Born in 1799, Pauline Marie Jaricot, the foundress of The Society for the Propagation of the Faith, believed that if we could all "pray a little and give a little," we could be the co-architects of the ever-expanding Church in the missions. Pauline wanted to dedicate her life to the work of foreign missions; due to poor health and the role of women at the time, this was not to be. Instead, she committed herself to small and impactful acts of charity locally, in Lyon, France.
Pauline gave away her fine clothes, sold her jewelry, and began to care for the sick and poor in her neighborhood. She firmly believed that by alleviating the suffering of others, she was helping to alleviate the sufferings of Christ, so she ministered to those close to death in a local hospice. She also taught catechism class to the young women in the silk factories of the city. Pauline's heart told her that her vocation in life was to bring people to God, so she consecrated herself to Him, never marrying. She said, "To truly help others is to bring them to God."
With all this work, her heart still longed to be a missionary. So, she became what I like to call a "stationary missionary" -- she spread the Gospel from right where she was.
Pauline's first missionary network began in those same silk factories where she taught catechism. Workers came together weekly to pray, give a penny, and hear stories about the trials and triumphs of foreign missionaries: traveling long distances by boat, learning new cultures and languages, and ultimately, bringing more people to Christ.
More prayers groups were formed, more mission stories were told, and more pennies were collected. On May 3, 1822, The Society for the Propagation of the Faith was officially established, spreading quickly across Europe. Within thirty years, an office of the Propagation was opened in the United States.
While still receiving support from the Society, American Catholics began to "pray a little and give a little," showing their own missionary hearts to the world.
We've never stopped.
To learn more about this inspiring woman who was ahead of her time, tune in to CatholicTV or CatholicTV.org on Sunday, May 15th at 1 p.m. to watch an hour-long documentary that will repeat on Thursday, May19th at 4 a. m. and Friday May 20th at 8:30 p.m.
Then, ask yourself, "How is God asking me to live with the Heart of a Missionary?"
Perhaps Pauline's life will give you a clue.
- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.
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