The 87th anniversary of Jeanne Bigard's death is celebrated on 28 April, foundress of the Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle
A character portrait
The end of April offers the Church the opportunity to celebrate two particular events. Sunday April 25, Good Shepherd Sunday, is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations priests and women religious, supported by the Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle. The 87th anniversary of Jeanne Bigard's death is celebrated on 28 April, foundress of the Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle.
Looking closely at the influence of this Society from its origins to today, some remain surprised and wonder what were the most relevant character traits that allowed this Lady, so fragile, to found such an important and vital Society for the survival of the Church even today.
First of all, it must be recognized that because of her family and the education she received from her mother Stephanie, Jeanne Bigard was an ordinary person like many others, but she was also a convinced Christian. She is deeply pious and animated by a lively enthusiasm for the spiritual life for the Church which made her capable of facing any obstacle to defend her service. As a baptized person, she felt responsible for the needs of the Church, especially in that period of discovery and evangelization of new territories by the European missionaries. The urgency was to support the mission of these apostles of the Gospel with prayer, sacrifice and offerings. Jeanne Bigard, as her mother, was animated by a great generosity combined with a radical spirit of sacrifice. Together with her mother, she sacrificed their material possessions and their own life to make themselves available to the missionaries of the Church. Despite the noble origins of her and her name, she chose to lead a modest and poor life to save resources and dedicate herself to her best to the needs of missionaries. Since she considered her riches futile, she stripped of everything in favor of the Society founded.
This spirit of sacrifice, which was in her like a natural virtue that unfolded without any particular effort, gave her an unbeatable tenacity and perseverance in her decisions and actions. When she was faced with an action to take, Jeanne Bigard was not influenced by anything. For this reason, she was affectionately nicknamed "iron head". Despite her frail health, she was gifted with a strong and firm will, supported by a dynamism and a fighting spirit that defied any test. If she wanted something, she wanted it all and immediately. "Calmness - said Jeanne Bigard at the end of her conscious life - is what I lacked the most, with all that goes with it: patience, acceptance of delays, ability to wait ..." (note 1).
She had a vigorous temperament and was very strict with herself and with others. She was often surprised and sometimes offended, to the point of becoming intractable, when those who knew the Society she founded and benefited from it, did not show any desire to make it known or worst spoke badly about it. To this regard, she did not hesitate to make severe remarks in a letter addressed to a Father of the Foreign missions: "I take the liberty of making a very serious recommendation: when you speak of us to your confreres, tell them in no uncertain terms, not that we take care of the missions or that we are benefactors of Japan or of this mission, but rather that we are founders of a special Society, duly approved by the Holy Father and by a large number of bishops: or the Society of St. Peter for the formation of an indigenous clergy in the Missions".
To an Apostolic Vicar, whose seminarians showed a certain ignorance about the Society, she wrote: "Excellency, I would to point out that your good seminarians do not seem to have a complete understanding of the Society of St. Peter, of its purpose and of the role it plays for them ... Please, your Excellency, take advantage, with your usual kindness, of your first visit to these good seminarians to talk to them about the Society of St. Peter and the purpose of this institution. They will pray for us even more, and the Society of St. Peter will draw from it that powerful aid it needs to carry out God's plans and the wishes of the Holy See".
Daughter of a magistrate and assisted by her mother who was the daughter of a solicitor, Jeanne was very smart in business affairs. Thanks to a solid organizational mind and to an innate practical sense, she directed her Society with skill and insight". When she thinks she has to say or do something, nothing or no one discourages or frightens her. She is not afraid of anything. It is with this method that she overcame many obstacles and difficulties, and it is undoubtedly for this reason that the Society of St. Peter the Apostle owes its status of a Pontifical Society" (note2).
In addition to her character traits, Jeanne Bigard, as her mother, was animated and guided by a solid faith, like a rock, an endless passion for the Church. Her life is impregnated with this faith and it is this love which constitute the source of her thoughts and of all her actions. It is this evangelical attitude that is expected of every baptized person: coherence between faith and concrete life, which are one and the same reality. Jeanne lived what she believed and she believed what she lived. God was not an abstract, distant and inaccessible reality for her, but a concrete being, a close Father who interferes in our daily life and walks with those who accept to do his will. She was convinced she had received from him the call to dedicate herself to the indigenous clergy in the mission territories. In the letter written by Mgr. Cousin who asked for help to create a Seminary in Japan, Jeanne who already posed the question of her vocation, of the meaning to give to her life, discovered immediately a concrete sign of the Lord, a call to an apostolate to devote herself to, to be the mother of a multitude of Priests. As her vocation was now clear, Jeanne committed herself wholeheartedly, with her whole soul, with her whole life. Jeanne's happiness remained immeasurable, eternal. Wanting what God wants is the only freedom that leads to true happiness.
May the intercession of Jeanne Bigard, who dedicated herself so much to God and to the Church, enlighten the young people of today who are looking for a point of reference and a way to understand God's will for their life and inspire courage and strength to commit oneself unreservedly to the service of the Work of Salvation of humanity.
P. Guy Bognon, General Secretary of Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle.
1. Paul Lesourd, L’holocauste de Jeanne Bigard, Librairie Plon, Paris, 1938, note (2) p. 17.
2. Idem, p. 147-148.