“Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal”
PARIS, FRANCE (1830)
When Catherine Laboure, an unsophisticated country girl, was barely 19 years old, she had a dream that she was in her Parish Church at Fain-Les-Moutiers. An old priest, whom she had never seen before, was celebrating Mass. After it was over, he beckoned Catherine to come to him. She panicked, although she didn’t know why. In her dream she ran away from the Church and the old priest. Next, in her dream, she found herself in a room beside the bed of a sick person. The old priest was standing next to her, saying,
“My child, it is good to care for the sick. You run away from me now, but one day you will be glad to come to me. God has His designs on you! Do not forget it.”
Catherine yearned to become a nun, but her father was opposed for the longest time. Finally, she made her way to Paris because her father thought that life in the big city would change her mind. As she was visiting her aunt in nearby Chatillon, she stopped in at the convent of the Sisters of Charity. As she was ushered into the parlor, she froze in her tracks. There on the wall was a painting of an old priest – the very same old priest from her unforgettable dream! She was told that it was Saint Vincent de Paul.
On April 21, 1830, she entered the convent of the Sisters of Charity at 140 Rue du Bac in Paris. On the eve of the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul, Catherine worked hard to prepare the chapel and convent for the next day’s events. Exhausted, she fell into a deep sleep on this night of July 18, 1830.
“At 11:30 in the evening I heard someone calling me, ‘Sister, Sister, Sister.’ I awoke and looked in the direction that I heard the voice coming from. I saw a little child dressed in white who appeared to be about 4 or 5 years old. The child said to me, ‘Let us go to the Chapel. Get up quickly and go to the chapel. The Blessed Virgin is waiting for you.’ The thought came to me ‘but someone will hear me.’ The child told me, ‘Do not worry, it is 11:30 in the evening and everyone is asleep. Come, I am waiting for you.”
“I arose and dressed quickly while the child waited for me at the foot of the bed. I followed him; he was always on my left. He shone brightly and illuminated the path we were taking. This astonished me greatly. But I was even more surprised as I entered the chapel and found that the door opened at the child’s touch. My amazement was made complete when I saw that all the candles and lights in the chapel were illuminated as if for midnight mass. I did not yet see the Blessed Virgin. The child led me into the sanctuary to the chair where the sisters’ director always sat.”
“I fell to my knees, and the child remained with me. I thought a long time had passed, and looked to see if the sisters on the night watch passed by. Finally the time had come. The child sensed this and told me, ‘Here is the Blessed Virgin, She is here.’ I heard a rustling like the sound of a silk dress. This sound was coming from the Gospel side of the altar … I doubted at first that this was the Blessed Virgin.”
“Meanwhile, the child said to me, ‘Here is the Blessed Virgin.’ After this, it was impossible for me to describe what I was feeling or what was going on around me. It seemed that I still could not recognize the Blessed Virgin … Now the child no longer spoke to me in a child’s voice but in a man’s strong voice.”
Catherine’s heart pounded furiously. From out of nowhere, the most beautiful lady she had ever seen, appeared before her. Mary appeared so young and exuberant. The Blessed Virgin sat in the priest’s chair. A wave of emotion swept through Catherine. She paused, then rushed forward, kneeling and placing her hands on Mary’s knees.
“Then I recognized the Blessed Virgin. I quickly knelt before her on the steps of the altar and put my hand on her knees. Then, I spent the greatest moments of my life. It would be impossible for me to describe how I felt. She told me how I must conduct myself during the struggles that would come to me in the future. She pointed to the foot of the altar with her left hand and said that it was there I was to open my heart, there I would receive all the consolation that I needed … There I should ask for the explanation of all things that I had seen. Oh! She explained everything to me!”
Mary sat with her for what seemed like an eternity. She instructed Catherine in the proper behavior of a nun. She also gave her private secrets, many of which were revealed towards the end of Catherine’s life. Other secrets were never revealed.
“My child, rely on prayer when your heart is troubled. God wishes to entrust a mission to you. It will be the cause of great suffering to you, but you will surmount it with the thought that it will work to God’s glory. You will be contradicted, but do not fear. Grace will be given to help you. In your prayers inspiration will be given to you. The times are very evil. Great misfortune will come to France. Her throne will be over thrown. There will also be victims among the clergy. The archbishop himself will die.
The cross will be insulted; blood will flow in the streets. But come to the foot of this altar. Here, great graces will be poured upon all those who ask for them with confidence and fervor. Graces will be bestowed upon the great and the small.”
Mary finally broke down in tears after revealing all the misfortunes and outrages that France would suffer.
“I do not know how long I stayed there. All I know is that when she left she suddenly was gone in the same way that she arrived. I found myself on the steps of the altar and I saw that the child was where I had last seen him. He told me, ‘She is gone.’ We returned the same way we had come with the path illuminated before us. The child was always on my left. I believe that this child was my guardian angel who had become visible to guide me to the Blessed Virgin. Because I had prayed so hard he obtained this grace for me. He was dressed in white and was miraculously illuminated. I returned to my bed. I heard the clock sound the time; it was 2:00 a.m. I could not get back to sleep.”
Catherine pondered all that had been said, wondering what her mission was to be. The angel boy faded away as she got back into bed. She was so excited that she could not fall back asleep.
Within one week, Mary’s predictions began to happen as riots broke out on the streets. Paris became a “bloodbath for three days” and then the king was deposed and fled the country. The revolutionary forces slaughtered priests and religious. But, as Mary had promised, no harm came to the sisters of the Rue du Bac convent.
In the chapel, on November 27, 1830, she heard the rustling of the silk dress again. Standing right by the altar in a white robe of silk was Mary with her eyes raised upward. Her hair was covered under a white veil. “Her face was quite beautiful.” She was holding a golden ball at arm’s length while standing on a green snake, coiled upon the white globe beneath her. Her fingers had three rings on each one, which emitted brilliant rays of light downward. The Virgin Mary explained the images:
“The ball which you see (in my hands) represents the whole world, especially France and each person in particular. These rays symbolize the graces I shed upon those who ask for them. The gems from which rays do not fall are the graces for which souls forget to ask.”
Mary emphasized how many graces lie unclaimed because nobody asks for them. Then the golden ball vanished from Her hands, and her arms dropped downward — hands held outward as if to welcome. The rays of light focused downward on the globe beneath Her.
An oval frame appeared around her with these words: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Mary said to have a medal made in this image with these words, and all who wear it around their neck with confidence will be blessed with abundant graces and enjoy the special protection of the Mother.
The image turned and Our Lady disappeared. The back side of the medal was to contain these images: a large M with a bar through it and a cross extending from it, two hearts below the M – one surrounded by thorns (Sacred Heart of Jesus), one pierced by a knife with droplets of blood dripping from it (Immaculate Heart of Mary), and twelve stars surrounding these images on an oval border. Then, it all faded away slowly.
Catherine felt a great urgency to have this medal created. But her confessor, Father Aladel, did not share the same urgency and had many other important matters to attend.
The Blessed Mother appeared again on five more occasions at key times to keep Catherine inspired to keep pushing the priest to take action. But the refusals disheartened Catherine to the point that she asked Mary to get someone else for this job. But one last conversation, when repeated to the priest, may have made all the difference:
Cath: “But, my good Mother, you see that he (the priest) doesn’t believe me.”
Mary: “Never mind. He is My servant, and HE WOULD FEAR TO DISPLEASE ME.”
Mary knew that this would greatly disturb the priest – who actually trembled at the thought of displeasing the Mother of God. He used as his justification for the medal that the reported predictions by Mary HAD COME TRUE. The medal struck in 1832 was originally called the “Medal of the Immaculate Conception.” But what was to follow led to the popular change in its name to the “Miraculous Medal.” Reports started pouring in from those who wore the new medal: physical cures, conversions, and miracles of every sort. Even the Archbishop of Paris, who had finally authorized the medal’s production, was one of the first to wear it and experience a miracle.
Two million were distributed worldwide by 1836. Reports came in of miraculous healings of those who had been hopelessly incurable. Some of the worst enemies of the Church experienced unlikely and amazing conversions. By the 21st century more than a billion medals had been reproduced and spread worldwide.
Catherine downplayed her own importance, wanting others to focus on Mary, not her. She went to work for the next 45 years at a hospital for old people on the outskirts of Paris, taking care of the sick – as St. Vincent de Paul had predicted in Catherine’s dream at age 19.
Catherine Laboure quietly died on December 31, 1876. On May 28, 1933, she was beatified in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. As part of the Canonization process, the body of the saint had to be identified. In a solemn procession, her coffin was removed from the vault under the convent’s chapel and brought to the Mother house at Rue du Bac. In the presence of the Archbishop of Paris, civil officials, and various doctors, the coffin was opened. They were stunned at what they witnessed. The body of Catherine Laboure had been in this coffin for 57 years – and yet, she had not decayed in the slightest. It was as if she were still alive and simply sleeping peacefully. She was canonized in 1947.
Today, some 139 years later, she is still perfectly preserved by supernatural means as a “totally incorrupt” body – and can be viewed, enclosed by glass, in the little chapel at 140 Rue du Bac in Paris, France.