[I would like to thank Sis. Nora V. Clemente-Arnaldo for granting me the permission to publish on my blog about the life of St. Catherine Laboure. She is my mentor and former president of the Mary Help of Christians Praesidium of the Legion of Mary at the Presentation of the Child Jesus Parish. This article was published by Totus Tuus, Maria magazine on July-September 2009. She is sharing to all readers here in my blog to know about the life of St. Catherine, a quiet saint.]
by Nora V. Clemente-Arnaldo
The death of her mother brought the young Catherine untold sadness. Then, she thought of the statue of the Blessed Virgin on the mantel. Quickly, she ran and hugged the statue, “Now you will be my mother,” declared the nine-year-old Catherine.
Catherine Laboure (pronounced Lah-boray) was born on 2 May 1806 in the small peaceful French village of Fain-les-Moutiers (pronounced Fah-Lay-Mout-i-ay), a village which had more cows than people. Baptized Catherine Zoe (which means life), she was the seventh of nine children. Catherine was a pious girl, attending daily mass in the hapel of the Daughters of Charity, a mile away from her home. Her eldest sister, Marie Louise, entered the Daughters of Charity congregation at age 23.
One night, Catherine had a dream. “I was praying in the church. An old priest came to say Mass. He looked at me and I felt like running away. Then he said ‘Someday, you will meet me again. God has plans for you.’ “
When she intimated to her father her wish to be a Daughter of Charity, he put his foot down saying, “I have given Marie Louise to God. That’s enough.” Her father liked to see her married. In fact Catherine declined two marriage proposals. Hoping to discourage her from becoming a nun, Catherine’s father sent her to Paris to help her brother Charles in his restaurant. Circumstances eventually permitted her to enter the Daughters of Charity at Rue du Bac in Paris on 21 April 1830 at the age of 24. At the entrance to the house of the Daughters of Charity, she noticed the painting of a priest. She asked a sister who the priest was. “St. Vincent de Paul, our founder” was the answer. “He’s the priest I saw in my dream!” Catherine exclaimed.
In the novitiate, the days were full of work, prayer and study. Catherine was no different from the others.
The Lady Calls
On July 18, a little before midnight, she heard a child’s voice saying, “Sister Catherine, Sister Catherine, get up quickly. Come to the chapel. Our Lady is waiting for you.” She got up quickly and found a little child of about five years, radiant with light, beside her bed. She followed him to the chapel which was all lit up. The Blessed Mother sat on the chair which was reserved for the director of the Sisters. Catherine quickly knelt before the Blessed Mother on the steps of the altar and she was permitted to rest her folded hands on the knees of the Blessed Mother who told her, “Come to the foot of this altar. Graces will be showered on you and on all who shall ask them, rich and poor.” She added, “Do not be afraid of difficulties. Pray to Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament. ” When Catherine went back to her room, it was 2:00 in the morning already!
On November 27, Our Lady visited Sr. Catherine for the second time. Here’s her account:
I saw the Blessed Mother standing there, offering to God the globe of the eath which she was holding in her hands. Rays of light came out of her hands. They stood for the graces which Our Blessed Mother gives to people who ask for them. Then I saw a sort of oval shape appear around Mary. This prayer was written in it ‘O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.’ The oval turned around and on the back of it I saw the letter ‘M’. On top, there was a cross with two heart beneath. One was the heart of Jesus crowned with thorns. The other was the heart of Mary pierced by a sword. A voice said to me ‘Have a medal just like this made. People who wear it with trust, especially around their neck, will receive many graces.’
How would Sr. Catherine go about this mission of having the medal made without letting others know that she had seen the Blessed Mother? She talked to Fr. Aladel, her spiritual director, who at first was not convinced. The first medals, however, were finally made in 1832 with the permission of the Archbishop of Paris. Fr. Aladel went to give medals to the Sisters at the hospice and how he admired Catherine receiving her medal without making any show.
At this time in Paris, a cholera epidemic was killing thousands of people. The Sisters gave the medal to every one. Surprisingly, people were cured. Due to countless miraculous healings, the medal was called “Miraculous Medal”. IN 1835, there were 1.5 million medals made and distributed all throughout Europe.
The prayer on the medal “O Mary conceived without sin….” was preparing people for an important event in the church. On 8 December 1854 Pope Pius IX declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Four years later, a “Beautiful Lady” whose name was “Immaculate Conception” appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France. Everyone knew Bernadette had seen the Virgin Mary. But Catherine kept silent for 46 years about her visions of Mary. When someone would suggest that perhaps she was the Sister of the apparitions, she would just laugh.
In the meantime, Catherine was getting older and weaker. She was worried because she had not yet finished her mission. And Fr. Aladel had died already. She went to the Mother Superior, Sr. Jeanne Dufes (pronounce Doo-feh) and told her about her conversation with the Blessed Mother, “Sister Jeanne,” Catherine said, “I am not well-educated. If Mary chose me, it was so that no one could doubt that the idea came from her. A statue must be made of Mary holding the earth in her hands. Just as the Mother carries her child in her arms, so Mary presents to God all the life of the world. She invites us to love the world as Jesus loved it.”
She Kept Her Silence Till Death
In December 1876, when Catherine’s health was fast deteriorating, she predicted that she would not see the end of the year. True enough, in December 31, she received Holy Communion and while the sisters were praying the rosary with her, she passed away peacefully with a smile on her lips. Sr. Jeanne declared to the sisters, “There is no need to hide anything from you anymore Sisters. It was Sr. Catherine who saw the Blessed Virgin and who received the mission of having the Miraculous Medal made.”
Sr. Catherine was declared saint by Pope Pius XII on 28 July 1947. Her feast day is observed on November 28, a day after the feast of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.
The incorrupt body of St. Catherine Laboure encased in glass is under a side altar of Our Lady in the motherhouse chapel on Rue du Bac. The upturned hands around which a rosary is entwined are made of wax. The incorrupt hands which rested on the knees of the Blessed Mother are now enshrined in the novitiate cloister of the motherhouse. The heart of the saint was likewise put i a special reliquary made of jeweled crystal and gold and is reverently kept in the chapel at Rue de Reuilly where St. Catherine spent 46 years of her life.