A young visionary: Pauline Jaricot, the young foundress of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith
A young French woman developed a heart for missions, and her work lives on two centuries later because of the power of the cross and her ability to enjoin and organize others. Beatified earlier this year, Pauline Jaricot founded the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, which still introduces Christ to communities around the world.
Pauline’s Story Begins
Baptized Marie Pauline Jaricot on the day of her birth, July 22, 1799, she was the last of seven children born to Antoine and Jeanne Jaricot in Lyons, France. Pauline’s older brother Phileas, born two years earlier, would be very influential in her life — nurturing her love for missions.
Lyons was an industrial city famous for its silk factories. Her father was a silk merchant and supported the bourgeois family. While the early years of her childhood were marked by the exclusive societal life of Lyons, something would happen in her teen years 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, 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.”
She began to long to help missions in China and the United States — a desire nurtured by her brother Phileas, who was preparing for the priesthood and 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.”
So she came up with a plan to support missionaries and their work. She gathered workers in 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.
Pauline’s successful efforts, which were 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 wrote: “It was she who thought of the society, who conceived it, and made it an organized reality.”
The Society for the Propagation of the Faith
On May 3, 1822, in Lyons, a group of men called “Les Messieurs” gathered to discuss a request for funds for the missions in Louisiana. A representative of Louisiana’s Bishop William DuBourg, Father Angelo Inglesi, hoped at this meeting to have an organization set up similar to Pauline’s “Propagation” which was doing so well. The organization he had in mind would be formed to help missions in Louisiana, which, at that time, extended from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada.
Benoît Coste, one of “Les Messieurs,” made the point that no single mission should be the sole beneficiary of funds that were gathered; any organization formed must help all missions everywhere. This was, indeed, Pauline’s own vision of universal help.
By 1922, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith — and three other societies established to help the missions — became pontifical: under the pope’s direction with headquarters relocated to Rome. Within the first hundred years of its existence, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith sent about $7 million in help to the young church in the U.S.
The U.S. Church started contributing to the Propagation of the Faith in 1833, with a humble gift of $6. Today, Catholics in the U.S. contribute about 25 percent of the support collected through the Propagation of the Faith for the 1,150 mission dioceses worldwide, mostly in Africa and Asia, mainly through the annual World Mission Sunday collection.
Shortly after the foundation of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, Pauline established the Association of the Living Rosary; again, her method was to form “circles” which would reach out to form new groups which would recite the Rosary every day. These groups continue to thrive in Lyons even today.
Suffering for a Loving, Generous Heart
St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars and Pauline’s spiritual director for many years, made this public tribute to her: “I know someone who knows how to accept the cross, and a heavy cross, and how to bear it with love! It is Mademoiselle Jaricot.”
Father Charles Dollen wrote this in a biography about her: “The theology of the cross came alive for her. ... More and more she identified with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, loving, suffering, atoning.”
Pauline died on January 9, 1862. The prayer found after her death, written in her own hand, ended with these words: “Mary, O my Mother, I am Thine!”
In 1963, Pope John XXIII signed the decree which proclaimed the virtues of Pauline Jaricot, declaring her Venerable. On May 22, 2022, Pauline was beatified, declared Blessed. The cause for her canonization continues.
Editor’s Note: This article was graciously provided by the Pontifical Mission Societies.