Catherine Laboure: Her Life Before The Miraculous Medal

Author: Sheila M. Coyle - Originally Published on: June 1, 2000 - Used with permission from the author.

Mary[....] Most of you know what the Miraculous Medal is and perhaps some of you wear one, or give the medal as a gift to your children, family or friends. There are many miraculous events and documented stories of healings and protection attributed to Mary's medal. But like all of God's plans on this earth He needs humans to cooperate in the fulfillment of destiny. Catherine Laboure didn't know what her destiny was, but by following the things of God she fulfilled His plan, and lived peacefully, at least in her heart, within the circumstances of her life.
A life which can be divided into three parts - before the apparitions of the Miraculous Medal, during, and after. This article is more concerned with her life leading to her entrance into the convent before the apparitions. For a life to be committed to God or a heavenly mission, the seeds must be firmly planted and rooted, strong enough to withstand erosion of topsoil and the changing of each particular season. What is the essence of this woman, Catherine, who chose to allow her heavenly Father to mold and shape her to do His work? We are given free will and it is not necessarily any easier for a saint to turn from wordly things and daily annoyances towards the things of God. Nor was it any easier for Catherine, perhaps born with a little extra grace to help her on her way...

Not far from Ars where the Cure d'Ars worked miracles of faith and healing, a daughter was born during the ringing of the Angelus, which itself could have been a sign of her special destiny, to Pierre and Madeleine Laboure in the village of Fain-les-Moutiers, France. There was nothing spectacular about this event except for Madeline Louise Laboure's insistence that her daughter's name be immediately entered on the civil register on the day of May 2, 1806 at six o'clock at night. Amazement stirred in the birthing room, the mother raising herself from bed within a quarter of an hour of the delivery to sign the book. Father Joseph I. Dirvin notes in his book, "St. Catherine Laboure," that this was an action previously not taken for her children, nor would she do it for the children to be born. The next day on the feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross the infant Catherine Laboure was baptized, officially entering her on the books of the Church, as well as State. How could the pious mother know, a farmer's wife, that by following her maternal instincts and a strange inner urging, she had given birth to a saint?

Father Dirvin also states that Madeleine came from cultured people and Pierre, before his marriage, had contemplated becoming a priest. Their piety was typical of the area and they were a prosperous farming family. They instilled values into their large family, their example of hard work and integrity no doubt making a firm impression on the saint, Catherine.

Not that the child was yet a saint but forces had been set in motion to make her so. And who can really understand the workings behind the making of a saint, except God? As His plan seems to be different for each one He chooses, for those who say, yes, to that plan. But there is one thing that is the same for all the saints, and that is their strength made from weakness, the great things that happened to them the result of struggles and the practice of virtue in their ordinary lives. And the great things that happened to the saints are not what we would like in our lives, or your children's, as these things were often constant frustrations in their work or prayer. Always, they turned towards the will of God. Which is where they found peace, but peace on earth is short-lived even for a saint and didn't Catherine know it. As the second daughter of the household she was called Zoe, after a saint whose feast fell on the day of Catherine's birth. Little Zoe followed her gentle mother from room to room,
learning household tasks that one day soon Zoe would take over. Father Dirvin relates that her mother noted this chosen child drawn to piety, and later on when playing with other children and a scuffle arose Catherine became the peacemaker, her final word accepted by the group. Her mother kept her two youngest children close to home as her other seven children gradually left the farm for other undertakings. All except for little Auguste, a twisted cripple, the result of a carriage accident on a happy family outing.

However, happiness does not last on earth and Madeleine Laboure died on October 9, 1815 at the age of forty-two. According to Father Dirvin, the circumstances and details of her death are unknown. All that was left of the family was Zoe, nine, her sister Tonine, seven, Auguste, six, the father Pierre and Marie Louis, a twenty year-old daughter who came home and stayed on after her mother's funeral to help her father.

The special relationship Zoe had with her mother was gone, as well as the part of her
childhood where she had been spared the agony of suffering and loss, experiences which changed her quickly into an adult. And with an adult's wisdom Zoe did an unusual thing, and that was to adopt The Blessed Mother Mary as her mother. The child, climbing upon a chair to hold a statue of Mary, exclaimed, "Now, dear Blessed Mother, now you will be my mother!" A mother who made sure that the servant of the household came upon this solemn scene, Zoe's consecration to her holy mother to be recorded in the annals of Catherine's sainthood.

In this one act of intimacy was the key to Zoe's sainthood. Maybe it was that the little girl, grownup in grief yet still so needing a mother truly saw Mary as her earthly mother. What child does not want to sit at their mother's knee comforted by her caress? It was Zoe's wish and desire to see The Blessed Mother. It was what she prayed for, certain one day it would be answered, a prayer of the heart of a child who didn't understand that her petition could be seen as an impious assumption. But it is not how her heavenly Mother saw it. Later in life when the heavenly Mother appeared to Catherine, a Sister of Charity, how did The Blessed Mother appear? Sitting on a chair. Yes, a chair of the same kind that little Zoe once stood upon, asking Mary on that day to be her mother. A mother always knows how to please each of her children, and Mary knew that these details would be pleasing to her daughter's heart. Throughout her life, it was the comfort of Mary's appearances and Her words of assurance that strengthened Catherine to fulfill her difficult, and trying mission. Yet, Catherine's road to the convent where she first saw her Mother was not an easy one. Bound by love of family and duty, Catherine stayed home to care for her father and sister, and her dying brother. As mistress of the household Catherine performed household tasks with diligence and pride, making time to pray and meditate in the local church in Fains. It was here, while praying she had a dream of an old priest serving Mass on the altar. After Mass he turned to her and said, "My child, it is good to care for the sick. God has designs on you. Do not forget it."

It was only after her sister was old enough to take over the household tasks that were left that Catherine was free to leave. Even in this she complied to her father's wish, which was for her to see some of the world by working at her brother's restaurant in Paris. She finally decided she'd had enough and entered the community of The Daughters of Charity at Rue de Bac, Paris.

Before entering the community she visited another house of the Sisters of Charity. Seeing a familiar picture on the wall she asked the nun with her, "Who is he?" The sister replied, "St. Vincent de Paul, our founder."

Struck speechless, Catherine remembered her dream in the church at Fains of the very same priest saying Mass on the altar foretelling her vocation! So you see, here we are again, the saints skipping in and out of each other's lives, giving assistance and encouragement to their fellow travelers on the path to sanctity. Catherine knew she was in the right place. Now, the apparition of The Blessed Mother which led to Catherine's mission of making The Miraculous Medal known is really another story in itself. What is important to note about the former years is Catherine's forebearance and persistence when her confessor didn't believe her, the long years of approval for the striking of the medal and the strain it put on Catherine. And her acceptance of her forty year assignment caring for aging rascals in a men's hospice, all of whom she converted before their deaths. Mostly, it is her silence that is noteworthy, never telling anyone until the end of her life that she was the sister that Mary appeared to,
the "Sister" of the Miraculous Medal.

Mary wished that her daughter live in humility.
Ah, who could be that humble except a saint? But you will see in Catherine's life that in simplicity there is sanctity, and the hope and promise of a heavenly future.           

©Sheila M. Coyle, 2000
Permission is granted to use this article for non-commercial purposes.


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