Thursday, 21 May 2015
Sister Saint-Pierre and the work of reparation : a brief history by the Very Rev. P. Janvier ... Translated by Miss Mary Hoffman Chapter 1. Her Youth
IT is to Catholic Brittany, strong in faith and great in heroic virtues, that we are indebted for having given us Marie de Saint-Pierre. She was born at Rennes on the 4th of October, 1816. At her baptism she was given the same patrons as her father and mother— St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and St. Francis of Assisium : Frangoise-Perrine being derivatives of these names. Her father, Pierre Elnere, was a locksmith by profession. He married Francoise Portier, who bore him twelve children. This couple were fervent Christians. The father daily assisted at Mass, every evening visited the Blessed Sacrament, and during the day still found time to pray. He early taught his little daughter the practice of the Way of the Cross, and the mother instilled in her a tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Little Perrine was often sick and had a disposition difficult to manage. But, thanks to the guidance of her pious parents, she early learned to govern it and to overcome her faults. From childhood she had a deep abhorrence of sin, and bitterly reproached herself for the slightest imperfections. Her eldest sister, finding her one day in tears, asked her the cause of them. "I weep for my sins," she artlessly answered.
Another day a poor blind man, miserably dressed, passed before the house. He had lost his way, and paused at the corner of the street, waiting for some charitable hand to set him right. A secret instinct warned the child that here was an occasion to curb her pride and self-love. Suddenly darting out, she took his arm, and, giving him her hand, she led him whither he wished to go. Whenever anything disagreeable happened to her she checked her impatience, saying : " My God ? I offer thee this in expiation for my sins." She had such a dread of evil that, having at the age of eight years an uneasiness respecting a little story-book that had been loaned to her, she carried it to her parish priest and asked his advice. When she learned from him that, without being bad, it was a frivolous book, she immediately returned it without having read the first page. The remembrance of the sufferings of our Lord deeply affected her. She thought her sins the cause of his sorrows and pains; confused and contrite, she would say: " O my Saviour! didst thou see even then, during your Passion, that I would one day be converted and belong entirely to thee?" She often made the Way of the Cross, kissing the earth at each Station. But her chief attraction was mental prayer. At first, not knowing the method, she recited her prayers with great attention, waiting till God should make known to her this holy exercise. She had not long to wait. When she was but ten years old she heard a sermon on the subject which shed a bright light on her mind and heart, and soon made her proficient in this science of the saints.
At twelve years of age she lost her mother. Like St. Teresa at the same age and under similar circumstances, she ran in her wild grief to Mary, threw herself at her feet, and implored her to be a mother to her in the place of the one that had been taken from her. The Queen of Heaven adopted, in fact, this innocent soul, and gave her through all her life sensible proofs of her maternal care. As her father was burdened with a large family, he confided her to the care of two aunts, who were persons of great piety. They kept a large store for the sale of seamstresses' work, and had a number of young women in their employ. There Perrine made new progress in virtue, was a model to her companions, and even to several of them became a preceptress of the Interior Life, striving to make them love and practise mental prayer, in order to be more united to God. She seized every opportunity of devoting herself to works of mercy, such as succoring the poor and visiting and assisting the dying. Near to Mr. Elnere's house a poor family came to live, consisting of three members—the father (a day-laborer), his blind wife, and a little boy four or five years old. The young girl looked upon them as the image of the Holy Family of Bethlehem. She conceived for them a great affection, and 6pared no care to relieve their poverty; she often visited them, instructed them in their religion, made them approach the Sacraments, and, when there was any disturbance, restored peace in the household. Soon after she devoted herself to nursing a poor young woman, who died in her arms. Receiving her last sigh, she hesitated not with her own hands to prepare her for burial, notwithstanding the fear she had of death, and to which she had never before been in such close proximity.
For a moment, however, this soul so pure was on the point of being seduced by the frivolities of the world. She at first relaxed her fervor and had the misfortune to make a few concessions to vanity. God, in love and mercy, punished her. Pressed by remorse, and having, as a member of the confraternity, to prepare herself for a festival of the Blessed Virgin, she undertook to make a good and serious retreat. She then felt the interior workings of grace, and came forth from these exercises completely changed, resolved more than ever to live for God alone. The desire for a religious life which she had already experienced developed itself strongly in her heart. It was the sole object of her thoughts, of her burning desires. For this end she imposed fasts on herself and made pilgrimages in honor of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph. She also addressed herself to St. Martin, the illustrious Bishop of Tours, for whom she had a great devotion, supplicating him to receive her as a religious in his diocese, though she did not then know that any Carmelites were there.
Still she was agitated by perplexities. Her confessor, who was a man of God, wished to test her vocation. For five years he made her undergo numerous and painful humiliations. At the end of this time she was inspired to make a pilgrimage to a celebrated chapel of the Holy Virgin in the vicinity of Rennes—Our Lady of La Peiniere. There she clearly perceived that God called her to serve him by the practice of religious vows. All her yearnings drew her towards Carmel, while her confessor appeared desirous she should enter the order of the Hospital Sisters. But as she was returning from her pilgrimage our Lord, after Holy Communion, made her interiorly hear these words: " My daughter, I love you too much to abandon you longer to your perplexities. You will not he a Hospitaliere, hut a Carmelite" The interior voice repeated this several times, "You will he a Carmelite ", and she believed the last time was added, " Carmelite at Tours" In the meantime her confessor, without informing her of the fact, had proposed her as an applicant. Therefore what was her astonishment and joy when she heard him say: " My daughter, you are received among the Carmelites " ! She left Rennes on the 11th of November, 1839, under the auspices of St. Martin, whom she had not uselessly invoked. Her virtuous father accompanied and presented her himself. She was then twenty-three years of age.