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From sr Genevieve (Celine) to sr Francoise-Therese (Leonie) - August 15, 1917

From sr Genevieve (Celine) to sr Francoise-Therese (Leonie) - August 15, 1917

+ Jesus                                                                   Carmel of Lisieux 15th August 1917

                                                                                                              

Darling little sister,

Until now I wasn’t able to find the time to write to you, despite my desire to do so. I think of you over 50 times a day and I’d love to run into your arms. Yet I have little to tell you, as Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart has been giving you the news as it unfolds. I also know that Fr Domin went to see you on Saturday and told you things that I didn’t know because I didn’t follow the cortege.

We left the monastery (Sr Madeleine of Jesus and I, to go to the exhumation) on the Friday morning wearing our cloaks and long veils lowered. We wore our espadrilles with cloister clogs (which have hardened, rope soles). They wouldn’t stay on our feet very easily and made for a rather inelegant gait. It was like a wedding. His Lordship stepped into the first 2-horse carriage and we, the 5th (with one-horse). Jeanne accompanied us. When we arrived at the cemetery, his Lordship was waiting for us, having alighted first. He opened the door for us and invited us to follow him. With his guidance, we were able to make our way to the chapel without too much difficulty. Along the way, his Lordship wasn’t able to prevent us from being accosted. People kissed our cloaks, veils, and the hems of our habits. One woman said, “Pray for my vocation, Mother!” “And mine, too,” said another. “Bless me!” said a 3rd, kneeling down. At the same time, a soldier seized the rosary at my waist. His Lordship stretched out his arms and we walked quickly on. Afterwards, he said good-naturedly, “I am a little envious. Nuns attract all the attention; it was as if I wasn’t here.”  

Once we had reached the marquee at the chapel entrance and all the ecclesiastical court members were present, the seals on the door were broken. As Fr Dubosq had assigned us our places, we stayed in the marquee while everyone went into the chapel. The gentlemen wanted to hide the contents of the coffin from me so they positioned themselves in front of it, while the 2 doctors placed themselves to one side in front of a large table. Everyone was standing, except for Dr de Cornière.

I stood a little way off at first but then I leant over like Madeleine, and like her, I caught sight of something. It wasn’t two angels, but something infinitely better; two of my darling Thérèse’s bones. I grew bolder then and drew a little closer. I said to a priest, “What I would like to see is her little head.” A few moments later, I saw her darling head from afar. I quietly took a few steps forward, walked up the step, entered the chapel and, leaning against the open door, I stayed silently gazing at the sight before my eyes. I thought that no one was paying any attention to me, and I paid no attention to anyone else, but his Lordship beckoned me over, and so I walked right up to the coffin and held out my little silk sachets so that they could be filled with the remnants of her clothing. A few moments later, I went over to Fr Dubosq and asked him if I could kiss my darling sister on the forehead. He held her head for me. Imagine, little Léonie, how I felt as I gave her that kiss! I said to Fr Dubosq. “I think she is still lovely!” And it was true. Oh, how I’d have loved to hide myself away and contemplate every detail of my Thérèse’s beloved head. Our Fr Superior said, “I will give it to you later on,” but that moment turned out to be so brief that I wasn’t able to study it in as much depth as I desired.  

And so the morning passed and I returned to the monastery the same way as I had gone. Our Sisters here thought I looked different. To them, I looked like “Moses coming down from Mt Sinai!” As for me, it was as though I was no longer of this world. I felt I had been showered with graces.

In the afternoon, Sr Madeleine and I had to play an active role in the operations. When Fr Dubosq gave me her dear little head to wrap up, I knelt down to receive it, took it away and smothered it in kisses. Then I placed it in a large embroidered corporal. Fr Dubosq brought me all the bones, one after the other, and I wrapped them in beautiful fine linen cloths. In just a few minutes, I had used up 40 m of white ribbon. Each bone was placed in its natural position in the casket. It was nothing but a white carpet. All these precious and pure little parcels looked like a 1st Communion dress or a luxury sweet box if you looked at the case as a whole.

Afterwards, once I had given her one last kiss on behalf of all of us, the casket was closed and bound with two wide brown strips. These were held together with gold buckles decorated with red enamels (belonging to Sr M. of the Holy Spirit and her sister). The strips were sealed to the casket.

I forgot to tell you that the small hand and feet bones were placed in lead-sealed crystal urns. Lead tubes containing the official records were also placed in the casket. The police superintendant helped us (!) and touched numerous objects to the remains for the crowd. Pierre alone brought over 12,000 objects to the coffin. A soldier and another gentleman then distributed the objects back to their owners. Fr Quirié did nothing but touch the remains with medallions and objects that he had brought. The same went for Dr de Cornière, etc., etc.

When the small casket was sealed and put back in the rosewood sarcophagus (which is worth between 8 and 10,000 f. and was paid for by the De Borniol family) his Lordship had the front of the marquee opened and they sealed closed the lead coffin in front of the crowd. We put our cloaks and long veils back on and, leaving the marquee, we hid in the chapel. Beforehand, we had worn our short veils lowered as we do for Communion.

Then the cortege was formed. Some men carried the sarcophagus on their shoulders, which apparently is the greatest honour one can have. It was “triumphant”, people said. The 1st class bier that had cost 1000 f. was of no use at all that day. All in all, the exhumation will have cost us 6000 f. Everyone was pleased. The people at the town hall couldn’t have been more kindly. All the staff and policemen at the police station were polite and obliging. In short, the ceremony was perfect. We’ll send you the report when it has been printed.      

Sr Madeleine and I didn’t go into the Carmelite cemetery. When the crowd had dispersed, we stepped into the carriage again, protected this time not by his Lordship, who was following the cortege, but by an elegantly dressed bailiff wearing a policeman’s chain and hat and by Mademoiselles de la Tour d'Auvergne and Castel (Switch those names around because his Lordship entrusted us to Mikaëlle). Jeanne followed the coffin. A priest told me that the ceremony had reminded him of a post-beatification vespers service.

At one of the stops that we made in the carriage, a sobbing Jeanne asked me with touching humility to forgive her for the trouble she had caused us. “I was so mean!” she said. “Oh, forget everything, I beg of you!” I wept, too. From now on, all the pain we suffered is forgotten! Poor Jeanne; she was charming and affectionate, and said that it was the 1st nice day she had had since Francis had died.

Little Léonie, I will stop there. I can’t write any more. My hand is shaking and I don’t know whether you’ll be able to read my writing. My excursion outside didn’t instill in me a desire for freedom. I found the streets, shops, town and countryside tatty and scruffy, just like the people who inhabit them. I would put wall scrapings from this cell in a reliquary if I could!

Goodbye, darling little sister. Read my heart to see all the things that I haven’t said.

Your little Céline, Sr Geneviève of the Holy Face

u.c.n. 

P.S. On the evening of the 11th, I had just gone to bed when the scent of mock-orange blossom filled the cell. You know that, in the language of flowers, this means “fraternal love”.

It had been 3 years since I had been granted a favour of this sort and I wondered what it could possibly mean. Then, a few days later, it was confirmed that I would attend the exhumation. On my feast day, 6th August, I was praying before the Bl. Sacrament and hoping that Thérèse would have a few words for me. I hesitated before randomly opening the Gospel, because I always turn to passages that are irrelevant or hurtful such as “You hypocrites” or “you brood of vipers”, and so I gave up the practice long ago. However, in light of my upcoming excursion, which I was dreading and which I had been strongly advised against taking (by Fr Dubosq), I thought, “If Thérèse says to me, ‘You are the one who has stood by me in my trials.And I confer upon you a kingdom,just as my Father conferred one on me,’ I’ll be extremely happy.” I considered identifying our saint’s body as a trial because it involves physically touching the humiliation of the grave. – Almost all the bones were found. “It is rare to find the body of a Servant of God so complete,” said Mgr Dubosq. The bones are in good condition; only those from the right cheek are slightly damaged. I realised that, in this respect, she had something in common with Our Lord, because His right cheek had been fractured by the soldier’s blow. Had she not asked for the stigmata of the passion?

Keep the glass slide. We received your little note before my feast day. Jeanne didn’t accompany us into the marquee. Canon Law strictly restricts entry to indispensable individuals only, in this case, the Ecclesiastical Court members and us only, plus the Police Superintendant and one servant (Pierre), and the expert doctors of course.

Let me know if you receive this letter. See the explanations on the backs of the photos.