Saint Catherine Laboure of the Miraculous Medal
by Catherine Fournier
Saint Catherine Laboure
Promulgator of the
Feast Day: November 25
Symbol: pictured in habit of the Sisters of Charity,
with both sides of the Miraculous Medal
May 1806 in Burgundy, France
Died: 31 December
1876 in Enghien-Reuilly, France
Canonized: 27 July
Can you keep a secret? Saint Catherine Laboure kept secret that fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to her for forty five years.
The ninth of eleven children, Catherine Laboure was born in 1806 to a successful farming family. When she was nine years old, her mother died, a sad but not uncommon occurrence in those times. Catherine was very sad at the loss of her mother, and kneeling before a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary, said "Mary, you will be my mother now. Help me to be good." Catherine helped her father run the house and looking after the family until she was old enough to leave home.
Catherine already knew what she wanted to do. A few years before, during a visit to a hospital run by the Sisters of Charity, she 'met' an old man in a vision who told her that God wanted her to work with the sick. Catherine decided that she would join the Sisters of Charity and follow God's will. Some time later, she saw a picture of the old man, and learned that it was Saint Vincent de Paul, who had died many years earlier.
When Catherine was still a novice, an angel appeared to her and told her to go to the chapel. Catherine knew she was supposed to stay in bed, but the angel told her not to worry that everyone was asleep and she would not get in trouble for walking around at night. In the chapel, Catherine met Our Blessed Mother, who spoke to her, asking her to help spread devotion to her Immaculate Conception. Catherine agreed.
Twice more, the Blessed Virgin appeared to Catherine, telling her to have a medal made, showing on one side the Blessed Mother and the words 'O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee' and on the other side the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Catherine agreed, though she wondered how she would ever find anyone who believed her and would help her. But her confessor and other priests did agreed to help her cause.
Even after the medal was made and the devotion to it had spread all over the world, her confessor was the only one who knew that Catherine Laboure was the nun who had seen the Blessed Virgin and received her messages. Catherine was a simple nun to all of her Sisters, quiet, unassuming, and subject sometimes to teasing and ridicule for her submissive attitude. Only near to her death, when she was trying to carry out the Virgin Mary's last request, that a statue be made, did Catherine finally break her silence and tell her superior every thing.
When Catherine died, joyful at the prospect of Heaven, her superior shared her story with the rest of her Sisters, who were astonished at the treasure they had dwelling in their midst all those years. Her funeral Mass was one of great joy and celebration, the songs of sorrow and mourning were spontaneously abandoned for songs of joy and thanksgiving. For Catherine, for the Miraculous Medal, and for our great God Who loves us so much.
Saint Catherine Laboure was born in Burgundy on May 2, 1806. Her mother insisted on having her baptised only fifteen minutes after her birth, a condition she did not request for any of her other ten children.
At an early age, Catherine Laboure entered the community of the Daughters of Charity, in obedience to a vision of Saint Vincent de Paul, telling her that God wanted her to work with the sick. While she was still a novice and only 24 years old, the Virgin Mary appeared to Catherine Laboure three times.
The first apparition was on July 18, 1830 in the community's motherhouse in Paris. Going to the chapel on the instructions of an angel who had wakened her, Catherine saw a lady seated on the left side of the altar. When Catherine knelt before her and rested her hands in the lady's lap, she was told how to act in times of trial, shown the altar as a source of all consolation, and warned of an anticlerical revolt which took place forty years later in 1870.
On November 27 of 1830, the lady showed Catherine a small medal which she removed from her belt. The medal was that of the Immaculate Conception, now known everywhere as the 'Miraculous Medal.' On one side was a picture of Mary, hands outstretched and the words 'O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.' On the other was the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Our Blessed Mother asked Catherine to have medals made and devotion to the medal spread. Our Lady told Catherine that wearers of the medal would receive great graces, and its wearing and devotion has spread worldwide.
At the time, only her confessor, Father Aladel, knew of the apparitions and instructions that Catherine Laboure was receiving. He helped her to have the medals made and distributed, and kept her identity secret. Not until shortly before her death in 1876, did anyone know the identity of the nun who had begun the devotion. Saint Catherine Laboure died on 31 December 1876, just in time to meet her prophecy that she would not be present in 1877. Her body was buried in a crypt beneath their church and found to be incorrupt some fifteen years later.
A great many sources of information about Saint Catherine Laboure already exist, well written and detailed accounts of the quiet nun from Burgundy who brought the devotion to the Immaculate Conception and the Miraculous Medal to the world. These can be found at:
- Life of the Saint from Saint Catherine Laboure Church, Middleton, New Jersey
- Catholic Encyclopedia
- For the entire text of Saint Catherine Laboure of the Miraculous Medal by Fr. Joseph Dirvin.
O Lord Jesus Christ, You were pleased to gladden the holy Virgin Catherine by the wonderful apparition of Your Immaculate Mother. Grant that we may follow the example of the same saint in honouring Your most holy Mother with filial devotion and obtain the joy of eternal life. Amen.
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