Sunday, 30 October 2011

Mother Marie-Philomena of the Divine Providence, O.SS.R. Superior of the Monastery of Bruges (1811-1878)

This biography is due to the pen of the Rev. Mother Marie-Aloyse of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, whose Life we have just read.

Chapter I. Her childhood.

Her entry into the Monastery.

This much-beloved Mother, who was truly providential for the community of Bruges, was born in Ath on 29th June 1811, and at her holy baptism she received the names of Rosalia Dieudonné [God-given] Benoîte Joseph. She was the second child of Mr. Joseph Ignatius of Savoy and Mrs. Rosalia Joseph Nève, his wife.

Heaven was lavish with its gifts for this lovely child, who was perfectly endowed on the side of nature, and soon became the object of all the predilections of her dear parents – they neglected nothing to develop the precious seeds she brought with her when she was born through the medium of a first-rate education.

She was scarcely nine years of age when she lost her father, and a great reversal of fortune followed this premature loss. Rosette (this is what they called her at home) already understood the misfortunes of her family; but her great soul and her generous heart were sensitive only to the sorrows of her beloved mother, whom she tried to console, support and sustain by her love and her tenderness, so it was not without much keenly-felt pain that she departed from her to go to Lille to finish her education. In the boarding house in which she was placed, she cultivated all the talents which were to adorn her young person. She became a perfect musician. This talent was always dear to her, because she was able to employ it to the glory of God in chanting His praises, and in playing the organ to accompany the Divine Office.

Her happy character and her good qualities soon made her sought after by a number of parties. Rosette, who did not yet understand God’s designs upon her, decided to accept the hand of a young man who was as pious and good as she was. This marriage was greatly desired by both families; however a secret foreboding told the young lady that it would never happen. In fact, at the moment when the wedding day had just been decided, her fiancé was attacked by a violent fever which carried him off in just a few days. This unexpected death caused her a terrible sorrow and detached her from the world, and when new setbacks assailed her family, she wanted to use her talents in order to console her mother. Madam the Countess of Malet welcomed her with joy to supervise the education of her only daughter. “Come to me”, she wrote, “because you will be a sister and a friend to me, and more the mother of my daughter than her governess.” Rosette soon gained the heart and trust of this virtuous lady, who loved her tenderly. In her home she was able to enjoy all the comforts which could have attached her to a soft and tranquil life, but God soon gave her to feel that He wanted her completely to Himself. Moreover, she had one of those dreams which God sometimes employs to manifest His designs to souls. Saint Philomena appeared to her calling her to her side, and it seemed to her that she was then enjoying all the joys of heaven. After that day, the world inspired in her nothing more than disgust, and she aspired with all her soul to the blessings of the religious life.

But great difficulties lay in the way of her pious design. The tenderness of her mother, who counted on her to console and support her in her old age; her attachment to her family; the affections of the pious Countess, to whom she owed so much gratitude; and finally, her health, which was extremely delicate: all this caused her a great deal of heart-searching, but grace rendered her victorious.

Our holy Institute was being founded in Belgium, and she was one of the first to be admitted into it; but, to conform herself to a desire expressed by the Rev. Mother Marie-Alphonse, she delayed her entry by several months, so as to perfect her talents as an organist. She accepted this sacrifice with a cheerful heart for the good of the community, and finally, on 18th December 1841, she entered the Monastery, provisionally established in the street of Puits-aux-Oies.

The winter was a most rigorous one, and to the cold there was also added everything that poverty could add by way of privations and sufferings in this beginning of the foundation. But nothing daunted her great courage; she had come in order to dedicate herself to a crucified Spouse; and she burned with the desire to follow in His footsteps and share in His sorrows. The Superiors soon became aware of the great treasure that the good Providence had sent them, and they made haste to ask for the necessary dispensations so that she could join the first six postulants and be able to receive the holy habit with them. On 25th February 1842, she took the veil and with it, the name of Sister Marie-Philomena of the Divine Providence. She spent the year of her novitiate with an exemplary fervour, and applied herself to practising the holy Rules with a perfect exactitude. So the day on which she was able to pronounce her vows was a most keenly desired one.

On 23rd March 1843, the first seven novices were to offer their sacrifice with all the joy of their souls, but a most sorrowful event came to sadden this wonderful day. Sister Marie Anne Joseph of the Precious Blood, who had begun her retreat in full health, became so gravely ill that she had to receive the last sacraments on 22nd March, and at the same time she pronounced her vows on her death-bed. Our dear Sister Marie-Philomena, on this occasion, gave proof of her great charity and her devotion by spending the whole time of her retreat at the bedside of her pious companion, who from time to time told her, her eyes moist with tears of gratitude: “Poor Sister, how you devote yourself to me! But when I am in heaven, I will make it up to you by praying for you.” On 23rd March, everyone left the choir chanting the Te Deum which ends the ceremony of profession, and the newly professed went to stand by the bedside of their dying Sister, who looked at them once again as if to bid them a last farewell. The Angelus rang, and the poor soul spoke the words Ecce ancilla Domini [Behold the handmaid of the Lord], then her head tilted gently to one side and she gave up her beautiful soul to God.

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, 23 October 2011

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

The Funeral Eulogy of Our Good and Holy Mother Mary-Aloyse.
By the Most Reverend Father Kockerols,
Provincial of the Province of Belgium.

My dear Sisters,
This week you are attending a very great and moving spectacle! Death has made its appearance in your Monastery and has taken from you your venerated Superior. The appearance of death is always a silent sermon. It reminds us that we are only dust and ashes, that everything passes away in this world, and that nothing is great except holiness. It teaches us the nothingness of everything, so it is a great teaching for us. The author of the Imitation says, “If you have ever seen someone die, remember that you will pass along the same way.”

But, my dear Sisters, the death of a holy soul, such as your venerated Mother was, contains a very special teaching for us. Divine Providence has willed that she was for you in some way a preparation for a retreat. I think that, after having assisted your Mother for so long with all the devotion of which I am capable, I cannot let these circumstances pass without telling you something about this dear soul.

Yes, my dear Sisters, you are indeed convinced that you have lost a treasure, a veritable treasure beyond all treasures. God, who gave this privileged soul the mission of governing you and working day and night for your sanctification, had prepared her for this mission. He had ornamented her spirit and her heart with all the gifts of nature and of grace. Everything was great in your Mother: her heart and her spirit, her charity and her intelligence. In her there was nothing small or petty. She was a superior woman, and with what a great heart and character! We can quite justly compare her to Saint Thérèse. Endowed with an upright and enlightened spirit, with a superior intelligence and a sure judgement, she had a heart which could truly say with the Apostle, St. Paul, “I will very willingly give everything I have and I will even give my own self for your souls.” A heart in which were allied the power of a man and the tenderness of a woman, as in the Mother of the Maccabees. No, I am not afraid to compare her to this mother who is more admirable than words can say. She can be compared to the strong woman of the Bible, of whom it is said, “Where shall we go to find her? We must go to the extremities of the earth.” Your good Mother, my dear Sisters, possessed the firmness without which the responsibility of Superior is harmful to her who exercises it and to those on whom it is exercised. Her guiding principle, in all her actions, was to act firmly and sweetly, - Fortiter et suaviter, - God having given her everything which could inspire respect, esteem and affection. To these gifts of nature, God added all the gifts of grace. My dear Sisters, I who have received the secrets of her heart, I am the only one, perhaps, who can tell you with how great a profusion and magnificence of them God had ornamented her beautiful soul. Yes, since her earliest childhood, God pursued her so as to make her a veritable saint. He watched over her, surrounded her with very special graces, and gave her a very admirable purity of heart, an instinctive horror of sin, a fear of even the shadow of evil, and a tender love towards her God, towards Our Lord Jesus Christ, towards the Holy Church! She herself, as humble as she was, avowed to me on her death-bed, that God had heaped His graces upon her during her whole life, and this is why she said she feared nothing at this supreme moment. Rather, she paid tribute to Him in her gratitude for so many graces received, suffering with joy for love of Him. Ah, my dear Sisters, in eternity you will see the progress that your venerated Mother made constantly in virtue, the point of perfection she attained and the numerous sanctifying and hidden graces she received.

As Superior, she was a veritable model. Her virtue shone forth above all in charity and devotion to the community. There is no-one among you who cannot testify that night and day she sacrificed herself or thought of you, forgetting her own self. And above all, what charity and affection she had for the sick!... What a concern to take care of them! She could truly say with the Apostle Paul, “Who is there among you who has suffered as I myself have suffered?” Her charity went as far as excess, as far as prodigality.

What rendered her so great in the eyes of God and in the eyes of man was her forgetfulness of self, for even in the midst of her most cruel sufferings, she was still always concerned for others. My dear Sisters, it is this forgetfulness of self which is the distinctive character of sanctity. Charity is only genuine when it is accompanied with this sublime forgetfulness of self. Who can say that she did not arrive at the supreme degree of character typical of a true religious, to this spirit of sacrifice, abnegation and devotion to one’s neighbour? But this forgetfulness of self naturally produced humility. I myself can testify to the horror she had of all pridefulness, and her humility was the distinctive sign of her love for God. And didn’t God want her to be exempt from all feelings of pride, because of this perfect abnegation which she possessed!

And patience! How much did she shine out with this in her last illness? My dear Sisters, do not think that this virtue grew all by itself in her, or all at once. You have to practise a very great patience when you are well so that you are not impatient when you are ill. But, in regard to her patience, we have never seen her like. Look at the two months when she was nailed to her bed of suffering, and what suffering! I know something about it, since God ordered me to become aware of it. She told me, “I am enduring unheard-of suffering, incredible suffering (that was her expression), impossible to bear without the special assistance of God.” And yet we all saw how that poor soul remained calm and serene. It was simply because, for all her religious life, she secretly practised patience and mortification, in submission to the will of God.

Not only this, but during her life she had personal troubles, as under that rather rough bark was hidden a great heart which felt things keenly. She keenly felt the cross of her responsibilities and the pains which one or the other of you laid on her at times. She suffered from your faults. The least relaxation or lack of fervour had a great repercussion on her soul. She feared it in almost an excessive manner, and all her efforts were designed to maintain fervour. You know very well that this maternal concern extended to other houses of the Order and she suffered greatly when she learned of anything which was to the least detriment, either to fervour, or to the Rule. And so she exercised a great influence over the other Monasteries.

This concern also extended to the whole Congregation. Some hours before her death, she also told me that she had never made any distinction between the Congregation and you, and she offered herself to God to endure His cruel sufferings for all eternity, if such was His good pleasure, for you and the Congregation. Already in the arms of death, she then exclaimed, Fiat, fiat, fiat voluntas Dei! (Let the will of God be done, be done, be done!), and never ceased to say that she was ready to give everything and even give her own self for souls. She loved the souls of poor sinners and all the souls ransomed at the price of the Blood of Jesus Christ.

And so, my dear Sisters, here are the examples given to you by your good Mother! You should all imitate her. And first of all she who will be elected to replace her and all those who have responsibility in the Community. Above all they should practice this forgetfulness of self, of which she has given such beautiful examples. This will be to their own personal profit. Sanctity does not consist of retiring into a corner and being occupied simply with yourself. It consists in sacrificing yourself for the salvation of others, just as your good Mother has taught you.

Do not desire any other place than what you have been assigned. Do not forget your Mother’s last words, her last farewells. Think of God, be all for God, occupy yourselves with nothing else but God, souls, and above all, abandoned souls, deprived of all spiritual succour in the world. If you have some responsibility in the Community, do not grumble if it displeases you, but accept it for the glory of God and for the salvation of souls. Your venerated Mother is a true model for Superiors and myself alike. I am trying to profit from it. As I have said to my colleagues, the wonderful examples I witnessed in the course of my visits to this holy invalid have done me more good than a retreat. May they not be lost on my poor soul! These examples should also be repeated in all your religious lives. But first of all, we should be intimately convinced that we can do nothing without humility, us Redemptorists and Redemptoristines above all. We must take as the basis of our own perfection that beautiful virtue of humility and simplicity. Your good Mother was so penetrated by it that she said at the end of her life, “After my death, I hope that no-one will try to pass me off as a saint, but will preach instead all my defects and faults, so that prayers will be said for my poor soul.” What an example of humility! Also remember how much she loved the Rule and practised it in every way as Saint Alphonsus would have wished. And how anxious she was to see it done also in all the other houses of the Order! She had an almost child-like obedience. And here now is a little secret which I think I can now reveal to you. She had made a vow to obey her director in everything, and in her last hour, I was able to assure her that she had never failed in any way at all to fulfil this vow which she had made for the love of God.

And how much she loved poverty. She deprived herself of everything, making simplicity reign in the house, and she unceasingly recommended it in practice.

What shall I say about her spirit of mortification? How many times have I not had to stop her! When she was already in the arms of death, she still wanted to do some small mortifications and suffer some privations. So on this point, be good imitators of your Mother, my dear Sisters. She had a supreme horror of exceptions, and she was very austere with herself, while at the same time being indulgent towards others. So let us imitate her as much as we can, so if we had to die some years ahead of time, our good God would be most happy to send some other vocations to reward our love.

And imitate your holy Mother’s recollection too. Even the most distracting occupations did not tear her away from her God. She knew that genuine piety consists of pleasing God in everything, and so her soul was in a continual union with Him. From where did she draw her virtue, her patience and her submission to the divine will? In her love for Jesus Christ she was truly able to say with Saint Paul, “My life is Jesus Christ, and death to me is a gain.” She loved the Blessed Sacrament so much! How much she longed every day, especially during her last illness, to receive it during Holy Communion! And she drew these fine virtues from meditating on the Passion of Our Lord and Mary’s sorrows. So sometimes it seems that Jesus lifted a corner of the veil for her with which He hides His divinity. She avowed to me, at the end of her life, that the graces she had received were so powerful and so strong that she was devoured by the desire to see God face to face. And it is certain that without these extraordinary graces, she would never have been able to speak of God and eternity the way that she did. For me it was a consolation to hear her words.

Yes, my dear Sisters, you have lost a real treasure! Alas, my dear Sisters, you will never see her again in choir, where she sang and recited the praises of the Lord so often and with such fervour. You will never see her again in the long corridors where she edified you by her recollected air. You will never see your dear Mother again in the refectory, which has witnessed so many mortifications. You will never see her again in that room where she so often consoled and encouraged you. You will never see her again in the recreation room where she was so good at uniting to the gravity required by her responsibilities the joy and the saintly happiness of the children of Saint Alphonsus. You will never see her again, your dear Mother, here in the corner of the Conference room where she listened with so much attention, eagerness and love to the words of God. Today you have brought her on your shoulders to the door of the enclosure, and I have had the consolation of accompanying her to her last resting-place. No, you will never see her here again, but with your eyes of faith, you will see her in heaven among all the Redemptoristine saints who have proceeded her, and among them I am certain she will shine like a bright star for all eternity. Go to her now just as you used to go to see her in her cell, tell her all your needs, and she will obtain all the spiritual graces for you that you require. She has suffered so much for you, and she promised not to forget you! Oh, my dear Sisters, do not forget your Mother’s teachings, nor the fine examples she has left you. She can say to you like the Apostle, “Imitate me as I have imitated Christ.” So let us all say, “I wish to remember unceasingly the good examples which our venerated Mother has left us, and try to imitate them. Oh, if only our own death will be the same as hers!” And so it will be, my dear Sisters, if we are good at doing what she has done, and if we are good imitators of Our Lord, for then we will see Him face to face with her in that beautiful Paradise where we shall sing of His mercies in all eternity.
Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo.
I shall sing of the mercies of the Lord in eternity.

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, 9 October 2011

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

Chapter XI.
The death of Mother Mary Aloyse – The Tribute paid to her Memory.

The teachings which we cited in the preceding chapter were not all known by the community. However, the Sisters greatly desired to make their last farewells to their good Mother and receive her last recommendations. The Most Rev. Father Kockerols, who was consulted in this regard, shared the same thoughts and let the invalid know that she owed her daughters this supreme satisfaction.

So on 5th December, the community assembled in Mother Mary-Aloyse’s room. And when she saw them all thus around her bed of sorrows, she could not restrain her tears.

“Pardon me,” she said forthwith, “if you see me weeping like this, my dear Sisters. It is because of the love I bear you.”

Making an effort to control herself, she continued, “Yes, it is the love that I bear you which brings me to address a few more words of farewell to you.

“Be saints, all of you, and great saints. To do this, you only have to be faithful to all the duties of your vocation, and you will be so forever if you quite forget about your own selves. Forget your own selves so as to occupy yourselves only with the glory and interests of Jesus.

“Be great in your spirit, in your heart, in your requests. When you suffer, do not be forever thinking of your pains. Try to forget them and imagine the sufferings of Our Lord instead, and then you will see that your own are nothing in comparison. Sometimes it is a little disagreeable remark which wounds us, perhaps a look, a little ambition, a little susceptibility, a tiny trifle. Forget it. It is not right to let such things turn you away from Our Lord Jesus Christ by making you worry about yourselves. Instead of wasting your time being upset, just say, “I am going to sacrifice it so as to give souls to Jesus Christ.” They are only minor pinpricks. If they make you suffer, say, “All the better, I am going to offer this up to Our Lord.” In appearance, they are nothing, they are petty trifles, but in the eyes of God, they mean a lot, they are very great. And believe me, you will be greatly rewarded at the time of death. You have to have experience of it to be able to understand it. When you spend your whole life trying to forget about yourself for the sake of Jesus Christ, at the time of your death, this good Saviour lifts a corner of the veil which still hides Him, and what delights He gives to the soul, when He lets her glimpse His marvellous beauty!”

The Reverend Mother interrupted herself for a moment to give free course to her tears. Then she continued, “Ah, my dear Sisters, I have always loved you more than you have ever been able to understand, and if sometimes I have brought sorrow to your hearts, it has only been, believe me, for love of your souls, for the sake of your great good, and to attach you to Jesus Christ alone.

“Yes, seek for just Jesus alone, and be great in your thoughts. When you go into His presence, do not go there always thinking of yourselves, or speaking about yourselves. Do not go there to ask for a long list of little things, but think of Our Lord, of His interests, for the salvation of souls. Do not go there so much to recite a whole quantity of litanies and prayers, but rather to ask for some real virtues so as to win souls for God. You will then obtain much more, and that will weigh very differently in the balance. Be great in your affections, love Our Lord well, the most holy Virgin, and Saint Alphonsus. Be always closely united to your Superiors through respect, affection and confidence, and remain just as strongly united among yourselves. Love the Congregation a great deal. Have great love for the poor. So suffer generously for Jesus Christ in both your great and small trials. Forget your own selves in order to think only of Him and of souls.”

The Reverend Mother insisted on this capital point of religious life. “My sufferings are very great,” she added, “I suffer a great deal, but I look at Jesus, I think of His Passion, His sufferings, and I force myself not to think of my own, so that I consider only His. Do not forget, my dear Sisters, that we ourselves are not the aim of our vocation: it is God and souls.” - “You will do this, won’t you?” she said, turning to those who were listening to her. “Promise me that you will forget your own selves in order to become Saints?” They all replied in a single voice, “Yes, good Mother, we promise you.” - “Oh well,” replied the invalid, “now I am tranquil and consoled. I shall never forget you and I shall bring all of you in my heart to Paradise. If you are very faithful, we shall be reunited there one day and sing together like Saint Thérèse.” - And the good Mother, gathering her strength, sang out loud: Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo (I shall sing the mercies of the Lord in eternity). - “I love all of you and I shall take you all with me to Paradise.”

The moving dialogue continued. Turning now to the novices and the educands, she told them, “And the novices? And the educands? Do they also promise me? Will they also be faithful?” They all replied straight away, “Yes, Reverend Mother!” - Then she said, “My children, understand the happiness of religious life. It is immense. It has, no doubt, its pains and sufferings, but God rewards us for it greatly at our death, and the sufferings of the world are also great. Be on your guard for anyone amongst you who wishes to leave, because I shall come back to retain her.” - And making allusion to their habits, she added smiling, “I would like to see all these dark little heads become white.”

Then that was all. The good Mother wanted to give her daughters a last blessing. She did it using an image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, which she then kissed devotedly. Then the Sisters left her, bringing from that touching scene an ineffaceable memory.

However, her last days were approaching rapidly. The Most Reverend Father Kockerols, the Reverend Mother’s director, did not fail to assist her in her last moments. A short note from him has been preserved, which breathes the joyous confidence he had in the final combat: “Please tell the Reverend Mother that I have not forgotten her for a moment before God, that I bless her most cordially, that we are all praying fervently for Jesus and Mary to support her right to the end in this great and wonderful combat, that her guardian angel, if he could perspire, would sweat great drops in the effort to record her merits, that she must hold firm to obedience and patience, and that her name is written in the Book of Life. So let her be reassured. Let her keep her presence of spirit, and I shall be there to help her soul fly away to the third heaven.”

No more than Father Olivaint, the Most Rev. Father Kockerols too did not admit that one died reluctantly. A death peacefully and joyfully accepted was in fact the nature of the death of Mother Mary-Aloyse. The zealous director had prepared her for her last journey. On 17th October he administered her the last Sacraments. Some weeks passed by, with the invalid lingering constantly between life and death. Finally on 11th December, the Rev. Father Kockerols was called urgently. He arrived with enough time to address some kind words to the dying Mother and encourage her one last time. This was a supreme consolation for her. Some instants afterwards, her agony began. It was neither long nor painful. On 12th December, at 10.45 in the morning, this good Superior peacefully rendered her soul to God. A heavenly calm immediately spread over her face, and then everyone could approach her, not merely without fear, but also with an interior joy, on her funeral bed where she rested.

The funeral notice was composed by the Most Rev. Father Kockerols. We have decided to give in full:

Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Alphonsus
Pray for the repose of the soul
of the Very Reverend
of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
in the world Miss
Isabelle-Fulvie-Albertine Fabri,
Superior for eleven years of the Monastery
of the Most Holy Redeemer at Bruges,
born at Sény on 22nd October 1822, deceased
piously at
Bruges on 12th December 1889, in the 46th year
of her
religious life and the 44th of her holy profession.

She was full of faith and the Holy Spirit. Acts V. 6.

Jesus Christ is my life, and death to me is a gain, Phil. 1. 21.

I shall willingly give everything I have and I shall even give my own self for your souls, “ Cor. XII, 15.

Until the moment of her death, this Mother, who was more admirable than we can say, and worthy to live eternally in the memory of the good, encouraged her children with a great wisdom and firmness, allying a male courage to the tenderness of a woman. 2 Mach. VII, 20, 21.

Do not forget the teachings of your Mother. Prov. I. 8.

Let the Sacred Heart of Jesus be loved everywhere. (100 days indulg.).

Blessed be the holy, immaculate and most pure Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. (300 days indulg.)

R. I. P.

The universal sorrow and regrets that this sweet death provoked were the best commentary on this pious notice, but of all the tributes of veneration that were paid to the deceased, the most important we think was the funeral eulogy given by the Most Reverend Father Kockerols to the assembled Sisters. We reproduce it the same way it was received by a religious in the Monastery. These praises, given by a man who ordinarily was so reticent, are a singular testimony to the virtue of she who merited to receive them.

(Father Kockerols Eulogy will follow on the next posting.)

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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