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Witness 5 - Alexander-James Grant

 

Pastor Alexander-James Grant has already been introduced. He was born in 1854 and died in 1917, abjuring his Protestant faith in 1911 (vol. 1, pp. 535-540).

During this, his second testimony, the witness revisits Thérèse’s intervention in his conversion and tells the Court of her reputation for holiness. Having been guardian of the Servant of God’s birthplace in Alençon since 3rd June 1912, he was well-placed to keep a record of visitors’ testimonies of veneration regarding Thérèse, the number of which had been growing significantly. Thousands of faithful piously were making the pilgrimage to the humble house in Rue Saint-Blaise.

The witness remains grateful to Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus for all the blessings she has shown him and humbly relates them. He is given to feel her mysterious “presence” and, he says, “Sister Thérèse does not content herself with friendly words alone, or generous sentiments; she desires action, and demands sacrifices” (p. 322).

Before he died (on 19th July 1917 in Alençon), he would murmur, “Little Thérèse, come for me, if it be God’s will, and take me away with you.”

The witness testified on 31st May and 1st June 1915, in sittings 8 and 9 (pp. 305-314 and 320-323 of the Public Transcription).

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

 [Answer to the second question]:

My name is Alexandre-James Grant. I was born in Latheron-Caithness, Scotland, on 14th April 1854. I was a Protestant Minister for about 25 years in Scotland. I converted to Catholicism in Edinburgh [306] in 1911. In April 1912, I came to settle in France, in the house where Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus was born at n° 42 Rue Saint-Blaise in Alençon. I give English language lessons in a school and to private students in the town. I am married, and my wife, who converted several years before me, is guardian of Sister Thérèse’s birthplace.

[Answer to the third question]:

I am fortunate enough to receive Communion almost every day. I go to confession once a fortnight.

[Answer to the fourth question]:

Never.

[Answer to the fifth question]:

Since my conversion, I have been faithful to the Church’s precepts and have incurred no ecclesiastical penalties.

 [Answer to the sixth question]:

My love for Sister Thérèse defies words; I was once afraid that it was only a feeling, but now I am sure that my disposition is spiritual and does not prevent me from being truthful. My testimony is very spontaneous. It comes from the heart and no one has imposed it on me.

[Answer to the seventh question]:

[307] I know of the life of Sister Thérèse only from what I have read in Story of a Soul and what I have heard said since living in France. My testimony will bear on two elements only: 1stly Sister Thérèse’s influence on my conscience; and 2ndly the spread of her reputation for holiness in the region of Alençon since I settled there.

[Answer to the eighth question]:

It is my deep wish that the Church will pronounce the beatification of Sister Thérèse on account of her merits and because I believe that it will greatly benefit souls.

 [Answer to questions nine to fifty-five]:

I can provide no direct testimony on any of these points.

[Answer to the fifty-sixth question]:

Since being in France, I have visited Sister Thérèse’s burial place twenty times or so. I go there out of devotion to express my thanks and to pray. I have noticed that a fairly continual stream of pilgrims visit the site. People come not out of curiosity; instead, their dress indicates very pious intentions.

 [Answer to the fifty-seventh question]:

When I first visited Lisieux, at the time of the [308] first trial process in 1911, I was asked to take on the guardianship of Sister Thérèse’s birthplace in Alençon. I moved into the house with my wife. Both of us have observed the following as regards the number of pilgrim visitors to the house:

The people who visit the bedroom where the Servant of God was born are the country’s elect. It is not just the poor and illiterate who come and appeal for her support, but also the wealthy, the learned and the country’s brightest in terms of intellectual, moral and religious qualities.

WITNESS 5: Alexander-James Grant

Princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses, counts and countesses, bishops, priests, lawyers, army officers and ordinary soldiers, and people from all classes and backgrounds come and write their names in the visitors’ book.

The house receives large numbers of visitors. In Pentecost week, which, it is true, was an exceptional week, one thousand and seventy-three (1073) people came. In an ordinary week, we can expect to see sixty people a day, and on Thursdays, when children do not have school, we can expect at least two hundred people.

People come not to satisfy their curiosity but to pray. The pieces of paper that are placed in a small basket indicate people’s trust in the little “Flower of Jesus” and their gratitude for blessings granted. These notes carry requests for the conversion of husbands, fiancés, Protestant families, and mothers. However, since war broke out, they carry mainly requests for favours [309] for soldiers going to the front or soldiers who have already been killed or taken prisoner. Women ask that their husbands will not be harmed, etc., etc. Some of the prayers are very selfless, for example, soldiers might request nothing for themselves, but pray simply for France, the Allies and their parents. I have brought samples of such notes of request and thanks. They are no more than small scraps of paper but they convincingly show the absolute trust and gratitude that Sister Thérèse inspires.

Most visitors bring candles, which are set to burn in front of the picture of the Holy Face or statue of the Blessed Virgin. Some bring flowers; sometimes the prettiest from their garden; sometimes wild flowers picked from the fields, knowing that Sister Thérèse loved these. Often we receive as many as thirty candles a day, and flowers in such huge quantities that we are obliged to send them to the church of Notre-Dame, where Sister Thérèse was baptised. Visitors often request thanksgiving Masses for blessings received; others donate money, vases, or altar cloths; one of our most beautiful cloths was donated by the wife of a general who is posted in Alençon.

 [Answer to the fifty-eighth question]:

I have never heard anything adverse said.

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

I can first relate a certain number of blessings [310] that have been granted to various people of my acquaintance. I will then describe the blessings that I have received personally.

I will therefore quote:

1stly the healing of a four and a half year old girl’s eye. On her first visit, her eye was closed and bandaged; she came back every day for the duration of a few novenas, following which she was healed. Afterwards, she came back regularly to thank Sister Thérèse. Her mother donated some vases for Thérèse’s bedroom out of thanksgiving. This happened in 1912.

 [Do you know what the nature of the girl’s condition was, or at least, whether or not it was serious? – Answer]:

I saw the child’s eye, and it looked seriously damaged to me, but I could not say what the name of the ailment was. I also know that her doctor had been treating it for several months to no avail. The child’s mother has since died and her father is at the war.

2ndly Mrs Boulay, who lives in the small house adjacent to ours, had a large cyst on her lip that had been growing in size over the previous three months. Her doctor told her that she would need an operation in ten days’ time. She joined us in praying four novenas to Sister Thérèse. She was completely healed, and no trace of the cyst remains. When we began the novenas, she stopped all of her doctor’s treatments.

 [Do you know what the nature of the tumour was? – Answer]:

I do not know what the doctor’s opinion was, but [311] I believe that it was a cancerous cyst, because I have known several cases of confirmed cancer and the symptoms looked the same.

3rdly A postal worker in Alençon, who had not been to confession for eight years, fell sick and was told by his doctor that he needed an operation. His wife came to see me and said that if Thérèse saved him from being operated, he promised to carry out his Easter duty. She got together a large number of people to join her in praying a novena. The operation was not necessary, and the man went to confession, and later came to visit little Sister Thérèse’s bedroom.

If I may give an overall impression of the work that Sister Thérèse has performed in me personally, I would say that it was her wish to draw men closer to God, to lead them to His sheepfold, and to ennoble and purify their life, thus fulfilling her promise to do good on earth.

[312] [Continuation of the answer]:

2ndly Among the blessings that I myself have received, the most significant is my conversion to the Catholic faith, which was heavily influenced by Sister Thérèse. It happened as follows: when I was leading a parish in Loch-Ranza as a Minister of the United Church of Scotland, my wife, under foreign influences, converted to Catholicism. At first I was opposed to this, but eventually I accepted the fait accompli out of respect for her freedom of conscience. I, on the other hand, had no intention of becoming Catholic; quite the opposite. My wife’s conversion created in intolerable situation in my parish; I was obliged to leave my post and retire to Edinburgh where I continued my ministry as an independent preacher. My wife had many people pray for my conversion, but I had no knowledge of this. One day, in a Catholic newspaper, I happened to read a brief article on Sister Thérèse, known as “the little Flower”, which announced an imminent publication of her autobiography in English. The desire to read it immediately took hold of me and I would frequently ask my wife whether we could purchase it. A year later, when I had an illness, failing the much-anticipated publication, which was not issued until much later, I was able to read an abridged version of her life story in English.

WITNESS 5: Alexander-James Grant

I read it one night, in one sitting, and [313] during all that time I had the impression that Sister Thérèse was present in my bedroom. I could not stop thinking about her after that. At about the same time, I developed serious doubts as regards the faith after reading some very advanced rationalist books, and one day I asked myself the following question: “Can everything be explained by the laws of nature, without a personal God?” Sister Thérèse’s life story quickly sprung to mind, and I immediately thought, “Is it possible that her life story is a lie and that rationalism is truth?” I realised that her life could not be explained without accepting the existence of a personal God. This was in August 1910; and yet I did not convert until April the following year. The evolution took place little by little over the winter, under the influence of Sister Thérèse. I had bought a copy of her life story in French; hardly a moment went by that I did not think of her; I felt her continually acting on my spirit, pushing me to convert. I, however, resisted her pressure with all my might. That was how things remained until the beginning of April 1911. I had begun to suffer great torment and was deeply miserable as a result of my inner struggle as I continued preaching the Protestant doctrine on the one hand, while feeling drawn to the Catholic truth on the other. Sister Thérèse’s influence inspired two overriding thoughts, the first being that, through its infallible authority, the Catholic Church did away with all the other minor difficulties; [314] the second was that I needed to pray to the Blessed Virgin. One day when I was praying to Sister Thérèse, I wondered, “Why accept to pray to God, to Sister Thérèse, and not to the Blessed Virgin?” I decided, “Well, I shall pray to her!” And my soul was immediately flooded with great joy.

One Jesuit priest whom I consulted at the time advised me not to hurry and to continue my ministry until it became clear what I should do. However, a nun who was teaching me French and knew my state of mind pressed me to make a decision. Yet it was above all my moral suffering and the attractive influence of Sister Thérèse that made up my mind to abjure my Protestant faith, which I did in April 1911.

[Session 9: - 1st June 1915, at 8:30 am]

[320] [Continuation of the answer to questions fifty-nine to sixty-five inclusively]:

Following my conversion, I found myself deprived of all sources of income, and as I had no [321] personal savings, I had reason to fear financial difficulty. This fear oppressed me for a while, but I overcame it. Shortly afterwards, Sister Thérèse made her spiritual presence known to me on two further occasions, giving me the unshakable conviction that she was taking care of us where money was concerned, and she did: even though we took great care to hide our financial embarrassment, a Catholic priest from Glasgow, who was himself a converted Protestant minister, hand delivered me a cheque for two hundred pounds sterling the following day.

I would now like to talk about the personal debt to little Thérèse that I have built up since appearing before this court for the first time (1911). At that time I was merely a three month old child in the Catholic Church, which is why I feared that, once the wave of emotion that had pushed me into the Church had passed, I would find myself victim to illusions corresponding to nothing in reality. Time and deep reflection appeased my fears, however, and convinced me that I possessed the most precious of convictions and aspirations, and I owed these convictions and aspirations uniquely to the influence that my dear little heavenly protector exerted upon me in my favour.

Since I joined the Church, the ties that unite us have grown stronger, and I hope it is not crossing the line of modesty to add that I believe to have made some progress under her inspiration. I think I am allowed to say that I am aware [322] of my life having been raised higher, of my convictions having deepened, and of my desire to live a holy life having become more focused. I am also aware of being more penitent for my past sins and of living in an atmosphere of purity of thought and sentiment, an atmosphere that I strove vainly to reach when I was Protestant. And if I have made such little progress along the “sure way”, it is not for want of help from my celestial guide.

One of the things that has struck me most is the deep sense of spiritual understanding that descends upon my soul through her intercession. Oh, it’s simply wonderful! In an instant, when I have least been expecting it, and when my natural train of thinking has been leading me in the opposite direction, I have suddenly felt my soul flood with a sense of spiritual understanding that I can only describe in the words of the patriarch [Jacob]: “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.” On these occasions, a realisation of a spiritual dimension dawns on me, becoming obvious to me; the following words come powerfully to my mind: “Thérèse is praying for you.” I have been paid such visits by her many times, and have learned that they herald times of temptations.

Sister Thérèse does not content herself with friendly words alone, or generous sentiments; she desires action, and demands sacrifices. One of the first things she asked of me when I joined the Church [323] was to rid myself of the books of which she disapproved. Most of them were decidedly rationalist: I immediately gave them up for her. Yet there were certain books of other genres that deeply interested me and which I kept, seeing no harm in them. At a later date, however, Sister Thérèse returned and, looking carefully through my library shelves, began raising objections: “This one must go,” she said, “and this one too,” and so on. I apologised profusely for having kept them, but she kept pressing the matter, saying, “What do you wish to do with them now?” And, seeing that I was still attached to them, she put an end to the discussion by giving me a genuine aversion to them.

WITNESS 5: Alexander-James Grant

What I have described here is only one of the many blessings for which I owe her.

It is wonderful to see how the dear little Carmelite will have things happen her own way, and how she makes her wishes known and attends to fulfilling them. I am convinced that if my surrender was absolute, there is nothing she would not teach me. Yet I fear she finds me a pupil who is difficult to lead and slow to follow. In any case, I do not think it is possible to exaggerate her influence on me or my love for her. What I have said is only a very feeble attempt to express the inexpressible.

 [Answer to the sixty-sixth question]:

I have nothing to add.

[324] [With regards to 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:      A.  J. GRANT