Saint Catherine Labouré
Zoé Labouré was the daughter of a teoman-farmer at Fain-les-Moutiers in the Côte d'Or, where she was born in 1806. She was the only one of a large family not to go to school and did not learn to read and write. Her mother died when Zoé was eight, and when her elder sister, Louisa, left home to become a Sister of Charity the duties of housekeeper and helper to her father devilved upon her. From the age of fourteen or so she also heard a call to the religious life, and after some opposition M. Labouré allowed her to join the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul at Châtillon-sur-Seine in 1830. She took the name Catherine, and after her postulancy was sent to the convent in the rue du Bac at Paris, where she arrived four days before the translation of the relics of St. Vincent from Notre-Dame to the Lazarist church in the rue de Sèvres. On the evening of the day of those festivities began the series of visions which were to make the name of Catherine Labouré famous. The first of the three principal ones took place three months later, on the night of July 18, when at about 11.30 p.m. she was woken up suddenly by the appearance of a "shining child", who led her down to the sisters' chapel. There our Lady appeared and talked with her for over two hours, telling her that she would have to undertake a difficult task and also, it is said, speaking of the future and the violent death of an archbishop of Paris forty years later (Mgr. Darboy, in the Connune of 1871). On November 27 following, our Lady appeared to Sister Catherine in the same chapel, in the form of a picture and as it were standing on a globe with shafts of light streaming from her hands towards it, surrounded by the words: " O Mary, conceived free from sin, pray for us who turn to thee!" Then the picture turned about, and sister Catherine saw on the reverse side a capital M, with a cross above it and two hearts, one thorn-crowned and the other pierced with a sword, below. And she seemed to herself to hear a voice telling her to have a medal struck representing these things, and promising that all who wore it with devotion should receive great graces by the intercession of the Mother of God. This or a similar vision was repeated in the following month and on several other occasions up to September 1831.
Sister Catherine confided in her confessor, M. Aladel, and he, after making very careful investigations, was given permission by the archbishop of Paris, Mgr. de Quélen, to have the medal struck. In June 1832 the first 1500 were issued - the medal now known to Catholics throughout the world as "miraculous". This epithet seems to be due to the circumstances of its origin rather than, as is commonly supposed, to miracles connected with its pious use. In 1834 M. Aladel published a Notice historique sur l'origine et l'effets de la Médaille Miraculeuse, of which 130,000 copies were sold in six years. It was translated into seven languages, including Chinese. The archbishop of Paris instituted a canonical inquiry into the alleged visions in 1836, before which, however, Sister Catherine could not be induced to appear. The precautions she had taken to keep herself unknown, the promise she had wrung from M. Aladel not to tell anybody who she was, the secrecy she had kept towards everyone except her confessor, her constant unwillingness to appear before an ecclesiastical authority, account for this inquiry not being extended to the young sister herself. The tribunal decided in favour of the authenticity of the visions, taking into consideration the circumstances, the character of the sister concerned, and the prudent amd level-headedness of M. Aladel. The popularity of the medal increased daily, especially after the conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne in 1842. He was an Alsatian Jew who, having reluctantly agreed to wear the medal, received a vision of our Lady in that form in the church of Sant' Andrea delle Frate at Rome, whereupon he became a Christian and was later a priest and founder of a religious congregation, the Fathers and Sisters of Zion.
This vision of Ratisbonne also was subject of a canonical inquiry, and the reports of this and of the archbishop of Paris's were extensively used in the process of beatification of Catherine Labouré, of whose personal life very little is recorded. Her Superiors speak of her as "rather insignificant", "matter-of-fact and unexcitable", "cold, almost apathetic". From 1831 until her death on December 31, 1876, she lived unobtrusively among the community at Enghien-Reuilly, as portress, in charge of the poultry, and looking after the aged who were supported in the hospice. Not until eight months before her death did she speak to anyone except her confessor of the extraordinary graces she had received, and then she revealed them only to her superior, Sister Dufès. Her funeral was the occasion of an outburst of popular veneration, and a child of twelve, crippled from birth, was instantaneously cured at her grave soon after. St. Catherine Labouré was canonized in 1947, and this day appointed for her feast.
A good deal has been written about St. Catherine and "the miraculous medal". The best-known biography is probably that of Fr. E. Crapez, of which an English abbreviation was published in 1920. Another life is that by Fr. E. Cassinari, and this also has been issued in English, in 1934. An earlier account is that of Lady Georgiana Fullerton, Life and Visions of a Sister of Charity (1880). Among other books are a popular life in English by Mrs P. Boyne (1948), and La vie secrète de Catherine Labouré (1948), by C. Yves.
Butler's Lives of The Saints, Herbert J. Thurston, S.J. and Donald Attwater
Nihil Obstat: PATRICIVS MORRIS, S.T.D., L.S.S., CENSOR DEPVTATVS.
Imprimatur: E. MORROGH BERNARD, VICARIVS GENERALIS
WESTMONASTERII: DIE XXIII FEBRVARII MCMLIII