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Witness 27 - Alexander-James Grant

Witness 27 - Alexander-James Grant

Alexandre-James Grant, whom Thomas Nimmo mentioned in his testimony, was born in Latheron-Caithness (Scotland) in 1854 and was the pastor at the United Free Church of Scotland in Lochranga (Isle of Arran). On 20th September 1900 he married an Anglican, Ethel Dalley (1874-1956), who converted to Catholicism (20th July 1908) and who soon became a fervent admirer of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus. She left in her husband’s office the issue of the Catholic Herald that gave an outline of Thérèse’s biography and also announced the publication of the English translation of her life story. Pastor Grant cut out the article and put it in his wallet. He read the book as early as 1909 and was bowled over by it. He felt Thérèse’s presence several times, but his struggle was hard. He was very learned, speaking eight languages, and the Greek biblical text, which he studied with passion, accompanied him wherever he went. He was exquisitely charitable to absolutely everyone and at the same time sought the truth with ardour and serenity. After months and months of internal struggle he abjured on 20th April 1911 and consequently joined the Catholic Church under the name of Francis-Mary-Thérèse. He testified at the Ordinary Trial in Lisieux a few months later and it was then that it was suggested he come with his wife to live in Alençon as guardians of Thérèse’s birthplace, according to his testimony in the Apostolic Trial on 31st May 1915. He moved to Alençon, rue Saint-Blaise, on 3rd June 1912, to humbly serve and guide pilgrims visiting the hometown of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus (Annals 1956, n° 4).

The witness testified on 8th August 1911, in the 80th session, pp. 1249v-1256v of our Public Copy.

[Session 80: - 8th August 1911, at 8:30am and at 2pm]

[1249v] [The witness answers the first question correctly].

[Answer to the second question]:

My name is Alexander-James Grant, I was born in 1854 (I don’t know which day exactly, because the parish registers weren’t regularly kept then) in Latheron Caithness, Scotland, of the marriage between Louis Grant and Marguerite Macpherson. Until my recent conversion, I was a member and minister of the United Free Church of Scotland. I was a minister from 1890 until my conversion on 20th April 1911. Today I live in Edinburgh (Scotland), at 34 Warrender Park [1250r] Terrace.  

[The third question is omitted. Answer to the fourth question]:

I’ve never been summoned before the court.

[Answer to the fifth question]:

I made my Canonic abjuration on 20th April 1911.

[Answer to the sixth question]:

I give my answers completely freely.

[Answer to the seventh question]:

It is the truth alone that dictates my testimony.

[Answer to the eighth question]:

As my testimony relates only to my conversion, I will draw my answers from my personal experience.

[Answer to the ninth question]:

The success of the Servant of God’s Cause is my ardent desire, [1250v] because I believe it could prompt other people’s conversions, as she prompted mine.

[Questions ten to twenty-eight inclusive are omitted. We come to question twenty-nine, which gives the witness the opportunity to talk about his miraculous conversion to Catholicism. He answers the question as follows]:

I owe my conversion to reading Sister Thérèse’s Life Story.

[Question from the Promoter of the Faith: had you already thought of embracing the Catholic faith before hearing about the Servant of God? Answer]:

Not in the slightest; the reading and studying I devoted myself to only reinforced my Protestant faith.

[Did your wife’s conversion in about 1908 have any influence over your own? Answer]:

[1251r] The event didn’t influence my thinking at all. My wife was very religious and very good before her conversion; she has remained so since. I noticed no change that could have made me reconsider.

[Did someone at least attempt to lead you towards the Catholic faith before you finished reading the Servant of God’s Story? Answer]:

Twice did I meet Catholic priests who, at times, said a few words about the Roman Religion, but I was absolutely refractory to their insinuations.

[Had you at least read some books about the Catholic religion? Answer]:

I had read some, but only looking for objections to Catholicism.

[How did you come to read the “Story of Sister Thérèse”? Answer]:

By chance I read in the “Catholic Herald” newspaper, [1251] which my wife received each week, a short biographical sketch written by Reverend Father Taylor; it mentioned the up-coming release of the complete English edition of the “Story of Sister Thérèse”. The article interested me very much. I cut it out and carried it in my pocket for about a year, and often checked whether the complete biography had finally been published. One of my wife’s friends borrowed the old version from Catholic nuns. At Christmas time 1909, when I came back from preaching a mission, I had to stay in bed for a while following a bout of influenza, and I found the book on my table, and I read it avidly.

[What moral effect did reading it produce? Answer]:

I esteemed that what had fallen into my hands was the work of a genius, a theologian, as well as a first-rate poet. I can’t describe the extraordinary impression that reading this life story produced. [1252r] I felt what a person might feel if the invisible world suddenly opened up before him. One evening, when I was fully awake, I felt an extraordinary sensation, and I said to my wife as she entered the bedroom: “that little girl is here” – “Who?” she asked. “The little Flower” I replied, “I’m sure she’s in this room.” Nothing had prepared me for this sensation, or prompted an event such as this. This is how I felt in my soul: the exterior world seemed to vanish before by eyes, and it was inwardly, in my mind, that I saw the Servant of God. I pushed these thoughts aside, saying to myself: “You’re giving in to superstition and idolatry”; but my attempts at pushing her away were in vain; she came back and wrapped herself around my heart, refusing to leave me, and this is what I believe I heard: “This is how holy Catholics love Jesus, choose my little way.” “Well,” I replied, “I shall try to follow it, if you will help me”, for I ardently desired to succeed. [1252v] This took place at the end of the year 1909.

It was at about the same time that I read the “Apologia” by Newman, and after having read it, I remember saying to my wife: “I now believe in things that I was never able to believe before.” Nevertheless, I didn’t then want to become Catholic and follow Sister Thérèse. As I’d recovered my health, I’d begun preaching and reading rationalist books again, thereby little by little losing all my faith. It was then that Sister Thérèse made a second extraordinary appearance in my life. It happened in August 1910. Again, without anything having presaged or prepared me for her visit, I felt the Servant of God near me, and when the spell of her presence had broken, I was left with these words which seemed to echo in my mind: “Can rationalism be true, and a life of such beauty and such gentleness be a lie?” I was convinced it was impossible and that the Religion that brings about such a life must be a great reality.

[1253r] The following month, I bought Sister Thérèse’s complete life story in French. By providential coincidence, I bought her life story the same day as my friends, unbeknownst to me, finished saying a novena to Sister Thérèse for me. It was on reading her life story in French that I began asking for Sister Thérèse’s help. For a Protestant minister, it wasn’t an easy thing to begin doing. My prejudices were there to prevent me from doing so. However, after some effort [1253v], I was able to continue and with much delight. Sister Thérèse completely changed the way I felt about the Blessed Virgin. The change was all the more striking as it was on this aspect of the Catholic doctrine that I had, a few months previously, put a stop to the debate I’d began with a nun in Edinburgh. I heard these words: “Why do you ask me to pray for you, and ignore the Blessed Virgin?” I then saw the absurdity of this course of action and began recommending myself to Mary. The result surprised me. At that instant, an extraordinary love filled my heart. Where was she leading me? I had no idea at the time; but I was sometimes surprised by the emotions I felt and the change in my ideas regarding the Catholic faith.    

The influence that Sister Thérèse had on me was very great and helped me to brave sarcastic and mocking remarks. There were many incidents, but here is one of the most touching. I had [1254r] hung on my fireplace an enlarged photograph of the “Little Flower”; she was placed in such a way that nobody could miss seeing her. Well! One day when we were expecting a visit from a Protestant minister and his wife, I was tempted to take down the picture, but, when I was about to do so, it was impossible for me to move it. I said to myself: “Are you ashamed of someone with whom God and the angels keep company?” And I thought: “The picture will stay there, even if the entire world is to visit me!” Sister Thérèse saw fit to thank me for my action by pushing me into the Church. Moreover, I’ve almost continually enjoyed Sister Thérèse’s presence near me. She encouraged me to perform acts of generosity, and when I resisted, she would immediately leave me. However, the gentleness and the considerable help that this presence procured disappeared almost entirely in the month preceding my abjuration, and all I was left with was the struggle, doubts and darkness.    

[1254v] Sister Thérèse employed a human way to destroy the prejudices I still held against Catholicism, and teach me about the faith’s truths. Desiring to go to Lisieux, I wanted to study the French language further, and my wife obtained permission from the Superior of a convent in Edinburgh for a nun to give me French lessons. By God’s grace, the lessons soon turned into a religious debate, and for many hours each week we would discuss the Real Presence, the divine institution of Mass, what constituted a sacrifice, and also the authority and institution of the Church by Our Lord Jesus Christ. I attribute to a large extent the change that took place in me at this time to these lessons. The studies I made of the “Conferences on Holy Scripture” by Father Leroy, of “Mass” by Father Hoppenot, and even simply of the Catholic Bible, also contributed to enlightening me. Sometimes God seemed to shine a special light on things I’d already read several times, for instance when, as I was reading Father Leroy’s [1255r] Conferences on the Eucharist, I cried out: “He’s making me better understand everything I’ve read up until now!” However, I still couldn’t believe in the Real Presence. One day, at the end of March 1911, during a novena I was then saying to Sister Thérèse for the faith I so ardently desired, after a long and passionate discussion on the Eucharist, the nun who was teaching me suggested visiting the chapel. There, I felt as though I could sense Our Lord’s presence in the tabernacle, and when I left I said to the nun who was waiting for me: “I now believe he’s there. I felt it; something that wasn’t there for me before is there now.”  

After many struggles, doubts, and anxieties, Sister Thérèse made me take a first decisive step on 9th April, the day she herself broke the ties that were keeping her in the world to go to the Carmel. I wasn’t aware of this coincidence of date: someone pointed it out to me later. So on this day, I wrote to my ecclesiastical Superiors, saying that I couldn’t [1255v] stay in the Presbyterian Church since my convictions no longer corresponded to its doctrine. Finally, on 20th April 1911, I definitively broke my ties and was received into the Catholic Church by Father Widdowson, S.J., who had seen and helped me during the fortnight preceding my abjuration, and whose teachings seemed to me to be divine revelations. I was baptized that day, 20th April 1911, in the church of the Sacred Heart in Edinburgh (Lauriston). Out of gratitude for my celestial benefactress, I wanted to be baptized under the names Francis-Mary-Thérèse. Since then, I’ve felt Sister Thérèse’s presence again, and this was followed by material proof. As a consequence of my entry into the Catholic Church, I’d lost my living; one Thursday afternoon in May, when I was alone in my bedroom in Edinburgh, I saw Sister Thérèse standing beside me, looking in the direction of Glasgow. At the same time I inwardly felt she was doing something for me in that town. To my wife, who entered the room at that moment, I said: “Thérèse is looking after us now.” The following Thursday, extraordinary and unhoped-for assistance came from Glasgow. Since then, I continue to have great confidence in the little Carmelite from Lisieux and she continues to help me with my spiritual and temporal needs.

To me, these interventions, this invisible presence, these touches of grace seemed to come from heaven, for nothing in my initial education, or in my religion, prepared me for these impressions; 2ndly I’ve read very few mystical books: the Life of Saint Teresa of Avila written by herself, and a 16th century author, who I read about thirty years ago and whose name I have forgotten, are the only mystical works I’ve read; 3rdly her interventions have pushed me into sacrificing everything; they’ve helped me brave human respect and my protestant friends’ sarcasm. These reasons, among others, persuade me of the truth of this [1256v] supernatural action.  

[Answer to the thirtieth question]:

I’ve nothing to add either to the interrogations, or the Articles.

[Here ends the interrogation of this witness. The Acts are read out. The witness makes no amendment to them and signs as follows]:

Ita pro veritate deposui, ratum habeo et confirmo.

Signatum- A. J. GRANT