Venerable Pauline Jaricot

January 9, 2012 marked the 150th anniversary of the death of the founder of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, Pauline Marie Jaricot.

Pauline’s Story Begins

Baptized Marie Pauline Jaricot on the day of her birth (July 22, 1799), she was the last child born to Antoine and Jeanne Jaricot in Lyons, France. The couple had seven children, including son, Phileas, who had arrived two years earlier, on February 2, 1797. Pauline’s older brother would be very influential in her life – nurturing her love for the Missions.

Pauline wrote of her parents: “Happy are those who have received from their parents the first seeds of faith… Be praised Lord, for giving me a just man for a father and a virtuous and charitable woman as a mother.”

Lyons, Pauline’s hometown, was an industrial city that became famous for its silk factories. Her family were silk merchants, bourgeoisies of that French city. While the early years of her childhood were marked by the exclusive society life of Lyons, something would happen as a teenager that would open her heart to the whole world.

A Vision for the Missions

At the age of 15, Pauline suffered a bad fall. Not long after that, her beloved mother died. It took Pauline many months to recover, emotionally and physically. When she did, she resumed her social life, but with less delight than before. Her heart, she wrote at this time, was “made for the whole world if only I could love without measure,” she observed, “without end.”

She began to long to help the Missions – China and the United States – a desire nurtured by her brother Phileas, who was preparing for the priesthood and who told Pauline all about the work and witness of missionaries.

Pauline saw this as her vocation – to become a missionary of the love of God. She came to believe that “to truly help others is to bring them to God.”

One day while at prayer, 18-year-old Pauline had a vision of two lamps. One had no oil; the other was overflowing and from its abundance poured oil into the empty lamp. To Pauline, the drained lamp signified the faith in her native France, still reeling from the turbulence of the French Revolution. The full lamp was the great faith of Catholics in the Missions – especially in the New World. By aiding the faith of the young new country of the United States of America, Pauline knew that seeds planted would grow and bear much fruit.

So she came up with a plan to support missionaries. She gathered workers from her family’s silk factory into “circles of 10.” Everyone in the group pledged to pray daily for the Missions and to offer each week a sou, the equivalent of a penny. Each member of the group then found 10 friends to do the same.

Even in the face of opposition from parish priests in Lyons, Pauline remained steadfast. Within a year, she had 500 workers enrolled; soon there would be 2,000.

As a child, Pauline had in fact dreamed of building such support for the Missions: “Oh! I’d love to have a well of gold to give some to all the unfortunate, so that there would not be any more poor people at all and that no one would cry anymore.”

Pauline’s successful efforts – where clearly not isolated or unique – were the main thrust behind the formation of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. She was “the match that lit the fire.” But there was a struggle – like with all new initiatives – to control what was quickly becoming a source of strength and hope for the missionary Church. At one point, Pauline was sidelined, and she struggled to ensure that what the Lord had inspired her to set in motion, would come fully to life. In 1963, 100 years after her death, Pope John XXIII signed the decree which proclaimed her virtues, declaring her “Venerable.” He wrote: “It was she who thought of the society, who conceived it, and made it an organized reality.”
And Pauline’s vision of two lamps is also still valid, as the vibrant faith in mission countries inspires and deepens our own faith here at home.