Home / Pauline Perdrau, RSCJ, (1815-1895), Part three

Pauline Perdrau, RSCJ, (1815-1895), Part three

Our Lady in the House of St. John by Pauline Perdrau, RSCJ

After St. Madeleine Sophie’s death in May 1865, Pauline’s dear friend Josephine Goetz was elected superior general on September 8. In October, Pauline’s assignment changed to sub-assistant superior at the Rue de Varenne and assistant superior in 1870. The revolt of the Paris Commune against the French government beginning in March of 1871 threatened to engulf the whole city in the fighting when the Versailles government invaded to retake control. Reverend Mother Goetz and most of the community left the city for Conflans. Pauline, five sisters and an elderly religious who could not travel remained at the Rue de Varenne. There was heavy fighting in the neighborhood May 22-28. Shells landed in-side the convent walls. The Versailles army was welcomed as liberators from the Commune. They were given shelter in the garden and convent. Pauline’s lively journal told the story hour by hour.

Josephine Goetz, Pauline’s longtime friend, died in 1874, and Adele Lehon took her place as superior general on May 1. The first superior she named was Pauline, for the Externat (day school) in Marseille. On June 4, 1874, Pauline left Rue de Varenne, where she had entered as a postulant in 1844, and where she had lived all the intervening time except for the year in Italy and novitiate and probation at Conflans. She would be in Marseille for fourteen years. She was much loved as superior, known especially for her deflecting of criticism of others and insistence that as superior she not be given anything that others did not have. She was also mistress general of the school, unused to the rhythm of a day school, where, she said, she was mistress general for eight hours and prioress of a Carmel the rest of the time. One of her favorite sayings was: “God is all and all the rest is nothing, but let’s not forget that we are in the rest!” In 1880, she fell while investigating new building construction, and during recovery was visited by a number of notables, including the bishop and Don Bosco.

The idea for Our Lady in the House of St. John, Mater at the end of her life, had begun already in 1873 at Rue de Varenne. She produced a sketch for May 24, Mother Goetz’s feast day, and was encouraged to do the painting, but the next year she left for Marseille. About this time, her brother was writing a book: Les Dernières Années de la Très Sainte Vierge, an extended work of pious imagination about the elder Mary living with St. John in Ephesus, and he wanted the picture for the frontispiece of his book. She worked on it in Marseille during the vacation period of 1883 and finished it September 17. It received wide acclaim, except from one source: Mother Lehon, while not prohibiting its dissemination, did not like it. Pauline painted several others like it, and a young Mater for the Externat. The students at the Trinità wanted to meet the painter of their Mater. It would have afforded Pauline the opportunity to return to Rome, but Mother Lehon would not permit it.

In March, 1884, Pauline left the Externat at Marseille to be superior at St. Joseph, the Pensionnat outside of Marseille. There she painted yet another Mater for her new home. In 1887, she spent four months back at Rue de Varenne in Paris giving testimony for the cause of Sophie. In 1888, at the age of seventy-two, she was relieved of the office of superior to be assistant superior at Quadrille near Bordeaux. There she painted at least three more of Our Lady in the House of St. John for that house, of which St. John was patron. There she hoped to spend her last days, but the next year she moved once again, this time to the Abbaye de Layrac, where she was still assistant superior, and one of her Mater paintings adorned a corridor of the school. One of her famous visitors was Msgr. Baunard, the biographer of Sophie. Pauline’s brother visited her there often. Both were deeply committed to propagating devotion to Mater. He now retired and she living in a monastic setting, they referred to each other as Benedict and Scholastica. On August 24, 1893, Joseph celebrated his golden jubilee of ordination at Layrac. On June 24 of the next year, the golden jubilee of the original Mater was celebrated in Rome and at Layrac with great solemnity. Again there was thought to bring Pauline back to Rome by request of the students at the Trinità; this time Pauline herself declined to go.

Only in her last year, Pauline set to writing the two volumes for which she is best known, other than as painter of Mater: Les Loisirs de l’Abbaye, her recollections of life with Sophie and then with her great friend, Josephine Goetz. As Pauline lay dying, an image of Mater was brought to her room and kept close to her. She died October 5, 1895. Her funeral was celebrated by the bishop in front of the large painting of Mater in the house.

Carolyn Osiek, RSCJ