Euphrasie Barbier (born 4 January 1829 in Caen; † 18 January 1893 in Sturry, County Kent in England) was a French Roman Catholic nun and founder of the Order of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady, RNDM.
Life and work
Childhood and youth
Euphrasie, whose paternal grandmother had returned from Guadeloupe as a widow, grew up in Caen as the eldest child in modest circumstances, but drew attention to herself early on through her intelligence and energy. From 1843 to 1846 she was an apprentice in a fine laundry, then self-employed in her own workshop. At the age of 17 she lost a 14-year-old sister.
Calvary Sister in Cuves
At the end of 1848, following her vocation to missionary work, she entered the novitiate of a community of sisters founded in 1840 by the local priest Nicolas Chantôme (1810-1877) and promoted by Pierre-Louis Parisis (1834-1851), Bishop of Langres, in Cuves, in the canton of Nogent, department of Haute-Marne, of which she had heard in Caen through Chantôme himself. The community called itself Soeurs du Calvaire (Calvary Sisters, from 1864 belonging to the Servants OSM). Euphrasie was under the spiritual direction of Félix Philpin de Rivières (1814-1908), later author of numerous publications, whose theology saw Mary at the center of the Trinity. In the summer of 1849, Euphrasie was clothed and took the religious name Marie du Coeur de Jésus (Mary of the Heart of Jesus).
In order to realize the missionary ideal, in March 1851 the Order sent Euphrasie and a fellow sister to England, the classic starting point for world mission, to prepare in London for the transfer of the rest of the community (in September 1852). Euphrasie initially lived in the harshest conditions, contracting smallpox and retaining a weak stomach throughout her life. She earned money for the congregation, now called the Sisters of the Compassion of Our Lady(Soeurs de la Compassion de Marie), by doing artistic ironing and gold embroidery. Spiritually, the nuns were accompanied by the Oratorians, most notably Frederick William Faber. Faber was the source of an ultimately salutary crisis for Euphrasie, who was novice mistress from 1853.
From London to Lyon
On December 14, 1860, Euphrasie was removed as Assistant Superior and as Novice Mistress and relegated to the last place in the novitiate. The motives are unclear, possibly it was for an examination deemed conducive to her sanctification. Euphrasie did not resist, obeyed without a word, but in the long run the injustice could not remain without consequences, the more so as the community, unlike Euphrasie, had meanwhile lost sight of the world missionary goal. On 12 August 1861 Euphrasie (together with a fellow sister) left her congregation and travelled to the Marist Fathers in Lyon, who were looking for consecrated women for missionary teaching work in New Zealand. This initiative was mediated by the London-based Marist Sisters (also: Marist Sisters or Marist Missionary Sisters).
The difficult relationship with the Marists
What now began was a lifelong collaboration, but also a constant confrontation with the Marists, who felt themselves to be Euphrasia’s superiors, while she herself gratefully acknowledged their help, but did not want to be talked into the concerns of her own congregation. The Marists had professed missionaries since 1836, the first martyr in Pierre Chanel and the first bishop in New Zealand in Jean-Baptiste Pompallier. They also had lay missionaries, most notably Marie-Françoise Perroton (1796-1873) in Wallis and Futuna from 1846, who was followed by other women from the Third Order of Marists. The main point of contention for many years will be the share of monastic contemplation with cloister and habit demanded by Euphrasie, which the Marists countered with practical points of view in a tropical environment with the need to adapt to local conditions.
Foundation of the Congregation in Lyon with branches in New Zealand and Australia
With the help of the Marists, Euphrasie moved into a house in Lyon(7 rue Cléberg) on November 25, 1861 (with her fellow sister) to found the Congregation “Notre-Dame des Missions” (Missionary Sisters of Our Lady), which was canonically erected by Cardinal de Bonald at Christmas. Euphrasie wrote a first version of the Rule of the Order, formed (with the Marist François Yardin) the incoming vocations (in 1863 there were 14 novices, which included herself), and professed in June 1864. While several sisters founded missions in Napier (on New Zealand’s North Island, February 1865), Sydney (1867, abandoned 1868 after conflict with the Marist Victor-François Poupinel, 1815-1884), Christchurch (on New Zealand’s South Island, late 1867), and Nelson (South Island, February 1871), Euphrasie moved the Lyon motherhouse to 14 Chemin de Montauban in March 1864, where it would remain until 2007. At the first General Chapter (August/September 1867), Euphrasie emphasized the Triune God as the source of mission.
Twice in Rome, then in England
Not least because of the constant conflict with the Marists, the need for a religious rule approved by the Pope became apparent. Euphrasie travelled to Rome in February 1869 and in June obtained a decree of praise from Pius IX, which confirmed the autonomy of her congregation, but could not eliminate the problems with the Marists, since they were at least needed as priests in the missions. For permission to found further missions and to establish a novitiate in New Zealand, Euphrasie again visited Rome in June 1870 and was received in audience by Pope Pius IX on the 18th. Despite the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, she traveled to England twice that same year and on October 13 founded a branch in Deal in the county of Kent. In 1871 the motherhouse served as a military hospital while the superior traveled tirelessly to collect alms.
First visitation trip around the world 1872-1876
The Superior’s long-delayed visitation trip to Oceania lasted from October 1872 to September 1876. It led through the Suez Canal via Ceylon to Christchurch (January 1873), Nelson (February 1873), Napier (June-November 1873), Tonga, Haʻapai, Apia on Samoa, Wallis and Futuna (Mata-Utu and Kolopelu), Apia again (December 1873-May 1874), then Wallis again (May 1874-January 1875), Samoa again (February-March 1875), Tonga again (April-June 1875), then New Zealand again (August 1875 to May 1876), and finally the voyage home via San Francisco, Laramie, and New York.
Foundation in Armentières. Approbation in Rome. Oceania abandonment
In December 1876, five sisters were sent out for a school project in Armentières(Rue de la Crèche), at the opening of which Euphrasie was present in March 1877. The initiator of this project, abbé Aimé Coulomb (1839-1908), later became Euphrasie’s first biographer. In the summer of 1877, Euphrasie was once again in Rome because the Marists did not let up and were still challenging her for the leadership of the Congregation. This time she obtained the official approval by Pius IX (October 1, 1877). The congregation comprised 97 nuns. The number of taught pupils amounted to 1446. The nevertheless continuing dispute with the Marists required already in February 1878 their renewed presence in Rome (where Pius IX died on February 6), because in Samoa the dispute with local bishop Louis Elloy (1829-1878) continued. On April 16, 1878, Rome finally ruled definitively against the Marists, but advised Euphrasia to abandon the islands and retain only the New Zealand mission. Thus it came to pass. The missionaries who remained on the islands later became the Soeurs Missionnaires de la Société de Marie (Missionaries of the Society of Mary, SMSM).
Foundation of Sturry and Chittagong
Subsequently, Euphrasie travelled several times to England, where another foundation took place in October 1881 in Westbere, today Sturry (near Canterbury). More important and promising was the foundation in Chittagong in today’s Bangladesh, which was decided on 28 October 1882 in Rome between Euphrasie and the initiator, Bishop Jordan Maria Josef Ballsieper (1835-1890), and for the effective beginning of which Euphrasie left in February 1883 for a second world tour, which was again to last four years.
Second great visitation 1883-1887
From the end of March to the end of July 1883, Euphrasie was in Chittagong for the foundation. It then travelled on to New Zealand, where the New Plymouth branch was established in the North Island in December. Other communities settled in the South Island at Ashburton (May 1884), and in the North Island at Hamilton (September-October 1884) and Pukekohe (May 1885). After another round of visits to all the New Zealand monasteries, Euphrasie left the country on 3 May 1886, travelling to Chittagong and thence to visit Dhaka, where she later settled. She was back in Lyon on 25 February 1887.
Last years and death
Subsequently Euphrasie made further visitations to the French and English houses, and from November 1887 to March 1888 to Rome for the approval of all the new foundations. In September 1888, the third General Chapter in Lyons recorded an increase of 172 nuns and 2625 pupils taught. In 1890 a house was founded in Opotiki on the North Island of New Zealand, the 8th foundation in New Zealand, the 13th foundation of continuance. The Constitutions of the Congregation were approved by the Pope on 6 December 1890. In September 1891 the fourth General Chapter could boast 200 nuns and 3247 students. In the last years Euphrasie is often ill and weak and leads the order by letter. In October 1892 she takes advantage of an improvement to make her last journey via Armentières to Deal and Sturry. There she became definitively bedridden and died on January 18, 1893. She is buried in the chapel of St. Anne of the convent in Westbere (Sturry).
Development of the Congregation
The Order took off considerably, especially in Asia, but also in Canada, and later in Africa, New Guinea, as well as Peru. At the height of its development (1966) it had 1243 members (in 2004 there were still 900). In 1967 the Generalate was transferred from Lyon to Rome. The house in Lyon was returned to the Marists in 2007 (now a school complex). In France, the Order is today centrally present in Saint-Rambert-en-Bugey (since 1949); in German-speaking countries it never was.
From 1957 the Causa of Beatification was prepared in the Archdiocese of Southwark, in 1976 the Positio super Causae Introductione was signed in Rome, then in 1994 a Historical Commission was formed to write a report.
Places of Remembrance
In Toulon, the Cours Notre Dame des Missions school (673 rue du Dr. Barrois) has a building named after her.
- Marie Bénédicte Ollivier: Straight is my path. Spirituality of Euphrasie Barbier, foundress of the Congregation of our Lady of the Missions. Congregation of Our Lady of the Missions, Rome 1978.
- Marie-Bénédicte Ollivier: Missionnaire … aux quatre vents du monde. Euphrasie Barbier. Fondatrice de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame des Missions (1829-1893). Instituto salesiano Pio XI, Rome 2007.
- Missionary beyond boundaries. Euphrasie Barbier, 1829-1893. Instituto salesiano Pio XI, Rome 2007.
- Mary Philippa Reed, RNDM: Euphrasia. New Zealand 2007 (2016 in Burmese).
- Román Rios: A Heroine of the Mission Field. Mother Mary of the Heart of Jesus, Foundress of the Institute of Our Lady of the Missions. G. Gill & Sons, London 1944.
- June Lenzen (ed.): RNDM poetry. These writings by Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions were gathered as part of the centennial celebration of the birth into fullness of life of their foundress Eupharasie Barbier, 1893-1993. Manitoba 1993.
- Elizabeth Isichei. ‘Barber, Adèle Euphrasie’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand (accessed 18 March 2018)
- Data on Euphrasie Barbier in the database of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
- Website of the order, with history
- Website of the Canadian Province of the Order, with history
- Website of the Vietnamese Province of the Order, English, with biography of the Foundress
- Order entry of the Missionary Sisters in the French National Library
- Entry of the Order of the Marist Sisters in the French National Library
- Web presence of the Servitinnen
- Literature by and about Euphrasie Barbier in the SUDOC catalogue (Union of French University Libraries)
- Ballsieper, Jordan, in: Biographia Benedictina (Benedictine Biography), version of 24 November 2015, URL: http://www.benediktinerlexikon.de/wiki/Ballsieper,_Jordan
|SHORT DESCRIPTION||french Roman Catholic nun and founder of a religious order|
|DATE OF BIRTH||4. January 1829|
|PLACE OF BIRTH||Caen|
|STERBEDATUM||18. January 1893|
|DESTINATION||Sturry, County of Kent, England|