Pauline Marie Jaricot, founder of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Courtesy photo
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Early in the 19th century, a young French woman named Pauline Marie Jaricot had a vision. She saw two oil lamps -- one was empty, the other was full. She saw the full lamp refilling the empty one, without ever depleting itself. Pauline knew that the full lamp represented the missions of her day -- including the United States. The empty lamp was France, still reeling from the secularization of the French Revolution. Pauline felt called to help renew the faith of her Church at home, "filling it up" with stories of faith from the growing Church of the missions.
She went into the factories of Lyons, France and organized workers into small groups, "Prayer Circles," asking them to pray daily and sacrifice weekly for work of the Church's missionaries worldwide. Pauline's genius was that the funds be used for the universal work of the missions, not just one particular place.
From Pauline's vision came the founding of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the first of four Pontifical Mission Societies. Two-thirds of the first collections in 1822 went to support the mission Diocese of Louisiana, which spread from the tip of Florida to Canada. The rest went to China. As Catholic donors here became recipients of the faith through the prayerful generosity of others, they too reached out to others in return. In 1833, our young Church sent $6 to support missionary outreach around the world. Pauline's vision would continue to grow and enliven the world.
French missionaries were much in demand. Pauline's own brother, Phileas, was a missionary priest. As Bishop Jean-Louis Cheverus, our first bishop here in Boston was returning to France after establishing the Diocese of Boston, one of his peers was about to make a life-changing mission trip. Bishop Charles Forbin de Janson of Nancy, France sailed across the ocean, landing in New York. He spent two years visiting the Dioceses of Baltimore and New Orleans, traveling as far as Canada on horseback. He preached retreats, gave parish missions, and celebrated Mass for people who waited for months for a priest to pass by. The bishop gathered children together for faith formation and religious instruction.
When he returned to France, he met with an old friend, Pauline Marie Jaricot, to discuss the poor conditions faced by the faithful of the United States, especially the children. The bishop shared his life-long dream of wanting to help children in the missions. He was convinced that children themselves, though needing physical care, were capable of participating in the Church's mission by sharing their own faith and love. Somewhere during that conversation, the Missionary Childhood Association, the second Pontifical Mission Society, was born.
In 1843, after his eye-opening mission trip to the United States, Bishop Charles Forbin de Janson started appealing to the children of France to pray one Hail Mary every day and sacrifice to help the children of the missions by earning their own funds. They did odd jobs, gave up treats, or went without presents so that children in the United States, China, and other mission lands could receive the gift of faith through missionaries. He built this Catholic mission agency with children as the protagonists in order to build on the work of Pauline Marie Jaricot and her growing society, the Propagation of the Faith.
Today, Missionary Childhood continues to follow the plan laid out by Forbin de Janson -- the motto is still "children helping children." Young people in Catholic schools and parish faith formation programs are taught about the great needs of the world's poorest children and are invited to pray and offer their sacrifices so that children in the missions can know that God loves them. Those gifts support missionaries who are then able to share the corporal works of mercy along with the spiritual ones with mission children. These little ones then have a chance to grow up and become the people of God's intention.
Cardinal Seán has said, "It is not only the children of the missions who benefit from the work of this Church Society. Our children grow too: by giving of themselves, by learning of the world around them, and by finding that through their faith, they can make a real difference in the world."
Missionary Childhood is present wherever the Catholic Church is alive, whether a diocese is mission sending, like Boston, or mission receiving, like the 1,121 mission territories and dioceses currently supported through donors around the world.
To learn more about involving your school or parish in the programs of this official mission agency of the Church for children, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-779-3871.