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Witness 10 - Almire Pichon, S. J.


The tenth witness in the Ordinary Trial is Fr. Pichon, of the Company of Jesus.

Born in Carrouges (Orne) on 3rd February 1843, Almire-Théophile-Augustin Pichon entered the Company on 30th October 1863 and was ordained a priest on 8th September 1873. A Doctor of Theology, he taught philosophy for many years then progressively devoted himself to the ministry, notably preaching at retreats.  

He was in Lisieux on 17th April 1882 for a retreat at the Lambert factory. Marie Martin wanted to meet him. He thereafter became her spiritual director and, according to Mr. Martin, of the whole family as well. It was, if truth be told, Marie and Céline who benefitted from his direction the most. (Fr. Pichon even thought of asking Céline to found an Institute he was planning to set up in Canada).

It was in Alençon in 1883 that Thérèse met him for the first time. She wrote to him the following year for her first Communion and his reply was a source of joy for her - MSA, p. 34v - . He left for Canada in 1885 and stayed there until 1886. Thérèse saw him again at the Carmel convent on 18th May 1887 when Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart took the Habit, and, in all likelihood, on the following 15th October, on the feast day of Saint Teresa of Avila. He pronounced the speech when Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart took the Veil on 23rd May 1888 and also gave a community retreat to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the monastery. It was on 28th May, the last day of the retreat, that Thérèse had the opportunity to open up to him in the confessional and the priest said to the young postulant: “In the presence of God, the Blessed Virgin and all the Saints, I declare that you have never committed a single mortal sin.” (MSA, p. 70r). This solemn affirmation was a great consolation to the Saint as she then explained before adding: “The good priest also spoke these words which are engraved in my heart: ‘My child, may Our Lord always be your Superior and Novice Master’. He was this in fact and he was also ‘my Director’…” explained Thérèse who later added: “I have said that Jesus was ‘my Director’. Upon entering Carmel, I met one who was to serve me in that capacity, but hardly had I been numbered among his children when he went into exile. Thus I came to know him only to be deprived of him. Reduced to receiving one letter a year from him to my twelve, my heart quickly turned to the Director of directors, and it was he who taught me that science hidden from the wise and prudent and revealed to little ones.” - MSA 71, 1 - .

Fr. Pichon left once more for Canada on 3rd November 1888 and did not return to France until 1907. Exercising an extremely active apostolate (during the course of his life he gave talks at no less than 1015 retreats) and, moreover, suffering from poor eyesight, he wrote increasingly fewer letters. The priest wrote to Sister Thérèse a little over once a year: she received sixteen letters between 1888 and 1897. There were also two others: one destined for the four Martin sisters and the other addressed to Thérèse personally, but written a few days after her death, of which the priest was not yet aware.      

How many letters did Sister Thérèse write to Fr. Pichon? Monsignor Combes states that at the rate of twelve per year there was in fact a total of one hundred and eleven or one hundred and twelve (A. PICHON, Retreat, Rome, 1967, p.12.) But the Carmel of Lisieux sees things differently: “In total, there are a minimum of 48 letters, allowing for an additional margin, but which is too hypothetical for a precise figure to be determined. It is certain that the Jesuit’s eye complaint prompted the charitable Thérèse into writing fewer letters.” (Vie thérésienne, 1968, p.137).

It is extremely unfortunate that none of the Saint’s letters to Father Pichon were kept. Take, for example, the personal comment Thérèse makes on a letter she sent him in July or August 1897: “My whole Soul was there.” The letter was a commentary on psalm 22 “The Lord is my Shepherd” (cf. Letters, p. 434). -  Let us quote the following words pronounced by the Saint on 4th July 1897: “I am very grateful to Fr. Alexis; he did me much good. Fr. Pichon treated me too much like a child; however he did me much good also by telling me I’d not committed a mortal sin” - LC 4-7-1897 - .

Fr. Pichon was in increasing contact with the Carmel of Lisieux before he died in Paris on 15th November 1919 *(VT 1967et 1968). He testified on 25th and 26th January 1911, in sessions 51-52, pp. 543v-553r of our Public Copy.

 

[Session 51: - 25th January 1911, at 2pm]

[543v] [The witness answers the first question correctly].

[Answer to the second question]:

My name is Almire-Théophile-Augustin Pichon, born in Carrouges, in the diocese of Séez, on 3rd February 1843, of the legitimate marriage between Jean-Baptiste Pichon and Augustine Anger. I am a professed priest in the Company of Jesus. I taught philosophy in our secondary establishments in France and in our school in Laval. I was then a missionary for 21 years in Canada.

[544r] [Do you have a diploma in the sacred sciences?]:

I have a Doctorate of Theology.

[Answer to the third question]:

I don’t believe I am prompted to testify by any human consideration. I loved this child a great deal, and recognized that she was a very privileged soul before God; but I can confirm that this feeling will in no way invalidate my judgment of her.

[Answer to the eighth question]:

In about 1880 or 1881 I came to Lisieux to preach at a retreat at the Lambert factory. Miss Marie Martin, the Servant of God’s elder sister, came to speak to me about matters of conscience, and it was then that I established relations with the whole family that have since never ceased. I corresponded frequently with all the children; I was invited to the Buissonnets several times (Mr. Martin’s house) and [544v] I was also visited by various members of the family in Paris and elsewhere. I was the Servant of God’s confessor and councilor on many occasions. I haven’t used the book “Story of a Soul” for my deposition; I have only drawn on my personal memories.

[Answer to the ninth question]:

I pray God with all my heart that this Cause will be successful, because I believe it to be in the interest of his glory.

[In answer to the tenth question he says he knows nothing more than what is reported in the Servant of God’s Story].

[Answer to the eleventh question]:

I didn’t know the Servant of God’s mother; they said in her family she was a saint. As for Mr. Martin, he appeared to me as a very fervent and very unworldly Christian. He saw everything from the point of view of God; one would have said he was a stray friar lost in the world. The family environment in which the Servant of God grew up was wholly imbued with faith and piety. [545r]

[Answers to the twelfth and thirteenth questions]:

I don’t know anything particular on these points.

[Answer to the fourteenth question]:

It is to my knowledge that the Servant of God was raised in her family without any worldly contact. Her sisters, who were mothers to her, brought her up very carefully and delicately; she thereby received a most Christian education.

[Answer to the fifteenth question]:

What struck me about this child was her simplicity, ingenuity and innocence. She was very much loved by her father and sisters, though I didn’t notice any weakness on their part. But what is particularly remarkable for a child of her age, is that she didn’t rely on herself for anything at all, was entirely self-forgetful and didn’t boast about any of her qualities. She was shy and reserved; she never pushed herself to the fore.

[545v] [Answer to the sixteenth question]:

I’ve heard it said that she had thought about religious life very early on. Moreover, you only had to observe her a little to see that this young girl was evidently not made for the world, but that God had put his seal on her. Even in contact with what is most alluring in the world, never did she feel attracted by the delights of fortune or rank. I know all this through the letters she wrote me and also through the conversations I had with her, in the two years preceding her entrance into the Carmelite convent. She consulted me about her vocation and I, in all conscience, supported her endeavours to enter as early as fifteen years of age.

[Answer to the seventeenth question]:

At the beginning of her novitiate, I preached a retreat at the Carmel of Lisieux. In the conversations I had with her then as her director, I was particularly struck by the fact that, contrary to appearances, God didn’t lavish her with a sweet affectionate piety, but was training her to be soundly pious by leading her through periods of dryness, hardship, and inner turmoil. Never was her turmoil [546r] betrayed on the outside in worry or sadness, she bore it with unfailing serenity and even-temperedness.

[In answer to the eighteenth question he says he knows nothing more than what is reported in the book of her “Life”].

[Answer to the nineteenth question]:

I have read “Story of a Soul”, the biography she wrote. I can confirm that the story is the most naïve and most truthful expression of her moral physiognomy. In 1900 I met Father de Causans, the Superior of our house in Rouen, who is an excellent judge of spiritual things. He told me in his own words, on speaking about the book: “After the works of Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross, I don’t know of anything more beautiful.”

[Answer to the twentieth question]:

This child appeared to me as exceptionally virtuous, especially in terms of humility and self-forgetfulness, offering everything to God. Never was I able to ascertain the slightest weakness in her, the lea-[546v]st despondency, or even the slightest weakening of her willpower in her practice of perfection.

[Answer to the twenty-first question]:

Having been away from France since the end of 1888, I cannot provide any further details on her virtues other than what I mentioned in my preceding answers.

[In answer to the twenty-second question he says he doesn’t know anything].

[Answers to questions twenty-three to twenty-six].

I don’t know anything in particular.

[Answer to the twenty-seventh question]:

I can provide a specific testimony on this point: 1st with regards to Canada where I lived for 21 years. – 2nd with regards to Austria, Bohemia, Hungry and Italy to where I have recently travelled preaching retreats.  

1st Concerning Canada, I can confirm that Sister Thérèse’s Life Story is better known and better appreciated there than it is in France; not only all the religious communities, but also all educated [547r] pious people and the clergy, read and reread the book. This biography is special in that it can be read five, six, or seven times, and each time teach you something new; what makes reading this book so delightful is the perfume of virtue that emanates from her life and the influence she has over your soul, encouraging you to move forward on the road to perfection through practicing her “little way of surrender” that is so accessible to anyone with goodwill. Another significant fact is that a very great number of religious vocations have been born through the study of her life story: so many young nuns have said to me: “it was Sister Thérèse who drew me to the cloister!”  

2nd In Austria and the above mentioned European countries, I have observed the marvelous impact this little soul has had. Her reputation for holiness is in everyone’s hearts, even amongst those living in the world. In relation to what lies behind the absolutely extraordinary way in which the Servant of God’s reputation for holiness and spiritual influence has spread, I would say that it seems inexplicable to me without the exceptional intervention of God. Bookshops have undoubtedly worked at selling the book, but it is more likely that they have simply been satisfying public demand; no publicity can account for souls’ attraction to this biography.

[Session 52: - 26th January 1911, at 8:30am]

[551r] [Answer to the twenty-eighth question]:

I have only ever heard, amid scores of praise, one dissonant voice. A Sister, who is dead today, esteemed that Sister Thérèse’s piety was childish and wholly superficial. But I would say that this testimony actually honours Sister Thérèse, because the Sister, whom I knew well, was completely puffed up with rationalism and human understanding; she was well-known in the community for being devoid of spiritual intelligence. This Sister belonged to the so-called [551v] “Jesus Mary” community in Fall-River (U.S.A, Mass.).

[Answer to the twenty-ninth question]:

I read the account published by the Carmel of Lisieux entitled “Shower of Roses”, which contains numerous letters relating the extraordinary favours attributed to the Servant of God’s intercession. I can personally vouch for three points: 1st in Canada and in Europe I knew a number of religious and lay people who believed they owed favours they had received to the Servant of God, including temporal but above all spiritual graces. 2nd in different communities in France and America I know a fair number of young nuns (at least twenty) who attribute the grace of their vocation to her; some of them even told me, that in their case, the grace of their vocation was preceded by a true conversion after years of going astray in the world, and that this change was solely due to their reading Sister Thérèse’s Life Story. 3rd I am deeply convinced that I owe to the Servant of God a double healing that the doctors said was inexplicable: 1st following a leg fracture, a permanent state of congestion developed, which lasted for about three years. The doctors had told me that any wound to this leg would be very serious and would never heal. Now, I had an accident in 1908; a state of very copious suppuration did indeed develop, and for seven weeks several doctors tried in vain to stop the spread of this ulcer that had become several centimetres deep. On 2nd January 1909, the doctor forced me to take to my bed without leaving me any hope of recovery. So I recommended myself to Sister Thérèse’s prayers, and on the fifth day the wound had completely healed, with no trace of any discharge, and from then on I was able to celebrate holy mass again, to the astonishment of the doctor who had prescribed me no other treatment than bed-rest. 2nd On 2nd August 1909, I was struck down, in the middle of a retreat I was preaching to the Augustine nuns, in rue de la Santé in Paris, by an infectious bronchopneumonia that resulted from an engorgement of the intestines; and the attack was so violent that three doctors said I would die within a few hours, and it was advised that I receive Extreme Unction, which I did. I called on Sister Thérèse and the nuns who were nursing me joined my prayers. I naively said to her to be obedient in heaven like she was on earth. I also asked her whether she would grant me a simple and quick recovery for God’s glory, but without a miracle that was too striking, since it is a difficult burden to bear. Now on the sixth or seventh day I was celebrating mass. As early as the second day the doctor said to me: “I don’t understand at all, you’ve got a saint hiding under there.” “Actually” I replied, “I do.” When I was recovered, and thanking the doctor for having saved my life, he answered: “I am totally innocent, you’ve thrown all our pathological notions; medically, as far as we were concerned you were dead.”

[Answer to the thirtieth question]:

I would like to add two details relating to her life as a young girl: 1st I was struck by her obedience that was always simple, serene and without argument. I never saw her object, argue or simply hesitate before an order, a piece of advice, or even one of her father or sisters’ wishes; I’ve always admired the ease, the charming grace with which she denied herself in order to submit to everything and everyone in her family life.

2nd Concerning the expression that has become famous “I want to spend my heaven doing good on earth”, I remember her addressing it to me, in writing, on several occasions, even though she was still in the world. Her emphasis struck and intrigued me. More than once was I on the verge of asking her what she meant by this; unfortunately excessive discretion held me back.      

Concerning her “spiritual way or direction” (Question 21, de prudentia), three points struck me as salient: 1st Her spirit of faith: even as a child she was used to seeing God in everything, to recognizing his action and permission in the tiniest of things. 2nd Her spirit of trust and love: in the most painful hardships all she saw was the proof of God’s love. Her heart was always willing to bless God for everything. Far from ignoring God’s gifts to her through grim humility, her heart’s inclination led her to acknowledge them in order to thank God for them. 3rd Her cult for suffering and the cross consisted of esteem and love, which was very advanced for her age.

[553v] [Concerning the Articles, the witness says he knows nothing more than what he has already deposed in answer to the preceding questions. – Here ends the interrogation of this witness. The Acts are read out. The witness makes no modification to them and signs as follows]:

Ita pro veritate deposui, ratum habeo et confirme.

Signatum: A. PICHON, S. J.