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Saint Marie Eugenie

A legacy of love and service

St Marie Eugenie was a remarkable woman. From its foundation in 1839, she led the Religious of the Assumption for fifty-five years. She understood that each one of us is called by God to a unique way of service, and that hers was to inspire countless others to strive for the building of the Kingdom of God through education. 

Early life and upbringing 

Encounters with God

Anne Eugenie Milleret, later to become Sr. Marie Eugenie of Jesus foundress of the Religious of the Assumption, was born in Metz in northern France in 1817. Her family was privileged, wealthy, politically involved, and irreligious. She was baptised, however, and her first communion on Christmas Day 1829, at the age of twelve was an extraordinary spiritual experience: she had a sense of the immensity of God with “a bond of love”.

When she was thirteen, she saw her father going bankrupt, her parents separated, and she moved to Paris with her mother. Two years later her mother died of cholera and at the age of fifteen Anne Eugenie was alone. Deprived of support she wondered what the meaning of her life was, what could make her happy? The superficial and mundane life she was living was not enough, nor was a too pious Christian life, which did not put faith into action.

Discovering that “Each one of us has a mission on earth.” 

A Divine Intervention

Then God intervened. In 1836, she attended the Lenten conferences preached by Father Lacordaire a Dominican, in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. He spoke to her heart. She realised that she must give her life to God. She wrote to Fr. Lacordaire: ‘Each one of us has a mission on earth.’ But what was hers? He advised patience, reading and prayer. It was only the next year that she met Fr. Combalot, who spoke to her about the idea of founding a Congregation for the education of young girls. Enlightened by Gospel values and seeking to transform society, the project was born on 30th April 1839.

Inspired by two great friendships 

This young woman, now Sister Marie Eugénie, became a tireless foundress. She was helped by a strong friendship with one of the very first sisters, Kate O’Neill who became Sister Thérèse Emmanuel, co-foundress of the Congregation. Another close friend was Father Emmanuel d’Alzon, who had been introduced to her by Fr. Combalot before the Congregation started. So, when the relationship with Fr. Combalot became very difficult, she was able to turn to Fr. d’Alzon for help. Even though they lived 500 miles apart, he agreed to help and support her and so began a friendship and partnership that was to last until his death nearly 40 years later. She encouraged him to found a Congregation of men: the Augustinians of the Assumption, in 1845. Above all they helped each other to become holy.

The leader of a growing Congregation 

Marie Eugenie led the Religious of the Assumption for fifty-five years. Her first priority was her sisters: their happiness, their formation, their work. She was concerned for their health – more than two hundred sisters were to die before she did, often young and of tuberculosis. She was constantly travelling from community to community, encouraging, consoling and challenging. As the Congregation became known, she was invited to start more and more communities. She saw her work as being always in and for the Church, and her loyalty to it was absolute. The last few years of her life were spent in increasing retirement, as gradually her health failed. Those around her were struck by her gentleness and patience. One day she said: ‘I am looking at my Lord. It is in looking at Him that we learn how to love.’ She died, surrounded by her sisters, on the 10th March 1898. St Marie Eugenie was recognised by the Church: beatified in 1975 and canonised by Pope Benedict XVI on 3rd June 2007.