Our History and John Eudes
The history of the Good Shepherds begins in 17th century France with a priest named Father John Eudes, born of peasant farmers. John Eudes’ life and ministry were filled with concern for those who were marginalized by society. In his time, the plague ravaged victims throughout Normandy and men’s exploitation of women led many women to prostitution.
Fr. Eudes was interested in the spiritual and temporal well-being of women, but there was no recourse in his time for women who wanted to change their circumstances and reform their lives. To remedy this situation, he established places to house these women. This led in 1641 to the founding of a religious Order named Our Lady of Charity.
After Fr. Eudes founded the convent of Our Lady of Charity in Caen, several other foundations were made in France. The French Revolution broke out in 1789 and France went through a period of violence and anti-religious tumult. The uprising devastated many of the religious foundations. They were either lost completely or taken over by others. Over time, however, some of the communities gradually reestablished themselves.
Our History and Mary Euphrasia
Our history picks up in Tours, when Sisters moved back into the convent sometime around 1805. It is this convent into which a young girl, Rose Virginie Pelletier, entered and was given the name Mary Euphrasia. Mary Euphrasia was burning with zeal for the young women who were marginalized by the turbulent 19th century French society. She wanted to help them. Since among these women there were some who wished to dedicate their lives to God, the community at Tours reflected on the type of lifestyle that could be offered to these women.
At the invitation of Msgr. Charles Montault, bishop of Angers, France, a new house of Our Lady of Charity was founded in the town in 1829. It was called “Good Shepherd” in memory of another house with a similar ministry that had existed in Angers the previous century. In 1831, at the end of her mandate in Tours, Sr. Mary Euphrasia arrived in Angers as Superior. She very quickly founded a contemplative community under the patronage of St. Mary Magdalene.
The specific orientation of the community of contemplatives was prayer and conversion. Mary Euphrasia believed that by their lives of prayer and silence, the contemplative Sisters would bring a spiritual fruitfulness to the apostolate of the community. Mary Euphrasia considered the contemplative Sisters to be the crown of her work.They are powerhouses behind the ministries of Good Shepherd to this day.
As other bishops started to request foundations, Mary Euphrasia saw the need for a Generalate (a central government), so Sisters could be sent where they were needed to all parts of the world. She longed that the whole world would benefit from the saving work initiated by Fr. John Eudes. In 1835 Mary Euphrasia received the Pope’s permission for a Generalate. With this approval, the Church established a new congregation which was distinct from the Order of Our Lady of Charity. The new congregation received the name Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd of Angers, better known as Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Within the new congregation were two ways of life: contemplative and apostolic. Each lifestyle would have the same purpose of glorifying God and saving souls. .
Sisters of the Good Shepherd flourished and spread globally. They made history in the United States in 1842, when Mary Euphrasia sent the first five Sisters to Louisville, Kentucky, to establish houses in the United States. From Louisville new foundations spread across the U.S. These were named the Provinces of Cincinnati, St. Louis, Washington and St. Paul. On February 14, 2000 the four Provinces merged to become the Province of Mid-North America.
Our History comes full circle
Starting from 1835, the original branch of the Order of Our Lady of Charity continued to develop and spread throughout France and several other European and American countries. Each house remained autonomous; however, the need for reunification for the mission gradually surfaced. Over time 11 monasteries of Our Lady of Charity in four countries joined Sisters of the Good Shepherd. This led to the creation of Federations, some of which joined and became a Union. The reorganization paved the way in 1959 for a foundation to be established in Kenya and for another one to form in the Ivory Coast in 1990.
The second Vatican Council (Vatican II, 1962-1965) asked all Congregations to re-read their history in order to renew their original charism (mission). The Vatican Council also made Congregations aware that their apostolic service was primary importance and should determine the rules concerning their religious life. The Orders’ Constitutions, which had remained practically unchanged since the death of St. John Eudes, were now completely revised by both Congregations.
After Vatican II, community and apostolic relationships strengthened. In 2007, the Sisters of the “Union of Our Lady of Charity” and “Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd” undertook a journey for better mutual understanding. In 2013, the Union of Our Lady of Charity asked for a reunification with Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd. A merger decree in 2014 formalized the reunification of the two Congregations.
Following St. John Eudes and St. Mary Euphrasia, the spirituality of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd centers on the person of Jesus Christ, whom each Sister is called “to form” in her.
By recognizing in each person the image of God, John Eudes and Mary Euphrasia liked to say, “one person is of more value than the whole world.” That is to say that every person has a value, an infinite dignity. The resurrection of Christ is realized within each person.”
Our deepest desire as Good Shepherd Sisters is to be bearers of hope, witnesses and instruments of the love and mercy of God.