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Sister Marie de la Sainte-Espérance

Our pioneers | The Vocation of the Pioneers

Jeanne Albert 1831-1872

Sr Marie de Sante EspéranceJeanne was the youngest of the first departure group who left for Oceania in November 1857. She was born in Rive-de-Gier, near Lyon, and given a reasonably good education. From her letters, and from those of others, she appears as a hardworking, capable young woman, though perhaps with a certain immaturity for her age.

Assigned to Futuna, she began by giving herself generously to classes for the women but in less than 3 months was sent to Wallis with Marie de la Miséricorde. Health problems and difficulties in interpersonal relationships surfaced after a short time; she returned to Futuna. Her health continuing to be a problem, she was sent to Sydney in 1861. There she had more than 5 months in hospital, though doctors could not find the real cause of her illness. This was an added source of suffering. A period of convalescence followed during which she learned English and taught catechism to French children to whom she communicated her own great love of Mary “beginning her class always in the company of our good Mother(Espérance-Poupinel, 19.07.1862, Letter 18, §6, OPS II, 284).

Fr Poupinel suggested she return to France but she felt she should stay in Oceania as the other sisters, whose health was also impaired, remained “on the battlefield”. A willingness to sacrifice was part of the fabric of Marie de la Sainte-Espérance’s life, when this was in keeping with what she saw as God’s will for her. In 1863, when it was decided that perhaps a change of climate would help, she was assigned to St Louis in New Caledonia. During the voyage, the ship was wrecked. Though no one was seriously hurt, the entire cargo was lost. She says: “… I had an unfortunate and terrible shipwreck! A sad and painful experience I shall never forget… It is not that I regret all that I lost, no Father, I can tell you with assurance that although I have felt keenly the present and future pain of it, I have made my sacrifice generously enough, at least I think so. Some months before God had imposed a much greater one on me, in the person of my good and loving mother!(Espérance-Poupinel, 12.03.1864, Letter 34, §4, OPS II, 329).

In St Louis the same health problems recurred; others found it hard to understand her. She also suffered from some harsh criticism made of her. Even Fr Poupinel found her “rather foolish” at times. However, in 1867, when she was sent to La Conception, she is said to have done good work in teaching, sewing, caring for the girls. According to Fr Rougeyron, she was “adept in everything, and very capable(Rougeyron-Favre, 10.09.1867, OPS III, 476).

Marie de la Saint-Espérance speaks in her letters of her joy in belonging to “Mary’s family”. She values her consecration in the TOMMO as “her daughter”. She looked forward to the day she would become a fully recognised religious. Though accepted for the novitiate in Our Lady of the Missions in 1867, she never made profession, probably because of questions concerning her health.

Marie de la Sainte-Espérance was a woman who loved the people and was loved by them. Her gifts of mind and heart shared generously with others were restricted only by the problem of poor health throughout her life. She died in Nouméa at the comparatively early age of 41.

Sr Marie de Sante Espérance

I wish you Father, a much better trip than the one I had last November, the time I had an unfortunate and terrible shipwreck! A sad and painful experience I shall never forget… It is not that I regret all that I lost, no Father, I can tell you with assurance that although I have felt keenly the present and future pain of it, I have made my sacrifice generously enough, at least I think so. Some months before God had imposed a much greater one on me, in the person of my good and loving mother! (Espérance-Poupinel, 12.03.1864, OPS 11, 329).

 

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