Patron Saints of Our Schools
Feast day: 15 November
Vocation: Religious sister
Schools in Singapore
Hélène Marie Philippine de Chappotin de Neuville was born into a noble Christian family. The death of both her sisters and a cherished cousin impelled her to seek the meaning of life. Inspired by her mother’s faith, and upon experiencing God’s love and call to service during a spiritual retreat when she was 16, Hélène discerned a calling to religious life.
However, when she was 20, her mother died suddenly and Hélène placed her religious calling on hold while caring for her younger siblings. Over a year later, having a deep devotion to St Francis of Assisi, she received permission from the Bishop of Nantes to join the Poor Clares.
The following month, she heard God inviting her to offer herself as a victim for the Church and for the pope. Following this, she became sick and had to leave the nuns.
Three years later, after recovering and receiving advice from her confessor, Hélène entered the monastery of the Sisters of Mary Reparatrix, recently founded by Mother Mary of Jesus, a young widow. This was a cloistered order dedicated to Ignatian spirituality. On the Feast of the Assumption, Hélène received the habit and the religious name of Mary of the Passion.
She recalled: “When I was given the name of Mary of the Passion, I was pierced through and through by this wondrous word ‘Ecce’. It sums up the self-offering of Mary and the agony of Jesus: ‘Here am I’. And ‘here am I’ to be Mary of the Passion. I wish to be of the small number of those who truly love Jesus Crucified. Passion of Jesus, passion of Mary, penetrate my heart.”
Before the end of her novitiate, Sr Mary was assigned to a group of Sisters in India, to set up a native congregation of Religious Sisters. Impressing Mother Mary of Jesus with her talents, Sr Mary of the Passion was appointed Superior of the community.
After disputes arose in the community, Mother Mary of the Passion departed along with nineteen other Sisters. She made a pilgrimage to Rome and obtained the permission of Pope Pius IX to found the Missionaries of Mary, combining contemplative prayer with service. They began to provide medical care to the locals in India, especially women, who were strictly segregated from men.
Upon the suggestion of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide, Mother Mary opened a novitiate in France. Many young women were attracted to the mission. Furthermore, in 1882 the community was allowed to open a house in Rome, a significant honour.
Mother Mary met the Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor in Rome. This allowed her to return to her Franciscan devotion – she was received into the Third Order of St Francis at the Basilica of St Mary of the Altar of Heaven (Ara Coeli) on the following Feast of St Francis of Assisi.
Sadly, due to internal conflict and accusations against Mother Mary of the Passion, she was removed from office and ordered not to communicate with her Sisters in India. After an inquiry ordered by Pope Leo XIII, she was cleared of all charges and later re-elected as Superior General.
On 12 August 1885, the Sisters received official recognition as an order from the Holy See, while adopting the Rule of the Franciscan Third Order Regular, becoming the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.
The Franciscan Missionaries went sent to wherever they were needed in the world, no matter the risk. In 1900 they lost their entire community in Taiyuan, China, executed during the Boxer Rebellion. These seven Sisters were canonised in the year 2000.
Worn out by a lifetime of service, Mother Mary of the Passion died at the age of 65 in the Italian town of Sanremo. By that time, there were 2,000 Missionaries of Mary serving in 86 communities on four continents. Today, there are around 6,700 Franciscan Missionaries of Mary from 80 nations, serving in 76 countries throughout the world.