Mère Saint Croix
1815 - 1878
Born: Eulalie Vidal
The second of four sisters, Eulalie Vidal was born in Meyrueis (lozère) on August 25, 1815. Her deeply christian parents sought to give their daughters a solid human and religious educations, Pauline, Eulalie Adèle and Céline were receptive to the formation they received, and their parents’ efforts bore abundant fruit. All four of their daughters would grow to be women of deep faith; three of them entered religious life.
From her childhood, Eulalie had been noted for her seriousness and for her spirit life. Endowed with a gentle and kind temperament, she devoted herself both to study and to work. At the age of six, she won an award for being the only one of her school companions who could recite the Passion of Christ without a mistake. Perhaps this event was the beginning of Eulalie’s great love for the cross of Christ. In her youth, her spiritual life was marked by an effort to identify with Christ in his passion and death. Her home in Millau was near a large cross where Eulalie often went to pray. She would unselfconsciously kiss the steps leading up to the cross. Her sisters made fun of this gesture, but Eulalie only smiled in return.
The gentleness of her nature and her beauty made her doubly attractive. Flattery and compliments displeased her, however, and she begged God to make her ugly. Some time later, she contracted smallpox. Warned by the doctor to take the greatest care with scabs so as not to be permanently scared, she realized that this was the moment to mar her beauty. She removed the scabs from her face one by one. Realizing what Eulalie had done, her sister Pauline, usually so kind to her, chided her severely and reminded her that she would be scarred for life. Eulalie merely smiled, adding that she had now received from God the grace that she had asked for. She became known to the children of the neighborhood as the “ugly Miss Vidal.”
Their father, Mr. Vidal, a primary school teacher, held his classes in the family home. His daughters followed their father’s profession, and Pauline left home for one of the large boarding schools in Montpellier with the goal of later taking charge of it. At that time, the family lived in Agde, where the 18-year-old Eulalie opened her first boarding school for girls. Since Adèle and Céline were still too young to help, she worked alone, often from morning until night. Living in self-forgetfulness in God’s presence, Eulalie devoted herself totally to her students and experienced in daily life her love for the passion of Christ.
With her days so full of work, Eulalie felt the lack of time for prayer, and she tried to find it in the early morning hours. Before sunrise, she walked to church to hear Mass, often arriving before the sacristan and so finding the door still locked. She would then kneel on the church steps and begin her prayer. Unbeknown to her family, she did this for a full year, both summer and winter. One day, however, when the cold had frozen the steps of the church, Eulalie developed pneumonia and the sacristan told her parents what had been happening. She was then forbidden to leave the house before sunrise.
The Vidals later moved to Béziers, where Eulalie and Céline opened a boarding school which by 1847, was flourishing. During the public final examinations held on the last three days of school, the students’ performance, from the youngest to the eldest, was admired by those in attendance. The quality of the education given by the Vidal sister was obvious. The ease with which the young girls expressed themselves, in both intellectual and artistic examinations, showed very serious work, excellent organization and a limitless love of education. The students manifested a simplicity which gave evidence to the seriousness of purpose within the boarding school as well as to the happy combination of a well-rounded instruction and formation.
Religious education held a primary place in the Vidal boarding school. It was not confined to certain practices indicated by the rules; the principles of faith were transmitted in depth in an existential way. Theory was joined to the discovery of God’s love and the life of the virtues so that, in the future, the students would live truly christian lives. In Béziers, the Vidal boarding school was considered a place where students received an integrated and total education.
When Father Gailhac met Eulalie Vidal, he realized that her qualities and talents were well suited to the congregation he wished to found. As for her, she felt a deep resonance with all that Father Gailhac was proposing for the new congregation. While she was waiting for the formation of the cohesive group to take over the Good Shepherd, Eulalie continued to direct her ever-improving boarding school. In October 1847, she had to move it to a larger building. Her waiting was also due to her family situation. Her mother was ill, and Eulalie felt that she could not leave her in such circumstances.
A Journey in Faith and Time
History of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary Vol 1.
Sr. Rosa do Carmo Sampaio, RSHM