We are gathered here today to express our huge gratitude to God for having given us Sr. Paulette, as an aunt, as a sister, as the foundress of our Religious family, as a mother, as a guide and as a friend. Her life has been a blazing trail in the footsteps of Jesus whom she followed steadily, whom she loved immensely with great fidelity. This trail had its ups and downs; steep hills to climb, beautiful scenery to contemplate, periods of loneliness and trial, periods of fraternal solidarity and encouragement; it went through some desert patches but also very fertile land which flourished when she sowed the seed of Jesus Gospel.
All along she was always a steady follower of Christ, whether he would lead her on his way of the cross or teaching an attentive crowd on the mount of Beatitudes, whether he would be alone and in agony or welcomed by people he loved, he fed, he cured, and gave hope to.
She was born and bred in Mauritius in a deeply Christian family of Indian origin who had to pay the price of a certain isolation because of their faith in Christ. The family’s modest way of life and strict discipline did not prevent them from being full of joy, full of fun, with many of them taking plenty of initiatives to promote solidarity and good healthy relations between neighbours of different cultures.
Her adult life has known many different chapters as we know. In an introductory chapter in Mauritius, she was concerned with her discernment about her vocation. She finally chose to join the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa in Calcutta. The following chapter tells us about her work in the city and slums of Calcutta where she was known especially for the way she taught poor illiterate people natural methods of family planning.
I remember visiting her in Calcutta in the early seventies. She explained to me the reason why these poor people accepted her teaching “at least, they said, we are being treated not as a flock of sheep but as human beings with a dignity, persons who are responsible and able to manage our fertility”. Mother Teresa had this to say about her work: “At the same time, educators and social workers trained by Sr Paulette became concerned with the total sphere of family welfare: they have felt the need for guidance in other areas of family life such as the care and development of the child and the harmony of the parents. Natural Family Planning involves acceptance by the couple of a way of life of conjugal harmony and devotion to their children, which makes of their life something beautiful for God.”
After so many years spent with mother Teresa for whom she had become a close collaborator, she felt that what the poor needed most was to be educated – not only school education, but a human education which concerned especially family life. Hence the next chapter of her life where she felt called to leave the Missionaries of Charity and devote all her energy to the service of family life. After much searching and much seeking of advice, she finally obtained permission to found the Handmaids of the Blessed Trinity, a Religious Institute, whose principal mission would be to promote healthy and responsible family life among the poor, a family life which could breed good healthy generous persons who would be called to become in turn the backbone of a healthy responsible society.
What stands out most in the life of Sr Paulette and what we remember beyond the different projects, she managed to set up in Sahar Vasai, etc. (schools, orphanage, etc.) is her great love of Jesus, her great trust in Him when he called her to love and serve the poor. This is her banner, her trade mark. She shared deeply the love of Jesus for the poor. This is what touches us most and what attracts us most. This was, I am sure, what attracted those young Indian women who decided to join her and her Institute “the Handmaids of the Blessed Trinity” she has founded. By her dedication, Sr Paulette will help us never to “get accustomed to” great poverty, as if it were inevitable.
You have now, dear sisters, the great responsibility to “keep her flag flying”. Keep it flying in spite of all the obstacles or the difficulties you may meet on the way. Sr Paulette will always be an inspiration that will help you to follow Jesus closely in his love and service of the poor. And as Sr Paulette taught you, give priority to human education of the poor, especially family education of the poor.
Sr Paulette leaves us a precious heritage. Among the many beautiful jewels contained in that heritage, I would like to draw your attention to two of them:
a) 1st: her conviction that poor people have a great dignity, because they are human persons, they are sons and daughters of God, and they are called to grow, to flourish and become “a beautiful thing for God”.
But human persons do not grow like machines or like computers by being simply “upgraded” or by downloading a number of apps or software, etc.
Human persons grow like flowers: they need to be watered – with the water of mercy, compassion, understanding, proximity; they also need light the light of the sun, the light of love given free, of patience, of tender care and fidelity.
b) The 2nd jewel is “trust in the Lord”. Sr Paulette had the same generosity and the same trust int the Lord as the small boy who had 5 loaves and 2 fishes in his bag, when Jesus was discussing with his apostles about how to feed a crowd of 5 000 people. The little boy just gave to Jesus his 5 loaves and 2 fishes, he gave Jesus all he had and trusted that he would find a way of feeding them all.
In front of the huge crowd of poor people in Calcutta or in Sahar or in Mumbai, Sr Paulette gave Jesus all the love, all the strength, all the energy she could muster, and she trusted him, let him do the rest. You are called to do the same, dear sisters; we too are called.
Never forget that, even if many people today think that the service of the poor is something marginal which can be left in the hands of NGO’s or what they consider “illuminated eccentrics”, the future of a society depends upon the human development of poor people. Because poor people live deep human values in their dire circumstances, they have a special kind of wisdom which they can teach us, as Pope Francis insists. But they need our presence, our compassion, our time, our love to be able to grow, to develop as persons who live with dignity and have something to offer.
As we give thanks to God today for the beautiful heritage Sr Paulette left for us, let us also pray for her and for the repose of her soul. We are all sinners, and as any human being Sr Paulette needs to benefit from God’s mercy. She needs God’s mercy to start the last and eternal chapter of her life in the contemplation of the Good Lord she has served and in an intense intercession for us and especially for the sisters to whom she has entrusted her work, her congregation.
With Sr Paulette, let us also pray for the Handmaids of the Blessed Trinity who are committed to continue their journey on the road which Sr Paulette opened for them. A journey in the footsteps of Jesus and in the service of the poor she loved and gave his life for.