Witness 3 - Almire Pichon, S. J.

It is possible to refer to his biographical notice provided in volume one of this Process (pp. 378-379).

In a nutshell, Fr Pichon (1843-1919) was a highly valued priest. He was a spiritual director, retreat preacher and conqueror of souls, in Europe and also Canada (where he exercised for approximately ten years).  Very gifted from both the human and spiritual point of view, he could successfully talk to people of all social standings; workers, housekeepers, nuns and priests.  He advocated unlimited trust in the Heart of Jesus, to which he had an ardent devotion.

Having come into contact with the Martin family in Lisieux in 1882 (through Marie, the eldest sister), he gradually became spiritual father of the whole family and continued in that role even during his absences in Canada (1885-1886 and 1888-1907). Thérèse was also in contact with him and drew a real benefit from him. As already stated (vol. I, p. 379), Fr Pichon had not kept any of the letters that he had received from her and this represented an irremediable loss.  The witness declares below that he “regrets not having kept Thérèse’s letters” (p. 266), adding that there had been only a “few letters” (p. 272).  This claim does not tally with what is written in Manuscript A, p. 71 r°: “Reduced to receiving one letter a year from him to my 12 (. . .).” Reference can be made to vol. I. p. 379.

Fr Pichon’s testimony in 1915 is certainly more comprehensive than that of the Formal Investigative Process in 1911.

For example he says of Sister Thérèse, “She did not express herself in streams of words.  She put her questions very clearly, and very soberly, without trying to press her opinion in any way.  As a result, being her spiritual director was very easy: the Holy Spirit guided her. I do not believe that, either at that time or at a later date, I ever needed to guard her against illusion” (pp. 265-266).  He goes on to say, “What particularly struck me was her spirit of faith, which was constant, ever alert, and brought her to think of God at all times and to see Him in all things.  There was nothing earthly about her thoughts” (p. 267). “Her eyes and facial expression revealed that she was guided by spiritual perspectives. She was ‘a clairvoyant’, one who was always focused on God” (p. 269).  Equally of note is the following valuable account: “A few months following her admission to the Carmel, when I was preaching a retreat there, Reverend Prioress Marie de Gonzague told me that she was amazed to discover such a high level of perfection in the child. She added, ‘she is a treasure for the Carmel’” (p. 273).

Fr Pichon testified on 23rd April 1916, in the 6th sitting of the Process (pp. 262-275 of the Public Transcription).

WITNESS 3: Almire Pichon, S. J.   113

[Sitting 6: - 23rd April 1915, at 8:30 am and 2:30 in the afternoon]

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

 [Answer to the second question]:

My name is Almire Théophile Augustin Pichon. I was born in Carrouges in the diocese of Séez on 3rd February 1843.  I am a professed friar of the Society of Jesus currently residing in Versailles.

 [The witness answers questions three to five satisfactorily].

 [The witness answers the sixth question satisfactorily].

 [Answer to the seventh question]:

Towards 1880, I went to Lisieux to preach a retreat for factory workers.  I was introduced to the Martin family at that time.  The Servant of God was then 7 years old.  I grew close to the family and have had close ties [263] uninterruptedly ever since.  I became the spiritual director of the five sisters.  By means of either letters or at times meetings, we have remained in regular contact.

I have read Sister Thérèse’s autobiography, but I do not need to use the document; I will relate what I know myself.

 [Answer to the eighth question]:

Yes, I have a great devotion to the Servant of God, because I have always considered her to be an extraordinary soul, one who is highly favoured by God.  I desire her beatification with all my heart and pray to this end.  I am certain to have been healed twice through her intercession.

[Answer to the ninth question]:

As for Sister Thérèse’s parents, I knew only her father from 1880 onwards.  By then he had already retired to Lisieux.  He was a revered patriarch, and ever turned towards God. He was a Christian of the old days: the spirit of the “modern” world had not rubbed off on him.  At that time, I learnt that Mr Martin had five children: Marie, Pauline, Léonie, Céline and Thérèse.

 [Answer to the tenth question]:

In the Martin family, it was Marie and Pauline who saw to the education of the youngest sisters, and notably of Thérèse.  Mr Martin had [264] great trust in his eldest daughters’ judgment and sense of practicality, and he was not wrong to entrust them with managing the household.  Mrs Guérin, their aunt, was often consulted. She was a very wise and deeply Christian lady.  Mr Martin was particularly fond of Thérèse, whom he called his “little queen”.  A child less gifted than herself might have developed a certain pride as a result of this and suffered in her moral development, yet I never saw the Servant of God boast about it, and her elder sisters fully consented to it.

What particularly struck me about the Servant of God at that time was, firstly, her spirit of faith, for she saw God in everything, and, secondly, her modesty: she was reverent and rather quiet, never sought attention, and was smiley and friendly; I never saw a cloud cross the child’s face.

I know nothing particular about her education at the Benedictine Abbey.

When she was struck with a strange illness towards the age of ten, I was kept up to date with what was happening through letters from her sisters.  They informed me of the details surrounding her recovery including the miracle of the Blessed Virgin’s smile as it is reported in Story of a Soul.  The illness seemed to me to be a most unusual nervous condition.  I saw the child shortly after she recovered and several times prior to her admission to the Carmelite convent; although the ailment could have altered her mental [265] balance, it had left absolutely no trace, which confirmed my belief in her miraculous recovery.

I was not present at the time of the Servant of God’s First Communion.

 [Answer to the eleventh question]:

As soon as I met her, that is to say when she was only seven years old, the Servant of God told me of her desires to consecrate herself to God.  As for the particular nature of her consecration in the Carmelite Order, I cannot remember whether she spoke to me of it before or after her sister Pauline entered religious life.  At the age of fifteen, when she hoped to join Carmel, she undertook steps to obtain permission to do so.

 [Concerning the direction of her spiritual life and particularly her intention to join the convent, did the Servant of God take prudent counsel or did she act instead according to her own prudence? Answer]:

I can confirm that she took counsel.  She consulted me personally as to her spiritual conduct and particularly as to her vocation.  She did not express herself in streams of words.  She put her questions very clearly, and very soberly, without trying to press her opinion in any way.  As a result, being her spiritual director was very easy: the Holy Spirit guided her. [266] I do not believe that, either at that time or at a later date, I ever needed to guard her against illusion.

To return to the subject of her admittance to Carmel, I believe that she met with opposition due to her young age and the fragility of her health.  Through letters from Thérèse and Céline, I was kept up to date with regards to the steps being taken in Bayeux and Rome to obtain permission to join the Carmel.  She prevailed eventually, but it was not without difficulty.  What was remarkable was her father’s admirable generosity in his own determination to give her to God.

 [Answer to the twelfth question]:

She joined the Carmel in 1888.  I gave a retreat there in the autumn of that year, when she was a postulant. 

WITNESS 3: Almire Pichon, S. J.  115

Following that retreat, I was sent to Canada and did not see the Servant of God again, although I stayed in contact with her via letters.  What struck me on that retreat were the spiritual trials that God gave her to suffer; I was under the clear impression that God wanted her to become a great saint.

I sorely regret not having kept her letters and I know only indirectly of the rest of her life in the convent.

What I do know, I have learnt from Story of a Soul and conversations with her sisters.

[267] [Answer to questions thirteen and fourteen]:

What I was able to observe convinces me that this child was unfailingly perfect.

[Answer to the fifteenth question]:

She adhered to revealed truths and to the Church’s instructions with a naive faith that was both very straightforward and very simple.  Yet what struck me most of all was her spirit of faith, which was constant, ever alert, and brought her to think of God at all times and to see Him in all things.  There was nothing earthly about her thoughts or actions.

 [Answer to the sixteenth question]:

I know nothing particular as regards this point.

[The witness replies similarly to the seventeenth question.]

 [Answer to the eighteenth question]:

I know that she had a very ardent desire to take Communion every day.  She revealed this to me in conversations even prior to her admission to Carmel.

 [Answer to the nineteenth question]:

I know nothing in particular.

 [Answer to the twentieth question]:

On several occasions she expressed very ardent sentiments of respect for priests and also zeal for their sanctification.  This was one of the most frequent [268] objects of her prayers.

 [Answer to the thirty-first question]:

I have nothing particular to say.

 [Answer to questions twenty-two to twenty-six]:

The child was admirably detached from earthly things, to the point that they did not even cross her mind. She constantly dwelt in higher realms and thoughts of God.  Her surrender to God in sorrows and difficulties was absolute.  In the most trying of circumstances, such as her father’s cerebral illness, she lost none of her usual serenity.  She said with a heavenly smile, “God must love us dearly to treat us in this way.” However she was not indifferent; she was in fact very sensitive to family afflictions.  Her tranquillity of soul was therefore wholly spiritual.

[Answer to questions twenty-seven to thirty-one]:

Her love for God had the very clear hallmark of being untainted by fear.  She was of a very righteous and delicate conscience.  She proved very mindful to avoid even the slightest of imperfections, always out of a principle of love.

 [Answer to questions thirty-two to thirty-six]:

I was able to directly observe only her relations with her family members.  She was [269] perfectly condescending with regards to her sisters, humouring them in every way and even indulging their whims. She, on the other hand, had no whims. She expressed no desires and did all that was wanted of her.  Her eyes and facial expression revealed that she was guided by spiritual perspectives. She was ‘a clairvoyant’, one who was always focused on God.  She was not listless, however, but very lively, and if she had looked inside herself, she would have had desires and whims.

 [Answer to questions thirty-seven and thirty-eight]:

I never observed any careless or inconsiderate behaviour on her part, or anything that seemed excessive or carried-away. In all her words and even her facial expression, there was a wonderful moderation.

 [Answer to questions thirty-nine and forty]:

I know nothing.

[Answer to the forty-first question]:

I never saw the child show anger or a desire to be gratified.

[270] [Answer to the forty-second question]:

What I can say with regards to her virtue of strength during the period that I was in direct contact with the Servant of God, is that what she did to obtain her admission to the Carmel, knocking on every door without ever losing hope despite the Superiors’ refusal, reveals an energy and strength of character that are rare in a child of fifteen.

 [Answer to questions forty-three and forty-four]:

I know nothing in particular.

[Answer to the forty-fifth question]:

Concerning obedience, I witnessed the flexibility and promptness with which she unquestioningly submitted to her father or elder sisters’ every wish.

 [Answer to the forty-sixth question]:

I was struck by her humility more than anything else.  She was mindful to let her sisters shine, never taking the limelight. 

WITNESS 3: Almire Pichon, S. J.  117

It was necessary to observe her closely to perceive that she was very [271] intelligent.  For example, for a long time I was unaware that she had a real talent for poetry.

[Answer to the forty-seventh question]:

First of all, all of her virtues seemed heroic in nature to me, because of the continuity and unfailing persistence with which she practised them.  Among the virtues that she practised at the time I knew her, that is to say, primarily when she lived with her family, her humility appeared especially heroic to me.  Although her father and sisters sought only to put her in the limelight, she was always very mindful to efface herself.  I also noticed her heroic nature in her acceptance of sorrows, no matter how crushing they were, and in the unchanging serenity that she maintained at the most critical of moments.

 [Answer to the forty-eighth question]:

I am not aware of her having lacked moderation in any way.

[Answer to the forty-ninth question]:

Apart from the vision of the Blessed Virgin, which took place at the end of her sickness, I am not aware that she experienced any extraordinary mystical states.  Whether she experienced one on a specific occasion, I do not know. In any event, it is not the prevailing characteristic of her holiness, which is very simple and one that God wished to give as an example to “little souls”.

[272] [Answer to the fiftieth question]:

I do not know.

[Answer to the fifty-first question]:

1stly Everyone knows her writings: Story of a Soul, her Letters, and Poems.  I came across them only after her death when they were published.  I have said that unfortunately I did not keep the few letters that she sent to me personally.

2ndly Concerning the appraisal of the doctrine contained in her writings, I can report the very authoritative opinion of Reverend Father de Causans, Prefect of the Society of Jesus, whom was regarded among us as well-versed in spiritual matters.  After reading Story of a Soul, he said to me, “Second to Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross, I know of no finer work.” I might add that this is also my view.  Furthermore, before reading her writings, several people known to me feared that the “little way of surrender” about which they had heard vague references would contain traces of Quietism, but after reading them, everyone admitted that they had found nothing of the sort inside.

 [Answer to questions fifty-two to fifty-six exclusively]:

I know nothing personally.

[Answer to the fifty-sixth question]:

[273] I have visited the Servant of God’s burial place about once a year since returning to France (1907).  There have been pilgrims there every time I have visited.  The day before yesterday, I spent about a quarter of an hour there. During that time a successive stream of pilgrims came; they included soldiers, nuns, etc., and they all prayed with great fervour.  Far from slowing, the pilgrim movement is growing every day.  I am not aware of any means having been used to create this movement.

[Answer to the fifty-seventh question]:

Before the Servant of God joined Carmel, those who saw and knew her would say of her, “the child is an angel.” Instead of the trite compliment that people might pay upon meeting a pleasant child, these words would be infused with a form of veneration.

A few months following her admission to the Carmel, when I was preaching a retreat there, Reverend Prioress Marie de Gonzague told me that she was amazed to discover such a high level of perfection in the child. She added, ‘she is a treasure for the Carmel.’

At the end of 1888, I left France and was unable to observe the rest of her religious life at first hand.

Since her death, on my numerous missions in Canada, the United States, England, Belgium, Holland, Poland, Bohemia, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy, I have observed [274] that her reputation for holiness and being a power over Jesus’ Heart is permanently established everywhere.  In all these countries, I have seen the fruit of the virtues that reading her autobiography inspires in people, and I have met a good number of nuns who owe their vocation to the book.

 [In your opinion, do the effects of reading the book stem from a certain degree of oversensitivity or an overactive imagination? - Answer]:

I know a great many people who have reread her autobiography as many as five, six, or seven times, and have affirmed to have benefitted most from the most recent reading, a fact which cannot be attributed to hypersensitivity or over-enthusiasm.

[The witness resumes his testimony]:

The publishing of Story of a Soul no doubt contributed to making Sister Thérèse known, but without divine intervention, I consider this as far from sufficient to explain this global current, particularly given its strength in terms of veneration and trust.  I have seen often the most meritorious of men convinced of the Servant of God’s holiness.

 [Answer to the fifty-eighth question]:

I know of no opposition.

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

 [275] Outside of the cases of miraculous intercession that are related in “Shower of Roses” and which I have not verified myself, I must say that I am convinced to have been prodigiously healed of a condition which, according to doctors, should have killed me in a matter of hours.  It was a very advanced case of suppurative bronchopneumonia.  This was in August 1909, at the Augustian clinic, n° 29, Rue de la Santé.

WITNESS 3: Almire Pichon, S. J.  119

The three monastery doctors announced that I ought to be administered Extreme Unction post-haste because I was going to die.  I therefore prayed to Sister Thérèse. My temperature, which had been above 40° Celsius, dropped to normal and stabilised, to the doctors’ great astonishment.  Four days later I could say Holy Mass, which is precisely the blessing that I had requested.

 [Answer to the sixty-sixth question]:

I can think of nothing to add.

 [As regards 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 of them and signs as follows]:

Signatum:       A. PICHON, S. J.