THE EARLY LIFE OF SAINT CATHERINE LABOURÉ
SANCTITY THROUGH LOVING SERVICE
The fact that Saint Catherine rested her hands on the lap of the Blessed Mother
did not make her a saint. She personally worked no miracles, nor did she practice
externally heroic charity like other great saints. She was not materially poor
as were the children of Fatima and Saint Bernadette... She sprang from upper middle
class parents among the meadows and vineyards of Burgundy, France. Her father
was an educated man and an excellent farmer living in the village of Fain-les-Moutiers
not far from Djon. Her sanctity consists in half a century of faithful service
as a simple Daughter of Charity.
CHILD OF MARY
As the evening Angelus sounded, Catherine was born of Peter and Louise Labouré
on May 2, 1806. She was the ninth child of a family of eleven. Fifteen minutes
after her birth, her name was entered on the city records. The next day, she
was baptized on the feast of the Finding of The True Cross. It seems more than
a coincidence that Catherine was born at the ringing of the Angelus; surely
it was God's charming touch—the heralding by our Lady's bells of the saint
who was to be so highly favored by Mary. Nor was it an accident that Catherine's
name received the prompt attention of the world... certainly it was her holy
mother's intuition that led Louise Madeleine Laboure to call attention to her
special child. Even the feast of Catherine's baptism was prophetic, for
Catherine was to find the cross in every turn
of her life, to have deep devotion for it, and to see a mysterious vision
of the cross.
When Catherine was nine years old, her mother died. After the burial
service, little Catherine retired to her room, stood on a chair, took our Lady's statue from the wall, kissed it, and said: "Now, dear Lady, you are to be my mother."
GOD HAS DESIGNS
After living a year in Paris with her Aunt Margaret, Catherine came back to
her father's home to supervise the household. She was her father's favorite
child, and this efficient, stern, upper middle class farmer depended on her.
On January 25, 1818, Catherine received her First Holy Communion. From that
day on she arose every morning at 4:00 a.m., walked several miles to church in
order to assist at Mass, and to pray.
One day she had a dream in which she saw an old priest say Mass. After Mass,
the priest turned and beckoned her with his finger, but she drew backwards,
keeping her eye on him. The vision moved to a sick room where she saw the same
priest, who said: "My child, it is a good deed to look after the sick;
you run away 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.
Sometime later, while visiting a hospital of the Daughters of Charity, she
noticed a priest's picture on the wall. She asked a sister who he might be,
and was told: "Our Holy Founder Saint Vincent de Paul." Catherine had seen this same priest in the dream.
SISTER CATHERINE, DAUGHTER OF CHARITY
In January of 1830, Catherine Laboure became a postulant in the hospice of
the Daughters of Charity at Catillon-sur-Seine. Three months later, she was again
in Paris, this time to enter the Seminary at the Mother House of the Daughters
of Charity. Shortly after she entered her new home, God was pleased to grant
her several extraordinary visions. On three consecutive days she beheld the
heart of Saint Vincent above the reliquary in which his relics were exposed, each
time under a different aspect. At other times, she beheld our divine Lord in
front of the Blessed Sacrament; this would occur especially during Mass when
he would appear as he was described in the liturgy of the day.
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MARY APPEARS TO SAINT CATHERINE LABOURÉ
THE FIRST APPARITION
On the eve of the Feast of
Saint Vincent de Paul, July 19, the Sister Superior
spoke to the novices about the virtues of their Holy Founder and gave each of
them a piece of cloth from his surplice. Catherine earnestly prayed to Saint Vincent
that she might see the mother of God with her own eyes.
She was convinced that she would see the Blessed Virgin Mary that very night. In her conviction, Catherine fell asleep. Before long, a brilliant light and the voice of a child awakened her. "Sister Labouré, come to
the Chapel; the Blessed Virgin awaits you."
Catherine replied: "We shall be discovered."
The little child smiled, "Do not be uneasy; it is half past eleven, everyone
is sleeping... come, I am waiting for you." She rose quickly and dressed.
The hall lights were burning. The locked chapel door swung open at the angel's
touch. Amazed, Catherine found the Chapel ablaze with lights as if prepared
for midnight Mass. Quickly she knelt at the communion rail, and suddenly, she
heard the rustle of a silk dress... the Blessed Virgin, in a blaze of glory, sat
in the director's chair. The angel whispered: "The Blessed Mother wishes
to speak with you."
Catherine rose, knelt beside the Blessed Mother and rested her hands in the
Virgin's lap. Mary said: "God wishes to charge you with a mission. You will be contradicted, but
do not fear; you will have the grace to do what is necessary. Tell your spiritual
director all that passes within you. Times are evil in France and in the world."
A pain crossed the Virgin's face.
"Come to the foot of the altar. Graces will be shed on all, great and
little, especially upon those who seek for them. You will have the protection
of God and Saint Vincent. I always will have my eyes upon you. There will be much
persecution. The cross will be treated with contempt. It will be hurled to the
ground and blood will flow." Then after speaking for some time, the Lady
like a fading shadow was gone.
Led by the child, Catherine left the chapel, marched up the corridor, and returned
to her place in the dormitory. The angel disappeared and as Catherine went to
bed, she heard the clock strike two in the morning.
Catherine lived the normal life of a novice of the Daughters of Charity until
Advent. On Saturday, November 27, 1830, at 5:30 p.m., she retired to the Chapel
with the other Sisters for evening meditation. Catherine heard the faint swish
of silk... she recognized our Lady's signal. Raising her eyes to the main altar,
she saw her beautiful Lady standing on a large globe.
The Virgin spoke, this time giving a direct order: "Have a medal struck as I
have shown you. All who wear it will receive great graces."
Catherine asked how she was to have the medal struck. Mary replied that she
was to go to her confessor, a Father Jean Marie Aladel saying of this saintly
priest: "He is my servant." Father Aladel at first did not believe
Catherine; however, after two years, he finally went to the archbishop who ordered
two thousand medals struck on June 20, 1832. When Catherine received her share
of these first medals from the hands of the priest she said: "Now it must
The spread of a devotion to the medal urged by Saint Catherine was carried out
so swiftly that it was miraculous itself.
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THE SILENT LIFE OF SAINT CATHERINE LABOURÉ
THE SILENT SAINT
We might expect that praise and prominence would be the lot of one so favored
by heaven. But she sought none of it; rather, she fled from it. She wanted to
be left alone to carry out her humble duties as a Daughter of Charity. For over
forty years, she spent her every effort in caring for the aged and infirm, not
revealing to those about her that she had been the recipient of our Lady's medal.
The Sisters with whom she lived held her in the highest esteem, and each one
longed to be her companion.
In 1876, Catherine felt a spiritual conviction that she would die before the
end of the year. Mary Immaculate gave Catherine leave to speak, to break the
silence of forty-six years. To her Sister Superior, Catherine revealed the fact
that she was the sister to whom the Blessed Mother appeared. On the last day
of December 1876, Saint Catherine passed on—once again to the hands
of Mary—this time, however, in heaven.
Today her beautiful remains still lie
fresh and serene. When her body was exhumed in 1933, it was found as fresh as the day it was buried.
Though she had lived seventy years and was in the grave for fifty-seven years,
her eyes remained very blue and beautiful; and in death her arms and legs were
as supple as if she were asleep. Her incorrupt body is encased in glass beneath
the side altar at 140 Rue du Bac, Paris, beneath one of the spots where our
Lady appeared to her.
In the Chapel of the Apparition you can gaze upon the face and the lips that
for forty-six years kept a secret which has since shaken the world.
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