Witness 30 - Sister Saint Francis de Sales, O.B.S.


Marie-Joséphine-Aurélie Pierre was born in Saint-Désir in Lisieux on 15th March 1848. She joined the Benedictine Monastery of Notre-Dame-du-Pré, and was professed there on 17th May 1871. Nominated to the boarding school almost immediately after her Profession, she stayed there until 1888. She therefore knew Thérèse well during the time she attended the school, being her form teacher and also her religious instructor. She points out that it would have been wrong to consider Thérèse as a spoilt child and that she was actually very studious. She evokes the difficulties the child came across with regard to her classmates. She emphasizes the care and love with which Thérèse deepened the doctrine of the gifts of the Holy Spirit as part of her preparation for Confirmation and how she progressively embraced the theology of mercy and the universal redeeming will of Divine Providence.

The witness testified on 11th August, in the 84th session, pp. 1290v-1296r of our Public Copy.

[Session 84: - 11th August 1911, at 8:30am and at 2pm]

[1290v] [The witness answers the first question correctly].

[Answer to the second question]:

My name is Marie-Joséphine-Aurélie Pierre, in religion Sister Saint Francis de Sales. I was born on 15th March 1848, in Saint Désir in Lisieux, of the legitimate marriage between Jean-Edouard Pierre, a craftsman, and Françoise-Alexandrine Etienne. I am a professed nun of the Benedictine Monastery of Lisieux, where I was professed on 17th May 1871. I was a teacher at the boarding school from October 1871 until 1888. I am currently in charge of the temporal affairs of the monastery.  

[The witness answers questions three to seven correctly].

[Answer to the eighth question]:

I knew the Servant of God personally and I followed her very closely when she attended the boarding school. I was in fact her form teacher and also her religious [1291r] instructor. I also knew her sisters quite well, especially Léonie and the other members of her family, whom I would see in the visiting room. I was able to gather the testimonies of several of our Sisters and the Servant of God’s classmates; but these in themselves didn’t teach me anything new; they only corroborated my personal observations. As for the book, “Story of a Soul”, I will not use it as such; I only note that on the points I was able to observe myself, it expresses the absolute truth.  

[Answer to the ninth question]:

I have a profound devotion for the Servant of God, and I desire her beatification, because I believe she will glorify God. But I can confirm in all conscience that my desire doesn’t affect the sincerity of my testimony in any way.

[1291v][Answer to the tenth question].

I had no direct contact with the Servant of God in the first years of her lifetime.

[Answer to the eleventh question]:

I didn’t know Mrs. Martin. I often spoke to Mr. Martin in the community’s visiting room. He was really a very Christian man and even when speaking about temporal matters, he always managed to find a way of bringing the conversation round to thoughts of God.

[Answer to the twelfth question]:

The Servant of God often told me that the date of her baptism in Alençon was 4th January 1873.

[Answer to the thirteenth question]:

Mr. Martin’s affection for little Thérèse was certainly very intense, full of solicitude and shows of tenderness. Her sisters also loved her very much. One would easily have believed, judging by appearances, that she was a spoilt child, [1292r] but I can confirm that this was not true, and that the unworldly element of her education preserved her from the adverse effects that this favouritism might have caused.  

[Answer to the fourteenth question]:

I followed Thérèse almost all the time when she was at the boarding school. As her class teacher, I noticed that she was always at work; I never had to formally criticize her. It was customary for her to think of God and everything in her studies brought her round to these thoughts. What were particularly striking were her stylistic compositions, where she always introduced a divine element, despite the childish naivety of the stories. People noticed that at that time she was excessively sensitive, she even admitted it herself; however, beneath this sensitivity, which many people thought was self-love, I almost always found an unworldly emotion, like the fear of having been unedifying or [1292v] of being behind an offense made to God. Her conscience was indeed incredibly delicate, obliging us to take all sorts of precautions to avoid troubling her. One day when she had forgotten herself trying to help one of her classmates, who recited her lesson badly, her teacher addressed her very sharply: “So Thérèse has no conscience!” This provoked floods of tears and I couldn’t console her for a fortnight. When she saw me, she would throw herself into my arms, and start crying again saying: “I’ve sinned and I’ve caused others to sin” – Primary source -.      

[1293r] [Continuation of the answer to the fourteenth question]:

In religious instruction classes she would prove eager for explanations, constantly asking me questions, some of which were so deep they caught me out. What particularly caught her attention, even at that time, was the thought of God’s mercy, and she was anxious for me to resolve the problems that exist as a result of the apparent conflict between God’s infinite mercy and human freedom. She couldn’t accept (she was then 9 years old) that children who died without having been baptized were irremediably deprived of the sight of God. She also would have wanted God to convert all sinners because he could.  

She intimated, in her Story, that one of her classmates made her suffer a sort of little persecution. This is true; the pupil in question was of a rather fanciful nature, which was completely contrary to Thérèse’s seriousness. But the Servant of God never complained to us about her actions, or demanded punishment. If, following some more serious incident, [1293v] we decided to crack down, she didn’t rejoice. Among the pupils of her age there was a little girl who had neither a very wealthy family nor other natural advantages. Moreover, this child, about whom there was nothing attractive, suffered from the fact that her family’s religious situation left something to be desired. Little Thérèse was full of thoughtful attention and consideration for this classmate to please her and secure her spiritual well-being. I am convinced that her devoted attention wasn’t the result of any attraction to her nature, but that the Servant of God reached out to her out of fraternal charity and zeal for the good of the girl’s soul. She would accept being forgotten or ignored easily; she didn’t do anything to attract attention. Her disposition was all the more remarkable given that she was continually shown thoughtful attention in her family.

Her first Communion retreat (May 1884) was very reverent, but there was nothing about it that is worth mentioning. On the day of her first Communion (8th May) I noticed, as did all her classmates for that matter, [1294r] that she shed a great many tears, which certainly weren’t tears of sadness: for her face was radiant. During the brief retreat that preceded her Confirmation (14th June 1884) she proved very focused on studying the gifts of the Holy Spirit and, when an unforeseen event delayed the ceremony for a day, she was happy to be able to continue her preparation. From that time on, she rarely used a book to pray. Her prayer was completely interior and resembled contemplation. This form of prayer suited her best, so much so that she found it difficult to concentrate on reading the prayers in her service book, which is what the boarding school required. What she says in her book about how she spends her days off is very true; it was to me that she said: “I close myself in with my bed-curtain and I think…” – “But what do you think about?” – “About God… about life… I think!... » - MSA 33,2 -      

[1294v] [Answer to the fifteenth question]:

She left the Abbey boarding school earlier than pupils usually do, and even when her elder sisters stayed on with us. The poor state of her health and the tiredness affecting her mind, brought about by painful crises of scruples, made it preferable for private lessons to replace the rhythm of boarding school. No discontent on our part motivated her departure. She continued to come two or three times a week to do manual work and to be received into the Congregation of the Children of Mary. During that time, she would go to the chapel gallery as soon as her lesson was over, and stay there to pray until it was time to leave, that is to say for an hour, or an hour and a half.

[To questions sixteen to twenty-six inclusive, the witness says she knows nothing other than what is written in the Servant of God’s Life Story].

[1295r] [Answer to the twenty-seventh question]:

In our community, which is made up of about forty nuns, the universal opinion is that the Servant of God practiced sublime virtue. I personally am particularly struck by two things: 1stly the clarity of her views on things divine, even though they are very simple; 2ndly the fact that, despite being surrounded on all sides by solicitous attention, she always remained perfectly self-forgetful.  

[Answer to the twenty-eighth question]:

One or two of our Sisters who had at one time been struck by the over-sensitivity of our boarder little Thérèse, suspected that her tendency to cry pointed to a deep self-love; but since then, on studying her writings and her virtues, they have completely changed their minds.  

[Answer to the twenty-ninth question]:

I don’t know anyone in my immediate entourage who has received any significant or really miraculous favour through the Servant of God’s intercession. [1295v] But our Sisters are more or less unanimous in thinking that a devotion for the Servant of God is for them a source of numerous inner graces which inspire them to greater generosity and fervour in their practice of perfection.

[Concerning the thirtieth question, the witness says she hasn’t omitted anything].

[1296r] [Concerning the Articles, the witness says she knows nothing other than what she has already deposed in answer to the preceding questions. - Here ends the interrogation of this witness. The Acts are read out. The witness makes no amendment to them and signs as follows]:

Ita pro veritate deposui, ratum habeo et confirmo.

Signatum: MARIE-JOSÉPHINE-AURÉLIE PIERRE, Sister Saint Francis de Sales.