History, Saints Stories

Algerian Martyr: Sister Paul-Hélène Saint-Raymond

Along with Marist Brother Henri Verges, Sr. Paul-Hélène Saint-Raymond became the first person in the modern era to undergo martyrdom in Algeria on May 8, 1994.

Sister was born in Paris on January 24, 1927, the eighth of ten children. She did scientific studies in Sorbonne but found her religious vocation, joining the Little Sisters of the Assumption in 1952, so she could serve the poor. Subsequently she studied to be a nurse and made her final vows in 1960.

For roughly four years, Sr. Paul-Hélène worked amongst the poor in Rouen, before transferring to Algeria, where she was head nurse at an Algiers health center. She was a whirlwind of activity so that she would exhaust her fellow sisters and had to be told to go easy on them. She became so skilled she could perform minor surgery.

Archbishop Teissier says she was someone who “chose what she wanted to do and she did it.”

Sister Paul-Hélène Saint-Raymond was born in Paris on January 24, 1927, the eighth of ten children. She did scientific studies in Sorbonne but found her religious vocation, joining the Little Sisters of the Assumption in 1952, so she could serve the poor. Subsequently she studied to be a nurse and made her final vows in 1960.

For roughly four years, Sr. Paul-Hélène worked amongs the poor in Rouen, before transferring to Algeria, where she was head nurse at an Algiers health center. She was a whirlwind of activity so that she would exhaust her fellow sisters and had to be told to go easy on them. She became so skilled she could perform minor surgery.

Reflecting on the violence that then reigned, she wrote that “one must start oneself to fight against one’s own violence.” To Msgr. Teissier who warned her of the danger all were facing, she replied, “Father, our lives are already given anyway.”

Sister, an engineer by training, had lived 30 years in the Maghreb (i.e., northern Africa from Morocco to Libya’s western border) serving the people there. Upon her retirement, rather than returning to France, she moved to the capital to assist Brother Henri Vergès in running the library, which served 1,200 young people from neighboring schools.

The French Wikipedia article on her says, “She was very helpful, unfailingly generosity, of a very logical mind, of a lively intelligence, and possessed of a great memory. However, her frankness, her outspokenness, and her lack of tact caused her relational difficulties, and her determined character sometimes made her difficult to live for the other nuns, but her humility, her fraternal spirit and capacity for dialogue promoted reconciliation. Her vast culture and knowledge also makes her known as ‘Madame Encyclopédie.’ The depth of her faith helped her to overcome her inner struggles. She remained very attached to prayer, individual and community.

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