Saint Catherine Labouré and the miraculous medal

This morning at the 10.30 Mass, I fetched a sack of miraculous medals I recently acquired and gave them away to everybody who asked. I had heard that yesterday was the anniversary of the apparitions that Sister Catherine had received, but I discovered this afternoon that today is her actual memorial day. So, a few words about Sister Catherine Labouré are in order. I’m going to use as a guide the little booklet I bought at the shrine on the Rue du Bac in Paris, entitled The Saint of the Silence.

Sister Catherine was born on the 2nd of May, 1806, at Fain-les-Moutiers, near Bourgogne, to a well-to-do and the pious family. Catherine was the ninth child of eleven. Like so many Saints, when her mother died, the nine-year-old Catherine declared that the Blessed Virgin would be her mother now. One of her older sisters joined a congregation of the Daughters of Charity and became an inspiration. The young Catherine took up pious and penitential practices, fasting on Fridays and Saturdays and and praying on her knees on the bare floor in the church, even in the cold. At the age of 19, she had a mystical encounter with the co-founder of the Daughters of Charity, S. Vincent de Paul, whom she did not recognise and who declared to her that she would one day follow him. By the age of 22, Catherine was decided on her vocation, one to silence and service of the most poor and indigent. But her father would not permit her to embrace the Religious life and she fled to Chatillon-sur-Seine and there joined the Order. Early in 1830, she began her postulancy, desperately happy. Only three months later, she arrived at the mother-house of the Order on the Rue du Bac in Paris to begin her noviciate.

The apparitions began during Catherine’s novitiate. The first, in July 1803, took place with a call to the house chapel in the night by a small boy dressed in white. With a rustle of silk, the Lady in all her glory had sat herself in the chair of Father Rector. Among other things, Catherine was told that she would have to suffer greatly and endure, that France would be disgraced and that there, at the chapel on the Rue du Bac, many graces would flow to those who looked for them. The second apparition, in November 1803, brought with it a mission, for the the Lady now appeared in the aspect which is found on the miraculous medal (pictured above), standing on a globe (the whole world, and especially France), rays of light flowing from her hands (the graces that would come to those who asked for them). Catherine was seeing a sort-of living version of the miraculous medal. Letters appeared around the Lady as they stand on the medal itself: O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. Catherine was commanded to fashion the medal with this image on one side and with the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart on the other side, along with a conjunction of the letter M and a cross.

The archbishop of Paris, Monsignor de Quélen, seems to have been quite open to the idea and the first medals were distributed in 1832. Catherine continued to live at the Rue du Bac, quietly and out of sight, until after the novitiate, when she moved to a care-home in Enghien, where she spent the rest of her life, again mostly in seclusion from the public. She passed away on the 31st of December, 1876, at the age of 70. Seventy-six years later, her body was exhumed in preparation for her upcoming beatification. The body was found incorrupt, the joints still mobile, and was moved over to the mother-house on the Rue du Bac, where it lies today, under the Lady altar, where she had received the apparitions.

In July, 1947, the Holy Father Pius XII named her a Saint. She is the Saint of the Silence.