Biography of sr Saint Vincent de Paul



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Contemporary of St Thérèse

Zoé Adele Alaterre was born August 13, 1841 at 10 o'clock at night, rue de la Poudrière in Cherbourg. Her father, 25 years old, a stonemason, had married Desirée Maurouard who was six years older. Zoé was the second of six children from 1839 to 1848 brighten this hard working home. Three of them would die before their second birthday.
Baptized on the Feast of the Assumption (1841) in the beautiful Trinity Church, Zoé revealed herself to be a child full of life, carefree, playful and disobedient. They preferred games to serious family prayer. Alas, misfortune would soon befall her. Since 1832, in fact, cholera had appeared in Normandy. In 1849 it reached Cherbourg and victims were countless. The Alaterre family did not escape the scourge. An aunt of the girl died, struck down in several minutes by the terrible evil. The next day her mother was also affected and died at dawn on September 18th in the arms of Zoé who clung to her neck. Less than forty- eight hours later her father died in turn, leaving four orphans. The little girl was eight years old. The time of family happiness was gone. Zoé and her younger sister Ernestine , aged three , were first assigned to a " horrible woman " before being sent to Caen with the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul . The ordeal had profoundly changed the exuberant character of the little girl, she became shy and quiet. After communion, she found again a little of her joie de vivre, she loved to laugh and sing, often she danced. This did not stop her from dreaming of solitude and penance to the point that she decided to be a Carmelite.

She was always at the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul, at the orphanage on rue de Bayeux and fulfilled the functions of sacristan and nurse when on March 25th, 1863 her companion in misfortune, her sister Ernestine, aged 16, died after telling her: "Do not cry when I am in heaven, you will enter Carmel, I promise." Less than a year later, February 2, 1864, Zoe entered the cloister of the Carmel of Lisieux. She was twenty-two and a half years old.

In Carmel    

She was admitted there to help Sister Marie of the Incarnation, a white veil sister too ill to fulfill her duties and she received the name Sister St. Vincent de Paul.
Her beginnings in the community were painful, "She missed her daily communion and she wept before the great curtain that veiled the Tabernacle, object of her love." She was very small (perhaps less than 4ft. 9 inches) with weak health but very energetic and "didn’t listen.” During the 1890s, she would be affected by cerebral anemia and died in 1905 of an internal tumor.
Little experienced in housework, she exceled in all kinds of handiwork and, in particular was an excellent embroiderer. In addition to the tasks usually reserved for the white veil sisters: kitchen, laundry, cleaning and gardening, she would be responsible for the manufacture and repair of alpargates (rope sandals).
The testimony of her Carmelite sisters allows us to know her better. Sister Mary of the Angels described her like this, not without a touch of humor: Always brave and courageous despite suffering and doctor of the Sorbonne appreciated by the Carmel ... Whatever the question, theology or politics, mystical or literary, mathematics or astronomy, you find there an encyclopedia that will answer any question. "

The pen of Sister Geneviève added: "She was astute but sly (...). She loved the Blessed Virgin a lot (...) " And Mother Agnès, speaking about Thérèse, added:" She (Thérèse) told me she had to overcome more antipathy for Sister St. Vincent de Paul (who was very smart) than for poor Sister Mary of St. Joseph. She also sought constantly to be of service and to say a kind word to her. But the good God allowed the situation to always remain the same.

So here was Sister St. Vincent de Paul who took the habit December 8, 1864 at the same time as Sister Thérèse of the Sacred Heart. It was the Superior of Carmel, Fr. Cagniard, who gave the sermon. Would her health permit her to remain a Carmelite? Sometime later she vomited blood. The doctor recommended not worrying; it seems that it was only a broken blood vessel. And yet every year these hemorrhages returned, so that she spent entire nights sitting on the ground, unable to remain prone. The next day she returned to work as if nothing had happened.

She professed December 14th, 1865, the anniversary of the death of Saint John of the Cross. The young nun in this period of her religious life expressed three wishes: to obtain true contrition for her sins, be humble, be more charitable to her sisters and to be more devout toward the Eucharist, and yet she edified her entourage by the long periods of time she spent in prayer at the foot of the tabernacle ... Must we admit that this fervor did not prevent her from sometimes being more talkative than necessary?

The relationship of Sister St. Vincent de Paul with Thérèse was never commonplace. Schematically we could characterize this as follows:
- Three years of testing (1888-1891),
- Three years of employing Thérèse (1894-1897),
- Being placed on altars (1897-1906).


Put to the test (1888-1891)


With a hint of malice, perhaps unconscious jealousy (Father Noché says "this accent of naive superiority that sometimes inspired in persons of humble condition their practical know-how "). Sister St. Vincent de Paul seems to have chosen as a goal to humiliate this little bourgeois Thérèse Martin by multiplying cutting remarks . Thérèse spoke of "pinpricks" when she wrote to Mother Agnès January 7, 1889: "This morning I had trouble with my Sister St. Vincent de Paul, I left with a heavy heart." She still said in July 1897 how shortly after taking the habit Sister St. Vincent de Paul exclaimed when meeting her:" Oh! What figure of prosperity! How strong is this big girl! She’s fat! "Therese says," I left humiliated by the compliment .. ." That's when she met another sister who was worried about her poor appearance:" You’re getting visibly thinner! " Therese concluded. "Since that time I have not attached any importance to the opinions of creatures (...) "Mother Agnès still said that "a converse sister had a habit of calling (Thérèse) "big goat ." She said it in a joking tone, but felt she meant to say: "You're good for nothing." This same sister, Mother Agnes added, spoke to Mother Marie de Gonzague, the prioress, about the so-called defects of Thérèse "who was slow, who did not have aptitude for manual work and never performed service for the Community. Her sisters spoiled her for Carmelite life etc." One incident illustrates the difficulty of the relationship that existed between Thérèse and Sister St. Vincent de Paul. It was on the death of the founder of Carmel, the revered Mother Geneviève (December 5th, 1891). Sisters’ families, friends, workers had sent many bouquets of flowers that Thérèse had placed as best she could around the coffin. Sister St. Vincent de Paul who was watching suddenly exclaimed: "You know very well how to put the wreaths sent by your family in front and you put the bouquets of the poor in back." Perhaps among these humble bouquets she had seen one offered by his older brother Louis, who seems to have worked on the construction of the Turn house at that time. Sister Theresa replied softly, "Thank you, my sister, you're right. I'll highlight the foam cross sent by the workers; this is where it is best. I was not thinking.”

Sister St. Vincent de Paul later admitted that it was from that day she thought of Thérèse as a saint, which however hardly changed her behavior towards her.

Put to work (1894-1897)

If Sister St. Vincent de Paul underlined with commiseration Thérèse’s incapacity for manual work, she recognized her poetic gifts because she asked her for four poems so she was one of the best clients of Thérèse versifier. These poems The Atom of the Sacred Heart (1894), The Atom of Jesus-Host (1895), My Desires Near Jesus Hidden in His Prison of Love (1895), Heaven for Me ( 1896) have a theme exclusively or principally Eucharistic which agrees well with the devotion of the sister to the "Blessed Sacrament ." What did sister St. Vincent de Paul think of these poems? Was she pleased and grateful or once more critical and sharp? We do not know. That sister did not desist. The testimony of Sister Marie- Madeleine is clear on this point. "In the kitchen there was a sister who did not like her and spoke of her with a kind of contempt. When she saw her coming to the washing she said: "Look at her coming, she doesn’t hurry. When will she start washing? She’s a good for nothing!" Thérèse who had not missed a word, reserved her best smile for the gossip when entering the laundry.

It is again to Sister St. Vincent de Paul that we owe the well-known comment... Let's allow Sister Geneviève to speak: "This converse sister who so often had her pain by his sharp words , and who had even said, loud enough to be heard by the Servant of God:" What is it we might really say about Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus after her death? " ... Another version had Sister St. Vincent de Paul say: "She’s a nice little sister, but what could you say about her after her death? She did nothing ..." Mother Agnès reports the words of the sister as follows, "I wonder what our Mother Prioress can really write about Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus? What do you want to say about a person who has been pampered all the time and has not acquired virtue like we did at the cost of struggles and suffering? She is sweet and good, but this is natural with her." To believe Mother Agnès, Sister Thérèse was aware of this judgment ...
The end of July 1897 Thérèse was taken with an insurmountable disgust for food. Sister St. Vincent de Paul came one day to give her a cup of meat broth. The patient refused, for lack of appetite and because this food was not ordered by the mother Prioress and Sister Saint Vincent de Paul returned to the kitchen, offended, saying, "Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus not only is not a saint but it is not even a good religious."Thérèse made ​​aware, rejoiced: "To hear on my deathbed I'm not a good religious, what joy! Nothing could give me greater pleasure." She appreciated less the reproach that was made to her of not having known sufferings or humiliations. "And I who have had so much suffering from my earliest childhood! Ah! It does me good to see the opinion of the creatures at the time of death! "


“Placed on the altars "(1897-1905)

The opinion of Sister St. Vincent de Paul would change radically the same day of Thérèse’s death. Is it September 30th or rather 1 October 1897 that the sister asked for the healing of the cerebral anemia that afflicted her so long?" Then placing her head on the feet of the angelic child she asked forgiveness of her sins and then said she had obtained her full recovery. "Always talkative," she came to us all one by one to tell us the act of humility the Servant of God had done about flowers adorning the coffin of Mother Geneviève," said Sister Genevieve during the Apostolic Minutes.
Then we see Sister St. Vincent de Paul picking up any scrap photographs of Thérèse, hastening to keep her memories and portraits and she told Sister Geneviève in 1898, “You can really flatter yourself and be proud of having been the sister of a saint.”

But age came. Starting in 1900 more serious hemorrhages than before increased. She was no longer but a shadow of herself and her pains were very intense. “I can’t take it anymore, “she exclaimed. “My God, my All! My God, my All!” She repeated these words for hours. “Oh! May he change all my complaints into acts of love,” she said to a sister.

Finally, on Thursday, April 13th, 1905 she found with God, she whom she had so badly misunderstood on earth before bearing for her a fervent admiration.

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