Saint Emily de Rodat

Marie Guillemette Émilie de Rodat (St. Emily de Rodat)…

was born September 6, 1787, at Druelle, Rodez, France, into a well-to-do family. Because of the unsettled political situation in the country, at the age of 18 months, she was taken to live with her maternal grandmother Madame de Pomayrols, at Château Ginals. During her time there, the French Revolution broke out, but the Château, which was in a very remote area, did not suffer seriously.

Emily grew up a pious young woman, but not without the usual difficulties. She tended to be a bit willful and an occasional childhood temper tantrum was not unheard of. A story is told of a young cousin trying to kiss her and she promptly slapped his face. As she grew into her teens, her devotion cooled a bit, and she became immersed in social activities. She would recite her prayers as quickly as possible. She also sought to change confessors because she felt that her’s was a bit too strict. Later in her life, speaking of her most “worldly” period, she confessed, “I was bored only once in all my life, and that was when I had turned away from God.”

After the Revolution, Madame de Pomayrols retired to Villefranche and Emily returned to Ginals. She found her life more austere and monotonous and experienced a profound spiritual awakening. God called her, but He let her find out for herself why He wanted her. She sensed that her vocation was to educational work. In 1804 she moved back to Villefranche and worked with the sisters at Maison Saint-Cyr where she had gone to school. She became a lay teacher and then she tried religious life, actually entering three different communities in her search for God’s will. None of them had exactly what she wanted.

However, one spring day in 1815, Emily overheard some mothers complaining that they could not send their daughters to school because the tuition was beyond their means. At once she was inspired: “I will teach poor children!” It was finally then that she found her vocation; she and some companions opened a school for the poor children of Villefranche. Abbé Marty, the spiritual director of Maison Saint-Cyr, encouraged and helped Emily. He wrote a rule modeled on that of St. Augustine and helped her to expand the focus of this new community, known as the Sisters of the Holy Family of Villefranche. The sisters made their first perpetual professions in 1820 and were formally approved by the bishop of Rodez in 1832.

Against tremendous odds, despite her own uncertain health (cancer and a constant ringing in her ears), plus a period of spiritual anguish, Mother Emily established foundations wherever help was sought. Schools were her principal labor, but the Holy Family sisters gradually expanded their efforts to cover most of the corporal works of mercy: visiting the jailed, sheltering orphans, and caring for endangered women. Along with her convents of very active sisters, she also established groups of contemplative nuns to pray for the aims of their congregation.

She had great faith in God’s providential care and money and materials seemed to miraculously appear when needed. She suffered from spiritual dryness occasionally, but her faith in God helped her to remain cheerful and optimistic no matter what difficulty presented itself. Even in the face of ridicule and criticism, she maintained a gentle and compassionate spirit. The community flourished rapidly and by 1852 there were 32 convents which ran schools, as well as 5 contemplative communities. The sisters also set up orphanages and did extensive work with the poor.

Afflicted with cancer, she died at the age of 65 on September 19, 1852. She was canonized in 1950. Emily is a great example to us of perseverance and trust in God. She experienced and sometimes gave in to the same temptations we all do as we grow up. Her adult life was filled with uncertainties, disappointments, rejections and seeming inadequacies. But, Emily continued to trust in God’s love and care for her and she was able to be His instrument of blessing to so many of His people. Emily’s diary was found after her passing, revealing that she was a mystic with tremendous healing powers.

Mother Emily was also known for her pithy quotes:

“It is good to be an object of contempt,” she said at times when many people were criticizing her. When her secretary objected to the criticism, Emily retorted, “don’t you know that we are the scum of the earth, and that anyone is entitled to tread on us?” (So much for human pride!)

“There are some people,” she once observed, “who are not good for a convent, but a convent is good for them; they would be lost in the world and they don’t do much good in a convent, but at least they keep out of mischief.”

“Confession,” she admonished one nun, “is an accusation, not a conversation.”

“Keep your enthusiasm,” she wrote to one discouraged postulant. “Be brave. Put all your trust in God. And always maintain a holy cheerfulness.”

Emily certainly was a person of character and strength. We are asked to follow in her footsteps and model our commitment to the Christian life on her life. Just as Emily, God gives each of us talents for the good of the People of God, and He expects that those talents will produce great fruit.

Saint Emily, pray for us!


Life Site Ministries

A Sinner’s Guide to the Saints
Saint Keteri Tekakwitha Parish (Irondequoit, NY) website




A special presentation about the life and mission of St. Emily de Rodat, by the sixth grade students of St. Emily School, September 2018.