Born in Béziers, France, on 13 November 1802 and ordained a priest in 1826, Jean Gailhac served as chaplain of the civil and military hospital in his native city, where he was able to see the difficulties faced by women who had become the victims of a life of prostitution. Gailhac arranged for many of those women to be housed in Montpellier, paying their lodging from his small salary. At the point of no longer being able to afford his growing expenses, he founded the Good Shepherd shelter for women in Béziers and later, an orphanage.
Eugène Cure, Gailhac’s classmate and close friend, and his wife, Appollonie Pelissier Cure, generously supported the many works of charity begun by Gailhac. Born on February 2, 1809 in a wealthy family of Murviel-lès-Béziers, Appollonie Pelissier was raised in a deeply Christian home. When her husband, Eugene, died in 1848, she offered herself, as well as her financial resources, to the founding of the religious community designed by Father Gailhac to run and work in the Good Shepherd women’s shelter and orphanage. On February 24, 1849, Appollonie moved to the Good Shepherd, where she and five companions became the first members of the Institute of Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary.
As co-founder and first Superior, Appollonie, now Mother Saint Jean, worked alongside Father Gailhac and directed the Institute until her death. During her time as Superior, the women’s shelter became a place to protect young girls at risk. The Sisters opened a girls’ school. Profit from the school helped pay the bills for Father Gailhac’s foundations. As the new Institute grew and embraced a variety of works outside of France, Mother Saint Jean emphasized the need to strengthen the bonds of unity in the midst of this diversity.
The Constitutions of the new Institute received diocesan approval in 1850, pontifical recognition in 1873, and canonical approval in 1880. Mother Saint Jean Pelissier Cure passed away on March 4, 1869. Father Jean Gailhac survived the first two general superiors, passing away on 25 January of 1890, at 88 years.
One of the greatest gifts of the RSHM legacy is internationality. The Constitutions remind the Sisters: “We may be sent anywhere in the world where the Institute recognizes a need. We seek to grow in the freedom that allows us to relinquish our security in order to be available for the mission“. (# 35) Since the early days of the Institute, RSHM sisters have been sent to other countries.
Today, the RSHM mission is being carried out in France, Ireland, Portugal, England, the United States, Brazil, Italy, Wales, Colombia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Scotland and East Timor. This mission has been enriched by the work with other religious congregations and with the laity in order to ensure that “all may have life.”
FOUNDATION OF THE INSTITUTE
Born in Béziers, France, on 13 November 1802 and ordained a priest in 1826, Jean Gailhac served as chaplain of the civil and military hospital in his native city.