Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
The twofold character of Advent calls us to prepare for the remembering of the Word made Flesh at Christmas, and directs us to wait with alertness for Jesus’ second coming.
St. Catherine Labouré, Religious, 1806-1876
Zoe Labouré was born on May 2, 1806 to a farm family near the village of Saint-Rémy de Provence in southern France. She was the ninth of eleven children. Raised with a strong faith, early on she felt a calling to the religious life.
Zoe’s mother died when the girl was eight years old. The story is told that following her mother’s funeral, Zoe went into her bedroom, picked up a statue of the Blessed Mother and said, "Now, dear Lady, you are to be my mother."
After her mother’s death, Zoe was sent to Paris to live with an aunt, but, when an older sister entered the convent of the Daughters of Charity about a year later, she returned to her home to tend to the house and her younger siblings. Taking on these duties at such a young age meant that Zoe had almost no education and never learned to read or write.
Some years later, Zoe had a dream in which a priest was telling her that she was being called to work with the sick. Not knowing what this meant, she dismissed the dream, but, later, when visiting a hospital run by the Daughters of Charity, she saw a picture on a wall of the priest in her dream. Asking who this priest was, she was told that it was St. Vincent de Paul, the founder of the order. Recognizing her calling, Zoe joined the Daughters of Charity in early 1830, taking the name Catherine at that time.
Soon after becoming a postulant, Catherine began to see apparitions, often of St. Vincent de Paul, but also of Jesus. These occurred mostly during liturgies, but the visions which she was to become famous for began on July 19, 1830. After falling asleep, Catherine was awakened by a bright light and a child’s voice bidding her to come to the chapel where the Blessed Virgin awaited her.
Arriving at the chapel, Catherine found it brightly lit, as if for a midnight Mass. Kneeling at the altar rail, she heard the angel whisper to her that the Blessed Mother wished to speak with her. Looking up, she saw the Virgin Mary sitting in the presider’s chair. Going to her, Catherine knelt beside her and rested her hands on Mary’s lap. Mary told her that God had a mission for her and that some might not believe her, but she should tell her confessor all that surpassed in her meeting. Mary promised her that she would have the protection of God and St. Vincent and Mary would be watching over her.
A few months later, Catherine, at evening prayer with her sisters, had a second apparition. This time, in November 1830, Mary appeared standing on a globe as she would appear on the “Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Medal (Miraculous Medal). The Virgin instructed Catherine to have a medal made in that form, promising that all who wear it would be especially blessed. In a third apparition, about a month later, Mary, again appearing as she would on the medal with rays streaming from her hands toward the globe, told Catherine, "These rays are the symbol of the graces that the Blessed Virgin obtains for those who ask them of her." She again directed Catherine to have the medal struck. Not knowing how to do this, Catherine asked Mary who told her to speak to her confessor.
Skeptical at first, her confessor, Fr. Aladel, finally went to the bishop who ordered two thousand medals struck. Receiving the first of these medals, Catherine told Fr. Aladel that now the medals must be propagated. Within a few years, millions of the medals had been distributed and a great devotion to the Miraculous Medal had developed.
Though she foretold a number of events that would occur, Catherine mainly lived a quiet life for the remainder of her years. She was a nursing sister who cared for her patients and for her sisters. It was not until she was near death that she revealed the visions that she had received.
St. Catherine Labouré was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1947. She is honored by her order and in France on November 28.
Catherine’s message today: With God’s grace one does not have to be a strong, outgoing type to accomplish much in the world. In the years since the Miraculous Medal was introduced, many miracles have been reported.