Monday, 21 May 2012

Sister Marie-Marguerite of the Holy Family, O.SS.R. of the Monastery of Louvain (1851 - 1882)

Louise-Marie-Thérèse Van Velthoven, the daughter of Mr. Pierre Van Velthoven and Mrs. Marie-Thérèse Van Gelmeten, was born at Antwerp on 1st January 1851. Her parents, as good Christians, made sure their three children were given an excellent education. Louise, the youngest, attended the class of the Sisters of Notre-Dame from her tenderest years. Later, at the time of her First Communion, she became a boarder with the Ladies of Christian Instruction. Endowed with a cheerful spirit, she enlivened her companions there by her impishness and her love of play. A leaning towards vanity and coquetry was always noticed in her. After leaving the boarding-school, far from decreasing, these little faults increased, to the point that she delivered herself to petulance, when her vain desires were not immediately satisfied. Having a proud character, she studied her least movements and her every step, in order to attract attention, esteem and affection…

At about the age of 25 she was sought after in marriage, but at the time of signing the contract, the parties could not agree, and the project of union lapsed, which led young Louise to think seriously… She put herself under the direction of a Reverend Redemptorist Father, who reignited her taste for piety and made her appreciate the blessing of virginity. Grace, at the same time, touched her heart, and, open to its attraction, she resolved to consecrate herself to the Spouse of Virgins. She made rapid progress in virtue, asked to be admitted to the Redemptoristine Sisters of Louvain [1], and made her entry there on 1st May 1877. From the very next day, her passions that had appeared to be asleep, woke up strong and vigorous, and caused her violent struggles. She understood that a fierce struggle had opened up for her, but she determined, with God's grace, to vanquish or die. In truth, we may say that, from this moment until her death, our dear Sister valiantly fought the obstacles and temptations that the enemy of good suggested to her. Wishing to make up for lost time and prove her love for Jesus Christ, she applied all her strengths to recollection and the practice of all the virtues. In a word, her life was a perpetual constraint.

The first year of testing being finished, she was admitted on the unanimity of the voices, to put on the livery of the Most Holy Redeemer on 1st April 1878, and changed her name from Louise to that of Sister M. Marguerite of the Holy Family. She spent the year of her Novitiate with the same fervour and was admitted to holy Profession on 23rd April 1879…

Our dear Sister was distinguished by her great devotion to the august Trinity of the earth and dedicated herself to them as their little servant. Her heart was an oratory where, as in the interior of Nazareth, she lived under the eyes of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, making it her happiness to often prepare them pleasant surprises, by the practice of different acts of the virtues, and by the victories that she won over herself. When she finished her Novitiate, she entered the Community. Her primitive fervour was preserved intact, and she applied herself to the practice of the hidden virtues, opportunities for which frequently appear in the common life.

When for one or another reason, she could not attend recreation, she did not enquire about what had happened, finding in this act of abnegation a flower to offer the dear Child Jesus. She confessed to her least faults in the refectory, and asked pardon of it with a touching humility.

Our Lord was satisfied of the good will of our dear Sister and seemed to want to help her expiate her former vanities, so He sent her an illness that was both painful and humiliating for her. All the glands in her head, neck and throat swelled up so enormously, that it was both a painful and frightening spectacle to see… Resigned to God's holy will and courageous in supporting her infirmity, her patience never failed. She was scrupulously obedient and submitted to the least desires of her Superior, as well as to the doctor’s least prescriptions. In spite of everything, all the remedies were useless, her illness kept getting worse and she understood, from the swelling of her legs and her lack of blood circulation, that her pilgrimage on this earth of exile was coming to its end. Nevertheless, our dear Sister continued to be amongst us, and attend the common acts, until 22nd November, the feast of Saint Cécile. From then on she kept to her room. On 5th December, the physician warned us that it was time to administer the Sacraments to her. She received them with joy and fervour, calling with all her soul for the hour when she would be able to go to be united forever with her divine Spouse. And this is what made her say continually: “Come, Lord Jesus, come.” On 7th December, after the greetings, Reverend Father Verhaege, of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart, and Director of the Community, visited our dear invalid. He gave her the Holy Communion, and also the apostolic blessing.

Until ten o’clock in the evening, our dear Reverend Mother, the Mother Vicar and the Sisters infirmarian remained praying with her, after which our good Sister Marie-Marguerite asked them to retire, in order to take some rest, adding that as soon the time was right, she would have them called…

She spent the whole night in prayer and at about five o’clock in the morning, she sent for the Reverend Mother. When she entered the room, she said to her: “My Mother, the agony is beginning, soon you won't have your Grietje any more!” Indeed, the symptoms of her approaching end were appearing. The Community was assembled and the prayers of the Agonizing were recited… The dear dying Sister, who enjoyed her presence of mind until the last moment, joined in and responded with a clear and distinct voice, and, casting her eyes around her bedside, she gave an amiable smile in all Sisters as a sign of farewell, thanked them again for the good care she had received, and assured them that she would not forget them when she was in Heaven… The prayers continued. From time to time she interrupted us, making one or another remark, like this: “The entire earth has disappeared for me, only my God remains for me! ...” Some minutes later she added: “Now I can hear nothing, but I am united to everything that the Reverend Mother says.” Finally, some moments before her death, she said in a weak voice, but still intelligible: “Long live Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!!!” They were her last words. We added “Long live Mary, Mary, Mary!!!” And at six o'clock, the Virgin without stain, whose Church was celebrating the Immaculate Conception (on 8th December 1882) came to find her child to present her to her divine Son. It was the anniversary of her consecration as the child of Mary…

Straight after her death, the excessive swelling of her face that made her hardly recognizable at the end of her life suddenly disappeared, and our dear Sister regained her natural freshness. The legal physician, who came to verify her death, witnessed his surprise that the fourth finger of her right hand, where she had so faithfully worn her ring as a sign of her alliance with Our Lord, had remained flexible, and made us aware that it was a very unusual circumstance… Her calm and radiant air, during the two days that she was laid out, attracted us constantly to her, and so it was with a great deal of distress that we brought ourselves to close the coffin… We retired saying to each other: “May my soul die the death of the just.”

[1] This Monastery was founded in 1874.

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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