Saint Emily de Vialar
Foundress of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Apparition
Saint Emily de Vialar was born on September 12, 1797 at Gaillac in southern France, a small city about 45 km. northeast of Toulouse. Her family was a well-known one in the region and elsewhere; her maternal grandfather, the Baron Portal, raised to nobility by Louis XVI, became royal physician to Louis XVIII and Charles X. Emily's mother, Antoinette Portal, a very pious Christian, married the Baron Jacques de Vialar, and Emily and her two younger brothers were raised in Gaillac, near Albi, a city where their father served in the municipal administration, concerning himself in particular with that of the local hospital.
Emily was placed in a local school at the age of seven. As a child she made efforts to overcome her natural vanity, which by a special grace she recognized clearly. She did not permit herself to look in the mirror when her mother gave her a new dress, and often left aside the ornaments she was offered. When she was thirteen, she was sent to the boarding convent of Abbaye-au-Bois in Paris, returning to Gaillac at the age of 15. She had lost her mother in 1810, and for twenty years was destined to preside over the paternal household. Desiring to repair the ruins effected by the Revolution, she undertook to catechize the local children and win back souls which had lost their faith through its ravages. She refused a suitor and made a private vow to consecrate her life to God in the state of virginity, and to conserve at all times in her soul the memory of His presence. When she and her brothers inherited their grandfather's large fortune in 1832, she decided, not without sorrow, to leave her father's house. She was free to do so, since her brother Maximin had brought his new wife to take her place there. The separation from her widowed father was difficult for her; it was only in doing violence to my heart that I decided to leave him, knowing what affliction it would cause him.
She went to reside in a large edifice she bought in the same city of Gaillac, with three other young women who shared her concern for children and the sick poor. Soon they were joined by eight others who had become acquainted with their work and their aspirations. Aided by the assistant parish priest of Saint Peter's Church, whose sacerdotal soul saw the value of their mission for no one yet called it a religious institute on March 19, 1833, they received a religious habit. In June of the same year there were already twenty-six young apostolic souls being formed in Gaillac. They made religious vows two years later, in 1835. Thus was born the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Apparition, which their foundress conceived as ready to assume all works of charity, in particular the instruction of children and the care of the sick at home, in hospitals and in prisons. Father Louis Mercier continued his encouragement to the Sisters and directed them, with the support of Monsignor de Gualy, Archbishop of Albi, who in December of 1835 approved the Constitutions drafted by Mother Emily.
Earlier in that same year the Mother Superior, accompanied by three nuns, had gone to found a hospital in Algeria. Her brother Augustine had settled in its capital city and bought numerous terrains in the region, and the prevalence of malaria there decided him to build a hospital at his own expense. He needed nuns to staff it and appealed to his sister. Their charity won all hearts when a cholera epidemic broke out in Alger and the nuns worked day and night in improvised conditions, and lacking remedies. It was not long before thirty of them were working in three regions of Algeria. But many trials followed for the Sisters of the African foundation, when the bishop of Alger wanted to modify their Rule and assume government of the African group, detaching it from the Institute. They were eventually expatriated. The confidence of their Foundress in the aid of Providence did not waver when calumnies followed them to France and a member of their own Institute defrocked and opposed it, with collaborators, by several lawsuits. Through these, the Foundress lost her original fortune and the Community was reduced to extreme poverty. God would prove that He alone was its inspiration and that He would not allow His work to perish. Forced by ill-will in the region to change the site of their mother house, the Sisters went for a time to Toulouse, without finding there the stability of direction the Institute required. Finally Monsignor Eugene de Mazenod, Founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, welcomed them in Marseille and took the new Order under his beneficent protection. In 1842 Rome issued a decree praising the Institute; in 1870 it was definitively approved.
When Saint Emily died on August 24, 1856, she left as her precious heritage to the Church and its children, already forty-two foundations of her Order, not only in Western and Eastern Europe and Africa, but in the Middle East, the Far East, and Australia. Four years after her death, her mortal remains were found intact. In 1959, the Congregation was working from the base of one hundred and twenty-eight houses. Its Foundress was beatified in 1939 and canonized in 1951, by Pope Pius XII.
Saint Emily de Vialar, by Father Clement, O.D.M. (Magnificat: St. Jovite, 1993); Sainte Émilie de Vialar, by Gaetan Bernoville (Fayard: Paris, 1953); Nouvelle Revue Théologique, Vol. 68, 1946, pp. 824-825