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Biography of Sr Marthe of Jesus

1865-1916

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Her good heart !

 

Marthe portrait

Marthe folios

Childhood and youth

Désirée –Florence Marthe Cauvin was born Giverville, a little village in the Eure Department on July 16th, 1865. AT age 6 she lost her mother and while her only sister who was eight years older stayed with her father, she was admitted to the orphanage of the sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul of Paris where one of her cousins was a religious. Later she was sent to the orphanage of Bernay. Her father, unfortunately, died two years later. At age eight she once again found herself an orphan. The convent of the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul was her only family and the setting in which she will live her entire childhood and youth. She remained deeply affected by it and certain of her later behaviors could be explained by that: her excessive attachment to her prioress, her aggression toward her sisters, for example.

In Paris as well as Bernay, she received a serious religious education but her scholastic training left something to be desired especially since her intellectual abilities seemed limited. At her death, Mother Agnès wrote about her, “The young sister had a mediocre intelligence. She suffered a lot and without wanting to, she made others suffer a lot with her spirit of contradiction she was never able to correct in spite of all her efforts. However we should note her frankness, her good heart, her dedication that never took fatigue into account.

In Carmel    

Young Florence Cauvin entered Carmel on December 23rd, 1887. She was twenty-two and a half years old. The beginnings of her religious life were difficult and Mother Marie de Gonzague permitted her to have little spiritual meetings with Sister Thérèse who entered three months after her in April, thinking that the influence of Sister Thérèse would be beneficial to her.

Certainly in Carmel they recognized her rectitude and her solid piety but she remained unsociable through a narrowness of intellect, a brutal frankness without nuances, a permanent aggressiveness along with a frustration complex explained by her childhood deprived of maternal tenderness. She became attached to Mother Marie de Gonzague and made herself her servant. With Sister Thérèse she was ready to enter into long, sullen silences or sought to wound her friend with biting sarcasm. It was she, who lacking in judgment, served her dried up leftovers. She also invited her, without success, to warm herself in the kitchen.

In spite of her character, she was very attached to Sister Thérèse to the point of asking-and obtaining-to remain in the novitiate like her after the profession she made on September 30th, 1890. So she remained under the direction of her young sister the same as the other novices. Again, it was she who asked Thérèse for three years to make her annual private retreat with her and we see that Thérèse tried to note each day the sacrifices and practices of virtue in Sr. Martha’s complicated manner. She would later say, “In spite of her being eight years younger than me, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus was always my support, my consoling angel and guide in my temptations and in difficulties I had to get through. Seeing that the advice she gave me did me a lot of good, our mother prioress permitted me during the time of my retreat to pass the recreations with her.”

For her side, Thérèse wrote to Céline: “…I am even obliged to have a chaplet of practices, I am doing it out of charity for one of my companions…” And Sr. Martha added on the subject of retreats: “One year I expressed to her the desire to make my annual retreat with her. She agreed to my request and for three years she did me that favor. For this she let the time of her procession go by and waited for me to leave in solitude. I found out later that I caused her to make a big sacrifice but I would never have known it because she didn’t show anything.” This happened undoubtedly in 1891, 1892 and 1893.

She confirmed again: “I can in all truth say that Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus was always a real mother for my soul because of the care she took to form my soul. I realize that I often tried her virtue and I’m convinced that another sister in her place would have abandoned me because I was so unbearable. She always treated me with a lot of love and charity without ever showing the least annoyance.”

Sister Martha admitted her admiration for Thérèse but also a certain fear of being discovered: “Very often, if I had followed my inclinations I would have avoided going to direction with the Servant of God knowing that my flaws would be discovered”, but above all a great and faithful affection. She recognized her patience and her goodness: “She had for me goodness and kindness that cannot be put in words. However I made her suffer a lot because of my difficult personality. I can say in all truthfulness that she kept always the same sweetness, the same equability of character…she never rejected me despite the frequency of my visits…I couldn’t believe with what kindness she treated me. Sister Martha was aware of her poverty and suffered from being a converse sister, who could be interested in her? Thérèse wanted to build her confidence about that and to show her there was nothing humiliating about her condition. “Don’t believe that it’s necessary to do great things to become perfect…how I would like to be in your place, in your position of being a little white veil sister! Your life is humble and hidden, but know that in the eyes of God there is nothing little if what you do is done with love.” Thérèse understood that with this anguished soul it was necessary to build confidence.

After Thérèse’s death

We can’t in the restricted framework of this article state how significant the deposition was that Sister Martha made at the Beatification and Canonization Process. Her testimony was very important. It highlighted the pedagogical qualities of Thérèse and each of her virtues. Her faith: “She saw God in all things and all persons.” Her love of God: “She was indifferent to all things except that which concerned the glory of God and souls.” Her charity to her neighbor: “never did Sister Thérèse show annoyance at being disturbed. She was always ready to please, sometimes at the price of great sacrifices.” Her prudence: “She corrected with much kindness but also with great firmness, never did she give in to our faults, never went back on a decision.” Her strength: “She always had the same equability of soul, her character always remained calm and benevolent.” Her moderation: “she loved us all very much but with disinterest… she sought out rather religious whose personalities could cause her to suffer.” Her obedience: “the Servant of God did exactly what her superiors asked without ever permitting herself any criticism and without judging their conduct and their way of acting.” Her poverty: “I never saw Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus lose an instant….The alpargatas found after the death of the Servant of God showed how much she loved poverty. They were so worn and mended that not one sister of the community wanted to wear them. How much I regret having burned them!...I can say that never have I seen a religious practice to such a degree of perfection. Her humility: “All that the Servant of God desired was to remain in obscurity and forgetfulness, that no one paid any attention to her and to be considered the last of the community…”

Thérèse appeared to Sister Martha several times. Several months after her death she appeared in Carmel’s kitchen to tell her, “Sister Martha, be kinder with the sisters if you want to be happy.” Around 1908, the place where the converse sister was, was perfumed with heliotrope and violet. Above all she helped Sister Martha correct her difficult character and to enter into the path of humility to the point that one day Sister Martha could say to her prioress, “…you always spare my bad personality. Oh, don’t do that anymore from now on. I am at the end of my life and I want to merit the graces of humility like my companions.”

In February 1916 Sister Martha went down to the infirmary following an infectious flu. In July she became bed ridden, to never rise again. During the last weeks of her life she “showed herself to be forgetful of self, sweet, patient and exclusively preoccupied with preparing for death.”

After receiving extreme unction on August 28th, 1916 she said, “During the ceremony I felt the presence of our little saint. It was like a heavenly voice that said in my ear, “You too, if you wish in spite of your poor life, you can go straight to heaven” and I understood that the greatest sinner could obtain this grace through confidence and humility.”

At the end of her life she confided, ”The calm I am feeling is incredible. I can’t get over it. The good God is only sweetness. Never would I have expected to find him so gentle; my confidence in him is unlimited” and again when someone cited Scripture, “It easy for the Lord to suddenly enrich the poor”, she replied, “The poor person, is this not me, Mother? The more one is wretched, the more he is merciful.”

She died on September 4th, 1916 whispering like Thérèse did formerly, “My God, I love you…with all my heart.” She was 51 years old and had spent 29 years in Carmel. At her death she was the doyenne of the white veil sisters.

 

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