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Witness 20 - Marie-Elisa-Jeanne Guérin (La Néele)

 

Marie-Elisa-Jeanne Guérin was Thérèse’s cousin. Daughter of Isidore Guérin, the brother of the Saint’s mother, she was born in Lisieux on 24th February 1868 and married Doctor Francis La Néele on 17th October 1890. Her great sorrow was not being able to have a child, but she accepted this heavy trial in a Christian way and was helped by Thérèse who wrote to her on 17th October 1891: “I hope that soon God will send a little Isidore as perfect as his Papa, or else a little Jeanne resembling exactly her Mamma” and again in mid October 1895: “I have an interior conviction that soon you will receive a richer hundredfold, a little angel will come to delight your home and receive your maternal kisses.” Yet the Saint also urged her to surrender herself totally to Providence (letter dated 16th July 1897 to Mr. and Mrs. Guérin).  

Thérèse would again comfort her cousin when the latter was separated from her younger sister Marie who entered the Carmel of Lisieux under the name Sister Marie of the Eucharist (1870-1905). Having lost her husband on 19th March 1916, Mrs. La Néele devoted more time to charitable works and died on 24th April 1938 in Nogent-le-Rotrou (Eure-et-Loir), to where she had retired*. (Annals 14, 1938)

During her childhood and youth, both at home and at the Benedictine school, the witness lived with the Saint as if she had been her sister. Furthermore, in the last years of Thérèse’s life, her parents received from their other Carmelite daughter, Marie of the Eucharist, letters of the greatest interest. These letters were included by Mrs. La Néele in her own testimony, and can now be found in the 1st volume of “Derniers entretiens” (“Her Last Conversations”).

Mrs. La Néele testified on 28th March 1911, in the 71st session pp. 1144v-1155r of our Public Copy.

[Session 71: - 28th March 1911, at 8:30am and at 2pm]

[1144v] [The witness answers the first question correctly].

[Answer to the second question]:

My name is Marie-Elisa-Jeanne Guérin, wife to Doctor Francis La Néele. I was born in Lisieux on 24th February 1868, of the legitimate marriage between Isidore-Victor-Marie Guérin, a pharmacist, and Céline Fournet. I am first cousin to the Servant of God, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus.  

[Answer to the third question]:

I am accustomed to going to confession and to taking Communion several times a month.

[1145r] [The witness answers questions four to six correctly].

[Answer to the seventh question]:

Although family links tie me to the Servant of God, I hope that my affection for her and for her whole family doesn’t obscure my judgment of her. I therefore ask God that my testimony be faithful to the truth.

[Answer to the eighth question]:

I was close to the Servant of God above all during the period between her arrival in Lisieux (1877) and her entrance into the Carmel (1888). She was four and a half and I was nine and a half when she came to Lisieux following her mother’s death. We were in constant contact during this time, especially because Mr. Martin had specifically come to Lisieux after his wife’s death to be nearer to our family. Once the Servant of God had entered the Carmel, I only spoke to her now and again in the visiting room, and inevitably our relationship became [1145v] less close. I won’t use the “Story of a Soul” in my deposition, although I have the impression that this book expresses the truth. I will above all use my personal memories and the letters exchanged between the Servant of God and the members of our family.

[Answer to the ninth question]:

I pray to the Servant of God, but I note that she sends me more crosses than consolations. For a few years now, I have noticed that numerous graces have been granted to people everywhere through the Servant of God’s intercession, and I conclude that her beatification is Providence’s design. I admit that, in the years following her death, I hadn’t expected to see this spread of spirituality, which has revealed her holiness to be greater than I was aware.

[Answer to questions ten to thirteen]:

I haven’t any personal memories on all these points.

[1146r]

[Answer to the fourteenth and fifteenth questions]:

When she was little, Thérèse was a very pious child of exemplary wisdom. I don’t ever recall seeing her disobey, or say the smallest of lies. She was entirely educated by Pauline, who instilled her with all virtues. Our little Saint particularly loved this sister (Pauline), choosing her to replace her mother. My parents loved Thérèse like their own daughter, and she returned their affection, as the letters she wrote them and which we have preciously conserved prove. I cannot remember seeing her cause the least bit of trouble to my father and mother who admired her virtues and angelic life. I often heard it said around me: “This child won’t live long, she’s too angelic.” The expression on her face was indeed that of an angel.

I must however point out that the age difference meant I didn’t perhaps know the Servant of God [1146v] as well as my younger sister Marie. Thérèse was five years younger than me, which is a lot when one is a child; so she always went with my little sister, whereas Céline and I were always together. The Servant of God wasn’t communicative and spoke very little. I remember rarely seeing her enjoy playing games. As she frequently complained of headaches, I presumed it was the pain that made her so serious. Never would I have at that time suspected she was so holy; she was very impressionable and would cry over nothing.  

When she was ten, she was struck by a terrible illness that we attributed to her immense grief when her sister Pauline left for the Carmel. I can remember very well that she was very deeply aggrieved and nothing could console her. Every phase of this illness is also very clear in my memory. The doctor treating her called the illness “Saint Vitus’ danse”. Nevertheless, it seemed to me he appeared hesitant in his diagnostic and implied that there was something else; but what? He didn’t know himself, for he would certainly have told my father.

[1147r] [Answer to questions sixteen to eighteen]:

When I saw Thérèse enter the Carmel at 15 years of age, though I was very much edified by her virtues, I thought deep down that she had entered the convent to rejoin Pauline, for whom she had such great affection. But my father and mother weren’t of the same opinion. My father was deeply involved in the procedure surrounding her entrance into the Carmel, and I heard my parents say that the child was predestined for the convent. But it was above all during her religious life that her virtues shone. I was married in Caen, and I only saw Thérèse in the convent’s visiting room when I came to Lisieux; or, rather I should say I felt her presence, but I didn’t see or hear her. The inflexible Holy Rule condemned me to talk with the grille completely closed; and I could barely hear our little Saint either, because she spoke very quietly and remained completely in the background to let her sisters speak. The Prioress of the Carmel (Mother Marie de Gonzague) spoke about Thérèse in a letter she wrote to my parents. It read: “Never would I have been able to believe it possible to find such good judgment in a child of fifteen; I’ve no criticism to make: everything’s perfect.” [1147v.] My younger sister Marie entered the Carmel in 1895, so she lived with the Servant of God for two years. I often heard my parents say how happy they were that Sister Marie of the Eucharist (which was my sister’s name in religion) had her as an example to follow at the beginning of her religious life. The letters written by my parents and my younger sister, which I’ve kept, demonstrate their admiration for Thérèse’s virtues; and the letters the Servant of God wrote us also show the level of perfection she had attained.

[Answer to questions nineteen to twenty-three]:

I know nothing more on these points other than what I have said in answer to the preceding questions.

[Answer to the twenty-fourth question]:

When she was very ill (1896-1897) I heard it said by the Carmelite nuns and the people who approached her, that her resignation was very great and that she was looking forward to going to be with God. She wished to die of love. She suffered a great deal during her last illness and received no [1148r] pain relief. When she died, I was so convinced she was with God that I was absolutely certain she would grant me all the graces I asked for. I’ve kept a host of letters that where written by my parents and my Carmelite sister at the time: they reveal the Servant of God’s disposition towards the end of her life. Here are the most significant passages from the letters:

(Letter from my mother, Mrs. Guérin, to her niece, Céline Martin, the Servant of God’s sister):

18th June 1897

“I think that our dear little patient is still in the same condition; I let myself hope that God will allow us keep her a while longer. That’s not our Thérèse’s wish, I know! But it nevertheless becomes hers if it’s God’s will. I sometimes think about writing to her. I say to myself: ‘Perhaps she would be glad, but she wouldn’t say so, she’s too perfect!’ Then I think about it and believe that to speak to this dear little angel I would have to use an angelic language: I feel that earthly things are beneath her, and I remain silent. But tell her, Céline, that my silence is one [1148v] of admiration and of love for God and for the poor dear little creature whom he has raised to such high perfection. Tell her that my happiness would be complete if my dear daughters resembled her. This child is so perfect that when I think of her, my eyes well up with tears…”

(Letter from my young Carmelite sister, Marie of the Eucharist, to our father, Mr. Guérin):

“8th July 1897

When we visit Thérèse, we find her very much changed, very emaciated, but she’s always calm, always ready to joke. She sees death coming and she’s happy; she hasn’t the least fear of it. This will sadden you, dear little Father, and it’s quite understandable. All of us will be losing the greatest of treasures, but she’s not to be pitied: loving God the way she does, how well received she’ll be up there in heaven. She’ll go straight to heaven, that is certain. When we spoke to her about purgatory for ourselves, she said: “Oh! How you grieve me! You do a great injury to God in believing you’re going to go to purgatory. When we love, we can’t go there.” A while ago, our Mother (Prioress) gave [1149r] Dr. de Cornières her poem Living on Love. She wasn’t yet sick at that moment, as she simply had the first symptoms. But when he had read it, he said to our Mother: ‘I’ll never cure her: she has a soul that’s not made for earth’.”  

(Letter from my young sister Marie of the Eucharist to our mother, Mrs. Guérin):

“10th July 1897

Oh! she’s not to be pitied, this little Sister of ours! She’ll be so happy, and she’s so well prepared. She will be a great protection to us in heaven… Our Father (Superior) said to her yesterday: “You’re … going to heaven soon! But your crown isn’t made yet, you’ve only just begun making it!” Very angelically she replied: “Oh! Father it’s true, I haven’t made my crown, but it’s God who made it!” Ah! yes, her crown is really made up! It’s our turn now to make ours as beautiful as hers and when we have known a soul as beautiful as hers, we would be much to blame not to walk in her footsteps”

(Letter from Mrs. Guérin to her daughter, Sister Marie of the Eucharist):

[1149v] “12th July 1897 We are beginning to hope that this accident will pass, and that our dear little Queen (The Servant of God) will overcome it. We are in admiration of everything we are told about her. But that’s not enough: we must imitate her, and how can we attain such detachment, such joy at dying? Until now, I’d only read about this in Lives of Saints; today, we have an example of one before us.”

(Letter from Sister Marie of the Eucharist to Mr. Guérin, her father):

“31st July 1897

Father came at six o’clock. He administered Extreme Unction and afterwards gave her Holy Communion. It was very touching, I assure you, to see our little patient with such a calm and pure aspect…Never was anyone seen to die with such calmness. She says: “What do you expect? Why should death frighten me? I’ve never acted except for God.” And when we say “Perhaps you’ll die on this feast day or that,” she answers: “I don’t have to choose a feast day on which to die, because the day of my death will be the greatest of all feasts for me.”

[1150r] [Continuation of the answer to the twenty-fourth question]:

(Letter from Mrs. Guérin to Sister Marie of the Eucharist)

“July 1897

... Poor little Queen! We are all with her in spirit and heart! To think she envisages death with joy! Your little Father couldn’t retain his tears reading the passage where she talks of entering heaven. It’s so pretty! It seems to me that God must contemplate with joy the image of his Son in the heart of the bride he has chosen. Our little Thérèse is [1150v] so pure, so holy! In my opinion, she entered the Carmel with her baptismal innocence, and what distance she’s had to cover in so few years! My dear little Marie, I often take the time to thank God you have been able to be close to this dear little soul, and that you have shared her life, for too short a time, alas! But God knows what he’s doing. That doesn’t prevent us from seeking, through our prayers, to keep this dear treasure among us…”.    

(From Mrs. Guérin to Sister Marie of the Eucharist):

“24th July 1897

I still wonder how our little Thérèse was able, being so weak, to write us such a lovely letter? Not only were the thoughts sublime, but also her writing so neat. I’m sure she must have been very tired after making this effort for which we are infinitely grateful, because we will keep this letter in our archives. She deserves it…”.

(Letter from Mr. Guérin to the Servant of God, his niece, in reply to the letter mentioned above):

“25th July 1897

My dear little Angel,

[1151r]... Your letter was the cause of an inexpressible surprise and joy; it moistened my eyes with tears. What was the nature of these tears? I cannot analyze it. A crowd of different sentiments brought them about. The pride of having such an adopted daughter, admiration for so great a courage and so great a love of God, and I cannot hide it, my darling, sadness against which human nature is defenseless when faced with a separation that appears eternal to it. Faith and reason protest, and we give in to their arguments, but they cannot stop the painful groanings of the body when seeing itself deprived of one of its most precious members. You were your good mother’s little pearl; you were your aged father’s little queen; and you are the most beautiful little flower of the lily-wreath crowning, scenting, and giving me a foretaste of the perfections of heaven. Whatever may be the sorrow haunting and restraining me at certain moments, it has never come to my mind to dispute over you with the love of your Bridegroom, who is calling you… They say that the swan, always mute and silent during its life, gives forth a sublime song when it sees death approaching. Your letter, my darling, is no doubt the last song you have dedicated to us. We shall preserve it [1151v] as a precious deposit. The pious thoughts it inspires in us will perhaps teach us to feel a little bit the flame of divine love which is consuming you and to which you desire to be united more intimately. Dear little white bird, who has seen the burning bush ever since its tender childhood, who has been fascinated by its brilliance, and who has drawn near in such a way that it will soon be intermingled with It!

A Dieu, my beloved child, precious pearl, whom your good mother entrusted to me; the remembrance of your virtues and your innocence will never leave me, and I hope that your prayers will make me worthy of being reunited with all my own in the eternal abode.

The one who has perhaps the right to call himself your second father and who kisses you from the very bottom of his heart,

Isidore Guérin”

(Letter from Sister Marie of the Eucharist to Mr. Guérin, her father):

“17th August 1897

...You mustn’t think her desire to go to heaven is filled with enthusiasm, oh! no, it’s very peaceful. She was telling me this morning: “If I were told I was going to be cured, don’t believe I’d be dejected; [1152r] I would be happy, just as much as I would be to die. I have a great desire for heaven, but it’s especially because I am in great peace that I am happy; as for feeling an immense joy as we sometimes do when our heart beats with happiness, oh! no… I’m in peace, that’s why I’m happy.”

(From Sister Marie of the Eucharist to Mr. Guérin):

“27th August 1897

... Now, dear little Father, you’re impatiently awaiting news of your little queen. It’s always the same. She is weaker and weaker, no longer able to bear the least noise around her, not even the crumpling of paper or a few words spoken in a whisper. There is much change in her condition since the feast of the Assumption. And we have even reached the point of wishing her deliverance, for she’s suffering a martyrdom. She was saying yesterday: “Fortunately, I didn’t ask for suffering. If I had asked for it, I fear I wouldn’t have the patience to bear it. Whereas, if it is coming directly from God’s will, He cannot refuse to give me the patience and the grace necessary to bear it.” The breathing difficulties always make her suffer much…She was saying yesterday: “I was saying to [1152v] God that all the prayers offered for me were not to serve to assuage my sufferings but to help sinners…”

(Letter from Mrs. Guérin to Mrs. La Néele, her eldest daughter):

“30th September 1897

... Her condition is the same this morning. Last night, she wasn’t too good, which is to be understood, but her condition is the same. She is truly a little victim chosen by God. In the midst of her sufferings, she always has the same appearance, the same angelic air about her. Father Faucon, who saw her yesterday, told me through Mrs. Lahaye, the seamstress, that he admires her. He had to hear her confession, and she asked him for his blessing, always with her smiling and angelic manner that never leaves her. She has always remained lucid…”

[Answer to the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth questions]:

I often go to the cemetery to pray at the Servant of God’s grave. I always, or almost always, meet people there from all social backgrounds who also come to pray. I’ve seen priests, friars, nuns, and lay people there. This [1153r] flow of people began at about the time that the publication of “Story of a Soul” made the Servant of God known; it has increased a great deal since Mgr. the Bishop of Bayeux released the ordinance for the research of writings by Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, and it progresses every day.  

[Answer to the twenty-seventh question]:

The letters and reports that come to the monastery establish that the Servant of God’s reputation for holiness has become universal. I know about these letters from what my Carmelite cousins tell me. Furthermore, due to the blood relationship that unites me to Sister Thérèse, I personally receive a large number of visits and letters from people asking me for souvenirs pertaining to the Servant of God’s life, or seeking pictures, relics, and so on. My husband, Doctor La Néele, acquired the house called Les Buissonnets where the Servant of God spent her childhood, and I know that people come to visit the property out of devotion.

[Answer to the twenty-eighth question]:

[1153v] I’ve never heard anyone voice any criticism or opposition against the Servant of God’s holiness. Several people have like me recognized that Sister Thérèse’s reserve and humility prevented them from discerning during her lifetime just how heroic her virtues really were. Even if what they have learnt since her death has proved a revelation to them, they nevertheless haven’t dreamt of calling into question the truth of her perfection.

[Answer to the twenty-ninth question]:

Apart from having heard reports, from the Carmel, of numerous graces of all kinds being obtained through the Servant of God’s intercession, I’ve personally been informed about a large number of favours being granted to people I know. I’ve been told about spiritual graces, temporal favours, healings, and so on. I haven’t made a note of the details: I asked these people to report them to the convent. But I can, generally speaking, confirm that the conviction that significant graces can be obtained through Sister Thérèse’s intercession is very widespread. If I limit myself to events directly involving members of my family, we [1154r] have attributed to the Servant of God’s intercession the unexpected peace and calm in which my mother died. During her last illness, the memory of Sister Thérèse was very present in her mind. One night when her suffering was immense, she said to my husband, Dr. La Néele: “It’s true, I’m in a great deal of suffering, but I can feel my little Thérèse is here, just beside me. Her presence gives my courage, and this helps me bear my suffering.” My mother was very fearful of dying, and we were afraid that as a consequence her death would be very painful. But it was quite the opposite; she surrendered herself to God with immense calmness. These were her last words: “My Jesus, I offer you the sacrifice of my life for priests, like my little Thérèse of the Child Jesus.”

Something else we consider as a precious grace is the sanctifying influence that the Servant of God had, particularly after her death, on the soul of my young Carmelite sister, Marie of the Eucharist. Here is a letter from her showing the help she received to reach perfection.

(Letter from Sister Marie of the Eucharist to Mr. Guérin, her father):

[1154v] “3rd July 1898

... Since you like hearing stories about little graces granted by our little angel, I shall tell you about one that occurred for me last winter and which I didn’t tell you about. One day when it was very cold, at about 5 o’clock in the evening, my feet were so frozen that I could hardly walk; I couldn’t feel them anymore. I must tell you beforehand to clarify my story: 1st that as the soles of our alpargates are made of rope, they become damp easily and we are obliged to dry them out on a foot heater; but the foot heater simply warms the alpargates when our feet aren’t inside them, for using foot heaters to warm our feet is forbidden in the convent.

2nd clarification: At that time I was having frequent nosebleeds, and our Mother had obliged me to put warm alpargates on from time to time. But as I hadn’t had any nosebleeds for a few days, I assumed my obligation was also suspended. Therefore that evening, as my alpagates were drying, I could, without committing a sin, have put them on when they were very warm, because I had permission to do so, but I decided to practice mortification. I said to myself, ‘If my little Thérèse was here, what would she say? [1155r] Oh! Her reply would be categorical; she would want me to change my alpargates and put warm ones on, because she was always full of tenderness towards her little novices and very often spared them suffering. But in my place, what would she have done? Ah, the little rascal! She would have jumped at this opportunity for self-sacrifice, and would have born cold feet out of love for God.’ So I said to her, ‘Since you would have done this, I’m going to do the same; you wouldn’t have set us the example if you didn’t want us to follow it!’ My resolution was therefore taken, and I was happy to give something to God. I sang as I passed the room where the alpargates were warming. I had hardly passed the door of the room when, crack!... I heard one of my alpargates break; I took a look… it was beyond repair for the time being. It was impossible for me to continue walking in those alpargates. I was therefore obliged to go and put on some of the nice warm ones, because I didn’t have any others.   God sometimes performs little acts of kindness like these when we deprive ourselves for his sake. On this occasion I recognised one of little Thérèse’s tricks; she often did such things. She would let us willingly make sacrifices, and then find a way to lessen them when they were [1155v] fully accepted.

 

[Answer to the thirtieth question]:

I don’t believe I’ve forgotten anything.

[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]:

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

Signatum: J. LA NÉELE