As previous posts this month have demonstrated, many French Catholics, particularly priests, were executed during the French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century. Today’s saint, Marie Guillemette Emily de Rodat (called Emily by her family and friends), was born in 1787 and was therefore a young girl living in a remote area of France during much of that violent time. She was devout when she was a child, but, as has happened to many a teenager, her fervor cooled a bit when she got older. However, on the feast of Corpus Christi when she was about seventeen years old, that changed. Emily fell in love with God and with prayer, considered religious life, and began to teach children about the faith as a catechist. That’s when she realized that the Revolution had yet another unpleasant consequence: a serious lack of Catholic schools in which French children could be educated.
Emily rose to the challenge, beginning her life’s work by teaching forty students for free in a single room. Eventually, other women followed her example and leadership, and she became the foundress of an order of sisters, now known as the Congregation of the Holy Family of Villefranche. Though her order was predominantly a teaching order, they also visited prisoners, cared for orphans, and included a branch of cloistered religious to pray for the more active members. She inspired her sisters to live lives of “holy cheerfulness”, as she called it, despite her own bouts with poor health. She died of cancer in her eye, after decades of labor caring for those in need, in 1852. She is remembered by the Church on September 18.
Saint Emily, help me to bring a holy cheerfulness to those around me.