Saint of the Day – 7 February – Blessed Mary of Providence HHS (1825-1871) Religious Nun and Founder of the Society of the Helpers of the Holy Souls on 19 January 1856, with the objective of assisting the Souls in Purgatory through their service to the needy of the world, friend of St John Vianney. Born as Eugénie Smet on 25 March 1825 at Lille, France and died on 7 February 1871 at Paris, France of breast cancer at the age of 45.
Eugénie Smet was born on 25 March 1825, the third of six children of Henri Édouard Joseph and Marie Pauline Joseph Taverne Smet in Lille, in the north of France. She was educated at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Lille, where she demonstrated a particular devotion to the Guardian Angels. Eugénie was a bright, lively child who was deeply in love with her faith from a young age.
She was filled with great concern for the souls in Purgatory since the image of the suffering in Purgatory smote her heart.
Slowly, she began to minister to the poor around her in her small French village of Loos. She asked her father for permission to take the fallen fruit from his orchard and give it to the hungry of the village.
The Catholic Church, formerly very influential in France before the revolutions, had become a remnant of its former self. The Church was rebuilding itself by reaching out to the poor and offering material, charitable assistance. Eugénie threw herself into this work of charity and into the sacramental life of the Church. She began to attend Mass daily and dedicated her life to God.
Interestingly, her greatest efforts of aid were directed to the poor who were not physically present in France. She assisted the Bishop in raising money for missions in China and she was convinced that the Holy Souls in Purgatory were in great need of prayers.
Eugénie felt the call to create a religious order that would dedicate itself solely to praying for these poor suffering souls. As she was praying with her head bowed down before our Blessed Lord in the Sacrament of His Love, the idea of an association of prayers and good works on behalf of the dead was rising distinctly before her eyes. But then, came the doubt – was it God who was inspiring her with thought or was it the result of her own fancy? In unhesitating faith she determined to ask Our Blessed Lord, by some unmistakable sign, to give a token of His Will. If you want me to begin this work my Lord, make at least one of my friends, think of something and let her speak to me about it as soon as I come out of Church.
She slowly descended the long flight of steps of the Church to the village square, anxiously thinking over the prayer she had made. Her heart sank within her when she reached the bottom of the stairs and no-one had spoken to her. But just at that moment a young girl at her own age, a great dear friend of hers, came forward and said,
“Dear Eugenie, I am so glad to have met you. During Benediction I had an inspiration. I thought of offering to join you, in doing everything we can, during November, for the Souls in Purgatory. Have you indeed had that thought?”
As Eugénie prayed and sought the necessary permissions to create her order, she received great encouragement from St John Vianney, which she took as a sign to continue. Eugénie met with Abbé Largentier, a Priest in Paris who had started a small community dedicated to praying for Souls in Purgatory.
Eugénie was hopeful Abbé Largentier could help her begin a religious order of sisters to pray for Souls in Purgatory but Abbé Largentier insisted, that Eugénie’s order could only succeed by starting a school. Eugénie was dissatisfied with this and she prayed for direction. In 1856, she found a house in Paris that and she persuaded the owner to let the house to her, despite having no liquid assets. On 27 December 1857, Eugénie, with five of her first companions, pronounced her first religious vows. A Jesuit was appointed Chaplain and the Rule of St Ignatius was adapted. The congregation was dedicated to Our Lady of Providence and Eugénie took the name Mary of Providence and she became the Superior of the Community, The Helpers of the Holy Souls. The Helpers began to go out into the suffering community around them and prayed with and cared for the men and women in the inner City of Paris, who suffered from alcoholism, abandonment, and great physical and mental duress. The Helpers offered up their charity work for the Souls in Purgatory, thus hoping to alleviate two forms of suffering at once. Their rule was formally accepted in 1859.
Eugénie’s Order was bursting with new vocations and she opened several other houses. In 1867, a brave cohort of thirty sisters traveled to China to begin a house of Helpers there.
Eugénie died on 7 February 1871, in Paris. She is buried in the Montparnasse cemetery. Bl Mary of Providence, was Beatified in Rome on 26 May 1957 by Venerable Pope Pius XII. Her movement has spread throughout the world – now in 24 countries and continues to minister to the Souls in the Body of Christ—both those on earth and those who have departed this world.
Pope Pius XII summarised, in a homily, the essence of the message left by Sister Mary of Providence:
“Whoever acts thus, in a manner devoid of all personal interest and selfishness and consecrates himself to the universal work of redemption, will know, like Mary of Providence, the suffering and the travail but also, the invincible security, of those who are established on the strength of God Himself and await with humble confidence, the hour of endless triumph:
In Thee, O Lord, I have hoped, let me never be put to confusion (Psalm 70: 1).“