The Foundress

Eugénie Smet was born in Lille, northern France on 25th March 1825, and educated, as a boarder, at the Convent of the Sacred Heart.

On her return to her family, who had moved to Loos, a village near Lille, she was not content to just occupy herself with « womanly pursuits » but became more and more involved in charitable activities in and around Loos as well as further afield through fund raising for a variety of charitable associations. She experienced an overwhelming desire « to make her life a thanksgiving to the Father and to be the providence of Providence » dedicating herself to serving the needs of others in all that would give greater glory to God.

Young Eugenie Smet

Even before the foundation of the Institute , following an inspiration which came to her on the 1st November, two years before the foundation, she began an association of prayer for the Holy Souls which attracted many followers.

This initial inspiration led her on to a further development with the foundation of the Institute dedicated to the « most abandoned of this world and the next ». Various events led her to Paris where the Institute had its humble beginning on the 19th January 1856.

With her strong faith in providence, her inspiration was to respond to needs as they presented themselves rather than to focus on one specific ministry . This was rather unusual given that most congregations had their orientation towards a specific ministry.

An unexpected request was seen by her, and the first sisters, as a sign that God was sending them to care for the sick poor in their homes. She encouraged the sisters to help in all manner of good.

Later as Mary of Providence

Yet another unexpected call was received just 11 years after the foundation. A request was received from the Jesuits in Shanghia to come to China in order to form and guide young women for pastoral work in the mission to an ever widening apostolate in order to « help in all manner of good ».

A significant event for the young Institute was the adoption of the Rules and Constitutions of the Society of Jesus which gave structure and life to her founding inspirations.

On her death in 1871, at the early age of 45 years, the Institute was already established in France, Belgium and China.

The request to found a community in the UK came at around the time some sisters were going to China. Shortly after her death a community was established in London in 1873.

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