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Biography of Sr Saint John of the Cross

1851-1906

Jean-de-la-Croix  

 A silent

and

very loving heart

 

sign St-Jean-de-la-Croix

 

JNdelaCroix lt large

Youth

Alice-Émelie Bougeret was born July 25th, 1851 at Torigny-sur-Vire. Her father Louis, novelty merchant, comfortable in his business, had married Eugénie Pannier-Desrivières with whom he had four children in four years. Alice followed by two boys was the second daughter.

We are lacking details in what her youth was in this lively town located on the bank of the Vire, which in old days the illustrious Matignon family had chosen for their residence. She took good classes at the boarding school of Bon Sauveur de Saint Lô that always enjoyed an excellent reputation in the region. But whereas Adèle, her elder by a year, made herself noticed by her exuberance and her enthusiasm for work as a game, Alice distinguished herself for her piety and her exactitude at observing the rule.

Her family learned with deep sorrow of her intention to enter the Carmel of Lisieux. Her father was especially saddened could not hide his melancholy for long months. Alice was almost twenty-five years old when she left Torigny for the Carmel where she was admitted on April 21st, 1876. She lived there for thirty years.

 

In Carmel

She found the house under construction. Indeed, the year of 1876 promised to be rich in postulants and the Mother Prioress created the bold project of finishing the monastery’s construction to be able to have a sufficient number of cells. Sr. Marie of the Angel’s dowry and a relative’s bequest allowed the work to begin without too many risks and on June 8 Fr. Delatroëtte, superior of Carmel, blessed the first stone. During the month of November that year, Fr. Youf gave a ten day retreat to the community that delighted the sisters. It was he who preached at the clothing of Alice Bougeret who became Sister Saint Jean of the Cross on December 8th, 1876.

On January 17th, 1878, she made her profession and received the veil on March 19th. This time it was Fr. Norbert Paisant, Norbertine, who has given as well an excellent retreat to the Carmelites, who preached this ceremony. He didn’t suspect then that he would be the proofreader of the Poems of Thérèse for the first edition of Histoire d’une Ame (Story of a soul). Her father, to whom she remained attached, died on July 12th, 1880. Shortly before, he had a message taken to her by one of her brothers with a cluster of thoughts: “Tell Alice to always think of her father.” The extreme reserve of the former student of Saint-Lô appeared again with the Carmelite. She remained uncommunicative and lived in a silent solitude, as on retreat from fraternal life. She didn’t know how to express the feelings of her very loving heart except on rare occasions. So when on February 13th, 1900 came the news of Madame Guérin’s death, she said to Sister Marie of the Eucharist with tenderness, “O my little sister, how I share your sorrow! You see, your family, how I love them as if they were my own.” Still like in school, Sister Saint John of the Cross had perfect regularity. We cannot remember ever having seen her fail to keep silence, the most scrupulous punctuality for going at the sound of the bell to our holy exercises,” Mother Agnes wrote. Her virtue was austere, her spiritual life without impulses or lights; her path was that of exact obedience to the advice of her director and good thoughts inspired by her pious readings.

 

With Thérèse

It was in October 1882 that she met for the first time little Thérèse Martin who had come to visit her sister Pauline. It was also during this encounter with the Carmelites that Mother Marie de Gonzague gave Thérèse the name “of the Infant Jesus” (Ms. A, 31 v°).

Several weeks later, Sister Saint John of the Cross offered the little girl a holy card-souvenir of the third centenary of Saint Teresa of Avila; on the back she wrote: “To my litter Thérèse of the Child Jesus. Say three times “O Mary conceived without sin” etc. each day before this holy card. For the intentions of Sister Saint John of the Cross, unworthy Carmelite religious.” This would not keep her from being opposed to the entrance of Thérèse in Carmel. She judged that at age fifteen she would be too young to understand Carmelite life. Mother Agnès of Jesus wrote: “One of the sisters confessed to me later that seeing with what zeal I worked to promote her entrance, she said:

“What imprudence to have such a young child enter Carmel! What imagination Sister Agnès of Jesus has! She will have some disappointments about that!...” She confessed to me that she was wrong.

Indeed, the sisters who thought they were seeing a child were struck with respect in her presence; they admired with surprise her demeanor that was dignified and modest at the same time, “her deep and resolved air; from the first days the virtues they saw her practice.” Sister Saint John of the Cross added: “I am very surprised of what I see because Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus is extraordinary, she improves all of us.” This is so true that it happens that she, the elder, asked Thérèse advice for her spiritual life. She understood so well her sister “passionate for prayer, reading and finding her happiness near the tabernacle.” She understood that her regularity must not be like a well-oiled clock but that she should be the expression of attentive love of a “faithful spouse.” We find that expression in the poem “how I want to love” that she wrote in December 1896 at the request of Sister Saint John of the Cross. She reminds her again, she the timid one, of the welcome of Jesus to Mary Magdalene and how much she needs to blossom in confidence.

We again find Sister Saint John of the Cross, silent and clumsy, at the foot of the bed where Thérèse struggles against her illness in July-August 1897. Each day, or almost, she goes there for several minutes between 8 and 9 pm. These visits tire Thérèse and annoy Mother Agnès considerably. However Thérèse smiled generously at her sister who to comfort her and perhaps because she didn’t know how to speak to a sick person, said to her: “You look well; we would never believe that you are sick.” Mother Agnès mumbled, “She didn’t believe that Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus was really sick” and Thérèse confided: “When someone is suffering so much, the person doesn’t like to be looked at with a smile…and since they aren’t free, they’re annoyed…But I thought that Our Lord on the cross had been looked at with irony; then I offered him that willingly.” (DE II, 476).

 

After Thérèse

After the death of Thérèse, Sister Saint John of the Cross “composed a prayer for invoking her every day” and she always kept this prayer in one of her liturgical books: “My little sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, I greet you through the Heart of Jesus and I offer you this Heart of your divine Spouse. I thank him for all the graces he lavished upon you. I beg you to unite me on this earth with the love you have for him in Heaven. Pray to the seraphim who must have pierced your heart with the arrow of divine love to please do the same in me that he did for you…Since we are the children of Saints, have for me I beg you, a Mother’s tenderness (…)”; and this prayer is signed “A very little nothing”.

It’s permissible to identify this “filial” prayer by Sister Saint John of the Cross to Thérèse in heaven with that which Thérèse directed to the saints in 1896, asking them “adopt her as their child” and to take part in their “double love”.

 

Last illness and death

In April 1906, she had violent pain in her stomach. Friday, June 8th she went to the choral Office for the last time and July 19th, after having fought until the end she went down to the infirmary where slow and painful death throes were awaiting her. Frequent vomiting often deprived her of communion. “Ah, my Mother and I had asked the good God to not miss a single communion before my death!” But she was the admiration of her sisters with her resignation, her patience, her humility and her spirit of abandonment to the will of God.

August 23rd, she received Extreme Unction: “How happy I am, there is nothing more between God and me! O my Mother, tell me what your will is. When it appears difficult to me to accomplish, I will have the grace to strengthen me. I know that your will is that of the Lord and I want to die in the will of the Lord. It is in this disposition that she went to sleep peacefully on September 3rd at 6 o’clock in the morning. She was 55 years old. She was buried on September 5th.

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