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Catechist of fire

With the transmission of the faith such an important theme for catechists, let’s discover together a catechist of fire and her pedagogy.

This French nun was a contemporary of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus.

Blessed Eugénie JOUBERT lived in advance a point dear to the heart of Pope Francis: more than teaching catechism, it’s about being a catechist!

By her faith in grace, by her intense inner life, by her kindness, by her Eucharistic life, by her union with the Virgin Mary, by her contagious joy…

To follow in her footsteps, perhaps we could choose to live one of her secrets…

To discover the pedagogy of Blessed Eugénie Joubert, continue reading this page or watch the video below (in french).

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The pedagogy of Blessed Eugénie Joubert

When she was in Le Puy and during the 4 years she spent in the Paris suburbs, Blessed Eugénie was in charge of catechesis.

The beginnings were difficult. The sisters were faced with unruly children, often left to their own devices. There were often 50 or 60 of them.

They had received no education from their families, and most of these children had difficulty at school and limited intellectual resources…

Her contemporaries were so touched by this that one of the witnesses at her beatification process said:

“I want her to be given as a model to catechists”.

This came true a few years later, in 1994, when Pope John Paul II beatified this young, unknown nun and gave her as a model to catechists:

« Sister Eugénie Joubert, a nun in the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family of the Sacred Heart, is offered to us as a living example of God’s action in a human heart. The Reign of Christ can begin in the heart of a child. Sister Eugénie understood this, and that’s why she took such care to prepare the youngest children for their first confession and first holy communion. The Church will always echo the Lord’s words: “Let the little children come to me” (Mt 19:14). (Excerpt of the homily at her beatification, 20-11-1994).

As Eugénie Joubert did not leave a short method, it is from witness accounts that we can get an idea of the pedagogy she used.

Most of the quotes come from an old book written before 1911… just 7 years after his death.

In other words, it was witnesses close to Sister Eugénie who reported these facts!

The vocabulary may seem outdated at times, but don’t forget that hese writings are over 100 years old!

Despite the difficult conditions for this young nun, the testimonies are unanimous: Sister Eugénie led the children to Jesus in a marvellous way.

What was her secret?

The historical facts recounted in the book ‘Sœur Eugénie Joubert, religieuse de la sainte Famille du Sacré-Cœur, (1876-1904)’ (Sister Eugénie Joubert, a nun of the Sacred Heart Family, 1876-1904), provide 7 good pieces of advice to help catechists.

1. Her method was kindness

This little sister who lacked affection and tenderness during her own childhood knew more than anyone how much attention and kindness opens a child’s heart.

“We still remember a poor little boy named “Buffart” who was, thanks to Sister Eugenie, perfectly prepared for his First Holy Communion. Half-paralyzed and with no other refuge than a wretched attic in which there was a pallet he could hardly leave, the poor unfortunate soon saw a ray of heaven light up his solitude.

Sister Eugenie taught him that the Blessed Virgin was his Mother, that she loved him and watched over him from Heaven.

She explained to him repeatedly that prayer always finds its way to Paradise, that the Mother of the divine Saviour is attentive to the slightest call from her children here below.

And Buffart’s heart opened up to these radiant prospects that, until then, he had not even suspected. He began to love the Blessed Virgin very much; he offered this good Mother the treasures of tenderness that his poor, wounded heart contained. Every evening, in the cold and solitude of his attic, he prayed to her with love. And when we know what marvels the Blessed Virgin accomplishes in a heart that abandons itself to Her, we understand that the parish priest, who had recommended the poor child to the Sisters, could not sufficiently admire the transformation wrought in this soul, and its love so true for Jesus and Mary.” (p. 90)

Sister Eugénie was interested in everyone with tireless devotion.  With the children, she acted as she did with the sisters of her community, which could be summed-up with the words: “LOVE MORE”.

One of her sisters said: “How good she was for us! … She was so attentive and thoughtful. As much as she forgot herself, so much the more she thought of us.”

2. Gentleness and patience

“In the catechism class, our dear Sister had the gift of captivating the children, keeping their attention and winning their love. She never rushed them; she always remained gentle and patient with them; and yet, at that time, we had some terrible ones; but she did a lot of good.” (p. 91)

Sister Eugénie, who often struggled with the vivacity of her character, tells us one of her secrets for being gentle when she writes in her spiritual notes: “Gentleness towards little children. When one of them, more turbulent than others, provokes impatience in me, make me think of the gentleness and patience that Jesus shows in spite of my unfaithfulness.”

3. A catechism based on grace

The little Sister impressed them with her intense interior life. She believed that Jesus is always with us: He can and He wants to act in us and through us.

“By dint of prayer, of interior life, Sister Eugenie succeeded in passing into the children’s hearts something of the fire of love that had set her own on fire” (p. 89)

The ascendancy she exerted over the “strong heads” in the catechism often led to her sharing them with her.

Need we add that she spared neither prayers nor sacrifices for these dear children?

When the time of the First Holy Communion approached, as one sister said, we saw Sister Eugénie praying even more fervently. “Our poor little children,” she would say, “how we must pray for them and sacrifice ourselves, in order to obtain for them the grace of a good First Holy Communion.” (p. 92)

Sister Eugénie greeted the arrival of community retreats with joy, “We are going to stock up on graces for ourselves and our grandchildren because we can only give what we have”.

She knows that without Jesus you can’t do anything good. She believed in the power of grace. She stores up grace by being closely united to Our Lord through prayer, the offering of acts of virtue and sacrifices.

4. A catechesis that is a living testimony

The children clearly felt that this young sister believed in what she taught: she lived out the truths of the faith herself.

“For a while, Sister Marie found herself with Sister Eugénie and one day said, “We were so few then, and yet the children kept coming in endless groups. Some days, the room was packed; seventy, eighty for two or three Sisters! … Well, you could hear a pin drop during catechism, and we could make those dear little ones, usually so unruly, do whatever we wanted. Amazed, the Sister to whom Sister Marie was speaking asked her, ‘Certainly,’ she said, ‘you had a secret to succeed in this way?’ ‘Our secret,’ Sister Marie replied with a smile, ‘ah! It was very simple! At the time of our departure for Aubervilliers, Mother said to Sister Eugénie and me: The success of your catechisms depends on your fidelity.’ Sister Eugénie held this word in her heart, determined to put it into practice as best she could. If you had seen her at work! I was in awe of her fidelity to the Rule, to the smallest recommendations of obedience, to the slightest customs and traditions of the Holy Family of the Sacred Heart.” (p.93)

She is not a nun on the one hand, a catechist on the other, it’s all one. The children feel that this nun believes and lives what she teaches…she preaches by example

Our blessed catechist thus reveals to us that if we do not live what we teach, it’s just beautiful speeches, but it bears very little fruit.

Children are not fooled; they seek in us witnesses, that is, people who preach through their life, through their fidelity, through their example

5. A marian catechesis

The young nun lives close to the Blessed Virgin, the saints, and the angels, and relies on them. She communicates to the children her tender devotion to the Virgin Mary. The testimony of poor little Buffart, this isolated and disabled child, clearly shows this: following Sister Eugénie’s visits, “Buffart’s heart opened to these radiant perspectives that he had not even suspected before. He began to love the Blessed Virgin very much.”

“The special aptitude that Sr. Eugenie possessed to instruct the children most deprived of intelligence had always been noticed by her sisters. There was certainly a gift from God, but as we have said, she added to it an untiring patience; she always kept the Blessed Virgin beside her ; Many times, showing her poor little ones an image of the divine Mother, she would have them repeat with her: “My good Mother, help me learn my catechism.” She had obtained permission to take them on a pilgrimage every day to Our Lady of Virtues in Aubervilliers.”  (p. 88)

The Marian catechesis of Blessed Eugénie is certainly composed of words, proposals for concrete actions, but above all, it is the fruit of a tender devotion to the Virgin Mary. Sister Eugénie turned to the Blessed Virgin in everything, especially when she was tempted to become discouraged. She would say, “With Mary, we can do everything!” She also often had recourse to angels, especially those of the children she catechised.

6. Jesus Eucharist at the heart of catechesis

Witnesses reported that Eugénie, at the age of 17, took communion every day when possible. She loved to pray before the tabernacle. Thus, Blessed Eugénie, through her Eucharistic soul, aims to establish a relationship between the child and Jesus ever present in the Eucharist.

“Sister Eugénie devoted all her energy into preparing the children for their First Holy Communion. She sometimes accompanied children who had not been able to do it before. For example, this boy named Gaston. In order to help his family survive, he became an apprentice at a caterer’s at the age of 13… Very busy with his work, he would sometimes go down to the cellar to learn his catechism. She managed to inspire in this child a great desire for his First Holy Communion and a genuine love for Jesus in the Eucharist: many times, looking at the crucifix attached to the wall, he would say, ‘When I make my First Communion, I will receive Jesus Christ whole and alive in my heart, not as He is there on the cross.” (p. 129)

She dedicates herself to ensuring that the first communion is a true encounter with Jesus, aware that it will mark the child for life. She shows the importance of a Eucharistic catechesis.

7. Transmitting the faith of the Church

“At catechism, our dear sister had the gift of captivating the children, sustaining their attention, and making herself very loved.” (p. 91)

Someone passionate is often captivating!

Someone who knows a lot makes us curious to discover it!

In her catechism notebook (between 11 and 13 years old), with a studied hand, the young Eugenie transcribed a very rich summary of the Faith of the Church.

This is a testimony of her deep interest in this formation.

Our Blessed Eugenie knew how to interest children because she was filled with the Faith of the Church.

She still gives us this advice today: we must live at the heart of the Church, transmit the faith of the Church, deepen it, know in whom and in what we believe, educate ourselves, be rooted in our faith so that it does not evaporate like dew in the sun!

A very contemporary model of a catechist for our time

Let us thank Blessed Eugénie for all the insights that her testimony offers us…

We can say that she is a very contemporary model of a catechist for our time!

Why is she so contemporary?

  – Because in our times marked by anxiety, she teaches us the path of trust.

  – Because in our times where holiness seems irrelevant, she makes the path of trust accessible through the little things of daily life.

  – Because in our times where so many families are broken, a Blessed who has experienced the suffering and struggles of many young people today will be able to reach out to those who suffer from emotional emptiness.

Blessed Eugénie invites us to be catechists, to develop our being more than our doing, to develop our spiritual life… So that the Love of God overflows from our hearts into the hearts of children and young people!

The youth will not be mistaken; they need witnesses more than teachers, or teachers who are above all witnesses.

Blessed Eugénie, help us to be catechists!

Bless us! Bless the children and young people!

Article paru dans le magazine l’épervier de novembre 2023