The year was 1822 and France was still reeling from the aftereffects of its own Revolution. A young woman named Pauline Marie Jaricot had a vision.
In it, she saw two oil lamps; one was empty and the other was full. Pauline knew that the empty lamp represented the faith of France. Secularization had badly damaged the faith of everyday citizens. The full lamp was the faith of the missions -- strong, colorful and growing. In her vision, Pauline saw the full lamp re-filling the empty one without ever losing its own plenty. Pauline felt God calling her to share her vision with the world.
And so, she began.
Armed with the stories sent home to her in letters from her brother Phileas, a Sulpician missionary priest, Pauline went into the silk factories of Lyons, France and asked workers to form "Prayer Circles" of ten people each. The members would meet every week to hear the faith stories of the missions, pray --usually the rosary, a special love of Pauline's - and sacrifice a penny for the foreign missions.
Pauline's dream was to support not only her brother, but all the missions of the world! As membership in Pauline's association grew and pennies poured in, missionaries asked for help. Two-thirds of Pauline's first disbursement of funds went to one of the largest mission countries of her day -- the United States of America. Catholic churches, schools, healthcare facilities, orphanages, and missionaries caring for the poor from New Orleans to the Canadian border benefited from the prayers and donations of French Catholics.
From the very beginning, Pauline's idea for what became The Society for the Propagation of the Faith was that once a country's faithful could support their own programs, they would become donors and funds would go to other countries. Here in the United States, we became "Mission Independent" from the Propagation of the Faith in 1908. It is a great source of pride to us here in the Archdiocese of Boston that our "Prop" office was opened a full ten years earlier.
Pauline firmly believed that all funds should be given away each year to help instill the faith worldwide. The Propagation still runs this way -- we have no endowment. We start fresh every New Year, working to recruit benefactors by telling the stories of the faith in the missions.
Recently, Pope Francis announced that a miracle has been attributed to the intercession of Venerable Pauline Marie Jaricot. We rejoice that this "every woman" is one step closer to sainthood and pray to be worthy of her intercession in our work.
- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.