Print

Witness 23 - Marie‑Elisa‑Jeanne Guerin (La Neele)

WITNESS XXIII

MARIE ELISA JEANNE GUERIN (LA NEELE)

The witness belongs to the group of family members of Thérèse of the Child Jesus. From this point of view, her declaration, although brief, assumes special value.

She is “Jeanne”, Thérèse’s cousin and childhood companion from Lisieux, who is mentioned in several passages of Manuscript “A” of Story of a Soul and in some of the Servant of God’s letters. She was born in Lisieux on 24th February 1868, and was the daughter of Isidore Guérin, who was the brother of Zélie, Thérèse’s mother, and Céline Fournet. On 1st October 1890, she married Doctor Francis La Néele, who treated Thérèse on a few rare occasions during her last illness. All those who know Thérèse’s writings remember the “invitation” to her wedding with Jesus, which was inspired by the invitation to Jeanne and Francis’s wedding. They will also recall the hope with which Thérèse continually supported her cousin in her wish to have a child. This hope was never fulfilled despite the Saint’s promise that the grace would be granted when she went to heaven. To hear the witness, it would seem that Thérèse’s mission was to obtain not blessings but trials. It is therefore with a smile on our lips that we hear her declare, “I thank God for the many blessings she was given, and for this reason I recite the Magnificat when I go to her grave. As for asking her to obtain blessings for me, as she has sent me nothing but trials, I am hesitant” (p. 1350). She returns to the subject a little later, but in the form of a most interesting conclusion: “I have often prayed to the Servant of God in times of trouble, and have noticed only an increase in crosses and trials. I pray she gives me the grace to bear them as a Christian” (p. 1360).

Her testimony unfolds with extreme simplicity as she recites her childhood memories. All the details are already in the 1911 Process, during which the witness spoke at greater length.

She testified on 12th March 1917, in the sacristy of the Carmelite Convent of Lisieux, in the 69th sitting of the Process, and her testimony can be found on pages 1349-1360 of the public transcription.

[Sitting 69: 12th March 1917, at 9 o’clock and at 2 o’clock in the afternoon]

[1349] [The witness answers the first question satisfactorily.]

 [Answer to the second question:]

My name is Marie Elisa Jeanne Guérin. I am Doctor La Néele’s widow. I was born in Lisieux on 24th February 1868 to Marie Isidore Victor Guérin, a chemist, and to Céline Fournet. My father was the brother of Mrs Martin, the Servant of God’s mother; I am therefore the first cousin of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus.

 [The witness answers questions three to five satisfactorily].

 [Answer to the sixth question:]

I will testify honestly and in all truth. No one has tried to influence me in any way; doing so would have been pointless.

 [Answer to the seventh question:]

From 1877, when the Martin family moved to Lisieux, until the Servant of God joined the Carmelite convent in 1888, relations between our two families were very frequent and very close. We would get together every Thursday and Sunday. On other days, Thérèse Martin and I would go to the same school with my sister Marie and Céline Martin. When the Servant of God [1350] joined the Carmel, I would visit her once a fortnight or so.

[Answer to the eighth question]:

I believe that Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus has a very high place in heaven. I thank God for the many blessings she was given, and for this reason I recite the Magnificat when I go to her grave. I hope with all my heart she will be canonised. As for asking her to obtain blessings for me, as she has sent me nothing but trials, I am hesitant.

[Answer to the ninth question]:

I know that the Servant of God was born in Alençon on 2nd January 1873. She had four surviving elder sisters: Marie, Pauline, Léonie and Céline. Several other children, four I believe, died in infancy; I didn’t know them. Mrs Martin died in Alençon when the Servant of God was about four. As I was five years older than Sister Thérèse, I went to her parents’ house in Alençon several times before her mother died. I remember Mrs Martin was a very devout Christian and carried out her duties most valiantly. Every morning she attended the six o’clock Mass and continued to do so until shortly before she died, even though she was suffering from the very painful illness of cancer. Mr Martin was also a very ardent and exemplary Christian.

[1351] [Answer to the tenth question]:

WITNESS 23: Jeanne Guérin

Following Mrs Martin’s death in August 1877, Mr Martin moved to Lisieux with his children to bring our two families closer and to have my mother look after the young girls. He lived in a small villa, called “Les Buissonnets” just over half a mile away from my parents’ house. I had one sister, Marie, who was two years younger than me, and she died at the Carmel of Lisieux in 1905. Little Thérèse was educated by her father, and especially by my cousin Pauline, who is Mother Agnes of Jesus today. Mr Martin loved Thérèse, his youngest child, particularly dearly. Her elder sisters also shared this special affection for their little sister. However I can confirm that this favouritism did not harm her education or arouse any jealousy in her family.

Towards the age of eight, the Servant of God began attending school each day at the Benedictine Abbey of Lisieux. Céline went there, too, as did Léonie Martin, my sister Marie and myself. As I was five years older than Thérèse, I was closer to Céline, who was my age, and Thérèse was closer to my younger sister Marie. At that time, I remember that the Servant of God was very mild and very kind to everyone. She was particularly sensitive, disliking noisy games and lots of movement. She was solemn, thoughtful and reserved with anyone who was not immediate family. I remember that when Pauline left her for the Carmel, she told no one of her sorrow, not even Céline, I think. [1352] However, her sorrow was very great, for we think it caused the serious illness that befell her at that time. I can also remember she was very pious, loved religious activities and prayed with great fervour. I knew of no faults except her hypersensitivity, but she is not to blame for that.

[Was the Servant of God’s piety greater than average? - Answer]:

There is no possible comparison between her piety and that of other children her age. Her fervour was extraordinary and exceeded everyone else’s in the family, save perhaps Pauline’s, who was also very pious.

Her father being away, the Servant of God was staying with my parents when she fell ill at the age of ten (1883). The illness was at first characterised by severe trembling, which was indicative of a fever. Then, on top of depression, she entered a state of semi-hallucination that made objects or the postures of those around her take on terrifying forms. At its worst, there were also several physical fits, during which her whole body would make rotating movements that would have been entirely impossible for her when healthy. The doctor, Doctor Notta, made no precise diagnosis as to the nature of the illness. My father, who had a great deal of experience and knowledge of illnesses as a result of his profession and studies, could not believe this was no more than an earthly illness [1353]. He thought Satan had had a hand in it. Even at that time, he recognised an extraordinary holiness in Thérèse, and would say, “This child will do great things.” Just when the fits were at their most violent, the illness suddenly left her. I think I can remember that, at that very moment, it was confirmed what I have often been told since, that she was cured by the Blessed Virgin.

[Was it at that very moment that it was believed she had had a vision of the Blessed Virgin? - Answer]:

I cannot remember if it was described in such terms at the time.

[The witness resumes]:

No sign whatsoever of this condition has ever reappeared since, and my father said that if it had been a mental illness and left to follow its natural course, we would have seen traces of it in the girl’s temperament later on.

The Servant of God took her First Communion at the Abbey, after a closed retreat. The great piety I mentioned was visible on this occasion although I noticed nothing out of the ordinary. During her time at the Abbey, the Servant of God was a good pupil, did well in her studies, and was very obedient to her teachers. She was kind to her schoolmates, but preferred not to participate in their games. She did not become close to them, and usually kept herself at a certain distance. All in all, as school life contrasted with her family life, it was rather difficult for her. I think that her spiritual [1354] education remained primarily the work of Pauline, and that school, even though she had good teachers, had little influence on her.

 [Answer to the eleventh question]: 

At the age of 13, the Servant of God left the Benedictine school and finished her education at home. I believe that her continual headaches were the reason for her leaving. I do not remember the two years preceding her admittance to the Carmel in any detail. I can however describe that period in general; there was nothing worldly about either of our families; we lived a very introspective Christian life.

I heard from my father, whom she had come to consult, of her decision to soon join the Carmel. I wasn’t surprised she was to become a nun. Every one expected it, but I didn’t expect her to join so young.

[1355] [Continuation of the answer]:

[Answer to the twelfth question]:

From the day Sister Thérèse joined the Carmel, I lost sight of her to a certain extent. I would visit her and her sisters at the same time, so I do not know anything precise as to the details of her life at the Carmel. This is all the more true as, out of humility no doubt, she spoke little, even when she came to the visiting room, and let her sisters do the talking.

 [Answer to questions thirteen and fourteen]:

Concerning her virtues at the Carmel, I can quote a few written examples that I’ve already reported either in the Process of her Writings or in the Informative Process.

WITNESS 23: Jeanne Guérin

They are extracts from letters written by the Servant of God to my parents, or written by my Carmelite sister Marie, and other letters.

For instance:

1stly In a letter to my parents, the Mother Prioress of the Carmel said the following about Thérèse: “Never would I have believed a child of 15 could be so mature in judgment; I don’t need to say a word to her: everything is perfect.” The Prioress who wrote this was Mother Marie de Gonzague.

2ndly Here are two passages from letters written by Sister Thérèse to my mother:

“It will soon be nine years since I entered the Lord's house. I should, then, be already advanced in the ways of perfection, but I am still at the bottom of the ladder. This does not discourage me... hoping at the end of my life [1356] to share in the riches of my sisters who are much more generous. I hope, too, dear Aunt, to have a beautiful place at the heavenly banquet... When the saints and the angels learn I have the honour of being your little daughter, they will not want to make me sad by placing me far from you.... Thus I shall enjoy eternal goods because of your virtues. My heart melts with gratitude to God, who has given me relatives such as are no longer to be found on earth” [LT 202].

On another occasion, she wrote to her aunt, “For your feast day, I would like to take away all sorrow and to take for myself all your pains. This is what I was praying for just now... I then felt that all He could give us of the best was suffering, and He was giving this only to His chosen friends... I saw that Jesus loved dear Aunt too much to take away the Cross” [LT 67]. To her uncle, my father, she wrote, “Ah, how beautiful the crown reserved for you appears to me! It can't be otherwise since your whole life has been a perpetual cross and because God acts in this way only with the great saints” [LT 59]. If my father had lived, he would have happily testified for his darling little Thérèse, and he would certainly have reported many edifying details, as would my mother.

                                                                   

[Answer to questions fifteen to forty-six]:

As I’ve said, I am not in a situation to provide a personal and detailed testimony on these points.

[1537] [Answer to the forty-seventh question]:

I knew her personally only until she joined the Carmel, and afterwards only by what I was told by my parents and her sisters. I was far from imagining she would work miracles as she is doing today, and that people all over the world would speak of her as they are doing. Yet concerning her virtues, I believed even at the time when we lived together that her perfection was absolutely extraordinary and exceeded what is commonly seen in virtuous people. This was also the opinion of my parents and all those who knew her.

[Can you say in what way specifically the Servant of God’s virtues appeared heroic? - Answer]:

I never saw her do anything extraordinary, but, what seemed heroic in her conduct was that she never slackened in virtue, even in her childhood, that is to say, in the years I was with her. Her piety, humility, and obedience were especially remarkable, as was her mildness and charity towards her neighbour.

 [Answer to questions forty-eight to fifty]:

I’ve heard nothing particular as regards these points.

[Answer to the fifty-first question]:

Everyone knows her autobiography. I also kept the letters she wrote to me and my parents.

[1358] [Answer to the fifty-second question]:

During the Servant of God’s last illness, her Carmelite sisters sent us news often, and I would come to the visiting room to ask after her. I therefore learnt that she suffered greatly, and suffered more than people with this illness (pulmonary tuberculosis) normally suffer, and also that she bore her suffering with admirable patience.

My husband Doctor La Néele was called to see her twice in the absence of the community’s doctor, Doctor de Cornière. He told me at the time that he had been very struck by her holiness and the angelic mildness with which she bore her suffering.

[Answer to the fifty-third question]:

The Servant of God died on 30th September 1897. I came to pray when her body was laid out at the choir grate. I noticed nothing out of the ordinary on this occasion. Many faithful also came, but this can be explained by the fact that our family was well known in the town.

 [Answer to the fifty-fourth question]:

It is public knowledge that she was buried in Lisieux town cemetery, and that, in September 1910, I think, her remains were transferred, by order of His Lordship the Bishop of Bayeux, to a nearby grave, where everybody now goes to pray.

 [Answer to the fifty-fifth question]:

[1359] I saw nothing resembling worship on these occasions.

 [Answer to the fifty-sixth question]:

I often go to pray at the Servant of God’s burial place. Since the Process began in 1910, the number of pilgrims has steadily increased and is still growing. It seems to me that pilgrims from all backgrounds come to her burial place to pray fervently and reverently.

WITNESS 23: Jeanne Guérin

I saw nothing in these demonstrations that was not sincere and solemn.

[Answer to the fifty-seventh question]:

All those in my entourage pray to the Servant of God in great faith. People everywhere pray to her and relate favours they have received through her intercession. It is well known today that her reputation for holiness has spread, so to speak, all over the world.

I do not think any effort has ever been made to hide or dissimulate what might damage her Cause. I do not think her virtues have been exaggerated, either, but the Carmel in particular has spared no expense in terms of making her known just as she is.

[Answer to the fifty-eighth question]:

I have never heard any criticism in relation to the Servant of God’s virtues or holiness.

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

[1360] Personally, I have often prayed to the Servant of God in times of trouble, and have only noticed an increase in crosses and trials. I pray she gives me the grace to bear them as a Christian.

As for other people, I have heard whole hosts of accounts relating blessings that have been obtained through Sister Thérèse’s intercession. My husband told me that he himself had, as a doctor, officially recognised the miraculous recovery of Father Anne, a curate from Pont l’Évêque, and of an elderly man in the institute of the Little Sisters of the Poor who had suffered from lung cancer.

[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 declared in response to the preceding questions. - Here ends the questioning of this witness. The statements are read out. The witness makes no alteration to them and signs as follows]:

Signatum: JEANNE LA NÉELE, [1361] witness. I have testified as above according to the truth. I hereby ratify and confirm my testimony.