Category Archives: Rosalie Rendu

Feast of Rosalie Rendu

Rosalie Rendu

Blessed Sister Rosalie Rendu, D.C. (used with permission of the Provincial Archives)

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.

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Rosalie Rendu: The Person Behind the Actions

Sister Rosalie Rendu: A Daughter of Charity on Fire with Love for the Poor, by Sr. Louise Sullivan, available for research in the Provincial Archives.

Sister Rosalie Rendu: A Daughter of Charity On Fire with Love for the Poor, by Sr. Louise Sullivan, available for research in the Provincial Archives.

by Sister Louise Sullivan, D.C.

February 7 is the feast day of Blessed Sister Rosalie Rendu. The text below is taken from chapters 1 and 2 of Sister Louise Sullivan, Sister Rosalie Rendu: A Daughter of Charity on Fire with Love for the Poor (Chicago: Vincentian Studies Institute, 2006). Additional text and illustrations can be found in this presentation from FAMVIN.

As with St. Vincent and St. Louise, or in studying the life of any saint, there is the danger of losing the person behind the actions, of being so dazzled by the magnitude of their achievements that the spiritual and human motor that drove them disappears. Such has often been the case with Sister Rosalie. Sister Rosalie, the woman, is far more and far less than the sum of her actions. If she has something to say to the men and women of today, it is precisely because of the person she became by the grace of God and by her response to that grace. Who was this simple country girl who became a symbol of Our Lord’s loving mercy toward those who are poor? What would move her to dedicate her life in service of others, in contradiction to the values of our world?

Jeanne-Marie spent her early years in a profoundly Christian atmosphere. However, this did not mean that she was an excessively pious child. Armand de Melun expands upon the portrait, describing his friend as a little girl who was “pretty… energetic… impulsive… and strong-willed… mischievous… born with a lively and impetuous temperament.” He tells us that she “tried to get into all the mischief she could so that there would not be any left for her when she reached the age of reason.” He added that she “teased her sisters, liked to throw their dolls into the neighboring garden, was more interested in butterflies than in books, and that in games she was neither the last nor the least aggressive.”

Oral tradition in the village, passed on by one of Sister Rosalie’s relatives, had it that the little girl was “lively, even mischievous, but that she was very devout, had a very kind heart and already, as a child, was moved to assist those who were poor.” In fact, Rosalie’s “extreme sensitivity” to the needs of those living in poverty, and in all other things for that matter, is considered by those who study her life as “unquestionably Sister Rosalie’s dominant character trait.” Her sensitivity manifested itself early and would remain all her life, sometimes causing her suffering. Yet this trait would eventually lead her to become “a resting place where the whole weary world could lay its burdens.”

While few biographers or witnesses during the Cause of Beatification speak explicitly of Sister Rosalie’s faith, it is evident that her love for those who were poor was rooted in faith and in the conviction that it was God whom she found in them. That faith was born in the rugged terrain of the Jura Mountains in a home where God was the center and where one had to be willing to risk all, even one’s life, to remain faithful.

As Mélanie pointed out, Jeanne-Marie was “highly intelligent” but her education was essentially practical. She could read and write but spelling was largely beyond her and her correspondence reflects this. She spelled phonetically while expressing herself clearly, forcefully, and even with a certain grace. This combination of example and practical training developed her innate “bon sens paysan” or common sense, as well as her good humor. These qualities of common sense and good humor had characterized Saint Vincent de Paul before her and, as in his case, would serve her well later on.

Shortly after Sister Rosalie’s death, her cousin, Eugene Rendu, wrote of her:

“Sister Rosalie’s principal character trait was her common sense, pushed to the point of genius. Those who did not have the honor of meeting her often could not appreciate her moral supremacy and, if I may say so, her ministry to souls, which the confidence that she evoked from all gave her. Persons came from far and wide seeking her advice.”

Later in life, Rosalie seemed able to deal with everyone (whether rich or poor) equally; she became well-known and won over many hearts, even those who were apathetic or anticlerical.

Jeanne-Marie Rendu left her village for the first time, at the age of thirteen or fourteen, to begin a journey that would eventually lead her to Paris. In perhaps the most miserable slum of the French capital she would devote fifty years of her life in the struggle to bring relief to a whole gamut of human suffering … As she left the Jura for the last time, Jeanne-Marie Rendu had within her those qualities that would one day make her the “Apostle of the Mouffetard area”.

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Beatification of Rosalie Rendu, November 9, 2003

Rosalie Rendu

Blessed Sister Rosalie Rendu, D.C.

(Images of Rosalie Rendu and Rosalie Rendu beatification program, 2003, used with permission of Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives)
November 9, 2013 marks the 10th anniversary of the beatification of Sister Rosalie Rendu, D.C., whose image is seen on the left. The image on the right is the cover of the program from Sister Rosalie’s beatification ceremony. The biography of her life which follows is based on the biography which appeared in the beatification program.

Jeanne Marie Rendu was born September 9, 1786, the eldest of four girls. Her Godfather by proxy was Jacques Emery, a family friend and future Superior General of the Sulpicians in Paris. She 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 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. It was in this atmosphere of 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 environment forged her character.

Rendu beatification program, cover

Cover of the program from Sister Rosalie’s beatification, November 9, 2003

The Daughters of Charity had been suppressed during the French Revolution; the Seminary (novitiate) re-opened in December of 1800. In May of 1802 Jeanne Marie Rendu arrived at the Mother House to begin her initial formation as a Daughter of Charity. When she completed her Seminary formation, she was given the community name of Sister Rosalie and sent to the Mouffetard District, where she served for the next 54 years. In 1815 Sister Rosalie was made the Superior of the Daughters of Charity house at Mouffetard.

The Mouffetard District was one of the poorest districts in all of Paris, and Sister Rosalie served the poor in many ways. She visited the sick and poor. She opened a free clinic and pharmacy. She opened a free school and taught reading and catechism in the school. She started a child care center, a youth club for young workers, and a home for the elderly. Thanks to Sister Rosalie, a whole network of charitable services were put in place to serve the poor.

Her reputation grew quickly in all the districts of Paris and beyond. Sister Rosalie knew how to surround herself with dedicated collaborators who supported her work both with their time and with funds. These collaborators included bishops, clergy, the Ambassador of Spain, and even Emperor Napoleon III. Students from the universities in Paris sought Sister Rosalie out as well; one of those students was Frederic Ozanam, who would go on to found the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. During Sister Rosalie’s years in the Mouffetard District, there were many hardships, among them civil uprisings in 1830 and 1848 and cholera epidemics in 1832 and 1846; during the cholera epidemics she was often seen picking up dead bodies in the streets.

Sister Rosalie Rendu died on February 7, 1856. Her death was mourned throughout Paris. Thousands attended her funeral at St. Medard Church and her burial at Montparnasse Cemetery. Today her tomb is marked by a cross bearing the inscription, “To Sister Rosalie, from her grateful friends, the rich and the poor.”

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