Born and baptized in 1786, it was under the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution that Bl. Rosalie Rendu’s earliest faith life was born and fed. Little Jeanne-Marie, called Marie by her family, learned from her parents a simple and generous manner. From the youngest age, following their example, she was known to be especially generous and kind to those in poverty, and to the sick.
Only seven years old in 1793, she became suspicious of a new gardener employed by her parents when she noted how they treated him with reverence. Following “Pierre”, she observed him saying Mass in the cellar one night, and later threatened to tell everybody who he really was.
Rosalie’s parents had hoped to protect their young daughters from the knowledge of the very real dangers of their times. Priests and bishops who refused to take the “Civil Oath of the Clergy” were sentenced to execution. Many of them fled France, and on their way through Confort, a farming village in the foothills of the Alps, the Rendu family sheltered them.
This was a real and serious risk to take, for the death sentence extended beyond the clergy to anybody who might shelter them. Rosalie’s mother, forced to explain that “Pierre” was really the Bishop of Annecy, also had to explain to her young daughter why this must be kept secret.
It was in this world of great danger, and with the example of her mother’s fearlessness in practicing her faith, that Rosalie prepared for and received her First Holy Communion.
The sacrament was administered in the cellar by the family’s pastor, who was himself under a sentence of death. As her friend and biographer, Armand de Melun, would later write, “There were before the altar a priest, who was preparing himself for martyrdom, and a virgin who promised God whom she was receiving for the first time, to love him all her life in the person of the lowly and the poor.” [Sullivan, 23]
As Vincentians, our journey towards holiness includes a special “devotion to the Eucharist” [Rule, Part I, 2.2] which we share together, especially on our feast days. [Rule, Part III, St. 9] Perhaps when we partake of Holy Communion, we might call to mind Bl. Rosalie Rendu.
Bl. Rosalie’s example of holiness and courage may have become known during her long service as a Daughter of Charity, but it began when little Jeanne-Marie first accepted the Body and Blood of Christ in a candle-lit cellar in a war-torn land.
How can I partake more fully, and make the Eucharist a central part of my Vincentian vocation?
Faces of Holiness – especially Rosalie Rendu