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Witness 18 - Marthe of Jesus O.D.C.


WITNESS XVIII (DESIGNATED WITNESS II)

MARTHE OF JESUS AND BLESSED PERBOYRE, O.D.C.

The testimony of Sister Marthe of Jesus gives the impression of a fresh and direct encounter with Thérèse of the Child Jesus. 12th witness in the Ordinary Process, she brings to her statement the weight of her daughterly affection, with a richness of detail, expression and factual evidence that makes her testimony, despite its brevity, one of the finest and most valuable of the Apostolic Process. 

We already know Sister Marthe, her biography and her character. In the introduction to her testimony of 1911, in the various testimonies given by Thérèse in her Autobiographical Manuscripts, and in her obituary circular, this humble Lay nun is presented with her limits and good will. As it will be remembered, her name was Désirée‑Florence-Marthe Cauvin, and she was born in Giverville (Diocese of Evreux) on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel: 16th July 1865. She lost her mother at an early age. Her childhood and adolescence were deeply marked by suffering and her character would bear the lasting traces of this. Admitted to the Carmelite Convent of Lisieux in 1887, she died there on 4th September 1916, a few months after testifying in the Apostolic Process. A novice under Thérèse of the Child Jesus, she wished to prolong her noviciate to benefit for longer from the spiritual direction of her saintly Mistress. 

The portrait that Sister Marthe dresses of Thérèse is particularly clear and attractive. The Servant of God’s simplicity, righteousness, strength, fervour and even-temperedness come across as an admirable ideal and invite imitation. This is particularly true of Thérèse’s charity in light of Sister Marthe’s description of it. This charity stands out all the more in contrast with the shortcomings that Sister Marthe humbly acknowledges. “I can say in all truth that Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus was a true mother to me, in the care she took to train me. I acknowledge that I tried her virtue on many an occasion, and I’m convinced that, in her place, any other Sister would have given up on me, intolerable as I was. Yet she always showed me much love and charity, without ever demonstrating the least annoyance” (p. 1063). And Thérèse was to Sister Marthe what she was to everyone, as the witness proves by examples. Truly, for the little saint, charity was everything. This is because she was always motivated by great faith. She saw Jesus in everyone, the Jesus in whose presence she constantly walked.

This is also the secret behind the great reverence that Sister Marthe observed in the Servant of God. “I was always struck by the great reverence in which the Servant of God dwelt, even amid the most distracting of occupations. One could tell she was always united to God. She was never dissipated, even when doing tiring chores such as the laundry. Whenever she saw me become engrossed in my manual tasks, she would say, ‘What is it you are doing? Be more contemplative, pay more attention to Jesus, even amid your chores’” (p. 1061). Although Sister Marthe provides “logia” of great value, some of which are known from “Counsels and Reminiscences”, which was published with the early editions of Story of a Soul, she is also able to speak as few have done of Thérèse as an educator and spiritual coach. She narrates her personal experiences and those of her fellow novices, who, entrusted like herself to the Saint, felt the power of her gaze, words and example.

The witness testified on 8th February 1916, in the 56th sitting, and her testimony is found on pp. 1058-1077 of the public transcription.

[Sitting 56: ‑ 8th February 1916, at 2 o’clock.]

[1058] [The witness answers the first question satisfactorily.]

 [Answer to the second question:]

My name is Florence Désirée Cauvin. I was born in Giverville, in the Diocese of Evreux, on 16th July 1865, to Alphonse Gauvin, a shepherd, and to Désirée Pitraz. I am a Lay nun of the Carmelite Convent of Lisieux, where I was admitted in 1887 and was professed on 23rd September 1890.

[The witness responds satisfactorily to questions three to five inclusively].

 [Answer to the sixth question:]

I prepared my testimony alone; no one [1059] helped me. I am ready to testify with absolute sincerity.

 [Answer to the seventh question:]

I did not know the Servant of God before she joined the Carmel. When she arrived, I had been there for three months. We therefore shared the same religious life until she died in 1897.

I grew particularly close to her following her profession, because she was a little saint. She did me much good and Mother Prioress allowed me to talk to her about Godly matters for my spiritual good.

 [Answer to the eighth question]:

I have a very great devotion to the Servant of God, for the sake of all the good she did me and I am confident that I will receive many blessings through her intercession. I dearly hope she will be beatified so that she will be better known and do more good for the glory of God.

 [Answer to questions nine to eleven inclusively]:

I know nothing of the Servant of God’s early life.

 [Answer to the twelfth question]:

[1060] Sister Thérèse joined the Carmel in April 1888. I had been there since the previous December. She received the Habit on 10th January 1889 and was professed on 8th September 1890. I myself was professed on 23rd September that same year. Sister Thérèse wished to remain in the novitiate all her life. I therefore stayed there, too, because I did not wish to part from her. She held the positions of Sacristan and Portress. She also helped train the novices following her profession. She did this upon the order of Mother Agnes of Jesus, Prioress, and not officially, but incognito because if it had been known, it would have aroused Mother Marie de Gonzague’s jealousy and troubled the peace in the community. When Mother Marie de Gonzague was re-elected Prioress towards the end of the Servant of God’s life, she officially gave Sister Thérèse the title of Novice Mistress.

 [Answer to the thirteenth question]:

Sister Thérèse fulfilled all her duties perfectly, not by natural inclination, but out of virtue.

 [Answer to the fourteenth question]:

I never saw her waver in the practice of any virtue. She always put the same fervour into it.

[1061] [Answer to questions fifteen and sixteen]:

The Servant of God always saw God in all things and particularly in our superiors. She was therefore very faithful in fulfilling every single duty that Mother Prioress commanded of her. She often corrected me for my lack of faith and submission. “If you could see God in your superiors,” she said to me, “you would never question what they said. Instead you would always blindly obey without considering the cost to you” [Primary source].

 [Answer to the seventeenth question:]

I was always struck by the great reverence in which the Servant of God dwelt, even amid the most distracting of occupations. One could tell she was always united to God. She was never dissipated, even when doing tiring chores such as the laundry. Whenever she saw me become engrossed in my manual tasks, she would say, “What is it you are doing? Be more contemplative, pay more attention to Jesus, even amid your chores.”

 [Answer to questions eighteen to twenty inclusively]:

Prior to our profession, as there was no one to sweep the chapel, we were both assigned the task for a few weeks. One day, feeling an upsurge of love, the Servant of God went and knelt on the altar, knocked on the door of the tabernacle, and said, [1062], “Are you there, Jesus? Answer me, I beg of you.” [Click here to see the picture offered by Marie of the Sacred Heart that inspired her words and actions]. She stayed there for a few moments, resting her head against the tabernacle door, and then looked at me. Her face was as though transfigured and beamed with joy, as though something mysterious had taken place between herself and the divine prisoner.

 [Answer to the twenty-first question]:

I was always particularly struck by the great love that Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus had for the Blessed Virgin. Once on the subject, there was no quieting her. She advised me to entrust myself wholly to the sweet Mother and to pray to her with affection and the simplicity of a tiny child. A few weeks before she died, she sent for me and told me, “I cannot put my mind to rest when it comes to you. You must promise me to recite a Memorare to the Blessed Virgin every day.” I promised to do so and kept my word.

 [Answer to questions twenty-two to twenty-six inclusively]:

She never sought happiness on this earth, but would always speak of heaven, and constantly urged me to have trust in God.

 [Answer to questions twenty-seven to thirty]:

The Servant of God would often say to me, “If you wish to become a saint, you must not [1063] content yourself with imitating the saints. Instead you must be perfect as your Father in heaven in perfect. Do not think that to attain perfection you need to do great things. Oh, no! Our love suffices Our Lord. Let us give Him all that He asks of us, unreservedly. How sweet it is to sacrifice ourselves for the One we love above ourselves! For then, nothing comes at a cost to us and everything becomes easy.”

 [Answer to questions thirty-one to thirty-six]:

I can say in all truth that Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus was a true mother to me, in the care she took to train me. I acknowledge that I tried her virtue on many an occasion, and I’m convinced that, in her place, any other Sister would have given up on me, intolerable as I was. Yet she always showed me much love and charity, without ever demonstrating the least annoyance.

Whenever we disturbed the Servant of God in search of her assistance, we were always sure we would be warmly greeted. Even when in a hurry, she never showed any annoyance, and if she could not help us, she would apologise so kindly that we would leave her feeling as happy as if she had satisfied our request. She said to me, “If a Sister asks you for assistance, do everything in your power to give it, even when it comes at great cost to you. Never say no. See God in each of your Sisters, then you will never [1064] refuse anything: this is real charity.”

During the eight years that I spent with the Servant of God, I never witnessed her lack charity. She always forgave her Sisters, focusing on their virtues. When I told her of the struggle that a few of them caused me, she was mindful not to agree. Instead, she attributed my difficulty to my lack of virtue. If she saw a nun carrying something heavy, she would quickly go and relieve her of her burden, and would do this for a poor little Lay nun and a Choir Sister alike.

In the linen room, there was a Sister whose difficult temperament meant that no one wanted to be with her. Sister Thérèse requested to be her assistant because she knew it would bring her suffering.

One year, I told her I wished to take my annual retreat with her. She accepted my request and for three years she granted me this favour. In order to do this, she missed her opportunity to be professed, and waited for me to go into solitude. I discovered later that taking her retreat with me represented a great sacrifice to her, but I would never have guessed this, for she let nothing show.

To encourage me to practise virtue, she obliged herself to make small sacrifices with me. We would note them down every day and, on Sundays, place our list at the foot of the Blessed Virgin. Sister [1065] Thérèse did not need these little exercises, but she did them for me alone, to encourage me.

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

The Servant of God was very prudent. I noticed this particularly in the advice she gave me as a novice. One could confide everything in her, sure that not a single word would be repeated to anybody, not even to Mother Agnes of Jesus when she was Prioress. This is why I went to her in complete trust, which I have not been able to do with anyone since. I would tell her everything and I always received the insight that my poor soul needed. I will quote a few passages from a note she wrote to me, to show the wisdom of her guidance: “Little sister, do not be afraid to tell Jesus you love Him, even if you do not feel it. This is how we oblige Him to rescue us... It is a great trial to look on the dark side of things, but this does not depend on you alone. Do all you can to detach your heart from earthly concerns, then be sure that Jesus will take care of the rest. But above all, let us be little, so little that everybody may trample us underfoot, without our even having the appearance of feeling it” [LT 241].

She also proved most prudent in avoiding arousing Mother Marie de Gonzague’s jealousy when [1066] going about training the novices.

The day when Mother Marie de Gonzague asked the Servant of God to adopt a missionary priest as her Spiritual Brother, she forbade her to mention it to Mother Agnes of Jesus (her sister Pauline and also her former Prioress). This order represented a great sacrifice for the Servant of God, but in perfect obedience she never said a single word to her. Out of prudence and fearing that Mother Agnes would catch her, she took care to barricade the door of her cell in order to hide from her what she was writing.

 [Answer to questions thirty-nine and forty]:

Sister Thérèse was very meticulous, as I have already said, in terms of accomplishing all her obligations. For every service rendered, she would express her gratitude effusively.

 [Answer to the forty-first question]:

Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus was perfectly modest. She never ran, and walked very reverently, with her eyes lowered. She did not try to see or find out what was happening around her. She never concerned herself with other people’s business. She never gave her opinion unless asked for it, and even then she expressed herself with much discretion and in few words. “When you see several sisters talking amongst themselves,” she said [1067] to me, “do not stop. Continue on your way, without even wishing to hear what is being said.”

The Servant of God was very quiet. I do not remember hearing her speak any unnecessary words. Nor did she speak where it was forbidden to do so and she discouraged us from going to see her during times of silence.

The Servant of God was truly dead to herself: she never acted instinctively or to satisfy her whims. One could tell that everything in her was spiritual. She never sought the company of her blood sisters, who are Carmelites in the same convent. This was out of pure detachment, for she loved them dearly. Instead, she would go and sit with any nun in the community. I would even say that she would seek the company of those who were most neglected and least appreciated.

I often had difficulties with the Servant of God’s sisters. I did not wish to tell her this, for fear of upsetting her. She realised this and said, “I am sure that you struggle with my sisters, so why don’t you tell me how they are making you suffer? I would be no more upset than if it were another nun.”  After that, I never hid anything from her and she never showed the least annoyance.

[1068] [Answer to the forty-second question]:

When I was working in the kitchen, I always noticed a great mortification in the Servant of God. We could serve her what we pleased; she never complained about anything. We did not know her tastes in terms of food because she would eat everything indifferently.

The Servant of God never complained of the cold, even though she felt it keenly. When I went to her cell, it was very edifying to see her poor hands all swollen, covered in chilblains and barely able to hold her needle. When I was on duty in the kitchen and she had the opportunity to come and see me, which was often for she was Portress, I would invite her to warm herself up by the fire. Yet she refused, despite my insistences, even though doing so was not forbidden. The more Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus had the opportunity to suffer for God, the happier she was.

I also thought her very courageous in the way she endured spiritual suffering. Seeing her so fervent one year, I assumed she was being showered in spiritual blessings and I envied her happiness, particularly as I was suffering greatly inwardly. I told her this. She smiled and told her that like mine, her soul was in deep darkness. I was surprised to hear this, for her outward joy had convinced me that the opposite was true.

[1069] [Answer to the forty-third question]:

The first time I saw Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, she gave me the impression of an angel. Her face truly reflected heaven, and this impression lasted not only for the length of her postulancy but throughout her religious life.

When a certain nun came to see me in the visiting room, I asked for permission to send for Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, and my request was granted. Once she had left the visiting room, the respectable nun said to Mother Prioress, who was present, “How delightful that child is! She is more of heaven than of earth. There is something about her that is so pure, so candid, that the sight of her brings rest to the soul. I do thank you, Mother, for having brought her to see me!”

 [Answer to the forty-fourth question]:

I always admired the Servant of God’s constant faithfulness to the virtue of poverty and all its subjugations. For example, she would gather up a match or scrap of paper to reuse.

I also noticed that she was very assiduous in her work. She never wasted a minute. She advised me to be scrupulous in this respect, too, “because time is not our own,” she said.

The nun in charge of the linen told me that the Servant of God had asked her [1070] to do her the kindness of giving her the oldest and most darned clothes, which was precisely what the other Sisters did not want to wear. The Sister granted her request, which filled Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus with joy.

 [Answer to the forty-fifth question]:

The Servant of God was always a very obedient nun. She was never in the least unfaithful to the Rule, and mindful to obey orders down to the last detail. Whenever Mother Prioress made recommendations, she would follow them to the letter, without fail.

She would drop everything at the first ring of the bell, even if she was in the middle of a conversation; this was how punctual she was. If she was sewing, she would leave her needle without completing the stitch she had begun. As a result, she was always the first to arrive in the choir, which gladdened her because, according to her, she received the blessing of the community’s angel.

 [Answer to the forty-sixth question]:

Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus wished to be forgotten and to always came last. She was never heard to justify herself, even if she was unfairly accused. Referring to my status as a Lay nun, she said, “How I wish I was in your shoes, in the position of a little white-veiled Sister. Your life is humble and hidden, but [1071] know that in the eyes of God, no deed is small if all that you undertake, you undertake through love.”

Walking towards Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus one day, she came to meet me, beaming with happiness. I asked her why she was so cheerful. She replied, “I was with my supervisor and she told me everything that she disliked about me. She thought she had upset me, but she hadn’t. Instead, she gave me pleasure. I’d like to see her now so I can greet her with a smile.” A moment later, there was a knock at the door. It was the Sister in question, whom she greeted most amiably, edifying me greatly. I was amazed by such heroic virtue.

 [Answer to the forty-seventh question]:

I have seen many fervent nuns, but I have never seen one whose virtue resembles that of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus. What appeared heroic about her virtue was the absolute consistency of her faithfulness, which nothing could impede. For example, when Mother Marie de Gonzague made hurtful remarks to Mother Agnes of Jesus, even though Sister Thérèse was certainly keenly affected by this, she continued to be full of deference and considerate towards the Prioress.

Even when tired or in pain, she did not let this affect her fervour or obedience, or the smiling amiability of her fraternal charity. [1072] This uniformity of virtue seemed heroic to me, and I have never seen it in any one else.

 [Answer to the forty-eighth question]:

I noticed nothing indiscreet about her conduct. She was in fact of perfectly righteous judgment.

 [Answer to the forty-ninth question]:

I consider the discernment that the Servant of God demonstrated in guiding her novices as a spiritual gift. She revealed in this post a prudence and maturity that was well beyond her years. How I regret not taking full advantage of the good advice she gave me, because I realise now that everything she said was inspired by God and she never acted according to her personal views.

Sometimes I had trouble meeting her gaze, so deep and penetrating it was. I felt she could read all that was taking place in my soul.

One day when I was particularly upset, I went to a great deal of trouble to hide my suffering from her. I met her and spoke to her as amiably as possible so that she would notice nothing. Yet imagine my surprise to immediately hear her say, “You are upset, I’m sure of it” [MSC 26,1]. I was astounded to see that I had been found out. I therefore told her the cause of my suffering, and with her good [1073] advice, she restored peace to my soul.

At the beginning of my life as a Carmelite, I developed a fondness for our Mother Prioress that I believed to be true and good, but Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, who was a little saint, saw immediately that my affection was too natural and was adversely affecting my soul. On 8th December 1892 (I can remember it clearly) she sent for me and said, “You are offending God because you are too self-seeking with respect to Mother Prioress: your affection is wholly natural, which is not only a huge obstacle to your perfection, but also puts your soul at great risk: if you must continue to behave this way, you would have done better to stay at home.” She added, “If Mother Prioress notices that you are upset, you can tell her all that I have said to you. I would rather she send me away from the convent, if that is her wish, than to fail in my duty to warn you for your spiritual good” [MSC 20,2-21,2].

 [Answer to the fiftieth question]:

I do not believe that Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus accomplished any actual miracles during her lifetime.

 [Answer to the fifty-first question]:

I was not aware of the Servant of God’s writings until they were published.

[1074] [Answer to the fifty-second question]:

I know nothing on the subject of the Servant of God’s illness other than that she suffered a veritable martyrdom. The Sisters did not go and see her for she was extremely weak. Yet because I had been her novice and worked in the kitchen, I had the joy of seeing her sometimes and of being edified again by my saintly Mistress. Although she was very sick, she did not forget my feast day on 29th July, which was the day prior to her receiving Extreme Unction, and she gave me a little picture with a handwritten note.

I was not present, either, for the Servant of God’s last agony, but I did witness her dying breath. She opened her eyes and, for a few moments, gazed upon something invisible.

 [Answer to questions fifty-three to fifty-five inclusively]:

I know nothing particular as regards these points, and noticed nothing unusual on these various occasions.

 [Answer to the fifty-sixth question]:

I know by hearsay, and because it is public knowledge, that there is a steady stream of pilgrims to the Servant of God’s grave, and that people pray there with great fervour. A few weeks ago, someone came to see me on their way back from the cemetery. They told me they had been amazed by what they had seen: “There were [1075] about ten men there,” they said, “four of whom were soldiers. All of them were praying with great devotion and absolutely free from human respect. I found one of them particularly edifying; he was praying the rosary very piously. Oh, Sister, you cannot imagine the faith and trust with which people pray on your little saint’s grave.”

 [Answer to the fifty-seventh question]:

During the Servant of God’s lifetime, the nuns in the community certainly thought her very fervent, but her great simplicity and humility meant that others did not notice the heroic nature of her virtue. The novices, however, who spent more time with her, considered her a saint. Sister Marie-Madeleine, who has recently died and who testified in the first Process, avoided going to see her for a while, because, she said, “Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus is too holy and can tell what is taking place in my soul.”

Since her death, all the Sisters in the community have come to love and venerate the Servant of God as a saint. It is clear that she is having a beneficial influence upon our souls. Each of us seeks to imitate her in “her little way of trust and self-surrender.” I have noticed that even those who did not acknowledge her holiness during her lifetime now realise how heroic and pleasing she was to God.

Almost every day at recreation, Mother [1076] Prioress reads us letters from soldiers fighting at the front. These letters relate truly remarkable examples of the Servant of God’s protection.

 [Answer to the fifty-eighth question]:

I have never heard anyone question the Servant of God’s holiness.

 [Answer to questions fifty-nine to sixty-five]:

I have heard about many miraculous blessings having been obtained through the Servant of God’s intercession, but I have not seen them myself. Personally I can confirm the following two events:

1stly, one evening, passing by Thérèse’s little statue of the Child Jesus, I noticed a strong scent of heliotropes. I paid little attention to it at first, but as the strong scent lingered for a long time, I began looking to see where it was coming from. Unable to locate the source, I informed Mother Marie‑Ange, who came and smelt the same fragrance. She at once thought of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the scent vanished immediately. This was the first time that our little saint had made her presence known to us in this way.

On another occasion, I was summoned to go and see a crippled Sister. I did not wish to go, but, despite my aversion, I resolved to imitate our little Thérèse. When I arrived at the cell of the crippled [1077] Sister, I was met with a very sweet and heavy scent of violets. I realised our little saint was granting me this favour to show me how pleased Jesus was with the little sacrifices we make for the sake of His love.

 [Answer to the sixty-sixth question]:

I have nothing to add.

[As regards the Articles, the witness claims to know nothing other than what they have already reported in response to the preceding questions. - Here ends the questioning of this witness. The Acts are read out. The witness makes no alteration to them and signs as follows]:

Signatum: SISTER MARTHE OF JESUS.

I have testified as above according to the truth. I hereby ratify and confirm my testimony.