Sheila M. Coyle
Originally Published on: June 1, 2000
Used with permission from the author.
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.
A few of these links and commentaries were also provided by Sheila
of the Daughters of Charity
Laboure - Saint Vincent de Paul Society, England and Wales
A short hagiography, which is the
study of the lives of the saints, of St. Catherine Laboure
Medal - Article from the Catholic Encyclopedia published in
Catherine Laboure of the Miraculous Medal - Fr. Joseph Dirvin
- "The holy farm girl who as a young Daughter of Charity
received the Miraculous Medal devotion from Our Lady herself."
Catherine Laboure and the Miraculous Medal - Stephen Breen
- Stephen Breen St. Catherine and the Miraculous Medal. An excerpt
Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary."
of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul - Article from the Catholic
Encyclopedia published in 1906.
Laboure - Dave Kopel - Short historical background to the
Lady of the Miraculous Medal - Offers free miraculous medals
Catherine Laboure - A biography and picture of Saint Catherine
Laboure on this page offered by Saint Catherine church in Middletown
and Investiture with Miraculous Medal - The blessing and enrolment
of the Miraculous Medal as found in the Roman Ritual.
Catherine Laboure - Short illustrated hagiography by Catholic
- St. Catherine Laboure 1806 - 1876 - another short biography
of St. Catherine Laboure.
Catherine Labouré and the Miraculous Medal By Rev.
Robert J. Billett, C.M.F. - An except from From Mary's Touch
#4 - contains a good photograph of the miraculous medal showing
an enlarged version of both side of the medal.
Catherine Laboure of the Miraculous Medal - by Catherine Fournier
- A brief history of the life of a saint in three accounts, for
young families (children 0-8), for practiced families (children
8-14), and experienced families (children 14-adult)
Saints Index Saint Catherine Laboure - with 4
pictures of Saint Catherine and the miraculous medal.
Story of Saint Catherine Laboure from the web site of The
Association of the Miraculous Medal. Free medals are also
available through this organization.
Of Saint Catherine Laboure