John Martin Moye 1730-1793
Founder of the Sisters of Divine Providence
Priest - Evangelizer - Educator - Innovator - Founder - Foreign Missionary
John Martin Moye, a French priest of Lorraine full of faith, zeal, and compassion, was struck by the poverty—especially the spiritual poverty—of poor people in out-of-the-way places. He called together a group of women, educated them, and sent them into these abandoned places with no other security than their trust in God. They came to be called Sisters of Providence by the poor among whom they lived and taught.
Having established the Congregation, Moye left everything to go to China where for ten years he risked his life to share the good News with his pagan brothers and sisters. Here he founded the Chinese Virgins, an Oriental counterpart of the European congregation. When Moye returned to France after this time, it was to look to the interior renewal of the religious he had left behind, and finally to die in exile during the French revolution while caring for soldiers sick with typhus.
Throughout this life Moye remained a critic of his times. He authored many theological works, resisted the false “Enlightenment,” brought new creative vision to old problems, and sustained an interior life with God that eventually privileged him to be called “Blessed.”
John Martin Moye, a life of risk and confidence
Born in 1730, he was the sixth child of 13 children of John Moye and Catherine Demange, farmer/post master in Cutting.
At age 15 he began studies with the Jesuits and then went on to Episcopal University of Strasbourg, also run by Jesuits.
March 9, 1754, at age 24 he was ordained a priest, following in the footsteps of an older brother who died. Two younger brothers were also ordained. What was important to him was to preach about Jesus Christ.
Assigned to St. Victor’s Parish at Metz, his preaching became suspect by other priests and he was accused of reading and being influenced by Voltaire and Rousseau.
He was sent into the French countryside and recognized immediately that the boys were at school, but the girls were uneducated and working in the fields.
With the help of a priest friend, Louis Jobal, he incorporated the assistance of a young woman, Marguerite LeComte to teach reading and catechism. Other young women joined her and two small schools were set up.
His superiors again criticized and ridiculed him for his foolishness. The Bishop stopped his project, but changed his mind and allowed John Martin to continue.
He was sent to another small village, where he met Marie Morel, an older woman who helped to train the teacher/catechists.
The women were called Sisters of Providence by the people with whom they worked.
In 1766, he set up a novitiate with the help of Fr. Dominic Lacombe as director.
In 1768 he joined the Parish Foreign Mission Society.
In 1771 John Martin left to go to China.
From 1771 to 1783 he preached and evangelized in China, writing regularly to the Sisters in Europe.
From 1773 to 1777 he visited the 2,000 Christians scattered throughout the Province of Sichuan, a territory equal to the size of France. He began the Chinese Christian Virgins, another group of dedicated women who taught and shared faith. He was persecuted and imprisoned, and finally decided to leave China in 1784 after a serious illness.
Fr. Moye returned to Paris. The French revolution raged. The sisters scattered. All priests were asked to swear an allegiance to the Civil Constitutions. He refused and fled to Trier, Germany.
While in Trier, he and several of the sisters cared for typhoid victims. While doing so he contracted the disease and died on May 4, 1793 with several sisters at his death bed.
His dying words were: “Increase and multiply if such be the will of God.”
John Martin Moye was beatified in 1954.