Sunday, 30 December 2012

Mother Marie-Cherubine, O.SS.R. Foundress of the Monastery of Velp (1812 – 1887)

Foundress of the Convent of the Redemptoristines of Velp, near Grave, founded in 1858

Chapter VI. The zealous Superior.

Sister Marie-Cherubine, in view of the little esteem she had of her own person, had in no way dreamed of becoming the Superior of the new foundation, but it was soon evident that the choice was a most happy one.

The reader will remember that, at the time of her profession, Sister Marie-Cherubine had received this addition to her name: “of the Holy Spirit”. More than ever now she had need of the lights of the Holy Spirit, so more than ever she addressed herself to this divine consoler to implore His help, and she unceasingly had recourse to this “Father of the poor, distributor of the heavenly gifts.” This is what she said one day in a meeting she had with one of her daughters. “We must often invoke the Holy Spirit with confidence,” she said, “and thus we shall always obtain light and strength in one manner or another.” Full of confidence in this powerful protector, Mother Marie-Cherubine had accepted the task that obedience had imposed on her. It was most especially during the beginning of her superiority that she had need of this confidence and this entire abandonment to the dispositions of the divine Providence, for, as in every new foundation, she often had to overcome great difficulties. “The poverty of the convent,” said one of the foundresses, “was, in the beginning, very pressing, and we lacked even the most necessary things, but Mother Marie Cherubine was always full of abandonment to the will of God. Calm and resigned, she sought her strength and consolation in prayer.”

She had the greatest zeal for the observance of the Rule, as far as it was then possible. She herself gave the example of it, and so all her daughters competed ardently in the accomplishment of their duties, inspired as they were even more by the good example of their Mother than by her words.

Early in the morning, when the community awoke, she was the first in the oratory, making the Way of the Cross, and during the day, one could be sure to find her in the chapel during her free moments. This spirit of prayer appeared most clearly in her zeal for the Divine Office. She would recite her breviary with great piety and great attention, she knew most of it by heart, and later on, when she had become almost blind, she could still lend her assistance when it was needed. During the novenas and octaves on the great feasts, she was completely plunged in the contemplation of the mysteries which were the objects of them. “Even the strongest of our Sisters,” one of her daughters avowed frankly, “could not pray in as continuous and devoted a manner as our Reverend Mother did.” The importance that she placed on prayer she showed one day on the occasion of her patronymic feast. She knew that the Sisters were preparing a surprise for her, and like a good Mother, she let them do it. “I will agree to everything, my children,” she told them, “provided that you do not neglect a single prayer because of it.”

Another proof that the spirit of prayer ruled in the little community of Velp is this passage from a letter from the Mother Superior of Bruges. “It is always with delight,” she said in it, “that I receive news of your house of Velp, as I believe, and I rejoice in it, that it is a sanctuary of piety, where you love and console our good Saviour.”

Mother Marie-Cherubine was also in the habit of conversing familiarly with God, and her heart was entirely consecrated to her Creator. One of her spiritual daughters, who had become the Superior of another community, one day received the following letter from her: “My dear and good Sister, so it has been given to me to engage a few moments with my best and former daughter, in whom I always take the most lively interest… I have not forgotten the beautiful and consoling feast of Pentecost that I spent with you. When praying for all of us, I also prayed for you, that the love of God may remain fixed in our hearts and that the divine Paraclete may be the only one to find entry into our souls, as He alone can lead us to Jesus, and make us know His love and the whole price of His grace. May He also make us always progress in love and piety towards the Blessed Sacrament, where He keeps and protects us here at Velp as much as at S. – A..!

“We know that it is Him alone who attracts us, and makes every sacrifice easy for us. May His Sacred Heart be the place of our reunion. Let us love one another mutually with a pure and sincere love, and let us help one another to live truly united in Him.

“What a joy it is for me to learn that M… is receiving good vocations! Generally speaking we can say that, in spite of the malice of the times, there are still many good souls. The good God is so merciful and so kind that the virtue and piety of a few souls make Him forget the wickedness of a thousand others. However, this does not exempt us from doing everything we possibly can to prevent evil. For you, as for us, I ask God for good and solid vocations. Last Saturday a good and talented young lady from Amsterdam made her entry here. She is 22. Thanks be to God, she has a good voice and a strong chest. I think she will be an excellent acquisition for us, as she seems disposed to everything…

“Here everything is going well. The garden looks very pretty. We have a good gardener. She knows neither pain nor weariness when it comes to procuring beautiful flowers for the Blessed Sacrament.

“I must leave you now, by good and dear Sister. The clock is calling us to Vespers. My sincerest greetings to all your good fellow Sisters.

“Ever in God, Jesus and Mary.
“I am in their love
“Your devoted Sister in Jesus Christ.
“Sister Marie-Cherubine of the Holy Spirit.”

Prayer ordinarily goes hand in hand with mortification, in such a way that it can be said: Those who pray well mortify themselves well. Mother Marie Cherubine was also a model on this point. Severe upon herself, she was not content with interior mortification, but also practised exterior or corporal mortification. She observed the feasts of the Church and those of the Rule with the greatest exactitude. Inspired by a great ardour for her own sanctification, she knew how to communicate this ardour to the hearts of her subordinates. She maintained the spirit of mutual charity which makes community life so agreeable. Like a true mother, she watched over the domestics of the house in order to ensure their well-being. Everyone who knew her and had any kind of dealings with her gave testimony of her that she was everything to everyone in order to gain them all for Jesus Christ. All the Sisters, without exception, felt happy under her wise and prudent direction, as she governed less by orders and constraints than by the heart. Always full of charity towards everyone, she knew, in the greatest adversities, how to preserve her natural good humour and remain always sweet and calm.

In the early days of the foundation, many things of prime necessity were lacking, and Mother Marie Cherubine could not always give her children the things they needed. Like a true mother, she wept more over them than over her own personal needs.

One day they found her weeping in the garden, weeping in secret before God because of the extreme necessity in which she found herself. Some of the Sister noticed her, and seeing that she was weeping, they asked her the cause of her sadness. “Oh!” she replied, “it is so painful for me not to be able to give my daughters what they need any more!”

Another time, they were woken up too early in the morning by the bell. Mother Marie Cherubine was the first to notice it, when she was already dressed. She immediately ran to all the Sisters to tell them that they still had one more hour of rest before them. As for herself, she went into the Oratory to spend that hour in prayer there,

She never departed from this manner of acting in all simplicity with her subordinates. It so happened, that through surprise or negligence, one or another piece of crockery was broken. The good Mother evidently did not give any evidence of satisfaction, which can be easily understood given the penury of the house. But then one day, Mother appeared in the kitchen, and in some sort of calamity she herself broke a brand new plate! The whole community was attracted by the noise and came running in all haste, excited by the novelty of the event, and realised with a scarcely restrained joy that it was Mother herself who had broken a plate! Then they all began laughing with all their hearts, and Mother herself was not the last one to do so.

It was always a sweet and agreeable task for her to spread her favours around her. But on the other hand, it cost her a great deal to have to be occupied by obligation with things disagreeable to corrupt nature, for example, having to hold a Chapter of faults. Then she had to do such violence to her good heart and her humility that the night beforehand she would not be able to sleep. The more she was convinced that no one had more need than her of being humbled, the more she regarded herself as the least and most imperfect of all the Sisters of the house!

She was a mother full of charity towards all without exception, and especially for the converse Sisters. She always had some very maternal things to say to them. And she could often be seen coming to their aid in their work, helping them to peel the potatoes, wash and prepare the vegetables, etc. “She considered herself as good for nothing.” This is the testimony given of her by a Sister who is still alive and has already been quoted in this notice.

This charity for her neighbour first of all embraced her spiritual daughters. But she also showed it in her conduct towards strangers who came to the house. She willingly entered into conversations with them, because she always had a few words of consolation to give them. However, she always regretted the time that she had to spend in the parlour.

Her pleasant and considerate manner of acting often helped her to gain the hearts of her postulants, and encouraged their parents to willingly make the sacrifice of a child, who, they said, would find such a good Mother in the convent. And when the postulants had decided to enter, she knew how to encourage them and strengthen them in their resolve in such a winning manner that they willingly made every sacrifice to hasten their arrival in the monastery. One day she wrote to a postulant: “Hasten to come to the abode of peace. You no longer have anything to do with the world. Jesus Christ is calling you.”

So it is in no way astonishing that so good and charitable a Mother was loved and venerated by her daughters, or that they lived happy and in peace under her gentle authority, and that the number of vocations gradually increased. And the buildings also had to be extended and various other changes made.

Let us not think, however, that there was any lack of crosses, or that everything prospered in the community. We shall soon see that God wished once again to open the royal road of suffering to Mother Marie Cherubine, and that she was thus to prepare her heavenly crown, as it is by all sorts of tribulations that we must enter into the Kingdom of God.

The means which God wished to make use of to test and purify His faithful servant was an eye infection that He sent her in 1865.

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, 16 December 2012

Mother Marie-Cherubine, O.SS.R. Foundress of the Monastery of Velp (1812 – 1887)

Foundress of the Convent of the Redemptoristines of Velp, near Grave, founded in 1858

Chapter V. The new foundation.

After the Revolution of 1848 most of the countries of Europe did not cease to find themselves in a situation of uncertainty and trouble. Liberal governments, while proclaiming themselves to be the defenders of liberty for all, granted this liberty to all the sects but refused it to the Catholic religion, which they tried to oppress in every fashion.

This was the case in Belgium. There they bore down especially upon religious Congregations, which they said deceitfully, were working against the progress of civilisation and did no more than spread ignorance and “bigotry” everywhere.

The result for the religious was difficult and perilous times against which they had to defend themselves. And then in 1857 the Belgian parliament passed a “law against religious”, which was soon reduced in practice to Brussels, Antwerp and a few other places.

The Redemptoristines of Bruges feared with good reason that they would be troubled in their situation which had hitherto been peaceful, and Mons. Malou, the Bishop of Bruges, believed he had to warn them himself of the danger they were running. Filled with a paternal solicitude, it advised them to seek a place abroad where they could live at least temporarily. The good Sisters cast their eyes upon England or Ireland, but they could not then hope to find a convenient establishment in those countries.

But good Providence would once again show its predilection for the spiritual daughters of Saint Alphonsus.

At an hour’s distance from the town of Grave in Holland, there was a village of 600 inhabitants called Velp. It was a solitary place and far from the noise of the world. Dotted in the midst of the fields, the cottages and houses of the countryside could be seen. Everywhere a pleasant and peaceful calm reigned. So it was in no way astonishing that the sons of St. Francis, in the 17th century, founded a monastery in this blessed spot that still exists today.

In 1858 there was also a little manor house there which bore the name of “Bronkhorst”. The building had a considerable garden, it was all surrounded by a stretch of water, and it occupied an area of about two hectares. A distinguished Prelate, Mons. de la Geneste, a protonotary of Pius IX, was the owner. The Mother-Superior of Bruges, Marie-Philomene, learnt that this property was for sale. The circumstances in which she knew of it deserve to be reported.

In the Belgian Province of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, there was a Dutch Father of the name of Van der Meulen, the brother in law of the burgomaster of the commune of Velp. However, Mons. de la Geneste had confided the care of this property to him, and at this moment, the month of October 1857, this Redemptorist Father was back in his native country. He paid a visit to his brother in law and learnt from him that the manor of Bronkhorst was for sale.

As quickly as he could, he made Mother Marie-Philomene aware of all this, while obtaining from the burgomaster his promise to conclude the purchase from Mons. de la Geneste. But he also had to obtain permission from the Archbishop of Utrecht, Mons. Zwysen, to establish the Congregation of the Redemptoristines in his diocese.

On the advice of Mons. Malou, Mother Marie Philomene wrote to Mons. Zwysen to beg him to be good enough to consent to the new foundation. His permission, full of benevolence, was transmitted to her several months later. A short while later, the sale was concluded, and the necessary work could begin. The burgomaster took direction of it and work began straight away to turn the little manor house into a suitable convent.

Mons Malou expressed the desire for the Superior of Bruges and one of her Sisters to go themselves to Velp to supervise both the work and order things well, and the two religious were received by the burgomaster with the greatest benevolence.

On 19th – 22nd April they decided the places for the grille in the parlour, the choir, the cloister, etc., and hastened on the completion of the work to such a degree that it was hoped that the new foundation would be completely ready by the month of July.

Mother Marie Philomene was then able to inform Mons. Zwysen that she hoped to see the house put in order for the octave of the feast of the patron saint of the Congregation, that of the Most Holy Redeemer (3rd Sunday of July), in order to place under the protection of the divine Saviour the work undertaken for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. His Lordship announced his satisfaction and then, at Bruges, they were able to begin getting ready for the departure of the founding Sisters.

Mons. Malou had decided that the choice of these Sisters would be made by the Superior and her counsel. In the community, they were asking who would be the Superior of the new foundation. On this subject no one had less concern about it than Sister Marie-Cherubine, the whole time the establishment of Velp was going forward.

Finally the moment came to make the choice of the founding Sisters. On 8th July 1858, the Community assembled to hear the nominations… After the opening prayers and some preliminary remarks, Mother Marie-Philomene then pronounced the names of the foundresses. “The Superior,” she said, “would be Sister Marie-Cherubine of the Holy Spirit.” Scarcely had she heard these words than she looked around her quite astonished, as if she was looking for the Sister designated, and forgot to fall upon her knees as a sign of submission, which is what was done in such circumstances. So the Sisters sitting beside her then had to tell her: “It’s you, my Sister, so go down on your knees!” This is how little the good Sister thought that she would be charged with this task, so honourable, but so important and onerous!

The Mother Superior noticed her confusion and began to encourage her by assuring her that, if she accepted her charge through obedience and with confidence, God would support her. Her companions would also assist her by their devotion.

Her companions and fellow Sisters were:

Sister Marie-Marguerite of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Miss Caroline Marguerite Elisabeth Van Rijckervorsel, of Rotterdam) as Sister Vicar.
Sister Marie-Anne-Josepha (Miss Caroline Dupont, of Liege).
Sister Marie-Eulalia of Jesus (Miss Marie Jougen, of Mons).
Sister Marie-Felicity of the Blessed Sacrament (Miss Wilhelmina Lefevre, the daughter of Mr. Lefevre, a professor at the University of Ghent).

Next two converse Sisters:

Sister Angela of the Holy Family (Miss Mathilda Ansieur, of Zwerssele, West Flanders).
Sister Julie de Volder, a converse educande Sister, of Hooglede, (West Flanders).

These were the foundresses of the new Monastery of Velp.

The 19th July was then designated as the day for the religious to depart. Mother Marie-Philomene herself led the little colony, which arrived at its destination on the 20th of the same month. The Dean of Velp, A. Pulzers, blessed the chapel, the house and the garden. The Holy Mass was celebrated for the first time in the new convent on the 22nd. The a great solemn Mass was sung by the Dean, whose assistants were the Redemptorist Father Van der Meulen and the Father Guardian of the Capuchin Fathers, Father Athanase. On the 26th, the enclosure was solemnly established, and the following day, Mother Marie-Cherubine and her assistant Sisters were invested with their functions by Mother Marie-Philomene.

When everything had been done, Mother Marie-Philomene returned to Bruges, on 29th July. Straight after her departure, the Sisters made their submission to the new Superior, and the community of Velp was thus constituted like all the other communities of Redemptoristines. A new career then opened up for Mother Marie-Cherubine.

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, 2 December 2012

Mother Marie-Cherubine, O.SS.R. Foundress of the Monastery of Velp (1812 – 1887)

Foundress of the Convent of the Redemptoristines of Velp, near Grave, founded in 1858

Chapter IV. Re-entry into the house of the Lord.

We have seen that Miss Celestine Platton had asked for her admission into the community of the Redemptoristines of Bruges in 1844. Some Redemptoristines had in fact come from Vienna in 1841, having as their Mother Superior Marie-Alphonse of the Will of God. She had received her religious habit at Saint Agatha of the Goths, the very place where Saint Alphonsus had formerly shown himself as a model bishop.

When this worthy religious learnt that the Revolution had chased all the children of Saint Alphonsus from the capital of Austria, she wished to receive into her own community all the Sisters of Rennweg Street, but the prudence of Monsignor the Bishop of Bruges permitted her to take only three of them.

As Sister Marie-Cherubine saw herself coming back to her own country following the persecution in Vienna, she believed that, in these sad circumstances, she would do well to ask to be attached to the Community of Bruges, where she already had one of her own sisters, Marie-Claire of the Holy Sacrament. So she humbly begged her Superior at Aix-la-Chapelle to permit her to withdraw into the convent of the Redemptoristines at Bruges, even if it was in the quality of a converse Sister.

This last proposition was not accepted, but it is an evident proof not only of Marie-Cherubine’s love for the cloistered life, but also of her profound humility. The community of Bruges was happy to receive her as a Choir Sister, as Marie-Cherubine would be an excellent acquisition for their house. She arrived there on 20th April, Holy Thursday in the year 1848, towards midday.

The welcome given to her was one of great warmth. She had been so severely tested, she had suffered so much, and now she was coming to find a refuge with her fellow Sisters! Scarcely had the Sister at the door set eyes upon her than she ran to the bell to announce her arrival. All the religious, clad in their blue mantles, with a candle in their hands, went solemnly to the door of the enclosure to give their welcome to Sister Marie-Cherubine. They all greeted her and embraced her cordially, and after the sincerest congratulations, they led her to the choir chanting the beautiful canticle: “Ecce quam bonum”. How beautiful it is, how agreeable it is for Sisters to dwell together in the house of the Lord and be there but one heart and one soul! (Ps. 132:1). Then the Reverend Mother Superior herself showed her the cell that had been set aside for her.

After leaving Vienna, Marie-Cherubine had not been able to wear her religious habit, because it would have attracted too much attention, but now she could put off her secular costume in order to once more put on the habit of the spiritual daughters of Saint Alphonsus. From now on she could live in community as before, follow all the regular exercises, and in a word, be a religious in all the significance of the term. What happiness, after such painful struggles, and after such cruel persecutions! A new horizon was opening before her, the sombre revolution had disappeared and heaven had become serene again. With courage and fervour she once more began her life as a true daughter of Saint Alphonsus. The events had given her an experience of things and had attached her with all her heart and all her soul to her beautiful and dear vocation. And then, after a few days of rest, she ardently applied herself to the community exercises, and all the religious who knew her have testified that she was a model of obedience, humility and loving kindness to all her fellow Sisters.

One of them, now very aged but still in this world, who saw her close up, declares “that she was the first in observance of the holy Rules and inspired by a special fervour in the recitation of the Divine Office, which she would never have omitted for no matter what reason, because she found her whole happiness in being able to be close to her heavenly Spouse.”

However, trials of a new kind would soon fall upon Sister Marie-Cherubine. This time the crosses came to her from the part of her Superiors. It was found good, the notes that were written about her tell us, to test her virtue. For this reason, it was made their task to humble and reprimand her at every chapter of faults. They even made her begin her Educandate and her Novitiate all over again, even though she had already made her profession. “But,” says the Sister whose witness we have reported above, “she accepted everything with the best grace in the world, as no sacrifice was too much, provided that she could remain in her vocation.” So with the most profound humility she once more did all the exercises of the Educandes and Novices, always placing herself as the least of all, and by her exemplary conduct she was an example to her Sisters, to the point that often, and even now, she was the object of their conversations.

This trial, we cannot doubt, was placed upon her to augment her merits and make them more agreeable to the Heart of Our Lord, who united Himself even more intimately with His creature the more she was humbled. Marie-Cherubine thus came out of the combat even greater and more truly glorious than the conqueror who is glorified by his triumph over his enemies, as the greatest victory that we can win is surely the one we win over ourselves.

These humiliations elevated Sister Marie-Cherubine in the eyes of God, and they also increased the esteem that her fellow Sisters had conceived for her. The same Sister says: “All of them esteemed and cherished her. Her Superiors held her in particular esteem, and indeed, some years later, in 1858, they imposed upon her the honourable, but also very heavy task of founding a new Monastery in Holland and being its Superior.”

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, 18 November 2012

Mother Marie-Cherubine, O.SS.R. Foundress of the Monastery of Velp (1812 – 1887)

Foundress of the Convent of the Redemptoristines of Velp, near Grave, founded in 1858

Chapter III. Expulsion.

The year 1848 was to go down in the history of Europe. In February, revolution broke out in Paris. King Louis-Philippe had to flee in all haste, and some days later, the other thrones of Europe were also shaken. Austria was not spared. The city of Vienna especially was the scene of plunder and cruel persecution. For several days, the lives of the best citizens were exposed to the greatest danger. Priests and religious were exposed to the most brutal and ignoble pursuit.

To obtain an idea of the situation in the capital, it will be interesting to hear the accounts given by the newspapers and eye witnesses.

“In Vienna, the revolutionary mob set to work at the beginning of March. One morning, on 13th of this month, the rioters invaded the convent of the Redemptorist Fathers and ransacked it. The priests were forced to leave their house, put off their religious habit and put on lay clothes, and hide in the houses of some of their devoted friends. The Redemptoristines equally had to take shelter in some nearby houses.

“The weakness of the government had let everything take its course, and submitted without saying a word to the first demands of the revolutionaries. Calm was re-established for a moment in the city. It was concluded that the peril had been averted, so the Fathers and Sisters believed, in spite of the wise advice of their friends, that it was now possible to remain in their convents. This was on 30th March.

“But now on 6th April, in the morning, a troop of armed men made up of students and national guards invaded the Redemptorist convent, and roused up the furious crowd to believe that the priests did not deserve to remain any longer in Vienna. Some carriages were brought along and the Fathers were forced to get into them, and without being able to bring any of their things with them, they were driven outside the city. Rev. Father Passerat, their worthy Superior, an old man of 76, was so upset by this ignoble treatment that he lost his strength and fell when getting out of the carriage. These barbarians left him in the middle of the open country without paying the least attention to him.

“When the assault on the Redemptorist house had come to an end, the rioters now cried: ‘It’s the turn of the Sisters in Rennweg Street.’ And so their house was attacked on the evening of the same day, 6th April. At that moment, a large number of pious persons were in the chapel to attend benediction. The savage crowd which that morning had invaded the Fathers’ convent now invaded the nuns’ chapel. The chaplain was already at the altar, but these scoundrels would not permit him to begin the ceremony.

“The good Sisters were terrified and fled into their garden. The rabble had scarcely entered the convent when they gave free rein to their sacrilegious rage. Their impiety even went so far as to wrench a crucifix from the wall and trample it underfoot. They had carriages brought up and conducted the Sisters out of the city.

“A young revolutionary came up to one of these carriages, and noticing four religious in it, he spat at them as a sign of his profound contempt.

“Once outside the city, the Sisters were made to get out and they were left to go where they would. And so, as night fell, there were now thirty poor women, most of them very aged, who had been chased out of their house and forced to seek shelter in the darkness with whoever took compassion on them.

“Some of the Sisters, however, when the revolutionaries arrived, had found refuge with a neighbour, Mr. Goham, a tanner by profession, whose house adjoined the Monastery garden. This generous man declared that he would never permit, even at the risk of his fortune and his life, anyone to do the least harm to these good people who had taken refuge with him. However, the following morning, the rumours had spread, and the dregs of the people assembled in front of his house and demanded he handed over the poor nuns under pain of seeing his house attacked and destroyed. The brave tanner found the means to get these poor religious out under good guard, and then, opening his doors to the bandits, he convinced them that there were none of these persons so disgracefully persecuted within his house.”

But, in the midst of all these critical events, what had happened to Sister Marie-Cherubine?

When the news came that the revolutionaries were on the point of attacking the convent of the nuns, those who were not of Austrian origin were, upon the advice of Father Passerat, sent back to their homes. A faithful friend, Father Trogher, gave them every help they needed for their journey, and in all haste he conducted six of them out of the capital. This was on 7th April in the morning.

The travellers made their way to Aix-la-Chapelle and there they found refuge with the Sisters of Saint Elizabeth. They were made welcome there with the most affectionate and hospitable charity. They assigned them a part of their own convent, where the refugees could carry out their regular exercises.

As for Sister Marie-Cherubine, she was not of their number. To escape the rioters, she had hurriedly put on the clothes of a woman of the lowest condition, and wore an old and threadbare shawl, which gave her the appearance of a vagabond. While she was finding her way out, she came to a church, which she entered for a few moments. There, in order not to attract attention, she sat down in a corner behind a pillar, but she was noticed nonetheless by the sacristan, who began to suspect that she was in fact an expert thief. He kept on his guard and kept watch over her in consequence.

The poor Sister thus had the happy chance of leaving Vienna. She then made her way to Keulen, where she arrived on Friday, 10th April. There, she was welcomed charitably by Baron de Lago, the brother-in-law of her former Mistress of Novices, Sister Maria Victoria, who had also taken refuge with him. The two religious thus had the consolation of spending a few days together with the charitable Baron, and enjoying his benevolent hospitality.

As soon as Sister Marie-Cherubine learnt that six of her fellow Sisters were at Aix-la-Chapelle, she hastened to rejoin them. She arrived there on 15th April. But soon, on 19th of the same month, she had to leave them to go to Tirlemont in Belgium and spend some days there in the bosom of her family. It is impossible to express the joy that they all experienced in seeing her again after so long a separation, and after many days of severe trials.

However, the fervent religious longed for the blessed moment when she would be able to recommence her life in the cloister. This was why, on 20th April, the very next day, she took leave of her good parents and friends, and went on to her fellow Sisters in Bruges, who were awaiting her arrival.

But what had become of the Sisters in Aix-la-Chapelle? We can once again admire the ways of the divine Providence. For six months these good religious remained with the Sisters of Saint Elisabeth. The Mother Superior of Vienna came to join them and Sister Maria Victoria, and fixed their residence in the same house, while waiting for better times. The Redemptorist Fathers occupied a convent at Wittem in Dutch Limburg, which was about 12 kilometres from Aix-la-Chapelle, and this was part of a hamlet near the town of Galoppe. They busied themselves in procuring a residence nearby for the Redemptoristine Sisters, to the effect that the 13th October saw the first Redemptoristine Convent established at Galoppe in Holland, between Maestricht and Aix-la-Chapelle.

Other Sisters came there from Austria, where religious affairs were not improving. This is why, in view of the cramped conditions in this house in Galoppe, it was judged urgent to build a new and bigger convent, and this took place at Partij, a little hamlet not far from the Fathers in Wittem. This Monastery was situated on the road between Wybre and Malines, and called Marienthal (Valley of Mary), and it was occupied by the Redemptoristines on 26th June 1851. – The convent of the Vienna Sisters was not restored to them until 1853.

So this is how the storm of persecution, in the hands of God, became the means of extending the Institute of the spiritual daughters of Saint Alphonsus even more widely. And this is how their enemies, who believed they had exterminated them forever, were the co-operators in their establishment in Holland.

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, 4 November 2012

Mother Marie-Cherubine, O.SS.R. Foundress of the Monastery of Velp (1812 – 1887)

Foundress of the Convent of the Redemptoristines of Velp, near Grave, founded in 1858

Chapter II. In a foreign land.

The time of trial began for Celestine from the moment she entered the convent. There she was in a foreign land, far from the paternal home and everyone who was linked to her by ties of blood. People there could only understand her with a great deal of difficulty, and there was hardly a religious who understood French. Everything was strange to her – the regulation of the house, the people, the kinds of food, and the language. It was a whole new world that opened before her. In spite of this, her courage, her strength of soul, her confidence in God and in this adorable Providence which had always directed her, did not abandon her, but on the contrary, helped her to overcome all the difficulties.

Following the prescriptions of the Institute, she had to begin her religious life in the “Educandate”, in order to receive the first notions concerning the foundations of the spiritual edifice she had to construct. The Educandate is the preparation for the Novitiate. The difficulties she had to surmount can only be conjectured by the several details we can give in a few words. Her mistress knew only a little French, and Celestine scarcely knew any German, so if there was anything that she had to ask or say, she had to have recourse to her dictionary each time. However, she found a charitable father and wise counsellor in the Very Rev. Father Passerat, who had also come to Vienna, and from time to time gave a conference to the community. One day, right at the beginning of Miss Platton’s educandate, in an informal discussion, she naively said that a great difficulty for her came from the difference that existed between Austrian and Belgian food. At Tirlemont, for example, as she said, she had been accustomed to eating slices of bread and butter, while at Vienna this custom did not exist among the Sisters. Good Father Passerat was able to resolve this difficulty very quickly. On the evening of that same day, Celestine saw, to her great astonishment, placed in front of her alone, slices of bread and butter.

In the midst of these little crosses, one thing consoled her and gave her strength and courage to the point where she declared she was blessed even in her trials. This consolation she found right where her heavenly Spouse deigned to dwell hidden in His mystery of love, that is to say, with Jesus Christ in the Tabernacle, and also with Her who, from the highest heaven, watched over her like a mother over her child, took the place of her mother on earth, and surrounded her with her maternal care. This was her good and tender mother Mary.

In one of the cloisters of the Monastery there was a beautiful image of the Blessed Virgin holding the infant Jesus on her lap. The Sisters called it the Mother of the House. It was there especially that Celestine went to pour out her heart, and it was there that her Mother consoled her. It was there that she repaired her strength and drew courage and consolation to accomplish the will of the Lord and remain faithful to Him. She felt herself truly happy in this new life that she had embraced, in spite of all the difficulties that she had to overcome every day. This is what she expresses clearly in a letter to her parents that she sent them during her Educandate. “I have learnt with joy,” she told them, “that my sister Irma also wishes to become a Redemptoristine, but that she knows German well, and that she will soon come here to our Convent of Vienna.” Sometime later, Irma made her entry into the house at Bruges, and late she went on to Velp, where Celestine had become the Superior, and she is still there today. (1883).

However, her time in the Educandate was coming to an end, and the day came when Celestine was to begin her Novitiate and receive the Redemptoristine habit. And indeed she did receive it, from the hands of the coadjutor Bishop of Vienna, Mons. Matthias Pollitzer, on 29th October 1846. Following the custom of the Congregation, she received her name in religion at the same time – it was that of Sister Marie-Cherubine of the Holy Spirit.

Filled with a holy ardour, she then began her Novitiate, and soon found her greatest delight in all the exercises of the contemplative life and mental prayer. And so she proceeded rapidly along the way of perfection. The Mistress of Novices did not tire of praising her when she spoke of the virtues of Sister Marie-Cherubine. In a letter to the Mother Superior of Bruges, Marie-Philomene, she expressed herself pretty much in these terms: “Sister Marie-Cherubine lives a life totally hidden in God.” These few words give us evidence that Celestine had given herself entirely to God, for whom she had left everything that she held dear in the world, and that she was entirely penetrated by the spirit of the Congregation. And indeed this spirit requires the Sisters to consecrate themselves to the hidden life and the life of sacrifice of which our divine Saviour gave a signal example for thirty years.

After a year of regular exercises, Sister Marie-Cherubine was admitted to the profession of her holy vows on 6th November 1847. On this occasion she received the blue scapular and the mantle of the same colour, with the black veil, the crown of roses and the gold ring, the sign of the Spouses of the Most Holy Redeemer.

Sister Marie-Cherubine had therefore attained her aim, and the object of her desires. The end had crowned the work; the reward had followed the pains and sacrifices. With her whole heart she was now able to say with the Spouse in the Canticles: “I have found Him whom my heart loves, I have Him, I possess Him. I shall never leave Him again.” (1 Ct. III, 4).

The newly Professed was now part of the community of Vienna. All the Sisters held her in great esteem. They were all disposed in her favour, because of her sweet and affable manner, her piety and her placidness of soul. Happy in her vocation, she was full of gratitude towards God for this inestimable grace, for the wise conduct of her paternal Providence who had directed her, by marvellous ways, towards the end she desired so much. It seemed that she would now spend her days in the Mother House of Vienna in peace and affectionate rapport with God in prayer and good works done for the salvation and conversion of poor sinners. But this peaceful happiness was not to last long. A very heavy trial was about to engulf her. Happily, she was solid in virtue and the habit of recognizing in every event the will of God and His wise Providence, and so she could abandon herself to this divine Providence in the midst of the critical circumstances in which she was soon to find herself.

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, 21 October 2012

Mother Marie-Cherubine, O.SS.R. Foundress of the Monastery of Velp (1812 – 1887)


Foundress of the Convent of the Redemptoristines of Velp, near Grave, founded in 1858 [1]

Chapter I. Birth and first years of Marie-Cherubine.
Her vocation to the religious life.

Mother Marie-Cherubine was born on 4th June 1812 at Tirlemont, a town of 8000 souls, situated in Belgian East Brabant, of an honourable and Christian family of the name of Platton. At her baptism she received the name of Celestine. Of the seven children, two boys and five girls, of which the family was composed, she was the third; but it was she who was to become the joy and crown of her parents.

Her mother and father’s great preoccupation was to give their children a perfectly Christian education, and to procure for them an honourable position in society. To this end, they confided Celestine to an instructress of the same town (Miss Angelique) who had a boarding school with twelve girl students. This mistress gave her pupils an excellent education. She taught them not just the different notions that were suited to their condition, but also and above all, the practice of the Christian virtues and religious duties. Her pupils attended all the offices of the Church, and all the processions in the parish, wearing special and modest costumes. They never appeared in public without being veiled.

From her early childhood, Celestine Platton was distinguished among her companions by the meekness and gentleness of her character. She was the glory of her mistress, the consolation of her parents, and served as a model to her brothers and sisters. Her charitable attentiveness made her considered by everyone as a real treasure; and when she was able to spend a few hours in the paternal home, everyone was happy to enjoy the presence of the good and always popular Celestine.

It was thus that she passed her earliest years in acquiring the knowledge which is required to be the ornament of a young lady, and be formed in the practice of all the Christian virtues. After terminating her classes advantageously, she returned to her family, at the age of about eighteen. There she continued her pious exercises and helped her parents in the cares of the household.

Faithful to the good habits contracted in the boarding school, she never appeared in public without being modestly veiled; and, one day when her sister reproached her for it, she replied to her forcefully: “If this inconveniences you, then leave me alone at home.”

Later on, when she felt the desire to leave the world, she approached the holy Table every day.

After she left the boarding school, she often went to see her two older married sisters, and a niece who lived in the countryside near Tirlemont. It was a pleasure for her to render them the most humble services. She was always welcome everywhere. However her family were not to enjoy her presence for much longer.

Already, in the boarding school, God had spoken to her heart, and had suggested her saying farewell to the world and giving herself to Him entirely and undivided. She was then twenty years of age; and always, but now more than ever, the same voice was pressing her to embrace the religious life. This is why, after having prayed much and reflected long upon it, she determined resolutely to finally leave the world and enter a community. But where she should she present herself? There were many communities of women in Tirlemont and the surrounding district; but she felt no attraction for their mode of life. Her choice was thus delayed until a very providential occasion arrived to fix it.

In 1844, two Dutch Redemptorist Fathers, Bernard and Michiels, came to preach a mission at Tirlemont. Their most apostolic words found an echo in hearts. Miss Celestine Platton followed the exercises of the mission ardently. “Oh!” she said to herself, “if only there were also some nuns just as devoted to the salvation of poor sinners, then I would join them straight away!” This wish was to be satisfied sooner than Celestine dared to hope.

Upon Mr. Platton’s invitation, the two missionaries paid him a visit, during which talk turned to Miss Celestine’s wishes. The Fathers made her aware of the Institute of the Redemptoristines which, in its aim, responded perfectly to her views. This Congregation had only recently – in 1841 – been established in Belgium, at Bruges. After some discussion, they came to the conclusion that Miss Platton would go and present herself to the community at Bruges.

But what difficulties did she not have to surmount in order to realise her pious desire! We have now arrived at the year 1844. Celestine, born in 1812, was now thirty two. Can we then be astonished that the Mother Superior of Bruges found her too old to enter their community? However, while refusing her admission, she advised her to go to Vienna (Austria) where she would find another convent of the same Congregation, and she assured her that she would be well received. She even gave her, to this effect, a letter of recommendation.

The young lady was not terrified by the prospect of so long a journey into a foreign country whose language she did not know. However, it was only on 5th October 1845 that she took leave of her dear parents, who only reluctantly and with abundant tears saw their beloved Celestine leave them with scarcely any hope of their seeing her again. Their only consolation was to know that God was asking this sacrifice of them. Their Christian sentiments led them to submit themselves to His holy will.

Celestine Platton thus left and arrived safely at Vienna. She made her entry into religion on 15th October 1845.


[1] La vertu cachée. Notice sur la Révérende Mère Marie-Chérubine du Saint Esprit, fondatrice du couvent des Rédemptoristines de Velp près Grave, par le R. P. L. Hagen C.SS.R. (1883) [The hidden virtue. The life of the Reverend Mother Marie-Cherubine, foundress of the convent of the Redemptoristines of Velp, near Grave, by Rev. Fatehr L. Hagen C.SS.R. (1883) – Translated into French from Dutch by Rev. Father Duhamel, C.SS.R.

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, 7 October 2012

Sister Mary-Anne Liguori of Jesus Crucified, O.SS.R. of the Monastery of Dublin (1819 -1882)

1. Her life in the world.

If nobility of blood in itself does not confer any advantage over virtue, however it gives it a singular lustre when it is united to it. And so divine grace shines forth marvellously in those holy souls who make the human greatness that falls to them serve the glory of God.

Sophie Hanmer was born on 22nd July 1819 in Hanmer, Flintshire, in north Wales.[1] Her father, the local Protestant minister, was the son of Sir Thomas Hanmer Bart. Her mother was one of the daughters of Sir Thomas Whichcote Bart, of Aswarby Hall, Lincolnshire. Although the misfortune of the times had dragged them into Protestantism, they nonetheless still preserved a deep esteem for the Catholic religion. Mr. Hanmer was even a great admirer of the Rev. Father. Newman. He saw him for the first time at Oxford in 1839 and was struck by the sanctity of his person. Some days later, he obtained his sermons; but, by a strange contradiction, he who so admired the religion of his forebears, did not want to embrace it and died in heresy.

Young Sophie was therefore brought up in the bosom of Protestantism. At the age of ten, her parents sent her to a house of education in Chester where she was thoroughly versed in literary studies. Her natural talents developed marvellously, and she was admired for her healthy judgment, firm spirit, an elevated reasoning, and an extensive knowledge for her age, and with it, she had a naturally sweet, compassionate and magnanimous character.

When her education had finished, she spent several years in the paternal home and made her entry in the world. At the age of twenty-one, she received from the hands of her parents a husband in the person of Mr. J. L. Ainsworth of Bankside, Oldham. God blessed this marriage by granting them five children, two sons and three daughters.

At about that time (1849), Mrs. Ainsworth’s eldest brother converted to Catholicism: it was for her a painful event, and she believed that her brother, thus separated from his whole family, was lost for ever. She scarcely suspected that he was to become the instrument of her own conversion. Yet, Mr. Hanmer had acted only with discernment. Since he was thirteen, the thought that the Catholic, apostolic and Roman religion, was the only true one, had constantly pursued him. The Protestant environment in which he lived, scarcely permitted him to settle his doubts; but one day, having entered a church during the holy Mass, he heard a sermon that touched him deeply. The priest was commenting on the gospel of the day, the parable of the good Shepherd. He admirably described the union that closely connects the faithful to the Pope, the divinely appointed successor of Saint Peter and Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth, and showed how this perfect unity was the sign of the true Church. Mr. Hanmer was floored: his decision was made; he put himself in contact with the venerable priest whose words had been for him as so many burning arrows, and on 15th December 1849, he solemnly abjured Protestantism. From this day on (these are his own words), the prayer of his heart was, and would always be, expressed in these beautiful words by the glorious martyr, Richard Thirkill, who died for the faith in 1583:

“O merciful Father who has created me,
Oh most sweet Son who has ransomed me,
Oh Holy Spirit who has sanctified me,
Oh Blessed Trinity, three persons and a single God,
Keep me, defend me, govern me in the unity of the Catholic and apostolic Church,
So that I may merit to live and to die within it,
And may to finally be able to enjoy the glory of your divine Majesty:
I ask this through Christ Our Lord.”

This abjuration, as we have said, caused great grief to Mrs. Ainsworth; it also awakened in her a lively remorse. The uprightness and elevation of her spirit had indeed for a long time now been suggesting doubts to her about the truth of Protestantism; but a secret pride prevented her from answering God's secret call. “I am not astonished”, she wrote to her brother, “that many people are captivated by the beauty and ornamentation of the Catholic churches, and their beautiful books of prayers also far surpass those that we have in our Church. However, there are many points that stop me. However, this does not mean that I do not pray less sincerely every day and ask God every day to enlighten me; as I have never told you how much these thoughts preoccupy me. Today, now that this question has been placed so firmly before me, I am in a greater quandary than ever. If, in fact, you are in the truth, I am in error; and vice-versa. I must therefore look to where the truth is. I will not fail to pray that the unity that exists in the Catholic Church may give you peace, this unity that, unfortunately, we do not possess in our own.”

The interior struggle that agitated Mrs. Ainsworth had its outcome. Her brother went to pay her a visit during the summer, and the conversation turned to the fundamental question of the true Church. All of a sudden, the sky was full of clouds, and a terrible storm burst forth: the noise of the thunder lasted a long time, and made a striking impression on Mrs. Ainsworth. She felt that God's great voice was addressing a supreme call to her. When the weather became calmer, and when the rays of the sun, penetrating the room, seemed to make them forget what had happened, the mistress of the house got up. She leaned towards her brother and spoke into his ear: “I can delay no longer, I want to go and see Dr Newman tomorrow: be good enough to accompany me.”

How did this first meeting go? We do not know. What we do know, is that in the space of a few interviews, the famous convert made the truth of the Catholic Church shine in Mrs. Ainsworth’s eyes: he dissipated her doubts, solved her difficulties, and had the consolation of seeing this upright soul surrender to the teachings of the faith with the greatest submissiveness. Of her own initiative and in the full liberty of her heart, she humbly asked to make her abjuration. The ceremony took place on 14th June 1850 in London, in the small church of the Oratorians. Father Newman was happy to introduce into the true Church someone who followed his example and “had not rebelled against the light.” As for the new convert, she felt an inexpressible joy and tasted a peace which she had never had any idea of. Henceforth, from being a simple neophyte, she was to become an apostle.

* * * * *

On the advice of Rev. Father Newman, Mrs. Ainsworth then got in touch with Rev. Father Lans, the Superior of a community of Redemptorist Fathers that had just settled in Hanley Castle in Wales, close to Malvern Wells. The proximity of this castle, the reputation for holiness which the Reverend Father enjoyed and the numerous conversions of which he had been the instrument, more than justified Father Newman’s choice. Events soon proved that Father Lans was indeed the man that the new convert needed to sustain and encourage her in the difficulties that she was about to encounter.

He first of all advised her to have all her children baptized, with their own consent, and afterwards have them instructed sufficiently in Catholic doctrine. He said: “It is best not to delay; as for Mr. Ainsworth, he would not be more displeased with one event than the other.” Mr. Ainsworth indeed, though Protestant in fact, nevertheless venerated the Catholic Church. Being quite addicted to hunting, for which he professed a real passion, he was scarcely moved by the conversion of his pious wife. Moreover, he showed her more than affection and respect: she inspired a veritable veneration in him, by her great qualities, her patience and her goodness. We may say more, he was proud of her and gave way to her will, provided that she left him free to pursue the hunt madly across fields and forests, and invite his numerous friends to his table.

Mrs. Ainsworth blindly followed the advice given to her by Father Lans. She instructed her children carefully, and at their own request, she brought them in her carriage to the convent chapel. There the good Father Superior received them, confessed Sophie, the eldest, for the first time; and when all of them had knelt down at the foot of the altar, Sophie, in her own name, and in the name of her brothers and sisters, read the formula of abjuration and profession of faith in a firm and distinct voice. “This done”, wrote Mrs. Ainsworth later to her brother, “I brought them to the baptismal fonts. Little Blanche was the first: her joy was great when the lighted candle was put in her hand. Then Jesse came up: I was afraid that he was going to cry, but he did not do so. Then came Sophie and Catherine.[2] Once baptism was conferred, they all went to kneel down before the altar, holding their candles in their right hands, while they all sang the Litanies of the Blessed Virgin Mary together, and Father Lans recited the prescribed prayers. Then Sophie received absolution, and everything was finished.”

The good mother then tells us of the happy refreshments that were served to the children in the monastery, the congratulations the Fathers and Brothers rushed to offer them; and then she adds: “What thanksgiving we must return to God, my dear brother, for such blessings! More than ever I count on your prayers to thank God. You would have been astonished, as I myself was, to hear the children choose their names. They chose them themselves. Sophie, through her affection for me,[3] took the name of Catherine. Catherine begged me to permit her to be called Mary, which surprised me, as I had not spoken about names; I asked her for the reason for her choice, and she answered me very humbly: “because of the Virgin Mary”. Little Blanche turned openly to Father Lans and told him: “My name must be Mary too.” Jesse took the name of Alphonsus. Indeed, holy Baptism has brought them an astonishing surplus of supernatural joy, because they are all in jubilation. Little Catherine came twice to ask me: “But, mamma, is it true that we are now all Catholics?” Oh, what joy I feel now, what a burden of anxieties my heart is relieved of, when I think that these dear children are now all children of the holy Roman Church! But what an outburst I must expect when their father learns of everything that has happened! However, since I have followed Father Lans’ advice in everything, God's blessing will sustain me, I hope.”

Father Newman, aware of this great event, gave his full approval to Father Lans’ decision. As he had predicted, Mr. Ainsworth made no objection. As for the children, they answered with a surprising assurance to the objections that were sometimes put to them. “What would you do”, Mr. Ainsworth said one day to little Catherine, if mamma became Protestant again? – “Oh, me, I would never become one again”, replied the child; and if mamma were to do so, I would immediately go and tell the priest.”

However, the Lord was about to ask Mrs. Ainsworth for a great sacrifice. Rev. Father Lans, her director, was named Master of Novices at Bishop-Eton, Liverpool.[4] “I would not know how to say”, she wrote, “how pained I am at this departure: if it was not for the fact that Our Lord is everything to me in this world, and that I can always go to the chapel and find consolation from Him in my trials, I would once again be like a stranger on earth. But the cross wishes to be my inseparable companion. Yes, we are losing a saint. It is impossible to express the influence he exercised here on people in general; everyone misses him. As for myself, it was a sweet consolation for me to attend the instruction that Father gave Sophie for her first communion: she was able to make it before his departure. He has left me some spiritual books that will do me good, and told me that I had to have more faith and Christian feeling, because I have been regenerated by the grace of my Baptism, nourished by the Eucharist, and become like a tree deeply rooted in God, living from the divine, and strong in the strength even of the Lord. Not that suffering must no longer make us suffer the test that tries us; but the peace of the Lord, “which surpasses all understanding”, is stronger than all our tender emotions here below: it must always remain in our hearts, and our spirits in Jesus Christ Our Lord. It is now up to me to practise the teachings of a saint in a good manner.”

Mrs. Ainsworth indeed practised them generously. A chapel adjoining her country home soon became an active centre of Catholic propaganda. His Lordship the Bishop attached one of the Jesuit Fathers of the College of Saint Benno[5] there as chaplain, so all Catholics in the district could thus attend Mass there every Sunday and on feast days, as the governesses, except for one alone, and the family servants had become fervent Catholics. It was therefore a fine spectacle attending the offices of the Church in this chapel, in the midst of the chants and holy canticles. A little later on, at the family's new residence, in Denbigh, Mrs. Ainsworth founded another Catholic mission, where the working poor of the factories could receive the spiritual help. Finally her generosity made her deposit an important sum into the Bishop's hands for a new mission that she hoped to found in the parish of Whitchurch near to the place of her birth.

This admirable generosity, joined to a profoundly Christian life, inclined God's heart to granting Mrs. Ainsworth the grace that was so dear to her heart, the conversion of her husband. Mr. Ainsworth, as we have said, was not hostile to Catholicism: the relationship he developed with Rev. Father Lans, and then the Jesuit Fathers as Chaplains, made him gradually lose the disdain that he ordinarily displayed for religious matters; but what indisputably determined him more than anything else to embrace the Catholic faith was the spectacle of the virtues of his admirable wife. Her patience towards him, her invincible sweetness, the care she surrounded him with during his illnesses, her attention to giving him pleasure and pandering to his tastes, made him love her piety so true and her devotion so constant. The interviews he had with the Fathers also made him take an interest in their missions, and he admired the good that he could see happening around him. The charming spectacle of his pious children softened his heart as well.

A remarkable thing! Mr. Ainsworth had always professed a great veneration for the Blessed Virgin, in spite of the prejudices with which he was filled. A providential circumstance suddenly came to give a characteristic shape to this form of devotion. Following events we know nothing about, an important property that returned a considerable income to Mr. and Mrs. Ainsworth was taken from them. The loss was great. Mr. Ainsworth was frightened, and of his own will and without being influenced by anyone, he made a vow to give the necessary land to build a beautiful chapel in honour of the Blessed Virgin, if the property was returned to him. Several years later, he recovered it. Faithful to his promise, he donated the promised land in 1868, together with a considerable sum that was enough to build a great chapel in honour of Our Lady and Saint Patrick. It was completed in 1873.

From this day on, Mrs. Ainsworth was happy to note a great change in her husband's disposition. An illness whose germ he had been carrying for some time, suddenly made rapid progress; but his soul opened up to the divine light to the measure that his body weakened. His long reflections, the discussions he had concerning the Catholic faith, and finally and especially God's grace that he solicited, and that was solicited for him by ardent prayers, brought the great result, a full and entire conversion. The priest came to receive his abjuration, heard his confession, and received him into the bosom of the Catholic Church. The joy of the new convert was immense: he himself announced to his physician that he had become a Catholic, and that he would die in the bosom of the Roman Church. In the short time he still had to live, he became admired for his spirit of prayer, his resignation, and his gratitude to his pious wife, to whom he recognized himself indebted for his happiness and joy in seeing himself united to his dear children in the bonds of unity. He died peacefully on 28th March 1871, while pronouncing the holy names of Jesus and Mary. His funeral was celebrated in the chapel recently built on his land at Oldham.

II. Her entry in the Institute of the Redemptoristines.

While Rev. Father Lans was living at Hanley Castle, he made Mrs. Ainsworth aware of the Redemptoristine Order. Since that time, the noble lady conceived the liveliest desire to see a convent of these religious established near her residence; but another attraction, that dated from before this, took a strong hold of her heart.

We have said that she wanted to found a Catholic mission close to the place of her birth. The parish of Hanmer had seen Lady Warner born among Mrs. Ainsworth’s ancestors. It was her native land; it was also the castle where Miss Trevor Hanmer was born, who, while still very young, had married Count Warner. After several years of marriage, the two of them became Catholics; and a short time later, both of them, by mutual consent, separated: the count in order to enter the Company of Jesus; the countess, to enter the Poor Clares, where she led a very holy life. She died in an odour of sanctity in their convent at Gravelines [6] in 1670. Mrs. Ainsworth liked to remember this, and the thought of leaving the world one day had gradually taken hold of her spirit. Providence, whose ways are marvellous, prepared the success of her plans.

The Redemptoristines, called by her to Saint-Asaph, did not find the site suitable, and were established instead in Dublin (1859), under the guidance of Reverend Mother Marie-Jeanne de la Croix. Mrs. Ainsworth helped them with her generous donations and formed a close friendship with the worthy Superior. She contributed a great deal, by her largesse, to decorating the beautiful church of Saint-Alphonsus; and when Mr. Ainsworth died and the children were suitably established, the servant of God resolved to dedicate herself to God in the new monastery.

This project had to be carefully examined, and it was. Rev. Father Lans and the Very Rev. Fr. Coffin, then the Provincial of the English Redemptorists, approved it. Rev. Mother Marie-Jeanne de la Croix welcomed her request favourably and Mrs. Ainsworth’s children accepted their beloved mother’s decision with a great rending of heart, but with faith. Do we need to say it? It was not without a struggle that this great design was able to be realised: the tender love of her family, her attachment to prosperous and fertile works of charity, the regrets of so many poor people that she would have to leave, the oppositions and contradictions of a certain kind of world, all shook the resolution of Mrs. Ainsworth for a moment. But it was only a passing shock: a serious retreat overcame these natural affections, and on Good Friday, 1872, at three o'clock in the afternoon, the servant of God made an entire consecration of herself to Jesus Christ.

On 22nd September 1872, the monastery of Dublin was witness to a touching spectacle. At the door of the enclosure, a noble Lady, on her knees, humbly asked the Superior to be admitted to the Order as a postulant. The Superior took her by the hand, embraced her, and all the Sisters then gave her the kiss of peace. She was then led to the choir, to the chant of In Israel exitu de Aegypto. The Superior then put her under the protection of the Blessed Virgin, Saint Joseph and Saint Alphonsus. When the ceremony had finished, the new postulant cordially thanked the Superior and the Sisters for having admitted her among them. Her emotion was profound, and her heart was carried back to Ruth telling Naomi: “I shall go with you everywhere you dwell; your people shall be my people, your God shall be my God: the earth where you die will see me die.”

She soon put on the humble costume of an Educande. “They tell me”, she wrote to her brother and her children, “They tell me that this costume makes me appear quite a lot younger. Not having a mirror, I cannot see myself. But you cannot believe how happy I am to be delivered of dressing for the world: it reminds me so vividly of painful memories! I am rejuvenated, it is true; because here I find everything I wanted so ardently for many long years, and I cannot express my happiness. One of my great joys is in being admitted to the recitation of the Divine Office: I always had a particular attraction to those beautiful prayers of the Church by which God is worthily praised.”

“How good God is in regard to me!” she added. “I sometimes fall into the most profound astonishment when I think of the thousand ways by which He has led me to accomplish His holy will. My soul is in the most complete joy and peace, and the religious exercises that are practised here are the delight of my soul. Everything here contributes to the sublime goal for which Saint Alphonsus instituted the Order of the Redemptoristines.”

The taking of the habit took place on 16th May 1873. Mons. Power, the Bishop of Newfoundland, was the celebrant and gave the homily. Sister then received the name of Sister Mary-Anne Liguori of Jesus Crucified. With what fervour did she then undertake her noviciate! A nun who knew her very well wrote in this regard: “Silence, solitude and union with God were the elements in all these nuns which led to the life of angels in mortal bodies. Everyone followed the example of the great Apostle, abounding with joy when opportunities presented themselves for enduring the inconveniences of poverty or sufferings, and thus acquiring a new feature of conformity with their divine Spouse. They also knew that the heavenly Father loves only Jesus, or those in whom He finds His image.”

A painful test came to strike her some time afterwards: “In October 1873”, Reverend Mother Marie-Jeanne de la Croix tells us, “our dear Sister Mary-Anne de Liguori had to leave the convent and go back home to Wales to finish off some family business. Her letters were always signed exiled novice, and expressed her burning desire to be able to go back to her dear Convent.” It was during this “exile” that her eldest son, who had come back from the Colonies, fell sick and died on 23rd January 1875. His death was a very pious one, and he had the consolation of being attended by his Mother.

After putting the family's business in order, in 1875 Sister Mary-Anne Liguori, hastened to return to Dublin. How much had it cost her to have to be absent like this! She found her dear community in its new residence, and delivered herself more than ever to the practice of the holy virtues. Finally, on 25th September 1876, she had joy of taking her vows. Here it is how she announced her happiness to Rev. Father Lans, her director.

2nd October 1876

“My Reverend and dear Father in Jesus Christ.
Let us bless the Lord together for His mercies are infinite!
I cannot longer allow you to remain without a few lines of affectionate gratitude, for you have been the instrument under God of bringing me to the happiness which I now enjoy and for which I was so long ungrateful. You have, I know, had a description of the beautiful ceremony of the 25th September, for dear Rev. Mother told me she had it written to you. I will not repeat it, though it is in itself so beautiful and touching that each repetition seems new.

Almighty God was very good to me during my Retreat, enabling me to prepare well for my holy Profession. I rejoiced in being able to offer Him a sacrifice (a holocaust) and never did I feel so rich as when I became His poor spouse.

It would have gladdened you could you have seen the affection with which dear Rev. Mother and all my dear Sisters received me as one of themselves, and indeed I was only too royally welcomed whilst the three days' feast lasted. Dear Rev. Mother made my Crown herself, with her own exquisite taste. Oh, may I never tarnish its lustre! When next I wear it, I shall have returned to Him Who has done such wonders for me! Rev. Father Leo was also much affected by the ceremony, and I was much pleased that in your absence he could be present. He had helped me graciously during my Retreat, and I owe him much gratitude for it.

I hope that our dearest Lord will help me to fulfil my resolution to live in future only to love and try to please Him, and faithfully to keep our holy rules. Your prayers will help me, and you know I cannot forget you in mine…”

To her dear eldest daughter Sophie, who had entered the Order of the Sisters of Notre Dame,[7] she wrote on 28th September:

My dearest daughter Sophie,
You are waiting for me, I know, to I write to you on the subject of the ceremony of my holy profession. It was indeed beautiful, according to our ritual; but as for the impression it made on my soul, it is impossible to me to give you any idea of it. For a person such as I, to be dedicated to God as a holocaust, what a favour! When I was prostrated under the mortuary sheet, I offered my God my sacrifice, with all the joy of my heart. I prayed especially for you, my child of predilection, for you and for all of you. As a nun yourself, you will understand better than anyone what I felt when I donned the scapular decorated with the picture of the Sacred Heart, and when Monsignor put the sacred ring on my finger and said: “Desponso te Jesu Christo Filio Summi Patris qui te illoesam custodiat. Accipe ergo annulum fidei, signaculum Spiritus Sancti, ut sponsa Dei voceris, et si ei fideliter servieris, in perpetuum coroneris.”

She describes the rest of the ceremony and finishes in these terms: “What an inestimable grace I have just received! Certainly, the angels, the archangels, and the holy souls who have left us here below, were rejoicing in heaven on this beautiful day and would have witnessed their gratitude to the Most High for the signal favours I have received. As for dear Reverend Mother and in the Sisters, they have showed me in every way how happy they were to see me become one of them from now on.”

III. Her holy death.

Good Sister Mary-Anne Liguori of Jesus Crucified was not to spend long years in religion. After so much work and trouble, and so many good works sown in the world like precious seeds, she thought to gather in the harvest in the cloister; but the eternal harvest was prepared for her without her knowing it.

Five years passed by in the fervour of a love long time tried, in this earthly Jerusalem where she found Jesus crucified, her God and her all. Prayer and sacrifice, the two wings of religious life, carried her effortlessly towards God, and the practice of the holy virtues made her live, “for herself no more, but for God, dead for her on the cross.” Those words spoke for her and for this church, to the beauty of which she had so extensively contributed, and this blessed cloister where she spent such happy days, and this company of her Sisters who seemed to her to be the company of the Angels, and these flowers that she had been assigned to cultivate in order to decorate the altar and honour the Sacrament of love! One day spent in this house of the Lord seemed to her as one day in Paradise; but her great soul sighed after the beauties of heaven no less because of it.

God came suddenly, by an unexpected illness, to announce to her the end of her exile. On 15th February 1882, the servant of God received a letter from her daughter Sophie that caused her great joy. This worthy religious had just been named to a position of confidence in the house of her Order situated close to London. Sister de Liguori replied by assuring her daughter of her prayers so she would always be the support of her holy and dear Superior. On 17th March, God sent her another consolation. It was on the feast of Saint Patrick, the Patron of Ireland. On this day the Irish Sisters have a special recreation and in happy simplicity they all wear a little bouquet of shamrock that recalls faith in the Holy Trinity, the way Saint Patrick used to preach it. One more time good Sister de Liguori admired their ingenious and charming spirit that resulted in naive couplets composed in her honour. On 27th March when she woke up she had a sharp pain in her heart: the physician was called immediately, and said she had pulmonary angina, usually a sudden illness, and declared her state to be serious. We can judge the sorrow in the community. At the request of the patient, Father Leo arrived and administered the last sacraments to her. She received them with great fervour and confidence. Her children, warned by telegram, replied that they wished at all costs to obtain permission from Cardinal Cullen to see their venerated mother one last time in this world, but she would not consent to it. “Tell them that I thank them for their affection: they know how tenderly I love them; but I made a vow of enclosure. I offer God this sacrifice: may they offer theirs too, and witness their attachment to me by respecting my last wishes.”

Reverend Mother Marie-Jeanne de la Croix installed herself in a room adjoining the infirmary. She lavished her cares and consolations on the patient. As a witness to her devotion and perfect confidence in God, she heard the sweet aspirations to God that the patient constantly whispered. On the Saturday, at about one o’clock in the morning, a change could be seen on Sister Mary-Anne’s features. She cast a peaceful look upon her worthy Superior, and when she told her: “Courage, this is the day of our Mother of heaven, she is coming soon to bring you there,” she looked once more at her with an extraordinary air of contentment and raised her eyes to heaven. The Superior, seeing the last moment approaching, overcame her grief and calmly told her in these beautiful words: “My very dear daughter, the happy moment has arrived. Lift your soul toward God. The Blessed Virgin, Saint Joseph and our Father Saint Alphonsus, are going to present you to Jesus Christ, your celestial Spouse. Here is the cross of your holy profession that you have loved so much, here is the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin: these are your passports to eternity.” The Sister infirmarian then lit the blessed candle and before the assembled community, the Superior began the Recommendation of her soul. The dear patient cast a last look at the Sisters as if to thank them, and at the invocation: “Holy Angels of God, come before her,” her beautiful soul, quite aflame with the fire of the divine love, flew up like a dove to the eternal ark to repose there forever in the heart of her beloved Saviour. It was on 1st April 1882, at four o'clock in the morning.

* * * * *

To finish this notice, we now give two testimonies in favour of the worthy Sister de Liguori. The first is a letter written the day the following her death by a Redemptoristine of Dublin to the deceased's eldest daughter.

Monastery of the Most Holy Redeemer
Dublin, 2nd April 1882.

My dear Sister Frances-Xaveria,[8]
You will have received the telegram yesterday announcing to you the worst, or rather the best, about your dearest Mother; for if you saw her as she now lies in our Choir, like a Queen, the real Spouse of Jesus, even you, though loving her so much, would not bring her back to this weary world.

Our dear Reverend Mother [9] desires me to say you are constantly in her thoughts, you, the dearly-beloved child of so holy a Mother. She would have written to you yesterday, but you will easily understand how many essential things which would admit of no delay fell upon her, more especially as we were to have accompanied our dear departed to her last resting place tomorrow; but, for the convenience of your brother Jesse, the funeral has been deferred until Tuesday, after the High Mass has been sung at 7 o’clock. From that hour until about ten you will be with us in spirit. I am sure no one more loved, or more deeply regretted, was ever laid to rest in a Convent grave.

You will, of course, have heard from Sister Marie Pia what amazement and grief we were all thrown into hearing so suddenly from the doctor of the alarming state of your dear Mother, who seemed, and felt, on Monday as well as ever. From Wednesday till Saturday morning very little change took place, while we were always hoping for a rally. On Friday night, at about a quarter before twelve, at her special request, our dear Reverend Mother left her, to take a little repose in a room quite near to the infirmary. From eleven to twelve your dear Mother made a “Holy Hour.” At twelve she asked the time, and commenced preparing for Holy Communion, which she was to have received at 6 o’clock. Her aspirations were most beautiful, and so unceasing, that one of the Sisters who stood all night by her side, told her that her sufferings were a most efficacious prayer, and that she was exhausting herself. However, she continued as if unable to stop.

At. 1:30 her breathing seemed a little weaker. A Sister said "I must go for Reverend Mother." She answered, “Oh no, she must rest a little.” However, just at that moment, Reverend Mother felt as if there was a change, and sent to enquire how she was. The Sister returned after a little, and said her eyes seemed changed, growing a little dim. In a moment Reverend Mother was with her. When the door opened, dear Sister Mary Anne Liguori gave her a sweet smile of recognition; and Reverend Mother, who, though broken-hearted, is always strong in supreme moments, said to her (seeing that her agony was about to begin), “At last, Sister Mary Anne Liguori, the happy moment has come, and Jesus is taking you to Himself. The Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph with St. Alphonsus will offer you to Him. Take your Crucifix, which you have always loved so well, and your Rosary. These are your passports for Eternity.”

Having placed them and the blessed candle in her hands, each of which she showed she was quite conscious of, the Prayers for the Departing were said, to all of which she answered with a voice growing gradually weaker, or rather with a movement of the lips.

When Reverend Mother came to the words inviting the Holy Angels to meet her, she smiled most sweetly but sadly. That smile still remains on her countenance, sweeter than ever in death.

Reverend Mother then said to her, that as St. Joseph’s month was past, he would not come for her, but that he had asked Our Lady to do so on that Saturday, the Octave of the Annunciation; and, placing a large Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel over our own blue one, reminded her that our dear Mother had promised to take all her clients to Heaven on that day. Your holy Mother said, “Yes, yes,” to this, and likewise to many other consoling words spoken to her. She never lost consciousness for one single moment; but, in prayer, and surrounded by the Sisters, in perfect peace, without a struggle or an effort, she breathed her last; but you saw that a sword had pierced her poor heart – (it was at a quarter before 4 o’clock) – leaving her memory in benediction, and to us all the perfect model of a holy death, after having given us the brightest example during the past seven years that we have had her amongst us.

Our dear Reverend Mother and all the Sisters are in the deepest grief. We consider her as a treasure God has lent and withdrawn; and though we find it hard, we must say as she did, oh! so often in her suffering, “May our dear Lord be blessed!” She never once complained, although her poor heart was giving her intense pain. One Sister, who venerates her as a saint, who was always by her side, and who is now disconsolate, feeling her press her hand, asked, “did she want for anything?” “Nothing, nothing,” she said, “only my God, His love and His grace, I want nothing more.” This was about four hours before she left us. Over and over again she thanked our Lord for having called her to the Holy Catholic Church, and chosen her for His spouse, and said she had “no wish, no desire”: - that “God had been too good to her,” and that “she was perfectly happy.”

During the four short days of her illness, she was constantly making the sign of the Cross. Reverend Mother was afraid she was troubled, and told her so. She smiled and said, “Oh no, I’ve no trouble, but it was my love for the Sign of the Cross which made me a Catholic.”

I am afraid this letter will seem, and indeed it is, most incoherent, but you must attribute this only to my own grief, which prevents my writing a very collected letter. Your dear Mother has been really snatched away from us, and it seems we cannot realize it.

And now, my dearest Sister, with what words can I comfort you for the loss of such a tender, holy Mother? I have so often heard her speak with a certain pride and the greatest affection of “Sophy” that I seem quite to know you, and can well imagine in what grief you must be. But then, dear Sister, when you raise your heart to Heaven, you must be consoled at the bright, bright crown which our Lord has prepared for her there.

After having been a holy mother and widow, she has added to these the aureole of a perfect Religious; - the word is not too strong; - and she looks radiant with happiness lying here on a throne of flowers with the wreath of roses she received the moment she made her vows, which she kept so faithfully: in her hands her crucifix of Profession, her Rosary, and a branch of lilies, to which our Reverend Mother added this morning a branch of Palm, which she took off her own during the Procession, - symbol of the Eternal Hosannas we are sure she has already commenced; though, of course, we shall never cease to pray for her. Crowds of people came to see her, and leave saying, “she must be a saint.” Two Sisters recite those Psalms, which she so much loved, before her dear remains. To look at her calm, sweet face is, for each of us, the greatest consolation. We should like never to leave her. Our great consolation is, that we know how perfectly happy she was with us. She told me a few days before she became ill, that “she never had one single unhappy moment in Religion.” Indeed, her own happy, bright face told us this. Dear Reverend Mother says that you must not have any fears as to her having over-exerted herself in any way. She had, of course, many dispensations and every care; no fasting, no obligatory abstinence, but everything she could do in observance of the Rule was to herself a real pleasure. She was always begging to be allowed more and more of our religious observances. But you will hear much more of all this later on. Pray excuse this scribble, dear Sister. I hope these little details may console you in your grief; but you may be proud in your sorrow of having had such a Mother.
Believe me, in Jesus and Mary,
Affectionately yours,
Sister Mary Liguori of the Immaculate Conception.

The second witness is a short letter from Cardinal Newman to the brother of Sister Mary Anne de Liguori. She had continued to write to the Cardinal every now and then, and he had always shown a keen interest in her, looking upon her as his spiritual daughter. When he learned of her death, he sent his kind condolences to Mr. Hanmer in a letter from which this passage is taken.

Birmingham, 17th April 1882.

My dear Hanmer,
I take a lively part to your great loss. This morning I celebrated the holy Mass for the soul of your dear sister, and it is so that I could announce it to you that I delayed in answering you. I received her news directly a few years ago, and I rejoice to learn that she enjoyed so great a happiness at the end of her career.

In casting a retrospective glace over her life, you only have topics of consolation and hope, and now she has finished it with joy! Your sorrow will wear out shortly, and you will retain only gratitude to God and sweet memories of your sister.

Yours most sincerely,

JOHN H. (Cardinal) Newman.


[1] The elements of this biography have been borrowed from the English work called: Memoirs and Letters of Mrs. Ainsworth, by M. Hanmer, her brother. (1 vol.)
[2] The oldest of the children, Johnny was then boarding with a Protestant minister. Some weeks later, an indisposition reunited him with the paternal home, and he then had the happiness of being received into the holy Church.
[3] Mrs. Ainsworth had a special devotion for Saint Catherine of Genoa.
[4] He died there on 31st March 1886.
[5] A holy Welsh bishop.
[6]The Petits Bollandistes (Vol. XV), gives the following notice about this holy religious.
27th January. – The Venerable Claire of Jesus, a religious in the English Convent of Poor Clares at Gravelines (Nord). Born in England of a Protestant family in the castle of Hanmer (Wales), she was obliged to withdraw to France with her parents during the grave political events that led to the fall and murder of King Charles 1. The family of the Lord of Hanmer settled at Paris in a Catholic house. The examples of piety and virtue with which she was then surrounded made so great an impression on the heart of the young Claire, that she manifested the desire to return to the Catholic faith of her fathers. In the meantime, her father returned to England and gave her in marriage to Baronet John Warner, who was a professed Anglican. Constantly pursued by the thought of returning to the bosom of the Church, Lady Warner finally made her abjuration (1664) and she had the consolation of prompting her husband to imitate her example. Even more: the two spouses soon separated by common consent and went to Flanders, John Warner to enter the Jesuits as a novice, and his wife to embrace the Rule of the English Poor Clares at Gravelines. It was in this house that she died piously in her thirty third year (1670).
A more extended notice about this holy religious can be read in the work by Mr. Raymond de Bertrand called: Histoire du couvent des Pauvres Clarisses anglais de Gravelines [History of the English Convent of the Poor Clares at Gravelines] (1 Vol., Dunkirk, 1857).
[7] Founded by Blessed Mother Julie Billiart.
[8] Miss Sophie Ainsworth, a Sister of Notre-Dame.
[9] Reverend Mother Marie-Jeanne de la Croix.

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 September 2012

Sister Mary-Alphonsus of Jesus, O.SS.R. of the Monastery of Dublin (1837-1893)

It was on 25th March 1859 that the first Redemptoristine foundation was inaugurated at Dublin. Called by their state to relive the hidden life of Jesus at Nazareth, and in all the mysteries of His love, they came to God for the salvation of souls, upon this land of Ireland so fertile in noble devotions.

Among the faithful who crammed that day into their little chapel there was a young person who belonged to an excellent family in Dublin. She was called Anna O’Brien. She was the eldest daughter of Mr. O’Brien, a judge, and Marguerite Segrave, and was born on 13th June 1837. Her uncle, Mr. O’Farrell of Granite Hall, willingly opened his house to the Redemptorist Fathers when their apostolic work called them to Dublin. When it was a matter of founding a convent of Redemptoristines, the family took a great interest in this foundation, and the Rev. Fr. De Buggenoms himself stayed at Granite Hall until the last arrangements were finalized, and the Sisters were installed in a regular Monastery.

Miss Anna then felt an attraction for the religious life, with which she had previously been imbued, now awakening in her. Yet it was not without much combat that she followed God’s call. The world was smiling upon her, and her father belonged to the best society and occupied one of the highest positions of government. Was she not the eldest daughter, and the idol of her father, her mother and her grandmother? The young lady responded to all this affection and willingly turned her eyes to a smiling future.

The arrival of the Redemptoristines was to change her disposition. The eyes of Jesus made poor for love of us were fixed on her, and on the spot she asked Father de Buggenoms, her director, to present her as an Educande to Mother Mary-Jean of the Cross. At the ceremony on 25th March, which we have mentioned before, she was there, and when on 30th March, before the establishment of the enclosure, persons of the world were permitted one last time to visit the convent, she was there too, but no one could have suspected what she intended. However, her decision was made. When the Superior presented her to an old converse Sister as well able to become a Redemptoristine, the good religious drew the Superior apart and said to her: “Oh, Reverend Mother, please do not receive this elegant young lady into the extreme poverty we live in, for our house is so little in order!” “But”, says the Annalist of the convent, “little did they know about the heroic soul of Miss O’Brien.” To the eyes of the divine Redeemer she had replied: “Your light has shone upon me, and I shall rest in Your shadow.” And it was indeed the cross that she came to seek. It was with all her heart that she was to say goodbye to a comfortable life in order to embrace a life made up of abnegation and obedience.

* * * * *

On 8th April 1859, Anna O’Brien entered the convent as an Educande. She was then 22 years of age. She was offered a chance to postpone this date somewhat and go beforehand to visit Rome and receive the blessing of the sovereign Pontiff, but she made the sacrifice of this journey that she had desired for so long. Her mother thus offered her cherished daughter to God, but she did not give way to her in generosity. The Annalist says: “It was very edifying to see our dear Educande brave the difficulties of the little foundation with such good heart, embracing poverty so joyfully, and accepting and seeking her part in the common labours so eagerly. Her friends would have been astonished to see her take her very frugal repast from an old door placed on a barrel in a cold and damp cellar, while waiting for the refectory to be finished. However, poverty was always the favourite virtue of our dear Sister. She observed it in all its rigour, and her love of the common life was extreme. The enemy of every exception, she never wanted special food, not even when she was attacked by the cancer that caused her death and which she bore with an heroic courage.

On 19th March of the following year, on the feast of Saint Joseph, she received the holy red habit with the name of Sister Mary-Alphonsus of Jesus. “I feel very unworthy”, she wrote several days previously, “of the great favour that God has destined for me. I am going to receive the religious habit in order to repel forever any dealings with the world, and put on the habit of the Most Holy Redeemer in order to be betrothed to Jesus, who one day, I hope, will be my divine Spouse. Becoming a novice according to the spirit of our Father, Saint Alphonsus, is my sole desire and my dearest hope. In a few hours this hope will be realised, but what purpose will it serve if, in receiving the holy habit, I am not interiorly changed, if I am not inflamed with the divine love, an ardent charity and a tender compassion for the sufferings of my crucified Saviour? What shall I do if I am not filled with zeal for the conversion of the sinners for whom He poured out His blood to the very last drop on Calvary? It is on this sacred mountain that I must find my model, as the habit will only make me a novice of the Most Holy Redeemer to the proportion of the desire I have to imitate Him in His sufferings and His love.”

A year later, on 8th April 1861 (the feast of the Annunciation fell on Holy Monday and had been postponed to this day) our dear Sister Mary-Alphonsus of Jesus pronounced her holy vows with all the joy of her soul. She was just as she loved to say, “the first child of Saint Alphonsus in Ireland”, and she had, moreover, a tender and filial devotion for her Blessed Father, carefully studied his works and the least details of his life, and tried her best to imitate him, especially in perfect conformity to the will of God. She also attributed her happiness to the Blessed Virgin, whom she called “her tender Mother”, and to the good Saint Joseph, the patron of the interior life.

Then came the time to carry out the tasks that obedience entrusted to her. She was named Sacristan and fulfilled her office with the greatest care. Charged then with directing the Educandes and the Novices, she inspired in them a great esteem for their vocation, a great love for observance and the common life, and also inspired in them a horror for every singularity. She loved to repeat to them and have them write down this maxim several times: “We change, but God never changes.” She also said: “A Redemptoristine must try her best to travel by her love and the spirit of sacrifice along the rough paths that her divine Spouse followed and which lead her to the mountain of immolation.”

* * * * *

These rough paths of sacrifice and immolation, Sister Mary-Alphonsus of Jesus followed for twenty years without ever complaining.

Attacked by cancer in her stomach, she always tried to hide her sufferings, and never spoke of them except to her Superiors. However, they were very great, as the doctor who attended her confirmed. There was scarcely a night that brought her a few hours of rest, and she would usually spend them sitting in a little armchair. And then, she would remain in darkness, refusing even a small lamp through the spirit of poverty. In spite of this, the morning would find her applying herself to all her spiritual exercises. She always had the spirit of duty to a superior degree, and this spirit was also inspired by the spirit of love, and so she wanted only Jesus crucified to know the intensity of her sufferings.

On 16th April 1893, on the feast of the Holy Sepulchre, a redoubling of her sufferings suddenly gave alarm to the community. Sister Mary-Alphonsus struggled to get in line with the Sisters to be confessed. Her Superior, seeing her so eager, had her return to her cell, and Rev. Fr. Moore came to hear her confession. “The following morning,” says the Monastery Annalist, “we learned with the greatest sorrow that our dear invalid had spent a night in agony. The doctor was called in all haste and declared that her heart had succumbed to the violence of her pain, to which she replied with great resignation: ‘May God be blessed!’ and he ordered the last sacraments to be administered to her.”

The Reverend Mother Superior had Mons. Fitzpatrick called to hear the confession of the poor invalid before midday and he promised to return at one o’clock with the holy oils, but her illness got worse so quickly that they had to run to the Archbishop’s house, which was next to the convent. Doctor Magrath arrived immediately, and our dear Sister recognized him. Mons. Fitzpatrick followed, bearing the Blessed Sacrament and the holy oils. He had just enough time to give her communion and anoint her. Some moments afterwards, the beautiful soul of our dear Sister took its flight towards the eternal vision of God.

Although greatly afflicted by this loss, the community nonetheless saw in this sudden end a tender affection of divine Providence, which wished to spare our dear Sister the pangs of conscience that she had suffered from all her life. Her death was calm, peaceful and perfectly resigned to the will of God. After receiving the last sacraments, she told her Superior in her own manner: “I have made a great act.” Then she gave all those who surrounded her a last glance of farewell, affection and gratitude, raised her eyes towards Heaven and said: “My God, I render my soul into Your hands.” These were her last words.

The Annalist pays a last tribute to her Sister in these emotive terms: “Sister Mary-Alphonsus of Jesus, the eldest daughter of Judge O’Brien, was the first stone of this foundation and a precious gift of God in these beginnings. To her, to her dear family, and to their superabundant generosity we owe the profoundest gratitude. May the memory of the noble sacrifice she made of everything that could have made her happy in the world, her ardent love for her vocation, her heroic patience in suffering, and all her virtues, be engraved profoundly in the spirits of her afflicted Sisters, and may they be encouraged to imitate her examples in order to share one day in her reward!”

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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