November 9, 2013 marks the 10th anniversary of the beatification of Sister Rosalie Rendu, D.C., whose image is seen on the left. The image on the right is the cover of the program from Sister Rosalie’s beatification ceremony. The biography of her life which follows is based on the biography which appeared in the beatification program.
Jeanne Marie Rendu was born September 9, 1786, the eldest of four girls. Her Godfather by proxy was Jacques Emery, a family friend and future Superior General of the Sulpicians in Paris. She was three years old when the Revolution broke out in France. From 1790 it was compulsory for the clergy to take an oath of support for the civil Constitution. Numerous priests refused to take this oath. They were chased from their parishes, some were put to death, and others had to hide to escape their pursuers. The Rendu family home became a refuge for these priests. It was in this atmosphere of faith, always exposed to the dangers of denunciation, that Jeanne Marie was educated. She would make her first communion one night by candlelight in the basement of her home. This environment forged her character.
The Daughters of Charity had been suppressed during the French Revolution; the Seminary (novitiate) re-opened in December of 1800. In May of 1802 Jeanne Marie Rendu arrived at the Mother House to begin her initial formation as a Daughter of Charity. When she completed her Seminary formation, she was given the community name of Sister Rosalie and sent to the Mouffetard District, where she served for the next 54 years. In 1815 Sister Rosalie was made the Superior of the Daughters of Charity house at Mouffetard.
The Mouffetard District was one of the poorest districts in all of Paris, and Sister Rosalie served the poor in many ways. She visited the sick and poor. She opened a free clinic and pharmacy. She opened a free school and taught reading and catechism in the school. She started a child care center, a youth club for young workers, and a home for the elderly. Thanks to Sister Rosalie, a whole network of charitable services were put in place to serve the poor.
Her reputation grew quickly in all the districts of Paris and beyond. Sister Rosalie knew how to surround herself with dedicated collaborators who supported her work both with their time and with funds. These collaborators included bishops, clergy, the Ambassador of Spain, and even Emperor Napoleon III. Students from the universities in Paris sought Sister Rosalie out as well; one of those students was Frederic Ozanam, who would go on to found the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. During Sister Rosalie’s years in the Mouffetard District, there were many hardships, among them civil uprisings in 1830 and 1848 and cholera epidemics in 1832 and 1846; during the cholera epidemics she was often seen picking up dead bodies in the streets.
Sister Rosalie Rendu died on February 7, 1856. Her death was mourned throughout Paris. Thousands attended her funeral at St. Medard Church and her burial at Montparnasse Cemetery. Today her tomb is marked by a cross bearing the inscription, “To Sister Rosalie, from her grateful friends, the rich and the poor.”