Pope Francis Praises Courage of 23-Year-Old Lay Founder of Mission Society

Pauline Jaricot, who will be beatified May 22, founded the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.

A detail is shown from a portrait of Pauline Jaricot (1799-1862).
A detail is shown from a portrait of Pauline Jaricot (1799-1862). (photo: Photo des Œuvres Pontificales Missionnaires de France / CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia)

Pope Francis on Monday praised the courage of Pauline Jaricot, the laywoman who founded the Society for the Propagation of the Faith when she was just 23 years old.

Jaricot will be beatified in Lyon, east-central France, on May 22. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, will preside over the ceremony.

The Society for the Propagation of the Faith is the oldest of four Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS), an umbrella group of Catholic missionary societies under the pope’s authority. The first three bodies were granted the title “Pontifical” 100 years ago.

The PMS is holding its general assembly May 16-23 in Lyon in a year with several significant missionary anniversaries.

“So you are meeting in Lyon because there, 200 years ago, a young woman of 23, Pauline Marie Jaricot, had the courage to found a work to support the missionary activity of the Church,” Pope Francis said in his May 16 message.

“A few years later,” he noted, “she started the ‘Living Rosary,’ an organism devoted to prayer and the sharing of offerings.”

“From a wealthy family, she died in poverty: With her beatification, the Church attests that she knew how to accumulate treasures in heaven,” he said.

Jaricot established the Association of the Propagation of the Faith in 1822 as a way for all Catholics to assist the missions through prayer and small donations. 

“Pauline Jaricot liked to say that the Church is missionary by nature and that therefore every baptized person has a mission; indeed, is a mission,” the Pope said.

He emphasized that the “evangelizing thrust has never waned in the Church and always remains its fundamental dynamism,” explaining that this was why he gave a “special role” to the new Dicastery for Evangelization in the new apostolic constitution, Praedicate Evangelium.

When the constitution comes into full effect on June 5, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization will be merged into the Dicastery for Evangelization, presided over directly by the pope.

Francis pointed out three aspects of the PMS that he said had contributed to the success of the missions over time, together with the action of the Holy Spirit.

“First of all, missionary conversion: The goodness of mission depends on the journey of exit from self, the desire not to center life on self but on Jesus, on Jesus who came to serve and not to be served,” he said.

“In this sense, Pauline Jaricot saw her existence as a response to God’s compassionate and tender mercy: From her youth she sought identification with her Lord, even through the sufferings she went through, in order to kindle the flame of his love in every man,” he said. 

“Therein lies the source of the mission, in the ardor of a faith that is not satisfied and that, through conversion, imitation is made day by day, to channel God’s mercy on the roads of the world.”

The second aspect, prayer, makes the first aspect possible, the Pope said.

“It is not by chance that Pauline placed the work of the Propagation of the Faith alongside the Living Rosary, as if to reiterate that mission begins with prayer and cannot be accomplished without it,” he said. 

“Yes, because it is the Spirit of the Lord that precedes and enables all our good works: The primacy is always of his grace.”

The last aspect is charity, Pope Francis said.

“Together with the prayer network, Pauline initiated a collection of offerings on a large scale and in a creative form, accompanying it with information about the missionaries’ lives and activities,” he said. 

“The offerings of so many simple people were providential for the history of the missions.”

The year 2022 is also the fourth centenary of the founding of the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, which oversaw the dramatic expansion of the Catholic world following its foundation by Pope Gregory XV. The body is known today as the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.