Feast of St. Emily de Vialar (June 17)   Leave a comment

The Dream of Saint Joseph (Painted 1773-1774), by Anton Raphael Mengs


Founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition


Members of religious orders are among the greatest treasures of the Church and the human race in general.  These religious devote their lives to prayer and the service of God and their fellow human beings.  And the study of history tells me that monks and nuns have preserved knowledge, provided medicines, served as missionaries, and cared for the vulnerable people around them for centuries.  Thus I am especially fond of adding founders of religious orders to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.

Let us consider one such saint, Emily (Emilie) de Vialar.  She was born to money in 1797.  Her father, a physician in Gaillac, in southwestern France, sent her to school in Paris when she was seven years old.  Eight years later, he brought her back home after the death of her mother.  The saint’s father wanted her find a suitable husband, but she had a different goal:  to enter religious life and serve God and the poor and marginalized in society.  Emily began this work as a young woman in her father’s home, for she delivered medicines, clothing, and hot soup to people in her town.  Sometimes she did not even leave home to do this, for people came to her front door.  The saint and her father argued over their differing visions of her future, but Emily was focused on the mystery of the Incarnation and its implications for her life.  She was determined to serve God in those around her.

In 1832, when the saint was 35 years old, her grandfather died and left her a large inheritance.  She used it to found her order, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Incarnation, and began with one house and a few sisters.  By the time she died, on August 24, 1856, the number of houses had grown to forty, located in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.  These were twenty-four years of service and struggle.  For example, the saint and some sisters lent aid during the 1835 cholera epidemic in Algeria then commenced missionary work there.  And the saint went bankrupt in 1851 due to mismanagement by her financial advisor.  So she and her sisters themselves became like those they sought to help.  Fortunately, Eugene de Mazenod, Bishop of Marseilles, rescued them and enabled them build up the order again.

Pope Pius XII beatified the saint in 1939 and canonized her in 1951.

Here are some quotes from St. Emily de Vialar:

  • “Since God does so much for me, what could I not do for him?”
  • “Quietly to trust in God is better than trying to safeguard material interests:  I learned that by bitter experience.”
  • “My only desire is to accomplish God’s will.”
  • Her last words:  “Love one another.”

Today the members of the order continue the good work the saint began.  Among other things, they participate in foreign missions, provide nursing services to the sick, visit the bereaved, take the Eucharist to the sick, instruct converts, and offer psychological counseling.  And it all started with a young woman who preferred a life of service to one of comfort.  She chose the better part.

For this post I have selected scriptural readings and written a collect.

1 Kings 17:8-16

Psalm 23

James 1:22-27

Matthew 6:19-21

Compassionate God, we thank you for the holy example of the life of Saint Emily de Vialar, who served you faithfully during difficult times.  May we also persevere in obeying and following you when circumstances are hard and the light at the end of the tunnel is either dim or absent or seemingly an oncoming train.  May we strive always to be faithful, leaving questions of success to you.  In the name of Jesus, who, though rich, became poor for our sakes, and suffered much distress and humiliation, and who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.





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