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Blessed Rosalie Rendu

Jeanne-Marie Rendu (Sister Rosalie), daughter of Antoine Rendu and Marie-Anne Laracine, was born on 9 September 1786 in Confort, in the district of Gex in the Jura Mountains, southeastern France, near the Swiss border. She lived all her life as a Daughter of Charity, some 53 years, in the Mouffetard neighborhod, the poorest neighborhood of Paris.

1802, 25 MayEntrance into the Company of the Daughters of Charity
1803Finished seminary and was sent to the Saint-Martin House
1807Vows for the first time
1815Appointed Sister Servant of the Saint-Martin House
1830Revolution; postulants assigned to the house on rue de l’Épée-de-Bois
1831The Archbishop of Quelen and other clergy hide in the house on the rue de l’Épée-de-Bois
1833Counseling of the first members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul begins
1840Works with the newly re-established Ladies of Charity; renovations to expand the house.
1848Revolution; the house becomes a shelter and a field hospital
1852Awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honor by Napoleon III.
1853Her eyesight begins to fail; her health declines
1856Death; burial attended by some 50,000 people from all sectors of society
1953Opening of the diocesan process of beatification in Paris
2003, 9 NovemberBeatification by Pope John Paul II
7 FebruaryLiturgical feast

On 25 May 1802, Sister Rosalie entered the Seminary at the Mother House of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul on rue du Vieux-Colombier in Paris. In her efforts to throw herself into this new life, her health failed, and she was sent to the house of the Daughters of Charity in the Mouffetard neighborhood in the hope that the change would help her regain her strength.

There was no better place to quench the thirst for action, devotion and service that burned in Sister Rosalie. Disease, squalid hovels and destitution were the daily lot of the inhabitants who struggled simply to survive. Sister Rosalie flourished among the people who would quickly become her “beloved poor.”

At first, she accompanied the Sisters in visiting the sick and the poor in their homes. She also taught catechism and reading to the girls in the Catholic school. Sister Rosalie was happy, and she pronounced her vows for the first time in 1807. Soon, all her qualities of dedication, natural authority, humility, compassion and organizational skills would be revealed. Thus, in 1815, she was named Sister Servant (local Superior) of the house.

As head of her community, Sister Rosalie received the mission of accompanying each of her Sisters, forming the new members and animating community life, which she carried out with the greatest care, passing on her love and joy in service.

As the years went by, always attentive to new forms of poverty, she expanded the works of the house: a school, home visits to the sick, a clinic, a nursery, a day center for children too young to go to school, a center for job training and a social center for the older girls. At the same time, she invited others to share in the mission of Saint Vincent.

Sister Rosalie was the “good mother of all,” without distinction of religion, political views or social status. With one hand, she received from the rich; with the other, she gave to the poor. She offered people who were rich the joy of doing good works. She could often be seen in the parlor of the house with “her beloved poor” as well as with bishops, priests, government officials, wealthy women and college students. Among them were Frédéric Ozanam and the first members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.

Tenderly and respectfully, Sister Rosalie and the Sisters of the house advised these generous young men and other students. She recommended patience, leniency and courtesy towards people who are poor. “Love those who are poor, don’t blame them too much… Remember that they are even more sensitive to your conduct than to your help.” Above all, she taught them by her example:

Every day, in all kinds of weather, Sister Rosalie went up and down the streets and alleys that climbed up to the Pantheon, on the south side of St. Genevieve’s Hill: rue Mouffetard, Patriarches Alley, rue de l’Epée-de-Bos, rue du Pot de Fer… With her rosary in her hand and a heavy basket on her arm, she walked with a quick step because she knew that the poor were waiting for her!

Sister Rosalie would talk to God about the family suffering because the father no longer had a job, about the elderly person at risk of dying alone in an attic room: “Never do I make my meditation so well as I do on the street,” she would say.

Her faith, solid as a rock and clear as a spring, saw Jesus Christ revealed in all circumstances. Her prayer life was intense, as one Sister affirmed: “She lived continually in the presence of God. When she had a difficult mission to accomplish, we were sure to see her go to the chapel or find her on her knees in her office.”

With her Sisters and her immense network of collaborators, she tirelessly cared for, fed, visited consoled and comforted others! Endowed with a keen sensitivity, she was empathetic to all those who suffered. “There is something that is choking me,” she said, “and it takes away my appetite… to think that so many families go without bread.” For the service of her beloved poor, she dared everything with intelligence and courage. Nothing would stop her if an action would free them from their misery.

Sister Rosalie did not question the established order, nor did she support rebellion: this was not her method. To fight injustice and poverty, she awakened the conscience of those in power or those with money, worked for the education of children and youth from poor families and, in response to emergencies, impelled people to share. She “organized charity.”

During the years of the Revolutions of 1830 and 1848, Sister Rosalie and her Sisters cared for the wounded, both rebels and soldiers. People in danger always found refuge in the Sisters’ house on rue de l’Épée-de-Bois. Her home became a shelter and hospital.

The last years of Sister Rosalie’s life were painful as her health worsened and her eyesight diminished. She was no longer able to visit her beloved poor on a regular basis, but her reputation continued to grow.

Emperor Napoleon III awarded her the Cross of the Legion of Honor, a military honor that only four women have received until recent times.

Sister Rosalie experienced, in her life as a “simple Daughter of Charity,” the truth of the words of Vincent de Paul in 1660, “… Certainly it is the great secret of the spiritual life to abandon to God all that we love by abandoning ourselves to all that He wills. Pray for me.”

It was this simple Daughter of Charity who was honored at her funeral on 9 February 1856, which was attended by some 50,000 people from all sectors of society across the political and religious spectrum. From that day on, until today, flowers always decorate her grave in Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.