February 7 marks the feast day of Blessed Sister Rosalie Rendu. The text below is taken from the Vatican’s website.
Jeanne Marie Rendu was born in 1786 and entered the Daughters of Charity in 1802. She was sent to the house of the Daughters of Charity in the Mouffetard District, where she remained for the next 54 years. At the time, it was the most impoverished district of the quickly expanding capital. Jeanne Marie, who received the name Sr. Rosalie, made her accompanied Sisters visiting the sick and the poor and taught catechism and reading to little girls accepted at the free school. In 1807, Sr. Rosalie made vows for the first time.
In 1815 Sr. Rosalie became Superior of the her local community. To assist all the suffering, she 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 was established to counter poverty.
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.
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. 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 Frédéric Ozanam, cofounder of the “Society 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.
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.
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. Jean-Baptiste Étienne, Superior General of the Priests of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity, prevailed up her to accept it.
She died on 7 February 1856 after a brief acute illness.
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.
Sister Rosalie Rendu was beatified in 2003.