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The Vocation of the Pioneers

Our pionneers

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The vocation of the Pionners at the origins of the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary



The text tries to respond to two fundamental questions: how did the pioneers see their vocation and, from the witness of their lives, is it possible to draw out some elements of spirituality?

The choice has been made to let them themselves speak, as far as possible, and to give the opportunity to several of them to have a word on different subjects. However, even keeping in mind the concern to be all-inclusive, some are quoted more than others, because the number of letters varies greatly from one to the other, and some were less gifted in expressing themselves in writing.


In approaching this study and these texts, it is important to remember that the pioneers were women of their time, influenced by the currents and the mentality of their era, both in the Church and in the society from which they came. Some expressions in their letters, as in the Rules, reflect this. It is the law of incarnation, true for them as for us.

For a better understanding of the historical and human context of nineteenth century France and Oceania, there are studies that have been done and good commentaries available.

Finally, it must be said that what is offered here is a somewhat global presentation of the vocation of the pioneers, and a first approach to the elements of their spirituality. Many points would merit further study.

However, it is hoped that these pages will contribute a little to helping us discover what has been the response to the calls of God made by these women, pioneers and Oceanians, who opened the way for us.


Extracts from:

at the origins of the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary

We, Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary,
are heirs
of the pioneer sisters
who were inspired by the example
of Françoise Perroton,
and of those first Oceanians
who, in seeing their way of life,
desired also to give their lives to God
for the service of Mission.

In the beginning, stronger than anything else,
they heard the call from God for mission
expressed through the appeals from Oceania.
In response, they made the unconditional gift
of themselves,
confirmed through the vow of obedience,
profession in the Third Order of Mary,
community life according to the rule
given and received “as the expression
of the Holy Will of God”. (Const. p. 11, 13)

These two paragraphs from the Prologue of our Constitutions reveal, in some way, the original kernel wherein are hidden in germ the essential elements of smsm identity and of a spirituality lived by our pioneers in their response to the calls of daily life.


Our pioneers were not saints in a ‘beyond-our-reach’ sense. They were ordinary women, marked by their era with its greatness and its limitations. Their departure for Oceania was part of the great missionary wave of the 19th century. They shared the fervour, the convictions and the forms of devotion of their contemporaries. Like their compatriots, they believed in the superiority of western civilization. Ecumenism had not yet come to birth. They shared the spirit of rivalry that put missionaries of different confessions in competition with one another. Some passages in their letters need to be read in their cultural and historical context if they are to be understood correctly. But the fallout does not mask the astonishing fecundity of their life.

Filled with wonder at the ‘gratuitous gift’ of their vocation, they knew they carried their treasure in “earthenware jars” (2 Co 4:7). This profound consciousness of their weaknesses, their faults and inadequacies can sometimes seem to us exaggerated. But they did not bury the treasure entrusted to them. Humbly, but with determination, they sought the way to have it bear fruit. The Holy Spirit can work with inadequate instruments. Because they had answered God’s call with an “unconditional gift of themselves” (Prologue, p. 13), God used them. With faith and daring, they opened for us a way in the service of mission.

Their trials and difficulties also challenge us because they did not succumb to them. They lacked preparation but from the time of departure, and in all circumstances, they found their strength in God, as Sr Marie de la Miséricorde wrote on board ship on the way to Oceania: “I know I am nothing, that I can do nothing by myself, and despite that I hope to do something counting on God’s grace, the help of your prayers”. With joy, they believed also in Mary’s special protection. With confidence, they called on her help in order to stand firm in faith and grow in love. With humility and fidelity, they tried to live her spirit.

A return to our pioneers opens a way to hope.

By “a gracious choice”, we, in our turn, have been gifted with the same vocation: missionary, Marist and religious.

With this gift each of us, and all of us together, are entrusted so that we may bring it to fruition. It is the same treasure offered us.

Today still, God calls us. Today still, the Spirit goes before us. Today still, Mary accompanies us on the path of faith (cf. Const. 2, 10, 16).

Being faithful does not mean to repeat or make over
but to keep in our heart that first impulse
as a daily source of daring,
so as to respond to the calls of God (Prologue, p. 11).

S. Marie Ancilla Grosperrin, smsm
26 May 2005
Translated by Sr Marie Lamerand, smsm, from the original in French

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The Vocation of the Pioneers
at the origins of the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary

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