Pauline-Marie Jaricot: Foundress of the APF
1822, when it all began
The foundation of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith was due to the insight, the initiative and the method of a young French lay woman, Pauline-Marie Jaricot. She wished to form a missionary consciousness in all Christians so that they would aid the Church to carry out its task of preaching the Gospel and planting the Church where it had not been before. She unselfishly left it to others to develop the Society but was in her own words 'the first match to light the fire.' A reflection on her life and message is a welcome reminder that both clergy and laity have a responsibility for the missionary activity of the Church.
Vitality of Faith
Pope John Paul II in his 1990 encyclical Redemptoris Missio noted an apparent decline in missionary activity specifically directed to those nations and peoples who have not yet had the opportunity of knowing the good news of the Gospel. Missionary zeal is a sign of the vitality of the Church, just as its lessening is a sign of a crisis of faith. Pauline saw that the renewal of the Church in France after the revolution would be intimately linked with a renewed zeal for missionary activity. Promoting the faith in foreign lands would be the surest means of preserving and increasing the faith in Europe.
Born in Lyon
Pauline was the last child of the strong Christian marriage of Antoine and Jeanne Jaricot. Her parents owned a silk factory, were well respected and wealthy. Ten years after the flare-up of the French Revolution she was born in Lyons on July 22nd, 1799 and died there in obscurity and poverty on January 9th, 1862. In between was a memorable life driven by concern for the missions and concern for the poor.
She was very close to her older brother Phileas and as they grew up together they shared a common interest in missionary stories. One day Phileas announced he would become a missionary and go to China. Pauline was eager to accompany him. Phileas, however suggested another plan: 'Little sister, you cannot come; but you shall take a rake, rake in heaps of gold and you shall send it to me in barrels.'
Change of Heart
At fifteen years of age she was introduced into the hectic social life of the richer families in Lyons and attracted the attention of many admirers. A Lenten sermon on vanity in 1816 was the occasion for her transformation from a selfish worldly teenager to a deep-thinking person concerned about others. She was seventeen. The romantic books, the love songs, the special hair creations, the stylish hats and the silk dresses were put aside.
A Lay Apostle
Pauline believed that God was calling her to a new life. But for this teenager the call would not be to the religious life, but to the life of a lay apostle. It was as a committed member of the laity that she would dedicate herself to Christ. She became a person of constant prayer, having a deep devotion to the Blessed Sacrament nourished by daily communion and adoration. She dressed in the garb of a poor person. She sold her inheritance and jewellery and shared the proceeds with the poor and looked upon personal visits with them as a privilege, aware that 'the poor honour us by receiving us.'
She felt the need of making reparation for the many instances of neglect and insult placed before Jesus and invited others to join in public reparation. In 1817 she started a spiritual association of 'those who make reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, unknown and despised.' To the members she suggested that the Stations of the Cross be held in common every Sunday.
Helping the Missions
In 1818 she planted the mustard seed of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith when she appealed to two hundred young girls working in her brother-in-law's silk factory to make a weekly farthing contribution from their meagre wages to ransom abandoned infants in China. The seed grew and other groups joined to help all missions. In 1822 the Society was officially constituted. Pope John XXIII in 1962 stated that it was Pauline Jaricot who 'thought of the Society, who conceived it and made it an organised reality.'
In 1822 while only twenty-one years of age, she arranged the printing and distribution of religious literature. Her idea that basic religious missionary information should be communicated would permeate the future Society through the publication of the Annals which contained reports from various mission territories aimed at increasing the interest and commitment of the Society.
Pauline believed that the Rosary was a sadly neglected prayer. She adopted a plan similar to that of Propagation of the Faith. She founded an association called 'The Living Rosary' for people who would pray the Rosary and make it better known. Groups of fifteen were organised, and each member would say one decade of the Rosary daily and meditate on the 'mystery of the rosary' assigned to them each month by the drawing of lots. It also sought to make reparation for sinners.
She saw the groups of fifteen containing the ‘good, the mediocre and others who have nothing to offer but their good will....fifteen pieces of coal, one is well lit, three or four are half lit and the rest are not lit at all. Put them together and you have a blazing mass.’ Pauline expanded the organisation to include the distribution of prayer leaflets, holy pictures, medals and rosaries.
Pauline had a wide Christian vision of social problems. Her efforts to solve these met with miserable failure owing to the dishonesty of others in whom she had placed her trust. Her first idea was to create a special fund for the poor so that they would obtain interest free loans. She had the plan of obtaining a large sum of money from fifteen wealthy families to create the capital of her 'Celestial Bank', but she was unable to obtain the initial capital. Her next idea was to purchase a factory where the dignity of the working person would be upheld and families would not be separated. Pauline was persuaded to purchase a factory in Rustrel by a group of people who diverted the money provided by her and her friends. Pauline would spend the rest of her life involved in various judicial proceedings flowing from their dishonesty. Despite all her efforts the factory was sold off at a low price, and Pauline was still burdened in paying back the remaining massive debts incurred through the machinations of others.
The Inner Person
She was a person close to God. 'I try to be in all things not complicated and to reach a state of childlike abandonment of self in the hands of a loving God. I feel that it is my destiny to be in God's hands like a toy with which he can do what he likes.' She united her sufferings with those of Christ 'Patience, prayer, submission, acceptance of the ways of divine providence enable me to keep Jesus company on Calvary.' She prayed for those who had abused her trust in them; 'Forgive them, Lord, and fill them with blessings each time they cause me more pain.'
From 1822 Pauline hid herself in the shade, without ever asserting herself. Her final years were a daily martyrdom of poverty, physical weakness, illness, abandonment by former friends and misunderstanding. She died in the early morning of January 9th, 1862. Her last words were fitting for the foundress of the Living Rosary:- 'Mother! Oh my mother! I am all yours.'