By Rev. Harold Rahm, S.J.
A most unforgettable impression of Paris is the Seminary (as the Sisters of Charity call it) at 140 Rue du Bac. There you can gaze into the most beautiful blue eyes… of a woman who kept a secret for 46 years: Catherine Labouré.
The fact that she rested her hands on the lap of the Blessed Mother did not make her a saint; her sanctity consists in half a century of faithful service as a simple Daughter of Charity. She ist not untouchable, like many Saints; she personally worked no miracles, nor did she practice external heroic charity like Saint Martin de Porres. She was not materially poor as were the children of Fatima and Bernadette… she sprang from upper middle-class parents among the meadows and vineyards of Burgundy, France. Her father was an educated man and excellent farmer living in the village of Fain-les-Moutiers, not far from Dijon.
Body Never Decayed
On 28 May 1933, Pope Pius XII beatified Cathedrine Labouré. Her beautiful body was exhumed and found as fresh as the day it was buried. Though she had lived 70 years and was in the grave another 57 years her eyes remained very blue and beautiful; and in death, her arms andl egs were as supple as if she were asleep. Her incorrupt body is now encased in glass beneath the side altar at 140 Rue du Bac, Paris, beneath one of the spots where Our Lady appeared to her there. Her marvelous blue eyes attract visitors from every corner of the globe.
God chose Catherine Labouré to usher in the Marian age.
As the evening Angelus sounded, she was born of Peter and Louise Labouré on 2 May 1806 – the ninth of a family of 11 children. Fifteen minutes after her birth, her name was entred on the City records. The next day, she was baptized on the Feast of the Finding of the True Cross. The Angelus, the month of May, and the Feast of the Finding of the True Cross were not coincidence; in fact, there is no coincidence with God – it is all a part of His plan, a signpost he places along the way of a soul. It was not merely an accident that Catherine was born at the ringing of the Angelus; it was God’s charming touch – the heralding by Our Lady’s bells of the saint who was to usher in the Marian age. Nor was it an accident that Catherine’s name received the prompt attention of the world… surely, it was her holy mother’s intuition that led Madeleine Louise Labouré to call attention to her elected child. Even the feast of Catherine’s baptism was prophetic, for Catherine was to find the Cross at every turn of her life, was to have deep devotion for it, and was to see a mysterious vision of the Cross.
When Catherine was 9, her saintly mother passed on to heaven. After the burial service, little Catherine retired to her bedroom, stood on a chair, took Our Lady’s statue from the wall, kissed it, and said: “Now, dear Lady, you are my Mother.”
After living a year with her Aunt Margaret, Catherine came back to her father’s farmhouse as mistress of the household. She was her father’s favorite child, and this efficient, stern, upper middle-class farmer depended upon her. On 25 January 1818, Catherine made her First Holy Communion; and from that day forward rose at 4 a.m., walked several miles to Mass, meditated, and ruled the home with charm.
Not long after, she went to the village church and, in a dream, saw an old priest saying Mass. After Mass, the priest turned and beckoned her with his finger, but she drew backwards, keeping her eyes on him. The vision moved to a sickroom where she saw the same priest, who said: “My child, it is a good deed to look after the sick; you run away from me now, but one day you will be glad to come to me. God has designs on you – do not forget it.” Later, she awoke, not knowing the significance of the dream.
As is the European custom, her father invited various suitors to seek her hand in marriage and always her reply was: “I shall never marry; I have promised my life to Jesus Christ.” She prayed, worked, and served the family well until she was 22, when she asked her father’s permission to become a Daughter of Charity. Peter flatly refused. To destract her, he sent her to Paris to work in a coffee shop run by her brother Charles. During the entire year, she retained her resolve to become the bride of Christ.
Her aunt, Jeanne Gontard, came to her aid and enrolled Catherine in the finishing school she directed at Chatillon. Since Catherine was a country girl, she was miserable at this fashionable school. One day, while visiting the hospital of the Daughters of Charity, she noted a priest’s picture on the wall. She asked the nun who he might be, and was told: “Our Holy Founder, Saint Vincent de Paul.” This was the same priest Catherine had seen in the dream. Later, after much persuasion from her Aunt Jeanne, Peter granted permission for his daughter to enter the convent.
Triumph Amidst Evils
On 22 January 1830, she entered the Probation House of the Sisters of Charity and, before long, donned the novice uniform which looks like the little Dutch Cleanser girl. On 21 April, with the other young ladies, she officially became a novice at the Rue du Bac Mother House. This was just after the Reign of Terror in France, where sacrileges were committed in the name of freedom. Licentious women danced on the main altar of Notre Dame. Even the body of St. Genevieve, the Patroness of France, was desecrated. Saint Vincent de Paul’s body had been hidden, but 4 days after Catherine’s entry into the Mother House, his remains were transferred back to his own church with marvelous processions and ceremonies.
During the next 9 days as she prayed in chapel, Saint Vicent’s heart appeared to Catherine. It would come in a flesh-white color, signifying peace; it appeared as fiery red, signifying charity, and in dark red hues, signifying suffering. Catherine understood that Saint Vincent was deeply afflicted at the sorrows that were to befall France, but that he also was consoled because he had obtained from God, through the interecession of Mary, the assurance that his two families should no perish in the midst of these sorrows and that God would make use of them to reanimate the faith. Actually, God was preparing her soul for greater visions.
To be continued