Saint of the Week: St. Catherine Labouré (November 25)
The fact that St. 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 Bernadette…. She sprang from upper middle class parents among the meadows and vineyards of Burgundy, France. Her father was educated man and an excellent farmer-living in the village of Fain-les-Moutiers not far from Dijon. Her sanctity consists in half a century of faithful service as a simple Daughter of Charity.
Catherine was born of Peter and Louise Laboure on May 2, 1806. She was the ninth child of a family of eleven. Fifteen minutes after her birth, her name, Zoe Laboure, was entered on the City records. The next day, she was baptized on the feast of the Finding of The True Cross.
When Catherine was nine years old, her saintly mother died. After the burial service, little Catherine retired to her room, stood on a chair, took Our Lady’s statue from the wall, addressed it, and said: “Now, dear Lady, you are to be my mother.”
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 upon her. On January 25, 1818, Catherine received her First Holy Communion. From that day on she arose every morning at 4:00am, walked several miles 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 sister who he might be, and was told, “Our Holy Founder St. Vincent de Paul ‘; This was the same priest Catherine had seen in the dream.
In January of 1830, Catherine Laboure became a postulant in the hospice of the Daughters of Charity at Catillion-sur-Seine. Three months later she was again in Paris, this time to enter 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 St. Vincent above the reliquary in which his relics were exposed. 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.
On the eve of the Feast of St. 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 St. Vincent that she might with her own eyes see the mother of God.
She was convinced that she would see the Blessed Virgin Mary that very night; and in her conviction, Catherine fell asleep. Before long, she was awakened by a brilliant light and the voice of a child. “Sister Laboure, 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 light, 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 look of pain came to 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 St 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.
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. Mary’s silken robe shone with the whiteness of dawn. The neck was cut high, and the sleeves were plain. A pure white veil fell to her feet, and beneath the veil she wore a lace fillet binding her hair. A small golden ball was in her hands, which she offered to God with her eyes Heavenward. Suddenly, Mary’s hands were resplendent and flashed in a brilliant cascade of light. The flood of glory was so bright that the globe on which Mary stood was out of sight. Catherine understood that the rays symbolized the graces shed on those who seek them; gems on Our Lady’s fingers which did not have rays symbolized the graces for which souls forgot to ask. Then the ball vanished. Mary’s arms swept wide and down and an oval frame of words surrounded her head: “O Mary,conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
The Virgin spoke again, this time giving a direct order: “Have a medal struck in this form. All who wear it will receive great graces.” Then the vision of the Virgin turned completely around and on the other side appeared a large letter “M” with a cross above it. The letter rested on a bar beneath which appeared two hearts. The first heart was encircled by a crown of thorns; the second was pierced by a sword. The explanation is simple. We are Christians, purchased by a God who was crucified in the very presence of his own mother, the Queen of Martyrs.
Catherine asked how she was to have the medal struck. Mary replied that she was to go to her confessor, 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 be propagated.” The spread of a devotion to the medal urged by St. Catherine was carried out so swiftly that it was miraculous itself. The formal name of “Medal of the Immaculate Conception” was soon forgotten It was the “Miraculous Medal” even in those days, for the power working through it seemed to be truly miraculous. From that time on, it would never be called anything else.
For over forty years, Catherine 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. 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, St. Catherine passed.
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.
St. Catherine Labouré, pray for us! Read more about her and the Miraculous Medal at the Association of the Miraculous Medal.
Biography adapted from this parish website.