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Witness 18 - Marie-Madeleine of the Blessed Sacrament, O.C.D.

 

Sister Marie-Madeleine of the Blessed Sacrament, a lay nun, was one of the Saint’s novices.

Mélanie-Marie-Françoise Lebon was born in Plouguenast (Diocese of Saint-Brieuc) on 9th September 1869 and experienced a poor and laborious childhood. Having entered the Carmelite convent on 22nd July 1892, on the feast day of Saint Mary Magdalene, she took this for her name. She received the Habit on 7th September 1893 and was professed on 20th November 1894. On this occasion, Sister Thérèse wrote her poem entitled: “Histoire d'une bergère devenue reine.” (“Story of a shepherdess become Queen”) which was sung at recreation.

Entrusted to the Saint’s care, she was a cause of worry and annoyance on account of her irritable and withdrawn character not only for the Saint but also for the rest of the community. “A secret anxiety, which her inexperience increased exorbitantly, and which she only discarded very late on, despite all Mother Agnès’ efforts” wrote Fr. Piat, “rendered her somber, reserved, and unsociable, to the extent that her Superiors considered sending her back into the world. With that, she was intelligent, active, and demonstrated real gifts. Here once again was a tricky dilemma. Thérèse, in spite of her heroic efforts, never managed to win over this Sister’s trust, who humbly admitted before the ecclesiastical judges: ‘I avoided her. It wasn’t for want of esteem, on the contrary, it was because I found her too perfect; if she had been less so, I would have been more encouraged.’ ‘She could guess everything that was happening in my soul’ she added.” (Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux à la découverte de la voie d'enfance, ch. 7, p. 171).

Later on, in 1908, through Sister Thérèse’s intercession, she was cured of a pernicious furunculosis on her leg. She then went back to working in the kitchen with great dedication until the year before she died (11th January 1916)*.

The witness testified on 16th March 1911 in the 66th session, pp. 1103r-1110r of our Public Copy.

WITNESS 18: Marie-Madeleine of the Blessed Sacrament O.C.D.

[Session 67. – 16th March 1911, at 8:30 and at 2pm]

[1103r] [The witness answers the first question correctly].

[Answer to the second question]:

My name is Mélanie-Marie-Françoise Lebon, in religion Sister Marie-Madeleine of the Blessed Sacrament, lay sister of the Carmel of Lisieux, born in Plouguenast (Diocese of Saint-Brieuc) on 9th September 1869, of the legitimate marriage between Eugène Lebon and Marie-Louise Bidan. I entered the Carmel in July 1892, where I took my Profession on 20th November 1894.

[The witness correctly answers questions three to six].

[Answer to the seventh question]:

Everything I say in this testimony is for God and I’m not influenced by any human sentiment.

[Answer to the eighth question]:

[1103v] I knew Sister Thérèse from when I entered the Carmel until her death; I observed her a great deal and I will relate my memories in my testimony. I’ve read the book “Story of a Soul.” What Sister Thérèse says about herself seems to me to entirely conform to what I observed, but I won’t use her book for my testimony.

[Answer to the ninth question]:

I have an immense devotion for the Servant of God, because I can feel she grants me graces and protects me. I pray every day and make little sacrifices for the success of the beatification trial.

[Answer to questions ten to seventeen]:

I know nothing in particular about the Servant of God’s life before I entered the Carmel.

[Answer to the eighteenth question]:

In early 1893, six months before I joined the convent, when Mother Agnès became [1104r] Prioress, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus became Novice Mistress.

[Question from the Promoter: Did Rev. Mother Marie de Gonzague then hold the title and therefore the post of Novice Mistress? Answer]:

Yes, Mother Marie de Gonzague, the former Prioress, had officially been nominated Novice Mistress; but it was to keep the peace. She couldn’t train the novices properly, and Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus was unofficially given the mission of assisting her as discreetly as possible in this ministry of training. It seems to me she was fully capable of directing us and turning us into saints. We could see she did everything she said, and this inspired novices to imitate her. When she was questioned, she always took a moment to think before answering. She always arranged things so that God would be pleased. Her decisions were very clear and very fair. She brought a lot of zeal and selflessness to our training. “Whatever happens”, she would say, “I will tell you the truth; I would prefer to be forced to leave the community than leave a soul in the dark. If you don’t want to practice virtue, [1104v] go back into the world”, she said to one of my companions – Primary source -.      

[Answer to the nineteenth question]:

I knew, as did all our Sisters, that she wrote poems for our feast days. I only knew after her death that she had written “Story of a Soul”.

[Answer to the twentieth question]:

As soon as I entered the Carmel, I noticed that Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus didn’t resemble the other nuns. It’s true that when I joined the Carmel of Lisieux, I found that the community was in a very disappointing state. I thought that all Carmelites were saints; but little by little, I realized that there were a lot of very imperfect nuns there; they notably failed in keeping silent, punctuality, and above all mutual charity; there were lamentable divisions between the nuns. The direction, which set an example to the community, was largely responsible for this disorder. In this uninspiring setting, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus never breached [1105r] a single rule. Not only did she avoid imitating the imperfect nuns, but she also appeared to me to be completely different to several nuns who were nevertheless very inspiring. Her virtue was flawless and always fervent. I even endeavoured to establish for myself whether it was possible to find fault in her, because I’d heard many criticisms about her that had been motivated by partisanship. I therefore studied her everywhere, at work in the laundry, helping with the washing-up, in community work and at recreation; sometimes I even tried putting her punctuality to the test: never did I manage to find a flaw.        

[Answer to the twenty-first question]:

FAITH. – In her great spirit of faith, the Servant of God incessantly reminded us that we had to see God in our Mother Prioress, even when it happened to be Marie de Gonzague.

CHARITY TOWARDS GOD. – One day when I was near her in her cell, she said in an inimitable tone of voice: “God is not loved enough!...And yet He is so good!... Ah! I would like to die!” and she burst into tears. I looked at her stupefied, asking myself what extraordinary [1105v] creature I was in company with, for I couldn’t understand such a vehement love of God.

I remember seeing her one morning when she was very ill, sitting near the choir stalls, before the eight o’clock mass. She appeared exhausted and on the point of fainting. But she stayed there despite everything, because she wouldn’t have wanted to miss taking Communion.

Her love of God lent her an ardent zeal for souls, and especially for priests. In view of this, she sought every opportunity to make sacrifices. She said to us: “We should love and suffer for priests. The more work, trouble, and suffering of all kinds you have, the happier you should be. God will ask us to account for the priests we were able to save through our prayers and sacrifices, and for those we didn’t save, due to our infidelity and cowardliness. Let’s not lose a single little sacrifice for them.”

CHARITY TOWARDS ONE’S NEIGHBOUR. – Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus preferred doing good to those from whom she expected neither joy, nor consolation or tenderness. I was one of them. From my first days in the Carmel until her death, I never felt significantly drawn to [1106r] her. Rather, I avoided her. It wasn’t for want of esteem, on the contrary, it was because I found her too perfect; if she had been less so, I would have been more encouraged. I don’t think I ever let her feel any consolation in relation to me. Yet she didn’t abandon me, on the contrary, she showed me a lot of kindness. When I was suffering she would find ways of distracting me and cheering me up; she didn’t stop following me to help me, but always with perfect discretion. When it was my turn to dry the dishes, she often arranged it so that she could come and wash up and have a one-to-one talk with me. She showed me trust, so that I might in turn trust her.

Her charity for her neighbour was sublime, as proves her behaviour towards her three blood sisters in the Carmel and especially towards Mother Agnès of Jesus, whom she loved very tenderly. One day, a violent scene had just broken out between Mother Agnès of Jesus and Mother Marie de Gonzague, and as I was lamenting over this, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus said to me: “I rejoice: the more I see our Mother suffer, the happier I am. Ah! Sister Marie-Madeleine, you don’t know the value of suffering, if only you knew how good it is for the [1106v] soul!” On occasions such as the one I’m telling you about, she never distanced herself from the community, even for a moment, to go and console her sisters; it was only when she was sent for that she left to restore the peace.

JUSTICE. – She loved righteousness and truth. One day, for a joke, I wanted to frighten her, and I pretended I saw a big spider of which she was very afraid. She corrected me and said that lies told in jest didn’t suit nuns, and that we always had to be “truthful”.

MORTIFICATION. – The Servant of God practiced mortification to the extent that when we had leftovers in the kitchen, and didn’t know who to offer them to, we gave them to her and she ate them without complaining. She said to us (the lay Sisters): “You must never taste a dish for no reason.” She wasn’t treated as a patient should and lacked treatment that her condition required. However, I never heard her complain. One would have said that the more she suffered, the gladder she was. She never let her suffering show, whether it was of the cold or other inconveniences. She preached this love of suffering and said that we had to anticipate sacrifice and seek mortification.

TEMPERANCE. – The Servant of God [1107r] always wore the same expression. I never saw her bad-tempered; I was never able to perceive whether she was angry with me, although I never returned any of her charitable acts, due to the shyness I mentioned. On her death-bed, she said to Mother Agnès of Jesus, about me: “Tell her that once in heaven I’ll pray for her, and that I’ll love her as much as the other novices.” Incidentally, she wouldn’t have wanted us to become fond of her in a human way.  

I also noticed how silent she was: I can hardly recall seeing her speak, even out of necessity, during the times of silence. Even when she spoke, she avoided employing useless words. One day, in an interview, I made some futile remarks. She said: “We’re both wasting our time; let’s go.”

OBEDIENCE. – I noticed the Servant of God’s constant fidelity in leaving everything at the first ring of the bell, to go to community gatherings.

POVERTY. – Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus constantly sought the poorest clothes and objects. Her shoes were almost always in bad condition. The Sister in charge of darning them always left her completely misshapen and very uncomfortable “alpargates”.

[1107v] HUMILITY. – Such was the Servant of God’s humility, that she always considered herself as being fairly well treated, sometimes even too well. I remember one day she criticized me for having made a soup especially for her. When a few days later I did it again despite her recommendation, she was most upset; and yet she was very ill at the time. In the kitchen there was a Sister who didn’t like her and spoke scornfully about her (this nun is dead). Seeing the Servant of God coming, she said: “Look how she’s walking, she doesn’t hurry! When is she going to start doing some work? She’s good for nothing!” When Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, who had heard this, came in, she gave my Sister a big smile, without revealing the slightest sadness or bitterness.  

[Answer to the twenty-second question]:

What increased my shyness towards the Servant of God, and made me silent in her presence, was that I found her too enlightened; I was afraid of being found out. Especially when I had been imperfect, I was afraid she would read my soul.

[1108r] [Answer to the twenty-third question]:

Very generally, the Servant of God was unknown and even misunderstood in our convent. Apart from a few novices who saw her from close quarters, nobody noticed her heroic life. I said in answer to the twentieth question that I had observed her very closely, and ever since then, I’ve been convinced of the sublimity of her virtues; I knew she suffered a lot, without ever letting it show, and that her love for God was extraordinary. What I’ve learnt about her virtues since her death has hardly added to my esteem for it was already great during her lifetime. My judgment wasn’t influenced by any human affection, because I said that on the contrary my attitude towards her was always one of reserve and almost defiance. As for the other nuns, about half of them said she was a good little nun, and very gentle, but who hadn’t suffered anything and whose life was rather insignificant. The rest of the community were given to partisanship, as I have already mentioned, and proved more unfavourable, saying that her blood sisters spoiled her but without ever formulating any precise criticism.

 

[1108v] [Answer to questions twenty-four to twenty-six]:

I rarely saw the Servant of God during the last months of her life. Called with the rest of the community at the moment she died, I was surprised to see her raise her head when she appeared dead and fixe her eyes above in surprise and rapture. I have often witnessed Sisters die and I’ve never seen anything similar.

[Answer to questions twenty-seven and twenty-eight]:

Since the Servant of God’s death, the conviction of her holiness has become [1109r] absolutely unanimous in the monastery. Most of the Sisters who had little esteem for her during her lifetime are dead. The two or three who are still alive not only put up no further opposition, but also, far from finding what is said about the Servant of God’s holiness exaggerated, love her with all their heart and pray to her with complete trust. I know nothing about what happens outside the monastery regarding the Servant of God’s holiness apart from what we are told at recreation. It seems to me that our unanimity is the result of the certainty we have acquired of her effectual protection and intercession with God.

[Answer to the twenty-ninth question]:

I was a first-hand witness to a very remarkable occurrence that took place in the kitchen in the summer of 1910. I had to fill up a reservoir of water that can hold four large pitchers. My Sister Jeanne-Marie offered to help me. She began by completely emptying the reservoir of the little water that remained. I filled, at the pump, a first pitcher that Sister Jeanne-Marie poured into the reservoir. When she came to pour the second, she found the reservoir full. I am [1109v] sure of three things: 1st that the reservoir had been emptied, 2nd that I had only filled one pitcher, 3rd that the reservoir, which I filled up twice a day, holds four pitchers. Sister Jeanne-Marie told me that as she’d had a lot of work, and felt tired, she had prayed to the Servant of God to come and help her.

In the month of September 1907, I was immobilized at the infirmary due to a bad leg which persisted and worsened over eight months. The wound consisted of an uninterrupted series of abscesses or furuncles (35 in those eight months) with weight loss in the limb and general deterioration. In the middle of May 1908, Mother Prioress, Marie-Ange, suggested I pray to Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus so that I’d be able to take up working in the kitchen again. During a first novena, the pain worsened somewhat. So we began a second novena which completely cured my leg. On the first Sunday in June, I started working again and I’ve never stopped since.

[To the thirtieth question, the witness replies she has nothing to declare].

[1110r] [Concerning the Articles, the witness says she knows nothing other than what she 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 amendment to them and signs as follows]:

I have deposed as above according to the truth, I ratify and confirm it,

Signatum: Sister MARIE-MADELEINE