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Name That Saint: Catherine Labouré

Name That Saint: Catherine Laboure

While many people know that St. Catherine Labouré is the saint who actually touched our Blessed Mother and had a heart-to-heart conversation with her, very few know of her early life.

After her mother died, Zoe (St. Catherine’s baptismal name) and her young sister, Tonine, were invited to live with their aunt, a loving woman who was married and had four daughters. After two years, when their older sister, Marie Louise, became a Daughter of Charity, they returned to the family’s farm to help manage it. Zoe was only 12 years old, yet by all accounts she was very bright and efficient.

As she grew older, Zoe received at least one proposal of marriage. Her father presented the offer to her, but she declined. Unbeknownst to him, Zoe had already promised herself to Jesus Christ, so he was unaware of the reason for her refusal.

A year earlier, Zoe had a dream where a priest, whom she had never seen before, was celebrating Mass. As it was finished, he beckoned her to follow him, but she ran away. Going next to visit a sick woman in the village, she saw the same elderly priest who told her, “You do well to visit the sick, my child. You flee from me now, but one day you will be glad to come to me. God has plans for you; do not forget it.”

Finally, at the age of 22, she told her father of her plans to enter religious life. There are no records of their conversation, but we know that he flatly refused to give his consent. She was heartbroken.

About the same time, her father received a letter from Charles, one of Zoe’s older brothers, whose wife had recently died. He had his own business, a small restaurant in Paris, and he needed assistance. Needless to say, Zoe went to Paris. Of course, she could have easily ran off and joined a convent at this point, as she was certainly old enough to make that decision. But she loved her father, so she did as he asked.

According to one author, Charles’s restaurant was a noisy, small, and rather shabby dining and drinking establishment. Zoe felt completely out of place. As always, she did what needed to be done, even though her heart was not in it. After a year, her brother, Hubert, and his wife, Jeanne, invited Zoe to live with them. Jeanne ran an academy for young ladies, and everyone thought this would benefit Zoe, who had never learned to read and write.

However, with its lush environment, Zoe felt equally out of place there, too. She was substantially older than the other students, not as refined, and humiliated by her struggles with reading and writing (even though Jeanne gave her private instructions). However, every time Jeanne visited the hospice ran by the Daughters of Charity, she asked Zoe to accompany her. It was at that hospice that Zoe saw a painting of St. Vincent de Paul and recognized him as the priest in her dream five years earlier. As soon as she was told who he was—the Founder of the Daughters of Charity—Zoe ran to her Confessor, Fr. Prost, and told him about the dream. When she finished, he replied that God was clearly calling her to be a Daughter of Charity.

However, there was still the issue of her father’s refusal to give his consent. Once again, Jeanne came to her aid, personally persuading Zoe’s father to let her follow Marie Louise’s footsteps. Finally, at the age of 24, Zoe quietly entered the Daughters of Charity. It was January 22, 1830. Six months later, on July 18, 1830, Sr. Catherine Labouré found herself kneeling at Mary’s feet, looking into her eyes, and having a two-hour, heart-to-heart talk.

The difficult early years of St. Catherine Labouré prove that God has a plan for each of us, even if it takes a while for that plan to unfold. It proves God never gives up on us, even if we give up on ourselves. And, it proves that even when it looks like all hope is lost, there are other chapters of our lives waiting to be written. After all, “with God, all things are possible (Matt. 19:26).”

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