Life and Lessons of St. Emily de Vialar

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It can seem like there is no end to the list of Catholic saints. In fact, there are so many that some don’t get the credit that they deserve. One prime example is St. Emily de Vialar.

St. Emily de Vialar

St. Emily de Vialar’s greatest mission in life was to care for the poor. While it was perpetually plagued by the corruption and malice of others in her life, her dedication to one of Christianity’s earliest saints saw her through.

Early Life

St. Emily de Vialar was born Anne Marguerite Adelaide in 1797. A child of French nobility, she had more than enough to care for her own needs. 

Even in her youth, she shared her resources with the less fortunate. However, as a woman, her wealth was entirely controlled and generated by her male family members.

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As a noble, St. Emily de Vialar, she was sent to school. However, when she was still a teenager, her mother died, and she was brought back home to live with her father. It was during this time that she began to have spiritual experiences.

While St. Emily de Vialar was at home, her father pressured her to marry, as expected of a young woman of her station. While she had no interest in marrying, she also had little choice.

However, when St. Emily de Vialar was 35, her grandfather died and left her a fortune. She invested the money in her own estate, where she and a small number of companions cared for the area’s poor, as well as provided free education to children.

In less than a year, the number of St. Emily de Vialar’s followers had grown considerably. She had her organization officially approved by the archbishop. With this newfound support, they expanded their care to the outlying community.

Trials and Faith

In 1833, the brother of St. Emily de Vialar sent word from the French colonies in Algeria. The area was in need of social services, including healthcare.

St. Emily de Vialar purchased grounds in Algeria and sent a contingent of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Apparition. She also traveled to Rome to receive official support from Pope Gregory XVI.

During this time, the Algerian Bishop Dupach began trying to take control of the order. He waged a smear campaign against the order, including accusations that made it difficult for her to receive the Pope’s blessing.

Eventually, she and her order were officially recognized by the Pope. However, things in Algeria had deteriorated to the point that the French government ordered the congregation to end their operations there, forfeiting their lands.

Upon returning to France, St. Emily de Vialar discovered that the businessman who had been in charge of her finances while she had been in Rome had embezzled funds and falsified documents.

In addition to meaning that she had no funds to continue her charitable works, the adventure led to a lengthy legal battle. The court of public opinion had decided against her.

Many of her sisters returned to their homes. Those who stayed loyal to the order received little or no support from the French people they had served for so long.

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The order briefly settled in Toulouse, until the Bishop there also tried to take control of the order. Fearing the same situation that had so disastrously driven them from Algeria, the sisters relocated to Marseilles

Lasting Legacy

In Marseilles, St. Emily de Vialar fell in with the Bishop of that region who had his own organization – and no interest in taking over theirs.

Here, the order finally found a new home and put down roots. It was also here that St. Emily de Vialar passed away in 1856. The organization that she founded remains active to this day.

Lessons Learned from St. Emily de Vialar

St. Emily de Vialar had her share of negative experiences with patriarchal figures in her life. Her father tried to control her, and church and community leaders alike tried to take advantage of her to advance their own wealth and influence. However, her dedication to St. Joseph and trust in God inspired St. Emily de Vialar to support those in need. 

Her last words are reported to have been: 

“Love one another.”

Missionaries and volunteers at Operando are inspired by the faithful and dedication of St. Emily de Vialar. Hopefully, this article has inspired you too.

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