The Match that Lit the Fire

As I write this, I have traveled to St. Johns, Florida to attend a weeklong retreat on the life and charism of soon-to-be-Blessed Pauline Marie Jaricot, foundress of The Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Pauline boldly spent her life and her life savings to further the cause of the spread of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Born in Lyons, France in 1799, Pauline developed into a deep, thoughtful teenage girl after a series of tragedies. First, a serious fall caused her to retreat from the world to heal physically. Soon after, the death of her mother caused her great emotional pain.

During this time, Pauline's prayer life was nurtured by her brother Phileas as he studied for the priesthood. Phileas shared stories of the missions with his sister, telling her of the struggle to establish the faith in China and another far away mission land, the United States.

At the age of 18, Pauline had a prayerful vision: two oil lamps appeared, one empty, one overflowing. The overflowing oil was filling the empty lamp. To Pauline, the empty lamp was her home country of France, still struggling with its faith after the French Revolution. The overflowing lamp represented the young, vibrant faith of the New World whose stories could re-energize Europe.

Her vision became her vocation.

In a time when most women were not even educated, Pauline became "the match that lit the fire." She organized local silk factory workers into "circles of ten", asking them to gather weekly to pray and sacrifice for mission work around the world. Once established, each circle member was asked to find 10 more people to do the same. Within a year, 500 workers were enrolled; soon there would be thousands.

The sacrifices made through Pauline's circles became the foundation for the Universal Solidarity Fund of The Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Through it, as Pauline dreamed, no one mission, or group is supported -- all are. Her vision of the two oil lamps still illuminates our work. Stories of the Church growing around the world continue to inspire Catholics both in the Archdiocese of Boston and worldwide to great prayer and generosity.

Pauline will be beatified on May 22,2022 in her hometown of Lyons. Please join us as we pray daily and sacrifice so that the fire that Pauline lit so long ago may continue to burn brightly in Catholics everywhere.

May her vocation continue through ours.

- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.