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Circular of Sr St John of the Cross

 

Alice-Émilie Bougeret   1851-1906

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Peace and very humble salutations in Our Lord who freed from the struggles of life to give her, we hope, eternal rest, our dear Sister ALICE-EMILIE SAINT JEAN DE LA CROIX. She was 56 years, 1 month and 8 days old with 30 years 4 months and 12 days in religious life.

Our dear sister, from an honorable and Christian family was born in Torigny-sur-Vigne in the Manche. She went for her education with her older sister Adèle to the boarding school of Bon-Sauveur where she distinguished herself for her piety and her exactitude in observing the rule. Adèle, on the other hand, even though she had a weaker disposition, was known for her exuberance and her liveliness at work. Their good teachers seeing these contrasts, said pleasantly, “To find perfection in these two children, their dispositions need to be balanced by taking the liveliness of the one and giving it to the other and to give Adèle a little of the wisdom and health of Alice.” “What is this headache you’re always complaining about?” said the youngest to her elder. “Give that to me once so that I might experience it.”

At the time she left boarding school while living the joys of a close family life, our dear daughter felt called to religious life. Her vocation was not one where she felt an attraction; a single motive drew her to Carmel, that of acting on the will of God. How much she suffered to leave the paternal home. Her father, her mother, her two brothers who remained always so devoted to her and indeed her sister with whom she was going to sacrifice their sweet intimacy. She remembered in these last months and not without deep emotion, the sadness of her father several weeks before she left. To express this he never found anything even in family gatherings but doleful silence and bitter tears. Our good Sister Saint John of the Cross, so rarely expansive, began to tell us how this poor desolate father through one of her brothers had sent a little before his death a bouquet of flowers with this simple message, “Tell Alice to always think of her father. She in fact thought of him and upon the efficiency of her pious filial memory depended, we don’t doubt, a Christian death and the eternal salvation of this beloved father.

We were telling you, Reverend Mother, that our dear Sister was rarely expansive. It’s true that she did not often experience things in community life that make someone think of family life and that make someone who had left everything for God feel in their heart the holy joy of finding brothers and living together united. She suffered from a powerlessness to taste the promised hundredfold but had the rare good sense to realize it humbly, always recognizing and admiring in her sisters the qualities and talents she believed she was lacking. In spite of that she was endowed with a very loving heart and more than once gave us touching proof of that. One day when one of our young sisters had just learned of the death of her mother, Sister Saint John of the Cross , normally so reserved, hugged her and said to her tenderly, ”O my little sister, how much I share your sadness! All your family, I love them as if they were my own.”

She also had feelings for our beloved mothers and sisters who went ahead of us to the celestial homeland, feelings we would not have suspected. This prayer found in one of her books of the Office shows this:

“My little Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, I greet you through the Heart of Jesus and I offer you the same Heart of your divine Spouse. I thank him for all the graces he has bestowed on you. I beg you to unite me on earth to the love that you have for him in Heaven. Pray that the seraphim that pierced your heart with the arrow of divine love, do to me what he did to you…As we are children of the saints, have for me, I beg you, a mother’s tenderness, help me until the evening of my life and bless me.” This document is humbly signed “A little nothing.”

But what was the most edifying about our dear daughter was the constant practice of perfect regularity. It was the wise little boarding school student of days gone by who became a real hermit in Carmel. We are unable to remember having seen her break silence and remember the most scrupulous punctuality for going to our holy exercises at the first sound of the bell. From this unfailing punctuality she had acquired such a reputation for regularity that when a novice heard her utter an unnecessary word, she was so surprised that she couldn’t have been more so if the convent had collapsed.

...In such a complete solitude this faithful soul hardly knew divine consolations. Even though she tried all day long through blind obedience to overcome her character, virtue for her took on only austere forms. If Jesus spoke to her heart, it was usually through the voice of a wise director or through the intermediary of holy authors whose entire works were read by her.

She had a real confidence in and devotion to indulgences and spent her free time studying the conditions. When someone wanted precise information on this subject, it wasn’t necessary to look for it in a book, Sr. Saint John of the Cross became the living book to consult and was never mistaken.

Until April that year, our dear daughter was able to rigorously follow all our holy observances. At that time she complained of stomach and intestinal pains that we thought very serious from the change in her features. The doctor confirmed our fears and on July 19th after having struggled as long as possible to attend the community exercises and fulfill her duties, she was taken down to the infirmary where a long and painful agony awaited her. We find no other expression, Reverend Mother, to describe the state of weakness and powerlessness that the cruel illness reduced her to.

Often during these last weeks, frequent vomiting deprived her of holy Communion and that privation was very painful to her. “Ah, my Mother,” she said to us ”I who have always asked the good God never to miss a single Communion before my death!”

What she did not lose at least was resignation and patience, all the precious fruits of fervent Communions that she made in good health. We saw her from one day to the next become more humble and abandoned to God. If she was distressed, it was only from being the cause of fatigue for our devoted and charitable sister infirmarian. “She cared for me like a princess,” she repeated. “Is it really Sister Saint John of the Cross who lets herself be taken care of like that?...Mother, do you recognize Sister Saint John of the Cross here that no one could understand? ... That makes me think of Our Lord’s words to Saint Peter “In your youth you went where you wished; but now that you are old, another will gird you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

These constraints, so deeply felt by our beloved daughter, were not to last for a long time. Starting on August 23rd, she prepared herself in a holy way through the reception of the last Sacraments to break free of her earthly ties. “How happy I am!” she told us then. “There is nothing more between the good God and me! O my Mother, tell me again your will when it becomes difficult to accomplish it, that I will have the grace to strengthen myself. I know your will is that of the Lord and I want to die in the will of the Lord.”

That thought never left her. There was not one day where she didn’t express this in the most edifying terms.

It was in these holy dispositions, my Reverend Mother, that our very dear Sister Saint John of the Cross peacefully went to sleep in the Lord, Monday September 3rd at six o’clock in the morning. Several moments before her last breath, she piously kissed her crucifix and reached her hand toward us which we held tightly in our own. Her look seemed to say to us, “My Mother, may your will which is that of the Lord, now lead me to Heaven.”

The remembrance of these virtues of our beloved daughter gives us confidence, indeed, that the will of the Lord, the only thing she sought during her life, was merciful for her at the moment of her death. Nevertheless, as the judgments of God are unknown to us, we beg you, Reverend Mother, to offer for her at the earliest moment the intercessory prayers of our holy Order. By grace, a Communion of your fervent Community, the indulgence of the Way of the Cross, six Our Fathers/Paters, an invocation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to Saint Gertrude to whom she had a special devotion.

She will be very grateful to you as well as us who have the grace to say it, in Our Lord, my Reverend and very honorable Mother, Your very humble sister and servant,

Sister Agnès of Jesus,
In our convent of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Conception of the Carmelites of Lisieux, September 8, 1906.

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