The witnesses of the Process


Witnesses of the ordinary trial


   The publication in 1973 of the acts of the ordinary process had truly delighted the Theresians who finally had the full depositions. But not all. Forty eight witnesses were in fact heard during the ordinary process; we can only read thirty seven. Here is the reason: witnesses were called to answer regarding heroic virtues, the reputation of holiness and miracles. The first point concerns Thérèse, the two others above all, the time after her death. Publishers set aside, as least interesting, eleven depositions concerning only miracles which led to distorting somewhat the reality of the process. The postulator chose his witnesses to answer all the questions. As a result of this, half of the witnesses didn’t know Thérèse. There is a tendency, very understandable, to give priority to witnesses who permitted a better understanding of the nun. But for the success of the process, the declarations of the Jesuit Auriault on Theresian doctrine, of Pastor Grant converted by Thérèse and by the Bishop of Nardo who certified words of Thérèse heard during an apparition (my way is sure) carried as much weight as the accounts, inevitably favorable, of Mother Agnès and Sr. Geneviève.

     That said, it is good to remember as well the irreplaceable importance, among the depositions, of those by the Carmelites. Notwithstanding, all the sisters who knew Thérèse did not depose. Several, such as Marie de Gonzague and Marie of the Eucharist, were deceased; two sisters, ill, left the community in 1909. Six others, elderly or little involved, were called to the witness stand. In total, outside of Thérèse’s three sisters, six Carmelites evoked the life of she who was one of their own. The principal depositions of the Carmelites in the process formed two different groups. On one hand, the two Martin sisters who preceded Thérèse into Carmel, Mother Agnès and Marie of the Sacred Heart. On the other, the novices, Mary Magdalene of the Blessed Sacrament and Sister Martha, two converse sisters, as well as Marie of the Trinity. In the middle, Sr. Geneviève, the sister closest to Thérèse and as much her novice.

     These sisters all wished the canonization of Thérèse to succeed, but between them, we sometimes sense a kind of competition coming from conflicts between persons (Sr. Geneviève and Marie of the Trinity) and even more from different viewpoints. Mother Agnès claimed her title of substitute mother and that of prioress to establish the legitimate portrait of Thérèse. Marie of the Trinity, as novice accompanied with attention and affection by her mistress, declared, notably on the reputation of holiness, on the primacy of the view of the young sisters who saw and heard Thérèse daily during later times. Sr. Geneviève had it both ways, her deposition is essential, however too plentiful, too sure, close as well to the intent declared by Mother Agnés.

     All the sisters prepared their deposition with great attentiveness. They had, like the other witnesses, a precious framework, the Articles by Msgr. De Teil, written in 1910. It was a substantial explanatory document in four parts-life, virtues, reputation of holiness, miracles-on which the promoter of the faith, M. Dubosq, was going to model the questions he asks the witnesses. The three sisters of Thérèse were heard first in August and September 1910, the other sisters in February and March 1911. They were not to copy their neighbors or have discussions with other Carmelites about the depositions. Mother Agnès questioned Msgr. De Teil about the mechanism of the process, on the ways of expressing oneself, on the usage as well of Thérèse’s words. As prioress, she informed those who were called to testify about the rules of the game that none of them knew.

     Each sister seriously prepares her deposition with the help of information which, for the first time is made public; we find in it a frankness of tone and disturbing detail, sometimes not used in the process. Too seriously according to the “redoutable” Msgr. Verde who recalls in his “Animadversiones, that the witnesses are called to answer the questions put to them, not to write dissertations on the virtues of Thérèse. But how to depose with spontaneity when they know it is necessary above all to bring proof? Each one does it in her manner but it is Marie of the Sacred Heart who expresses herself with the most moderation, in a manner that is the most direct and the least calculated.

Claude Langlois, historian