Saint Catharine Laboure
by Constantine Kempf, 1916
The “Miraculous Medal” of the Immaculate Conception has found devout friends throughout the Catholic world and there is no doubt that it has been the means of great blessings for many. We need not wonder, then, that the person chosen to inaugurate this devotion to Mary was favored with extraordinary graces.
This child of predilection was the venerable Sister of Charity, Catharine Laboure. Sister Catharine was born on May 2, 1806, at Fainles-Moutier, near Dijon, and in Baptism was given the name of Zoe. The world never possessed her heart. From her earlier years she felt an attraction toward the religious life. She met with an obstinate resistance from her father because, on account of the early death of her mother, she seemed to be indispensable at home. To drive the thought of the cloister out of her mind her father sent her to Paris, where one of his sons kept a restaurant. But it was in vain. Paris simply aroused in Zoe a detestation for the ways of the world. The father finally relented and at the age of twenty-four she was permitted to take the religious habit in the convent of the Sisters of St. Vincent at Chatillon-sur-Seine. She was now named Sister Catharine.
In the following year, 1831, we find her in the hospital of Enghien at Paris, where she served in the humblest duties for forty-five years until her death on December 31, 1876. It was in the second year of her religious life that Sister Catharine was thrice favored with apparitions of the Blessed Virgin, who commissioned her to have medals made representing the apparition and bearing the legend “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Her director proved rather skeptical and at first had only scoff and contempt for these extraordinary manifestations. But the conviction grew that the sister was not at all a victim of a delusion. The archbishop of Paris, Monsignor de-Quelen, soon became an advocate of the “Miraculous Medal,” which now entered upon a victorious course throughout Catholic countries. Among many other remarkable events, the sudden conversion of the Jew, Alphonse Ratisbonne, has an intimate connection with this medal.
Leo XIII, after a careful examination of the facts and a scrutiny by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, approved a Mass and an Office commemorating the apparition of the Blessed Virgin of the Miraculous Medal.” Though Sister Catharine, in accomplishing the desire of the Mother of God, did very much to spread the Miraculous Medal, she nevertheless found ways and means in her humility to keep secret from the world the fact that she was the chosen soul favored with the apparition of the Immaculate Conception. Yet, while unaware of the many extraordinary favors she had received, her sisters in religion, and all who became acquainted with her, were thoroughly persuaded of her sanctity. At her death there was great emotion among the people and two Sisters were kept busy for a day applying to the corpse of the Venerable Catharine objects of devotion brought by the great numbers of visitors.
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.
Saint Catharine Laboure, pray for us.