said to an Archbishop: “Day and night I am pursued by the same thought: one does not pray enough for the dead. Hundreds of thousands of people die every day. Where is there a community devoted exclusively to the relief and deliverance of these dear souls?”
Considering that there was not in the Church, any religious institute for which the principal end was the relief of the Holy Souls, she set herself to work with great zeal. The Cure d’ Ars encouraged her by telling her that it was the will of God and “a realization of the love of the Heart of Jesus.” Like a burning brand the words from Ars were lodged within her spirit. The pledge of future fire. With five companions she pronounced her vows and launched her work in Paris on December 27, 1856.
She offered herself as a victim of expiation for these souls. All her prayers, all her mortifications, all her heroic acts were offered for them.
Blessed Mary had incredible nuggets of great wisdom and insight, “If we enter on the royal road of the Cross, each trial or sorrow will be a station before which we shall kneel to adore the hand of Providence, and the last station on that road will be the gate of Heaven.
Who but Jesus can satisfy these hungry hearts of ours, starving as they are for happiness! If we thirst after God, we must thirst for everything that draws us closer to Him.
Let us make no other projects than to do God’s will. If the souls in purgatory could exchange places with us, how gladly they would suffer, and how slight our sufferings seem to them! Those who cannot suffer cannot love.
Fear nothing but not to do perfectly God’s will. You feel as if you did nothing, knew nothing, and felt nothing. Never mind; the good God will contrive to weave a crown for you out of all the nothings you have offered up for His love.
Personal sanctification is the first step towards apostleship. Before we can follow the martyrs to distant lands, we must vigorously accept daily martyrdom of minute sacrifices. If we only knew what benefit it procured for the souls in Purgatory.
Whenever anything happens, I say to myself, It has happened; and so it is God who allowed it to happen. I will not puzzle myself anymore with those two words, “why” and “how.”
Oh, let us put on Jesus Christ’s livery with joy and love and thus, clothed, descend continually into purgatory, to give the poor souls, by our acts, our sufferings, and our prayers, all the hope and consolation expressed by the Name of Jesus.
The souls in purgatory suffer without a moment’s interruption. Their helpers must never cease a moment to assist them. How could we think of rest on earth? Let us then be docile instruments in God’s hands. It is a marvelous mystery of love that He should make use of nothing and accomplish something.
Holy suffering souls, who can obtain so many graces for us, remember us in the midst of your sufferings. I will work unceasingly to obtain for you the joys of heaven and I know you will plead for me.”
Her genious was exercising charity towards her neighbor and at the same time and by the same acts, for the relief of the souls in Purgatory and of the poor of the earth. Offering to God for the holy souls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy done for the living.
Purgatory had found the way into the depths of her being: “Today I feel as thought my hands were on fire. I am burning…My God may I burn with love for You! Like St. Catherine of Genoa, she had entered into myserious participation in the pains of Purgatory, feeling its fire in her members, and the uanppeased hunger and thirst for God: “I feel within me, an inconceivable hunger and thrist for God. We must help souls to reach the object of their creation, never lose its urgency.”
Charity, charity, charity, for the suffering souls is our call. The first Mother of the Helpers of the Holy Souls will live; the flame of Blessed Mary of Providence can never die.
Let us pray that we carry that flame of love for our holy heroes to the ends of the earth and may we never be classed with those whom St. Bernard describes as producing “much weeping but no fruit, and who are more to be pitied themselves than the dead whose loss they mourn!”
~Excerpted from an article written by Susan Tassone
Jeanne Marie Rendu was born 9 September 1786 at Confort, a district of Gex in the Jura Mountains. She was the eldest of four girls. Her parents, simple living mountain people and small property owners, enjoyed a certain affluence and true respect throughout the area. Jeanne Marie was baptized the day she was born in the parish church of Lancrans. Her Godfather by proxy was Jacques Emery, a family friend and future Superior General of the Sulpicians in Paris.
Jeanne Marie Rendu was three years old when the Revolution broke out in France. From 1790 it was compulsory for the clergy to take an oath of support for the civil Constitution. Numerous priests, faithful to the Church, refused to take this oath. They were chased from their parishes, some were put to death and others had to hide to escape their pursuers.
The Rendu family home became a refuge for these priests. The Bishop of Annecy found asylum under the assumed name of Pierre. Jeanne Marie was fascinated by this hired hand who was treated better than the others. One night, she discovered that he was celebrating Mass. She was offended that she had not been told the truth.
Later, in a discussion with her mother, she blurted out: “Be careful or I will tell that Pierre is not really Pierre.” In order to avoid any indiscretion on the part of her daughter, Madame Rendu told her the truth of the situation.
It was in this atmosphere of solid faith, always exposed to the dangers of denunciation, that Jeanne Marie was educated. She would make her first communion one night by candlelight in the basement of her home. This exceptional environment forged her character.
The death of her father, 12 May 1796, and that of her youngest sister, at four months of age, on 19 July of the same year, shook the entire family. Jeanne Marie, aware of her responsibility as the eldest, helped her mother, especially in caring for her younger sisters.
In the days following the Terror, people calmed down little by little and life resumed its normality. Madame Rendu, concerned about the education of her eldest daughter, sent her to the Ursuline Sisters in Gex. Jeanne Marie stayed two years in this boarding school. During her walks in town, she discovered the hospital where the Daughters of Charity cared for the sick. She had only one desire, to go and join them. Her mother gave her consent that Jeanne Marie, in spite of her young age, might spend some time at this hospital. God’s call, which she had sensed for many years, made itself clear: she would become a Daughter of Charity.
In 1802, Armande Jacquinot, from the village of Lancrans, confided to her friend that she was preparing to leave for Paris to enter the Company of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Jeanne Marie leaped at the opportunity and begged her mother to allow her to leave. Having consulted with Fr. de Varicourt, the senior priest at Gex, Madame Rendu, happy, but very emotional at her daughter’s vocation, consented to her request.
On 25 May 1802, Jeanne Marie arrived at the Motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity, rue du Vieux Colombier in Paris. She was nearly 17 years old! The reopening of the Seminary, (novitiate suppressed by the Revolutionaries) took place in December 1800. On their arrival, the travelers were welcomed by 50 young women in formation.
Jeanne Marie was very anxious to give her very best in this new life. Her health was weakened by the sustained mental effort this demanded and by a lack of physical exercise. On the advice of her physician and that of her Godfather, Fr. Emery, Jeanne Marie was sent to the house of the Daughters of Charity in the Mouffetard District for the service of the poor. She would remain there 54 years!
The thirst for action, devotion and service that burned within Jeanne Marie could not have found a better place to be quenched than this district of Paris. At the time, it was the most impoverished district of the quickly expanding capital: poverty in all its forms, psychological and spiritual. There disease, unhealthy slums, and destitution were the daily lot of the people who were trying to survive.
Jeanne Marie, who received the name Sr. Rosalie, made her “apprenticeship” accompanying Sisters visiting the sick and the poor. Between times, she taught catechism and reading to little girls accepted at the free school. In 1807, Sr. Rosalie, surrounded by the Sisters of her Community, made vows for the first time to serve God and the poor. She made these vows with great emotion and joy.
In 1815 Sr. Rosalie became Superior of the Community at rue des Francs Bourgeois. Two years later the Community would move to rue de l’Epée de Bois for reasons of space and convenience. All her qualities of devotedness, natural authority, humility, compassion and her organizational abilities would be revealed. “Her poor,” as she would call them, became more and more numerous during this troubled time. The ravages of a triumphant economic liberalism accentuated the destitution of those most rejected. She sent her Sisters into all the hidden recesses of St. Médard Parish in order to bring supplies, clothing, care and a comforting word.
To assist all the suffering, Sr. Rosalie opened a free clinic, a pharmacy, a school, an orphanage, a child‑care center, a youth club for young workers and a home for the elderly without resources. Soon a whole network of charitable services would be established to counter poverty.
Her example encouraged her Sisters. She often told them: “Be a milestone where all those who are tired have the right to lay down their load.” She was so simple, and lived so poorly, as to let the presence of God shine through her.
Her faith, solid as a rock and clear as a spring, revealed Jesus Christ in all circumstances. She daily experienced this conviction of St. Vincent: “You will go and visit the poor ten times a day, and ten times a day you will find God there … you go into their poor homes, but you find God there.” Her prayer life was intense, as a Sister affirmed, “… she continually lived in the presence of God. Even if she had a difficult mission to fulfill, we were always assured of seeing her go to the chapel or finding her on her knees in her office.”
She was attentive to assuring that her companions had time for prayer, but sometimes there was a need to “leave God for God” as Vincent de Paul taught his Daughters. Once, while accompanying a Sister on a charitable visit, she said to her: “Sister, let’s begin our meditation!” She suggested the plan, the outline, in a few simple, clear words and entered into prayer.
Like a monk in the cloister, Sr. Rosalie walked with her God. She would speak to God of this family in distress as the father no longer had any work, of this elderly person who risked dying alone in an attic: “Never have I prayed so well as in the streets,” she would say.
One of her companions remarked that, “the poor themselves noted her way of praying and acting.” “Humble in her authority, Sr. Rosalie would correct us with great sensitivity and had the gift of consoling. Her advice, spoken justly and given with all her affection, penetrated souls.”
She was very attentive to the manner of receiving the poor. Her spirit of faith saw in them our “lords and masters.” “The poor will insult you. The ruder they are; the more dignified you must be,” she said. “Remember, Our Lord hides behind those rags.”
Superiors sent her postulants and young Sisters to be formed. They put in her house, for a period of time, Sisters who were somewhat difficult or fragile. To one of her Sisters in crisis, she gave this advice one day, which is the secret of her life: “If you want someone to love you, you must be the first to love; and if you have nothing to give, give yourself.” As the number of Sisters increased, the charity office became a house of charity, with a clinic and a school. She saw in that the Providence of God.
Her reputation quickly grew in all the districts of the capital and also beyond to the towns in the region. Sr. Rosalie knew how to surround herself with many efficient and dedicated collaborators. The donations flowed in quickly as the rich were unable to resist this persuasive woman. Even the former royalty did not forget her in their generosity: The Ladies of Charity helped in the home visits. Bishops, priests, the Ambassador of Spain (Donoso Cortéz), Carlo X, General Cavaignac, and the most distinguished men of state and culture, even the Emperor Napoleon III with his wife, were often seen in her parlor. Students of law, medicine, science, technology, engineering, teacher‑training, and all the other important schools came seeking from Sr. Rosalie information and recommendations. Or, before performing a good work, they asked her at which door they should knock. Among these, Blessed Frederick Ozanam, co‑founder of the “Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul,” and the Venerable Jean Léon Le Prevost, future founder of the Religious of St. Vincent de Paul, knew well the road to her office. They came, with their other friends, to Sr. Rosalie seeking advice for undertaking their projects. She was the center of a charitable movement that characterized Paris and France in the first half of the 19th century. Sr. Rosalie’s experience was priceless for these young people. She directed their apostolate, guided their coming and going in the suburbs, and gave them addresses of families in need, choosing them with care.
She also formed a relationship with the Superioress of Bon Saveur in Caen and requested that she too welcome those in need. She was particularly attentive to priests and religious suffering from psychiatric difficulties. Her correspondence is short but touching, considerate, patient and respectful towards all.
Hardships were not lacking in the Mouffetard District. Epidemics of cholera followed one after another. Lack of hygiene and poverty fostered its virulence. Most particularly in 1832 and 1846, the dedication shown and risks taken by Sr. Rosalie and her Sisters were beyond imagination. She herself was seen picking up dead bodies in the streets. During the uprisings of July 1830 and February 1848, barricades and bloody battles were the marks of the opposition of the working class stirred up against the powerful. Archbishop Affre, Archbishop of Paris, was killed trying to intervene between the fighting factions. Sr. Rosalie was deeply grieved. She herself climbed the barricades to try and help the wounded fighters irrespective of the side they were fighting on.
Without any fear, she risked her life in these confrontations. Her courage and sense of freedom commanded the admiration of all.
When order was reestablished, she tried to save a number of these people she knew and who were victims of fierce repression. She was helped a great deal by the mayor of the district, Dr. Ulysse Trélat, a true republican, who was also very popular.
In 1852, Napoleon III decided to give her the Cross of the Legion of Honor. She was ready to refuse this individual honor but Fr. Etienne, Superior General of the Priests of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity, made her accept it.
Always in fragile health, Sr. Rosalie never took a moment of rest, always managing to overcome fatigue and fevers. However, age, increasing infirmity, and the amount of work needing to be done eventually broke her strong resistance and equally strong will. During the last two years of her life she became progressively blind. She died on 7 February 1856 after a brief acute illness.
Emotions ran high in the district and at all levels of society in both Paris and the countryside. After the funeral rite at St. Médard Church, her parish, a large and emotional crowd followed her remains to the Montparnasse Cemetery. They came to show their respect for the works she had accomplished and show their affection for this “out of the ordinary” Sister.
Numerous newspaper articles witnessed to the admiration and even veneration that Sr. Rosalie received. Newspapers from all sides echoed the sentiments of the people.
L’Univers,the principal Catholic newspaper of the time, edited by Louis Veuillot, wrote as early as 8 February: “Our readers understand the significance of the sadness that has come upon the poor of Paris. They join their sufferings with the tears and prayers of the unfortunate.”
Il Consitutionnel,the newspaper of the anticlerical left, did not hesitate to announce the death of this Daughter of Charity: “The unfortunate people of the 12th district have just experienced a regrettable loss. Sr. Rosalie, Superior of the Community at rue de l’Epée de Bois died yesterday after a long illness. For many years this respectable woman was the salvation of the numerous needy in this district.”
The official newspaper of the Empire, le Moniteur, praised the kindly actions of this Sister: “Funeral honors were given to Sr. Rosalie with unusual splendor. For more than fifty years this holy woman was a friend to others in a district where there are many unfortunate people to care for and all these grateful people accompanied her remains to the church and to the cemetery. A guard of honor was part of the cortege.”
Numerous visitors flocked to the Montparnasse Cemetery. They went to meditate at the tomb of the one who was their salvation. But it was difficult to find the gravesite reserved for the Daughters of Charity. The body was then moved to a more accessible site, close to the entrance of the cemetery. On the simple tomb surmounted by a large Cross are engraved these words: “To Sister Rosalie, from her grateful friends, the rich and the poor.” Anonymous hands brought flowers and continue to bring flowers to this gravesite: a lasting yet discreet homage to this humble Daughter of St. Vincent de Paul.
Pope Pius IX was born in Senigallia, Italy, on 13 May 1792, the son of Gerolamo of the Counts Mastai Ferretti, and Caterina Solazzi, of the local nobility. He was baptized on the day of his birth with the name Giovanni Maria. Of delicate physical constitution but of very lively intelligence, his childhood was marked by little voluntary mortifications and an intense religious life.
In 1809 he moved to Rome for higher studies. A disease not well diagnosed, which some called epilepsy, forced him to interrupt his studies in 1812. He was accepted into the Pontifical Noble Guard in 1815, but because of his illness he was immediately discharged. It was at this time that St Vincent Pallotti predicted that he would become Pope and that the Virgin of Loreto would free him eventually from the disease.
After serving briefly in the Tata Giovanni Educational Institute, he participated as a catechist in 1816 in a memorable mission in Senigallia and, immediately thereafter, decided to enter the ecclesiastical state. He was ordained a priest in 1819. Conscious of his noble rank, he committed himself to avoiding a prelatial career in order to remain only at the service of the Church.
He celebrated his first Mass in the Church of St Anne of the Carpenters at the Tata Giovanni Institute, of which he was named rector, remaining there until 1823. He was immediately recognized as assiduous in prayer, in the ministry of the Word, in the celebration of the liturgy, in the confessional and above all in his daily ministry at the service of the humblest and neediest. He admirably united the active and the contemplative life: ready for pastoral needs, but always interiorly recollected, with strong Eucharistic and Marian devotion and fidelity to daily meditation and the examination of conscience.
In 1823 he left the institute to serve the Apostolic Nuncio in Chile, Mons. Giovanni Muzi. There he remained until 1825, when he was elected President of St Michael’s Hospice, a grand but complex institution in need of effective reform. To it Mastai applied himself with more than gratifying results, but without ever neglecting his priestly duties. Two years later, at the age of 35, he was consecrated Archbishop of Spoleto. In 1831 the revolution which had begun in Parma and Modena spread to Spoleto. The Archbishop did not want the shedding of blood and repaired, as much as possible, the deleterious effects of the violence. When calm was restored, he obtained a pardon for all, even for those who did not merit it.
Another turbulent see awaited Mastai in Imola, where he was transferred in 1832. He remained an eloquent preacher, prompt in charity toward everyone, zealous for the supernatural as well as the material well-being of his Diocese, devoted to his clergy and seminarians, a promoter of education for the young, sensitive to the needs of the contemplative life, devoted to the Sacred Heart and to Our Lady, benevolent towards all but firm in his principles. In 1840 he received the Cardinal’s hat at the age of 48.
Despite having shunned honours, on the evening of 16 June 1846 Mastai found himself burdened with the greatest of them: he was elected Pope and took the name Pius IX.
He had a difficult pontificate, but precisely because of that he was a great Pope, certainly one of the greatest. Thoroughly aware of being the “Vicar of Christ” and responsible for the rights of God and of the Church, he was clear, simple consistent. He combined firmness and understanding, fidelity and openness.
He began with an act of generosity and Christian sensitivity: amnesty for political crimes. His first Encyclical was a programmatic vision, but anticipated the “Syllabus”: in it he condemned secret societies, freemasonry and communism. In 1847 he promulgated a decree granting extensive freedom of the press and instituted a civil guard, the municipal and communal council, the Council of State and the Council of Ministers. From then on his interventions as Father of all nations and temporal Prince continued unabated.
The question of Italian independence, which he sympathized with, did not set the Prince against the Pope, a fact that alienated the most intransigent liberals. The situation came to a head on 15 November when Pellegrino Rossi, the head of government, was killed and Pius IX had to take refuge in Gaeta.
After the proclamation of the Roman Republic (9 February 1849), he moved to Portici and later returned to Rome (12 April 1850). He reorganized the Council of State, established the Council for Finances, granted a new amnesty, re-established the Catholic hierarchy in England and in Holland.
In 1853 he condemned Gallican doctrines and founded the well-known “Seminario Pio”. He established the Commission on Christian Archaeology, defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December 1854 and blessed the rebuilt St Paul’s Basilica which had been destroyed by fire in 1823.
In 1856 he approved the plan for railways in the Papal States and on 24 April 1859 inaugurated the first section between Rome and Civitavecchia. In 1857 he visited the Papal States and was welcomed everywhere with rejoicing. He sent missionaries to the North Pole, India, Burma, China and Japan.
Meanwhile dark clouds gathered over him with the Italian “Risorgimento”, the Piedmontese annexations that were dismantling the Papal States and the expropriation of the Legations. Suffering but undaunted, he continued to show his charity and concern for all. In 1862 he established a dicastery to deal with the concerns of Eastern-rite Catholics; in 1864 he published his Syllabus condemning modern errors; in 1867 he celebrated the 18th centenary of the martyrdom of Peter and Paul; in 1869 he received the homage of the entire world for the golden jubilee of his priestly ordination. Later that year he opened the First Vatican Ecumenical Council, the pearl of his pontificate, and closed it on 18 July 1870.
With the fall of Rome (20 September 1870) and of the temporal power, the saddened Pontiff considered himself a prisoner of the Vatican, resisting the “Laws of Guarantees”, but approving the “Work of Congresses”. He consecrated the Church to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, disciplined the participation of Catholics in political life with the Non expedit and restored the Catholic hierarchy of Scotland. Suffering from poor health, he gave his last address to the parish priests of Rome on 2 February 1878. On 7 February the longest pontificate in history ended with his holy death.