Heritage and Spirituality Group
Ana Luisa Valente Pinto rscm
Today, August 25, we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Eulalie Vidal who, as a Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, came to take the name Mother Sainte Croix. The celebration of the life of Mother Ste. Croix is an occasion to remember and to give thanks to God for the woman she was, for the seeds she sowed and for the fruits of Life that her zeal generated in our Institute and beyond. At the same time, it is an invitation to let ourselves be touched and challenged by her example, by the spirit that moved her, by her intuitions and choices… and to find inspiration there for today!
Eulalie was born in Meyrueis (Lozère), in the south of France, in 1815, into a Christian family. She was a teacher at the age of 18, and while still young, she opened and became the director of a boarding school in Béziers. Sister Rosa do Carmo RSHM1 tells us that when Father Jean Gailhac met her, he felt that her talents suited the congregation he wished to found. Eulalie, in turn, tuned into everything that Fr. Gailhac proposed to her about the new congregation and came to be one of the five members of the Institute’s founding community.
Bringing to the Institute and to fruition her particular talent for education, Mother Ste. Croix took over the direction of the boarding school at the Mother House from its inception in 1851. She was also appointed first assistant to Mother Saint-Jean (first superior general), taking over many of her responsibilities during her illness, particularly in the effort to expand the Institute. Mother Ste. Croix was strongly rooted in the spirit of the Institute and was very familiar with the apostolic intention and vision of the founding community. At the death of Mother Saint Jean, it came as no surprise to anyone that she was elected the second superior general of the Institute.
The second volume of ‘A Journey in Faith and Time’2, written by Sr. Kathleen Connell RSHM, gives us an excellent historical picture of the years during which Mother Ste. Croix was Superior General, from 1869 to 1878. These were years of enormous expansion in the Institute! Mother Ste. Croix spent much of the time of her mandate outside of Béziers. Especially through her visits to the “mission houses” – as they were then called – she followed the life of the Institute and the life of the Sisters very closely. From the perspective of Sr. Mary Milligan RSHM3, “Dear” (“dear community”, “dear superior”, “dear daughter”,…) was perhaps the word that most easily flowed from the pen of Mother Ste. Croix and gives witness to the affective atmosphere and warm language of her letters. These reveal her as maternal and concerned for the Sisters. She advises them about their health, congratulates them on their efforts and successes, always encourages them to do better.
Mother Ste. Croix’s correspondence – continues Sister Mary Milligan – reveals that she was a woman of great ability for leadership. One of her gifts to the Institute was her warm, affectionate and sensitive leadership style. She led by her presence to the Sisters, by her letters, by the clarity of her words and thoughts, and by bringing her great educational skills to the various schools. By personality and by personal gifts, Mother Ste. Croix was a unifier.
Through her letters it is also possible to discover Mother Ste. Croix’s strong dynamism regarding vocations. She corresponded personally with priests and friends from whom she asked and from whom she received recommendations. But not only so. She also kept in touch with young women interested in the Institute, and the affable and kind way in which she addressed them stood out. To Mother Ste. Croix we also owe the steps that led to the approval of the Institute and our Constitutions by the Holy See.
In the third decade of her existence, Mother Ste. Croix guided the Institute’s missionary zeal into new territories, and she did so with a clear sense of the Institute’s mission: to embrace all works of zeal and all social classes, but especially the poor. In fact, she considered that no foundation would be complete if it did not include the poor. Like the Founder, Mother Ste. Croix was not surprised by difficulties. She had a strong sense that “all good comes from the Cross.” Her understanding of the role of the Cross in her life and in the life of the Institute was accompanied equally by a strong devotion to divine Providence. Her extraordinary trust in Providence – “Providence is a good mother,” she wrote – is evident in her letters. Her faith in God’s action in concrete events was impressive! She had great faith that the growth of the Institute from a small seed in Béziers was God’s action.
When Mother Ste. Croix took over the leadership of the Institute, there were no other houses but the Motherhouse in Béziers. At the time of her death in 1878, the RSHM had communities and works in Lisburn (Ireland), in Bootle near Liverpool (England), in Porto and Braga (Portugal), in Ferrybank (Ireland), and in Sag Harbor (New York). With Gailhac – writes Sr. Kathleen Connell – she sowed the seeds of the foundations and both of them cultivated their garden with care.
Finally, it is worth recalling the words that Fr. Gailhac wrote on the occasion of the death of Mother Ste. Croix, and whose memory they eternalize:
Our dear departed sisters, dead to earth but now enjoying true life, should be of great comfort to us. In heaven they continue to serve us, as intercessors before God. Here below, the memory of their great example of virtue will never fade and will be a great encouragement to us to walk in their footsteps until, one day, we are reunited with them.4
1 Sampaio, Rosa do Carmo. RSHM. A Journey in Faith and Time. History of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, vol. 1, Sources of Life, 1990.
2 Connell, Kathleen. RSHM. A Journey in Faith and Time. History of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, vol. 2, Sources of Life, 1992.
3 Milligan, Mary. RSHM. Letters of Mother Ste. Croix Vidal RSHM, 1869-1878. A Sources of Life Publication. sd.
4 Gailhac to RSHM, GS/7/X/78/B.