Circular of Sr St Vincent de Paul


Zoé-Adèle Alaterre   1841-1905


Peace and very humble greetings in Our Lord who during the week of the Passion came to deliver our beloved Sister ZOE-ADELE-ROSALIE, SAINT VINCENT DE PAUL, professed of the white veil, from her long suffering.

     Our dear sister was born in Cherbourg in a very humble and Christian family. She was baptized on the day of the feast of the Assumption in the church of the Trinity; this made her say later on that she had very special reasons to love the Blessed Virgin and to honor the mystery of the very Blessed Trinity.

     When she was very little, however, Zoé displayed no aptitude for piety. She showed herself to be mischievous, angry and rebellious. In the evening at prayer time, her good father was obliged to grab her unannounced in the middle of her play and to make her say her prayers, under the influence of fear, something she would never consent to say freely.

   Soon, alas, a cruel ordeal would snatch her child’s heart in its turn and force it to turn forever to her Father in Heaven.

   It was in 1848; cholera was creating numerous victims in Cherbourg. Zoé, hardly seven years old, had just been the only witness of the sudden death of one of her aunts, struck down in several minutes by the terrible scourge. The following night she heard her mother call to her: “Oh, my little girl,” she said to her with anguish “Pray to the good God and the Blessed Virgin for me because as you know, all your relatives are dying. If I die too, what will become of you?” The child fell asleep sobbing when her mother called her again: ”Quick, Zoé! Go look for your father; he’s nearby taking care of your aunt. Don’t waste any time, I’m really sick…” “Oh! No mama. I want to stay with you; I hurt too much and am too afraid.”

     “Then,” our beloved Sister told us, always filled with emotion over the memory of that scene, “My poor mother got up and called my father who came as quickly as possible and gave her first aid. He sat at her bedside, unable to speak from pain and as if stricken himself. I remember having seen a priest. Weeping, I placed my arms around my mother’s neck and they were obliged to pull me out of her arms. That is how I left forever my father and my mother because the next evening they were both laid in the tomb.”

     Zoé was left alone in life with a brother who was a little older than she, and two little sisters. One was two and a half, the other scarcely six months old.

     But Divine Providence was watching over the little orphans and each can say with truth: “My father and my mother abandoned me, but the Lord took care of me.”

     First off, mistreated by a bad woman to whom they had been entrusted, Zoé and Thérèse (the little two year old sister) were sent to Caen by religious of the Charity of Jesus in Cherbourg to live with the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul. For the poor children, it was the beginning of countless graces.

     The ordeal had completely changed the exuberant personality of our little Zoé. She became timid and quiet. In chapel, they saw her recollected, contemplating with delight the statue of the Immaculate Virgin. “I remembered,” she told us, “the advice of my mother: pray to the Blessed Virgin for me and I repeated without tiring hundreds of Hail Marys, figuring with each one, I was placing a ring on the fingers of the Madonna in memory of my mother.”

     After her First Communion, the pious child regained, bit by bit, the behavior of a little girl; she laughed and sang all the time and even danced frequently. She was asked why: “Haven’t we been taught that we live in God because he is everywhere?” she replied. “Let me then dance in the good God!

     These joyous expressions, my Reverend Mother, did not keep her from dreaming of solitude, of penance. After reading about the writings of our Mother Saint Teresa, she resolved to become a Carmelite.

     One of her school mistresses seeing her one day with her arms folded doing nothing and learning nothing, said to her in front of her schoolmates: “With that kind of laziness, my poor child, I don’t know what you will be later.”

     “I will be a Carmelite!” replied Zoé proudly.

     A common laugh followed that declaration.

   However over the years, our young daughter better understood her duties and assisted by natural gifts that she received from God, she rendered true services to her devoted mistresses in the positions of sacristan and infirmarian that were successively assigned to her.

     What food she received for her tender piety in the first position and how many edifying memories she had from her second! Much later she told us of this deep edification by the tale of very holy deaths she had witnessed. So it was that Thérèse, her companion in misfortune, was preordained to leave this earth at the age of seventeen. She held the hand of her dear sister and for a goodbye said to her these consoling words: “Don’t cry…When I am in heaven you will enter Carmel; I promise you that.”

     That blessed child kept her word. All sorts of difficulties, at first stirred up, were ironed out, and the dear candidate suggested to our Carmel, was admitted there on February 2, 1863. She was twenty two years old.

     Her start in religious life was rather painful. She missed her daily communion; she wept in front of the big curtain hid the Tabernacle from her, object of her love. However, Our Lord lavished her with his consolations and her companions in the kitchen with kindnesses. The good doyenne at that time, Sister Madeleine of the Blessed Sacrament of loving memory, even spoiled her a little, we must admit. Seeing her carrying a heavy load; “Give me that, little one,” she told her, ”and sit down here to peel some vegetables for me.” The fire reddened her face a little too much: “Oh, my God, we’re going to kill you. You’re not used to these strains. Our Mother needs you; go finish the embroidery she gave you and let me take your place.”

     It’s true, my Reverend Mother, that the dear postulant who was a stranger to household tasks, excelled in all kinds of hand labor. Thus our former Mothers, who were so poor, profited from the devotion of the honorable doyenne who roped in the embroidery talent of her little companion.

     At the usual time, which for her happened to be the 8th of December, our good sister Saint Vincent de Paul had the joy of taking the holy Habit of Carmel. The community loved that pious child whose health and dispositions were satisfactory. However, she was overcome in the garden by bleeding of a most violent kind. Faced with that kind of accident, what were we to do about the profession? We called the doctor who said it was not serious. “This vomiting was simply due to a ruptured blood vessel, “he said and the exceptional disposition of the novice was enough of a guarantee for the future.

     Our dear daughter said her vows with joy in her heart on one of the days of the octave of the Immaculate Conception, on December 14th, the anniversary of the death of our Father Saint John of the Cross. The cross would also cling to her steps. Almost every year, in spite of the reassuring predictions of the doctor, she vomited blood in abundance between the months of April and September, but the remarkable thing was that she then recovered sufficiently to go back to fasting and abstinence during the time of the Holy Cross and Lent.

     It is impossible for us, my Reverend Mother, to tell you about all the energy, all the courage displayed by our dear daughter during her long years of suffering. Unable to lie down, she spent most of her nights sitting on the floor and the next day we would find her valiantly at work, doing in her turn the cooking, the laundry and expending herself for her Sisters on every occasion. At this time, she didn’t cross her arms anymore to nonchalantly say: “I am a Carmelite!“ …Experience had taught to that the ideal of a Carmelite was to combine prayer with charitable actions, and it was with graciousness and all her heart that she accomplished at the same time the position of Martha with that of Mary.

     The share of Mary at the feet of the Lord was, it is true, her preference. Who among us doesn’t remember our good Sister Saint Vincent de Paul prostrate during the entire hour of evening silence at the Communion door?

     She revealed her attraction for the chant of pious canticles, but the refrain she never tired of was the Gloria Patri. How many times in the laundry room did we not hear her suddenly break the deepest silence to start singing in a voice remarkably off key, this Gloria Patri that she preferred to all else? A general hilarity ensued, we understand, but the singer wasn’t bothered by that and without even sparing a magnificent sicut erat, continued to the very end her song of praise to the Holy Trinity.

     Having a very communicative nature, it must be admitted, Reverend Mother, that our dear daughter didn’t always keep a scrupulous silence between her canticles. She had read a lot, had heard a lot, it was necessary for her to share her knowledge to the profit of others. Giving too easily her opinion was one of her weaknesses. But we hasten to add that she humbly received the observations of her Mother Prioresses on this subject and even the innocent mischief of her companions and novices who laughingly called her a living encyclopedia. On the feast of St Martha, July 29th, she listened without ever being hurt to several verses in this style:

                                           Speaking Latin, Greek or Chinese,
                                           Theology or even grammar,
                                           Vincent is never left behind,
                                           And says: Children, it’s your choice!

     Our Lord who loved this soul, for that matter so generous, was pleased to moderate her through the ordeal of a long period of helplessness her too great natural enthusiasm. She had wished to do her purgatory on earth; it seems to us that the good God fulfilled this.

     Five years ago, Reverend Mother, new bleeding of a more serious nature than the preceding ones, reduced our poor Sister to a dire state. We could no longer doubt the existence of a tumor that would quickly lead her to the grave. She received the last Sacraments then the danger seemed to pass; our dear daughter was only a shadow of her former self. Her thinness during this time was truly frightening. However until the month of February this year, sustained by her courage and her desire for Holy Communion, she still was able to drag herself to the choir to hear Mass. But soon her strength abandoned her completely and it became impossible to make the slightest movement without the help of her charitable infirmarians. Her condition inspired us with an even greater compassion because her soul itself seemed to be in anguish. No one was ever able to perceive the slightest smile on her lips. Day and night, the only sound she made, so to speak, was this moan: “I can’t go on anymore,” she cried. “My God, my All! My God, My All!” She repeated the same words for hours at a time.

     “Oh! May he change all my complaints into acts of love”, she said to one of her companions. And to us: “My Mother, the good God alone knows what I endure and what m, she said to one of her companions. And to us: “My Mother, the good God alone knows what I endure and what my distress and helplessness are. I don’t know how to pray anymore. Offer him yourself my sufferings on my behalf. Ah! I certainly deserve them, I have so much to atone for!

     During the afternoon of April 12th which was the last day of her life, our beloved daughter, coming out of a deep sleep, said to us in a broken voice: “I dreamed…that the good God carried me off to his beautiful heaven… I also saw the Blessed Virgin…Oh! How beautiful she was!”

     At 7 o’clock, finding her very breathless, we had our devoted Father Chaplain enter, who was able to hear her confession and gave her final absolution. She had already received several days ago Extreme Unction for the third time during her long illness and the visits of Our Lord as frequently as possible; both had come during these last weeks to fortify and console her soul.

     During Matins she told us: “I can’t suffer anymore!” We then gave her crucifix to her, which she kissed while we urged her to have confidence. “You really love him, this good Jesus, don’t you? You want all that he wants!” And for our consolation, we could catch on her lips these two words that she said with a faint voice: “Oh! Yes!”

     From that moment on, our dear dying person gave no more signs of consciousness until 2:30 in the morning when she breathed her last with a smile. One could have said that at that final moment a vision from on high came to delight and console her. Thus, she, who for long months was unable to smile on earth, began to smile eternally in Heaven.

     Since, my Reverend Mother, it is necessary to be so pure as to not pass somewhat through the expiatory flames of the other life, we humbly beg you to recommend to God the soul of our beloved Sister Saint Vincent de Paul and to add to the intercessory prayers already requested a communion from your devout community, a day of good works and the indulgence of the Way of the Cross.

   She will be very grateful to you, as are we who have the grace to say, very respectfully and fraternally in Our Lord, My Reverend and very Honorable Mother,

 Your humble sister and servant,
From our convent of the Sacred heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Conception
of the Carmelites of Lisieux, May 3, 1905. 

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