Founder Father Jean Gailhac
Jean Gailhac was born in Béziers, France, on November 13, 1802. He was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Montpellier in 1826. Shortly after his Ordination, he requested of his Bishop placement as chaplain of the civil and military hospital in the city of Béziers. This work, which he continued until the foundation of the Religious of the Sacred of Mary in 1849, put him in contact with the most needy and marginalized of his society.
One of the groups whose needs became obvious to him was women who had fallen into a life of prostitution. In working with these women, he realized that most of them had no social or family support to assist them. Gailhac made arrangements for many of these women to be received in a shelter in Montpellier, paying their room and board from his own small salary, assisted by funds from his parents. When he could no longer afford the fees, he founded in Béziers the work of the Good Shepherd, a shelter for women and very soon afterwards, an orphanage as well.
The death of his good friend, Eugène Cure, in 1848, brought an unexpected turn to Father Gailhac’s life. Appollonie Cure, widow of Eugène, expressed to him her desire to give her life and her wealth to his works. For a number of years Gailhac had considered founding a religious congregation. He saw Madame Cure’s desire as a providential opportunity to do so.
Under Father Gailhac’s direction, the Institute of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary was founded in 1849. He worked closely with the community, especially with Mother Saint Jean (Appollonie Cure). The solid formation of the sisters became his primary focus. With them, he continued the various works in Béziers. As the Institute expanded, he communicated with the sisters at a distance through his numerous letters and visits. Toward the end of his life, he wrote treatises on a number of spiritual topics.
The death of the sisters always caused him great sorrow. He outlived the first two General Superiors, Mother St. Jean and Mother St. Croix. He died on January 25, 1890, at the age of 88. In the 1950’s, Mother Gerard Phelan introduced his cause of beatification. In 1972, he was declared Venerable by the Church.
Foundress and First Superior
Mother St. Jean Pelissier Cure
“How happy I am that the God of mercy put in my soul the vocation I have undertaken with so much courage: to be associated with such a holy priest who lives and breathes only for his children. I will work with all my strength and will support you [Father Gailhac] to the best of my ability in this beautiful work.” (Mother St. Jean Pelissier Cure, 1849)
Born February 2, 1809, into a well-established family of Murviel-les-Béziers, in the south of France, Appollonie Pelissier grew up in a deeply Christian home. At twenty, she married Eugène Cure. Together they generously supported the many works of charity initiated by Eugene’s lifelong friend, Jean Gailhac. Eugene Cure died suddenly in November 1848. Soon after, Appollonie offered herself and her considerable wealth towards the founding of the religious community already envisioned by Father Gailhac for the direction and service of the women’s shelter and orphanage of the Good Shepherd which he had begun. On February 24, 1849, Appollonie moved to the Good Shepherd where she and five companions became the first members of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary.
As co-foundress and first superior, Appollonie, now known as Mother St. Jean, worked closely with Father Gailhac and governed the Institute until her death. During her time as superior, the shelter for women was transformed into a preservation for young girls at risk, and a boarding school for girls was begun. As the young Institute took on a variety of works, Mother St. Jean emphasized the need to strengthen unity in the midst of this diversity. During her lifetime the Institute grew to seventy-two religious: sixty French and twelve Irish. An important moment for the new Institute was the granting of legal status in 1856 by decree of Emperor Napoleon. Mother St. Jean Pelissier Cure died on March 4, 1869.