This year marks the 100th Anniversary of her holy death.
Jeanne Gauthier de Saint-Michel, in religion Sr Marie Berchmans, was born at Paris on 13 June, 1877. She lost her parents when very young and her education was confided to her Aunt, Mdm Hello, widow of the Hello who had been alderman at the Appeals Court of Paris and a magistrate of much merit. On the occasion of a visit to her cousin Germaine, Sr Marie-Aloysius, a Redemptoristine of Grenoble, Jesus spoke to her heart and inspired her with the desire of soon consecrating herself to Him in the same Convent. She was only 15 years old.
From the time of her admission to profession on 5 June, 1894, Sr Marie Berchmans proposed to herself the ideal of penetrating into the spirit of her Order, of combating her mediocre life and of tending towards true sanctity by the strictest and most minute regular observance. Her relationship with God was not one marked with sensible sweetness but rather she went to Him by Faith alone. With a desire of walking in the footsteps of the Crucified Redeemer — and of following in them very closely — she sought for crosses with all the ardour that others exert to escape them. Such were the constant goal of her efforts, such were the secret of her virtue and such the secret also of her heroism.
God heard her and granted her desire. After a retreat filled with consolation and Divine lights, she found herself interiorly abandoned and as if delivered over to herself with all her weaknesses. She suffered in mind, heart, soul and body. She generously accepted all and found new ways to add further sufferings to these — until the total renouncement of her own will seemed to her to be preferable to sacrifice. “Take courage my soul!” she told herself, “you must be able to say with St Paul ‘I die daily’ [1 Cor. XV, 31] by the forgetfulness of self — abnegation — this sacrifice prepares us for the death of love.” She also said, “such is God’s wish, He needs our sufferings to save souls.”
It seems unnecessary to mention that, as a worthy daughter of St Alphonsus, Sr Marie Berchmans accorded sovereign importance to the imitation of Jesus Our Redeemer by the conscientious practice of the 12 monthly virtues, to her own prayer, and also to Liturgical prayer — the Divine Office. At the moment of her death she asked if the nuns could chant with her Psalm 118, Beati immaculati in via. She followed each verse with admirable fervour and lucidity.
What may we say of her great love and filial confidence in the Queen of Heaven? “I ask Our lady each day” she once said, “to die while making the perfect act of Love of God, and I am counting on her to indeed obtain for me this great grace.”
Above all she loved Our Lord Jesus Christ more than all else by a fidelity lived at each moment of her life in which she refused Him nothing. “Love Jesus onto folly,” she told one of her sisters. It was this Divine folly which helped her to ascend the Mount of Calvary with such joy, with the desire of there meeting her Divine Spouse Who awaited her and would give her the crown of virgins for all Eternity. “Veni, sponsa Christi.” †
Her life was written by Rev. Fr Alphonse George, C.SS.R.