Sunday, 26 June 2011

Mother Mary-Aloyse of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, O.SS.R. Superior of the Monastery of Bruges [2] (Brugge) 1822-1889

Chapter V.
Mother Mary-Aloyse is named Directress of the Noviciate (1852-1870).

The letter which we are about to cite was addressed to Mother Mary-Aloyse, Mistress of Novices: this responsibility was in fact entrusted to our modest heroine in 1852, and she exercised it until 1870.

Formed as she was in the school of Mother Mary-Philomena, and abundantly nourished on the instructions of the Rev. Father Passerat, Sister Mary-Aloyse also received from God the precious qualities which disposed her to government. Her practical sense was rare, her judgement excellent, and her knowledge of the spiritual ways permitted her to guide others along the path of perfection. The sweet teachings of St. Alphonsus also served her as a rule, and in the school of this great master, she had learnt to require nothing that was beyond the powers or the abilities of her disciples, but what she always firmly required was for everyone to avoid deliberate faults with the greatest care, to do penance for those which they had committed, and to apply themselves diligently to fulfil all the obligations imposed on them by the Rule. Effort, a care for detail, unhurried actions, these indispensable elements in tendency to perfection, were also the subject of her recommendations, but she wanted everything to be inspired, sustained and brought to a good end through the love of Jesus Christ. So she gave a soul to this body of sometimes meticulous practices which are called spiritual warfare, and a sure pledge of success to efforts that the lack of love condemns too often to powerlessness.

Let us hear her former novices themselves speak to us of some events in their noviciate.

“On the first Friday of each month,” one of them writes, “Sister Mary-Aloyse required her novices to put down in writing the accusation they proposed to make against themselves, so as to rectify it if possible. One day, when a novice brought her piece of paper to her, she noticed her mistress crossing out a sentence in which she accused herself of having wrongly judged her Superior, and of having said several words expressing criticism. So she permitted herself to ask her the reason for this, expressing her regret to her and the desire she had for repairing and expiating her fault. Sister Mary-Aloyse said to her, “This fault is so displeasing to Our Lord’s Heart that a novice must never commit it. Make Him a sincere promise that never again will you cause Him this pain, as whoever despises her Superiors wounds Him right to the Heart.” She imposed a small penance on the novice, who corrected herself, through the fear of causing pain to Jesus Christ Himself.”

“A novice experienced an antipathy towards a Sister whose manners upset her, and some of whose practices toward her were hurtful to her. It was the custom to beg for soup in the refectory. The novice found this penance agreeable, we might even say amusing, but she never managed to bring herself to do it, because the young Sisters had to give way to the older ones. Finally she succeeded one day in taking hold of the blessed dish that she had coveted for so long, and got ready most happily to go round the refectory on her knees to beg for her bread, when Sister N took the soup-plate out of her hands to do the penance in her place. - This trial was too much for the novice. She went and complained to the Mistress, not being able to suppress some disagreeable reflections about the Sister who had supplanted her. When she had finished venting her spleen, the Mother Mistress said to her: “My dear Sister, far too often you have noticed this and that in this fervent religious. Believe me, if you do not take care, you will nourish an antipathy inside you which will be a source of many imperfections for you. If you want to stop this right at the beginning, this is what you must do: every time when , for one cause or another, you feel a sense of discontentment against this good Sister, find an occasion to render her a service, or go up to her in recreation to say something nice to her.” The novice followed this advice and found it good, and applied it for the rest of her life to every Sister whom she did not like, and thanks to the good advice of her devoted Mistress, she managed, by repeated acts, to be able sometimes to quite set aside the dislikes she felt for the Sisters who beforehand seemed so disagreeable to her.

“A novice (it is the same Sister talking), a novice was often criticised for the attachment she had to her own will. On one of the monthly retreats, she wished to give her Mistress a surprise. She sent her a rosary case made of coconut wood, and told her, “Mother, this detachment is small, it is true, but it has cost me a great deal.” Sister Mary-Aloyse took the little box and opened it as they talked. The novice had put a little note inside it bearing the words: “My will.” The Mistress showed herself very satisfied, but added, “My Sister, do not forget this gift which you have just given me, and from time to time let me make use of it.”

Let us listen to some other accounts. Their style is quite different, but they are quite marvellous in letting us glimpse inside the noviciate of Bruges in 1861-62.

“The Reverend Mother Mary-Aloyse made us take our noviciate seriously, and ever since I have always blessed and thanked our good God, although, at the time, I found her very severe.

“In recreation, this Mother maintained the most frank cheerfulness. There were several of us French girls and two of them above all would often start talking, because, as they said, they would do anything to liven up the others. But one day, the Mother Mistress said to me, half seriously and half as a joke, “My dear Sister, I believe that if you were to spend a recreation without talking, you would do yourself a great deal of harm.” After this I replied bravely that I would try to do it from the next day on. The Mother Mistress gave a wry smile and agreed. The next day, while continually looking at Mother and the other Sisters, I kept a firm silence, as if was quite easy for me. So then she set herself to get me to talk, offering me whatever would tempt me the most, such as pictures, etc., but to my great satisfaction, the bell sounded before I could say anything. Then there was general laughter.

“Another time, while we were walking in the garden during recreation (it was in the month of November), we happened to walk near an apple-tree. I got very excited at the idea of the fruit that it would bear in the following year, but as our Mother had a better knowledge in practice of the virtues than of arboriculture, she had some doubts about my competence and said to me, “Oh well, Sister, mark the fruit buds with a bit of thread and then we will see the proof of your knowledge.”

“The following year, to my great satisfaction, the tree produced many fine buds, but then withered up entirely and died. I was most disappointed. Then my Mistress ordered me to water my apple-tree every day, which I did even among the snow and ice of a most severe winter. In Spring, divine Providence declared itself in my favour, and my apple-tree produced fine apples. It was given my name (Mary Augustine) in remembrance, and when I was sent on to the foundation of Velp, I still received fruit from my resuscitated apple-tree. It was my Mistress who brought them to me with great joy, and I ate them with great pleasure.”

These citations show Sister Mary-Aloyse as a Mistress who was concerned to advance all her charges in perfection. One of her letters will demonstrate this.

“Dear little Sister,” she wrote to one of her novices, “your good letter has pleased me greatly. Never let yourself be discouraged. Jesus is with you, and when you have worked with courage to prepare a place for Him, He will come to dwell in your heart. He is there already, but He will come in a more intimate manner, and just one of these moments will make you completely forget, or rather, bless all the days of struggling. So courage then! Everything will be well, I can assure you on behalf of Jesus, if you never cease struggling and above all, if you never let yourself be discouraged. I am very happy that you see yourself as ugly. It is a grace. Reply to it by redoubling your confidence in Him who loves you so much and who will make you beautiful, if you offer Him your hand by humbling yourself in confidence. Recollection will also come. Patience, patience. Nothing is done in one day, but you must not let a single day go by without working. You love our good God more than you believe. Bless Him for everything. It is for your own good! Good-by for now, but I shall be looking forward to seeing you again. I pray to Mary to bless you.
“Sister Mary-Aloyse.”

Velp, 24th September 1860...
Let the novices speak again.
Sister Mary Clementine, [11] from the convent of Dublin, pays tribute to the great virtues of Mother Mary Philomena, and adds:

“Regarding the good Mother Mary-Aloyse, Dear Mother, I can only say that as Mistress of Novices and as Superior, she was always an enlightened directress to me and a tender Mother, who preached equally by example and by word, and knew how to make us love our holy Rules and the practice of the religious virtues. In a word, in these two Mothers I have always venerated the archetype of true and worthy Redemptoristine Superiors.”

Sister Mary-Lidwine of the Holy Spirit [12] particularly praises the vigilance and energy of her former Mistress of Novices:

“Both of them, Mother Mary-Philomena and her were most zealous in making souls advance towards perfection and forming solid virtues in their nuns. The Mother Vicar, Sister Mary-Aloyse, was my Mistress of Novices for two years. She greatly edified me through her energy, courage and power of soul by which she made her novices advance, with her eyes and her ears always open to correct the faults which she saw in them.”

Mother Mary Gertrude, the Superior of Clapham (London), was only under the direction of Mother Mary-Aloyse for a few months. “From the first day that I knew her,” she says, “I had the greatest veneration for her. Her recollected exterior reminded me of her angelic Patron, and her air of recollection as she went through the Monastery was wonderful to see. When she was my Mistress of Novices, she was the perfect model of a religious, and through her words, which breathed the spirit of our Father Saint Alphonsus, she taught us never to recoil before any sacrifice when it touched on the good of the Order. She often told me. “You must remember that our good God wants you to be a saint. This is why you must suffer, and struggle, and love beyond all measure Him who has loved us so much.”

“To some of them she could seem severe, but this severity was due to her love of the holy Rule and our Father Saint Alphonsus. I have always heard it said that she was as simple as a little child towards her Superiors. My memory and my heart will forever retain the memory of her spirit of prayer, her fervent love for observance, and her angelic modesty. In a word, it is impossible for me to describe in their entirety the virtues that we venerate in our holy Mother Mistress, and I still love to talk to our young Sisters about her great qualities and her instructions, to encourage them to walk in the footsteps of those who have gone before us.”

Sister Mary-Magdalen of Jesus, a Redemptoristine of Dublin, renders this moving tribute to her former Mother Mistress.

“Obedience asks me to do something which I feel entirely incapable of, although I have an inexpressible desire to open my heart full of gratitude towards my former Mother Mistress, the Reverend Mother Mary-Aloyse. I was a novice under her orders for more than two years, and during this time, I venerated her like a saint, and this sentiment still remains with me and is still the same as it has been for almost forty eight years. For myself, I believe that she was the most perfect soul that I have ever known. As Mistress, she was strict, as a Mother she was full of tenderness, devotion and sacrifice. Her example was a stimulus to excite our fervour. When speaking of the little observances she would tell us, “What our Father Saint Alphonsus has prescribed for us is not too small for me to practise.” I will never forget her holy words and instructions. Dear Reverend Mother, you will excuse my initiative and my bad French. I hope you will understand me, but my affection for my beloved Mother will never change. I hope that in her heavenly home she will think of her former novice and pray for her. As my own turn is coming, I greatly hope for her prayers to obtain mercy for me from our good God, and a happy death, when it is His holy will.”

From Dublin, too, the following letter comes to us, with its own special charm:

“Your dear aunt [13] being from Liège, I was most curious to get to know her, and I observed her well.

“The Reverend Sister Mary-Aloyse has always been regarded as a holy religious. She had a very serious exterior, and she was very severe with herself, but indulgent towards others. She was a model of regular observance, and showed a great love of poverty and silence. She was also very mortified, but her dearest virtue was that of obedience. The Reverend Sister Mary-Aloyse had a remarkable love for this virtue. She would have liked to change everything into obedience.

“When she became our Mother Mistress of Novices, she seemed a little cold and distant, and we were somewhat afraid of her. In our case, that was just as well. She was very maternal. When we were suffering, she would spare nothing to comfort us.

“In recreation, she was very jolly. Sometimes we spoke in the Liège dialect, but she knew it better than me, and this amused her immensely. Sometimes I would say, “Come now, Mother Mistress, now I can tell you all my secrets in public, because none of the novices can understand a word.”

The good Mother was most eager to inspire us with a love of our vocation and the religious virtues. Later on, I learnt from one of my companions that she had become very affable, very loveable, and our dear Sister Mary-Clementine confirmed it to me. This is another tribute to her virtue, and I am persuaded that this was a fruit of her beloved obedience.

“Through humility she would never let us render her any service, and when we looked for an occasion, she tried to avoid us every time, always saying, “I am my own servant.”

“So, dear Reverend Mother, look what my poor pen has produced. I do not doubt that God and His angels knows all this even better than us, but heaven will reveal it all to us.”

Let us now add another letter to all of these. It is dated September 1905 like the preceding ones. The venerable signatory of it died two months after writing it. [14] What a wonderful sense of gratitude and filial affection is found in it!

“Dear Reverend Mother,
“It is not simply a pleasure, it is a duty for me to say some words about the virtues of our Mother Mary-Aloyse, who was my Mother Mistress in the Educandate and the Noviciate.

“This dear Mother was strict about everything concerning holy observance, and remarkably hard on herself, but she also showed a very maternal goodness towards those who addressed themselves to her. I have had this experience myself. Being naturally timid, I did not dare approach her, but as soon as I had overcome that childish fear, I found a mother’s heart in her, full of the spirit of our Father Saint Alphonsus, and seeking by all means that his spirit suggested to her, to inculcate into our young hearts the divine virtues that our divine Saviour had practised during His life, such as humility, simplicity, abnegation of self, and above everything else, holy poverty. This last virtue she practised herself with great perfection during her whole religious life, so that we could say that it was her favourite virtue.

“She recommended novices to always have a great respect for their religious costume, by keeping it clean and tidy.

“Although this good Mother was occupied all day with the task she was responsible for, when she arrived at recreation, she was always jolly like a young novice.

“May our good Jesus bless her soul in a special manner for having guided me and taught me to walk in the blessed way of holy religious life”

“Sister Maria-Angelica of the Most Holy Sacrament, Religious of the Most Holy Redeemer.”


[11] Died at Clapham (London) on 19th March 1907.
[12] Sent from Bruges to the foundation at Louvain in 1875.
[13] This letter is addressed, like its predecessors, to the Reverend Mother Superior of the Redemptoristines of Bruges, the niece of Mother Mary-Aloyse.
[14] She died at Dublin on 19th November following.

This necrology is translated from Fleurs de l'Institut des Rédemptoristines by Mr John R. Bradbury. The copyright of this translation is the property of the Redemptoristine Nuns of Maitland, Australia. The integral version of the translated book will be posted here as the necrologies appear.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Mother Mary-Aloyse of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, O.SS.R. Superior of the Monastery of Bruges [2] (Brugge) 1822-1889

Chapter IV.
The Different Responsibilities Exercised by Sister Mary-Aloyse.
A spiritual director and the work of a soul.

Contemplative Orders are not Orders of dreamers, and those who would discredit them would be most astonished to see them doing different tasks and fulfilling different responsibilities that require great activity. A community of forty nuns requires to be well directed spiritually, and well regulated temporally. Both souls and bodies have their own needs, for which due provision must be made. Mother Superior, Mother Vicar, Mistress of Educands, Mistress of Novices, Sister Housekeeper, Sister Admonisher, Sister Dressmaker, Sister Sacristan, and many others. Oh, how many degrees there are in the peaceful hierarchy that we call the organisation of a convent!

Sister Mary-Aloyse very early drew the attention of her Superiors. Her talents, her virtues and her aptitudes promptly signalled her as capable of fulfilling the most difficult tasks.

She began with the modest task of sacristan. Father Paul Reyners, her director, would have liked her to join the Council as soon as she left the Noviciate. But the Rule opposed this, and the good Sister, when she discovered this, declared besides that she thought this was all a joke. Because she was capable in whatever she did, she taught the various tasks to the young Sisters. She had learned to paint. She made use of her talents to paint pious images. She made lace for the sacristy. She made reliquaries. This last work was so dear to her that she reserved it to herself, even when she became the Superior, and only her last illness was able to make her abandon it.

In 1853, she was entrusted with the important task of Mistress of Novices, which she exercised for the space of seventeen years. We shall speak of it later. To this task, in 1858, she added that of Mother Vicar, and from then on she became, we may say, the right arm of her worthy Superior, Mother Mary-Philomena, who for a long time had appreciated her virtues. She soon realised the wisdom of her advice, and never wished to make any important decision without consulting her. At the time of the foundation of Louvain, Sister Mary-Aloyse gave her already-suffering Superior the most devoted support, accompanying her on all her journeys, taking all the steps necessary to assure the foundation, and organising everything. Once all the preparations were complete, she left Bruges with the first Sisters, only returning when the ceremony of erecting the enclosure had brought the matter to its end. She still continued to give assistance from afar by her letters to the members of the new foundation. She also accompanied Mother Mary-Philomena on her last journey to Velp (1858). In a word, until the very day (12th January 1879) when she was elected as the Superior of Bruges, Sister Mary-Aloyse never ceased to render the greatest services in all the tasks that were entrusted to her. In these tasks, most exceptionally, she always performed in a manner pleasing to God and satisfactory to everyone involved.

This is perhaps the place to dispel certain misunderstandings on the subject of the spiritual direction of a soul, in placing before the eyes of our readers some letters addressed to Sister Mary-Aloyse by Father Theodore Kockerols, Redemptorist. We will see that this good Father’s direction contained nothing original or ambitious. It was as clear as light, as simple as a fine day, and it spoke at one and the same time to the soul of this good Sister and the soul of her director. We will give these letters regardless of dates, because they are unknown to us, including the year.

Antwerp, 25th....
“My daughter in Jesus Christ,
“Our Lady will give you better counsel than I can give you, but since it has been such a long time since I last talked to you, I think that you will hear me all the more willingly. Besides, if my advice does not agree with that of Our Lady, reject it out-of-hand (mine, of course, as you are simple enough not to understand me). Arm yourself with a holy anger against your own self, and be admirably sweet towards everyone. Be deaf to the voice of your own nature, and lend an attentive ear to every word that Our Lord will speak inside you.

“Be blind to the imperfections of the Sisters who are not entrusted to your care, and have eagle eyes to discover your own shortcomings. Do not listen to the devil, who will discourage you, but to the Lord who inspires confidence. Have more fear of the shadow of a voluntary fault than thousands of temptations, whatever they are.

“Above all else, love prayer, knowing that it is the beginning, the middle and the end of the spiritual life, for it is prayer which purifies the soul of its miseries, which gives it the strength to practise virtue, which detaches it from creatures and brings it to joy in the Lord.

“I wish you even greater graces, and tomorrow I shall pray for you to receive them to your heart’s desires.

“Wishing you everything in Jesus Christ,
“Theodore Kockerols.”

“My daughter in Jesus Christ,
“I recommend to you 1) your own conversion, 2) the conversion of the Reverend Mother, 1 and 3) my own conversion. Three great works of mercy.

“Take care to look into every corner, not of the Reverend Mother’s conscience, nor of my own, but of your own, - and be without mercy for the bears, the leopards and the bad subjects that you will find there. May our good Jesus expel them, striking them with His whip, and may He place a cherubim with a flaming sword at the entry, to prevent them from ever returning.

“Milk and honey run from the rocks,” it says in the Holy Scriptures. - When this becomes true for you, then my poor soul will leap for joy. But for as long as it does not please the Lord for this to be so, I will say with all the power of my soul: Patience, my daughter, patience! Jesus is so adorable and so good that if we have the happiness to find Him and contemplate Him for a single second after a hundred thousand years of seeking Him, then we ought to consider ourselves happy, ineffably happy. Jesus, good Jesus, show us just a little glimpse of Your beauty, and we shall be so faithful to You!

“Pray for the poor soul of him who wishes you to be entirely for Jesus Christ through His holy Mother.”

Here now are the thoughts inspired in Father Theodore by the Feast of St. Luis de Gonzaga, Sister Mary-Aloyse’s patron saint.

Brussels, 20th June.
“My daughter in Jesus Christ,
“If St. Luis de Gonzaga will obtain for you tomorrow the grace which I will be asking for you, then you will have good reason to be happy, like a bird in Paradise. And this grace? I shall have trouble in expressing myself so that you can understand me properly. In any case, it is not deliverance from either your bodily or spiritual miseries, - certainly not that! After some days of thinking particularly about you, I came to feel that misery is your fate, your second nature. So I do not wish for your misery to be taken away from you. God wants it, so take note. But I would dearly wish for you to be as docile as a child in God’s hands - and may you let yourself be annihilated when He intends it and as He intends it. Oh, how much I would like to see you unflinching under God’s hand, even when His hand is armed with the sharp sword of sorrows and humiliation! How much I would like to see you reduced to an atom of dust, but crying out forever and always in a loud voice, “Thank you, my God, thank you! I shall love You increasingly, the more You make me suffer more and more.”

“I can see that I am a little bit cruel in my wishes. I shall stop here, for I am almost at the point of wishing you to be nothing, and more than nothing in the superlative. But truly, you may believe me, I also wish very ardently for you to be great, very great, because you are totally in God.

“In your misery, pray for my misery.
“A happy Feast, Sister Mary-Aloyse, from your Father in Jesus Christ.”

The following letter is neither less well thought out or less well written than the preceding ones. It also reveals the good Sister’s tendency to worry too much in her desire for perfection and the religious virtues.

“My daughter in Jesus Christ,
I thank you for the goodness you have shown me in giving me the news about the Reverend Mother’s health. For the love of our little Jesus, do not let her depart, even though she wants it so much.

“In your letter you ask me when your heart will change. Truly, I thought you had more spirit. But it is changing every day, because every day it is becoming more unendurable to you. Is it not a sign that we are advancing in perfection, when we detest our imperfections and sigh for the moment when there are no more in our souls? In your opinion, apparently, this moment is too long in coming. But the Lord, who knows you better than you know yourself, knows very well that you would send yourself to your destruction if He let this long-desired moment come too soon. You sigh after humility, and I know that your sighs are sincere. So have patience, and let the Lord be responsible for teaching you humility. If He does not do so, what will happen? We often laugh about the little humiliations in the cloister - at the very least they just scratch the skin. But God’s sting us deeply and hurt greatly. I shall pray that this operation will not be too long, and that you will be able to endure it in all patience.”

“Your servant in Jesus Christ.”

A last missive from the good Father Theodore will worthily crown these admirable letters. Of all of them, this is perhaps the most instructive.

Brussels, 30th May 1862.
“My daughter in Jesus Christ,
“In the name of the Reverend Mother, you ask for a death-blow to the activity of your own nature, and certainly, if it depended on me, I would not fail to give it to you. But, but, it is difficult enough to kill an eel by hitting it with a stick. And it is even more difficult to calm down with a whip a heart that is too ardent and in too much of a hurry. Because He wishes to preserve us from every fault and every imperfection, Our Lord Jesus Christ has said, Vigilate - “Be watchful!” ... This advice is perfect for protecting ourselves against all sorts of temptations and weaknesses. But according to the opinion of all the Saints, it is the only indispensable and efficacious advice against the rushing of the heart. At every instant of the day, in a large community, - and a fortiori - “even more strongly”, in the pleasant task of Mistress of Novices, our hearts are exposed to a thousand little enthusiasms, a thousand and one agitations which often reach us this way , especially when we wish to raise everything to the peak of perfection in everything that surrounds us. So she who does not exercise a continual vigilance against all the movements of her heart, to repress them as soon as they depart from the strict rules of meekness and charity, will be like a reed exposed to all the winds, and who is never for a single instant in a perfect calm. Vigilance, - see the whip here. - And the less elegant stick? A generous violence and continual efforts, without listening to the demands of our own self-esteem.

“I perceive that I am dealing with this matter almost seriously, like a doctor. Forgive me and do what I tell you, and you will be a living reliquary You need a great mirror, but I am sure that the Reverend Mother will be happy to buy one for you.

“As for the other miseries that you tell me are so horrible, I am sorry for you, I could almost say that I have pity for you, but I will not say even one “Hail Mary” to deliver you from them. I have the deep conviction that this is a work of God whose final aim is to purify your heart, to make you capable of a closer union with Him. What a strange manner, you tell me, to purify a heart! - In fact it is strange, but you can be sure that it is a good one, because God is using it - God, who is so jealous of the purity of heart of His Spouses. Patience, - that is the whip. - Abandon yourself without a whimper to the will of God, for this is the stick which will knock out your self-esteem, which does not know how to resign itself to this apparent ugliness.

“Now you know what you must do to attract the Holy Spirit and the fullness of His gifts into your heart. So banish every trouble and agitation, and you will feel His presence in the midst of this perfect silencing of your passions. Abandon yourself to the divine will, and thank this divine will for all the distressing things which have happened to you. The fire which seems to come out from all this apparent unpleasantness will purify you. What more is needed to make your heart pure and of good will, and fit to enter into God?

“Pray for the poor soul of your servant in Jesus Christ.”

This necrology is translated from Fleurs de l'Institut des Rédemptoristines by Mr John R. Bradbury. The copyright of this translation is the property of the Redemptoristine Nuns of Maitland, Australia. The integral version of the translated book will be posted here as the necrologies appear.

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