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A Letter from Our Generalate on our 175th Anniversary

by RSHM Eastern American AreaCategory: Updates

sepia toned picture of seven nuns and one priest

Joyful greetings on this 175th anniversary of the founding of our Institute! We rejoice and give thanks for the charism and mission entrusted to Jean Gailhac and our founding Sisters “ for the service of the Church and the life of the world” (Const. 4). We remember too the journey in faith and time of the many sisters who followed them, answering the call of Christ and giving their lives in service to the Institute’s mission. Along with a host of lay companions, they form a great procession of people walking together, across time and space, sharing the one dream of making God known and loved, rich in their diversity, one body for mission. As we remember their story – our story – we give thanks for God’s immense goodness, generosity and compassion towards the Institute, from its foundation to the present day.

Writing about the early years, Sister Rosa do Carmo Sampaio surmised that “when Jean Gailhac founded the Institute, he was far from imagining its future development.” (Sampaio, A Journey inFaith and Time, Vol. 1, p.104) But expansion was rapid. As soon as the Motherhouse was established, “a great desire to expand arose within the community” (Ibid. p.134). She attributes this to “Fr. Gailhac’s zeal and that of the first community” which was “unlimited” (Ibid. p.113). Driven by the inner flame of faith and zeal, and with the cooperation of many lay people, the mission continued to expand for more than one hundred years, during a time of relative stability in the Church and world, and when religious life seemed unchanging. There were difficulties, obstacles, sufferings and even persecutions, but the mission was abundantly blessed and fruitful. For that we rejoice and give thanks on this anniversary.

Group of women holding banner with new RSHM logo and celebrating 175 years

The following 75 years brought about change on a global scale, while the Second Vatican Council inaugurated an era of renewal and adaptation in the Church and religious life. Inspired by the Spirit, the Church reached out to embrace “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties” of all people, especially “those who are poor or in any way afflicted” (Gaudium et Spes 1). The RSHM responded to the Church’s call with the same faith and zeal as our Founders. They undertook renewal programs, adapted their lifestyles, and engaged in new ministries, moving closer to the poor and marginalized. One of the great graces of the Second Vatican Council – the rediscovery of the vocation of the laity in the Church’s mission – enabled sisters and lay people to work side by side in pastoral ministry in schools, hospitals, and parishes. Throughout these remarkably dynamic years, the charism of Jean Gailhac was a resilient and dynamic force adapting to the changes and responding to the new mission needs that arose.

Today, as we “remember the past with gratitude,” we ask for the grace to “live the present with passion, and to embrace the future with hope” (Pope Francis, Year of Consecrated Life, Nov. 21, 2014). In our contemporary world, where challenges are often global in scale, global responses are required, involving our collaboration and networking with different groups. Within our Institute, there are networks to address some of today’s most urgent needs. At the same time, many RSHM throughout the Institute work with other religious congregations and lay people, in advocacy, collaboration, and networking. During this anniversary year, we will initiate a new collaborative mission in Luena, Angola, incarnating the charism of Jean Gailhac in another African country and culture. Collaboration with others generates new life and energy for mission. It inspires us “to live the present with passion,” responding to the calls of the Spirit to go out, “risking the new and the unknown” (2019 Gen. Ch. Doc. p.3). God, who is “eternal newness…impels us constantly to set out anew, to pass beyond what is familiar, to the fringes and beyond” (Gaudete et Exultate 135).

On this 175th anniversary of foundation, we “embrace the future with hope,” knowing that we are blessed in living at this hope-filled time in our Church. While our world suffers from increasing inequality, division, conflict and natural disasters, the Church is steadily walking the synodal path, inspired by “a deep desire for inclusion, a deep desire to experience Church once again as a faith community…” (Patricia Murray, IBVM, UISG meeting, April 11, 2023). We recall the process of reflection used during the Synodal Assembly in October: “conversations in the Spirit,” or communal discernment, leading to consensus. This practice, which promotes active listening and the prayerful participation of everyone in decision-making, will facilitate the growth of a synodal dynamic across the whole Church.

group of women greeting Pope Francis, who is in wheelchaiir, and sharing news of RSHM 175th anniversary

As RSHM and collaborators, we embrace Pope Francis’ dream of a synodal Church, a listening, discerning Church in which the Holy Spirit is the key player. The dream fills us with hope and inspires us to work towards becoming a Church that leaves no one behind, a Church of the people of God, sent out as missionary pilgrims. Being with others, listening to them, acting alongside them, using the synodal tools of collaboration, networking, and advocacy, we can join our efforts, however small, to those of the many groups who are working today for justice, right relationships, and the care of our common home. Strengthened and encouraged by the synodal way, we “embrace the future with hope.”

It is our belief that God is living and working in our history today, as in the past. So we go forward in faith, “pilgrims of hope,” moving towards the Church’s Jubilee Year 2025 and beyond. We go forth together, disciples in mission, our hearts fired by the love of Christ, whom we have personally met and who has changed our lives forever. Sustained by daily encounter with Him in prayer and in life’s experiences, we look confidently toward new horizons of mission. Bringing the best of ourselves, we go out to the peripheries, to those at our borders, the excluded, the outcasts of society, sharing with them the Good News that has been entrusted to us. Believing that God will never abandon us, we are ready to undertake new initiatives, in the same spirit and with the same inclusive mind and heart as Jean Gailhac, and those who have gone before us. We go forward in joy, one body for mission, sisters and collaborators, continuing the Institute’s long procession across time and space, in a unity that is beautifully expressed by our new Institute logo.

The Institute’s mission continues. Another page of its history is being written. “There is no greater freedom” Pope Francis writes, “than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, renouncing every attempt to plan and control everything…”(Ev. Gaudium 280). May the Holy Spirit lead us into the future. May this 175th anniversary of foundation be a special year of receptivity to grace, a year of prayer, following Pope Francis’ call to the whole Church to make the year 2024 a great “symphony” of prayer, leading to the Jubilee year of 2025. May Mary, who was led by the breath of the Spirit, and “believed in the fulfillment of what the Lord told her” (Luke 1:45) be with us on the journey.

RSHM/RSCM Leadership Team
Maria do Rosário Durães, Monica Walsh, Sipiwe Phiri, Ana Luísa Pinto, Maria Aparecida Moreira and Margaret Fielding

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