Labouré, Catherine Zoé (1806–1876)
Catherine Labouré, a French visionary and Roman Catholic
saint, was born on May 2, 1806, at Fain-les-Moutiers, Cote
d’Or, the eighth child of Pierre and Madeleine Gontard Labouré.
As a child she was known by her middle name, Zoé. Since
females were not allowed to attend any of the schools in her
town, she was an adult before she learned to read and write.
When her mother died in 1815, Zoé was sent to live with her
older married sister at Saint Remy. At the time of her first Communion
in 1818, she had decided to consecrate her life to God.
She moved back to the house with her father and assumed the
burden of housekeeping duties.
Her call to the religious life appears to have originated with
a dream in which an elderly priest told her that she would soon
be with him as God had planned. At the end of 1829, she went
to the convent of the Daughters of Charity at Chatillon-surSeine
to discuss her becoming a nun. On the wall she saw a picture
of the priest in her dream. It turned out to be the departed
founder of the Daughters of Charity, Vincent de Paul. At the
beginning of 1830 she became a postulate at Chatillon-surSeine
and on April 21 arrived at the convent in Paris to begin
her novitiate.
Soon after her arrival, Sister Catherine began to manifest
her visionary tendencies. Four days after she arrived, the body
of the founder, which had been hidden during the worst days
of the Revolution, was brought to the Paris convent. On each
of the next three days, Sister Catherine had a vision of the
saint’s heart, each time while she was in the convent’s chapel.
On June 6 she saw Jesus as a king with a cross adorning his
breast. However, she really desired to have an apparition of the
Virgin Mary and went to sleep on July 18 with a prayer to that
effect on her lips. Awakened around eleven o’clock, she saw a
child dressed in white who instructed her to go to the chapel.
When she arrived it was lit up even though it was long after all
the other sisters had retired. She knelt at the communion rail
and moments later the child announced Mary’s arrival. She was
seated on a chair by the altar wearing an ivory robe and a blue
mantle. She then proceeded to give her a rather lengthy message
that had three discernible parts. First, she called Sister
Catherine to a special mission. Second, she warned of troubles
in the immediate future, but said that the convent would be
protected. Then she warned of another time of trouble some
40 years in the future that would include the death of the archbishop
of Paris. Sister Catherine told of her meeting with the
Virgin and what was said only to her confessor. He did not believe
her until the Revolution again broke out in Paris and anticlericalism
spawned riots throughout the city. True to her prediction,
however, no problem touched the convent.
Her primary vision of Mary occurred on November 27 when
Mary again appeared in the chapel. Mary was dressed in white
atop a globe. She held a smaller globe in her hands which then
disappeared. Mary dropped her arms to her side and then extended
them forward with the palms facing out. Rays of light
shot from her hands, representative of graces available to all
who asked for them. Then, an oval of golden letters surrounded
the Virgin spelling out a brief prayer, ‘‘O Mary, conceived
without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.’’ Then Mary
faded out and was replaced with a large M surmounted by a
cross. Below were the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Sister
Catherine was told to have a medal struck conforming to what
she had just seen. Graces would come to those who wear the
medal. Her confessor was unimpressed. However, the vision
was repeated in December, and the following March and September.
Only then did he take action and confer with the archbishop
of Paris who ordered the medal struck.
The archbishop was doubly impressed with the medal after
miracles and unusual occurrences were reported to him by people
who had received and were wearing it. In the meantime,
Sister Catherine was sent to the hospice outside of Paris where
she worked with the poor for the rest of her life. She had not
told any of her sisters of her visions or what had occurred because
of them. In 1836 a formal investigation of the miracles
attributed to the medal was held. Sister Catherine’s confessor
testified, but he did not reveal her identity and she was not
called to tell her story. In 1856 he asked her to write up an account
of what had occurred. The events originally prophesied
in 1830 occurred in 1870 with the abdication of Napoleon III
and the death of the archbishop of Paris during the FrancoPrussian
It was not until 1876, 11 years after the death of her confessor,
that Sister Catherine broke her silence and told her Mother
Superior of her visions and their relation to the medal. She
did that only after Mary had again appeared to her and told
her that a statue of the Virgin holding the globe should be
made and placed in the convent in Paris.
Through the rest of 1876 her health failed and she died on
December 31, 1876. Those who came to know her life story initially
asked for her canonization in 1895. Through the early
decades of the twentieth century her cause passed through the
necessary steps. She was named venerable in 1907, beatified in
1933, and finally named a saint in 1947. Following her beatification,
her body was exhumed, found to be uncorrupted, and
placed in the chapel behind glass where it can be seen by visitors
to this day. Millions of people now wear the Miraculous
Medal and attune to the prayer it has on it.
Dirvin, Joseph I. St. Catherine Labouré of the Miraculous Medal.
Garden City, N.Y. Doubleday Echo Books, 1965.
Englebert, Omer. Catherine Labouré and the Modern Apparitions
of Our Lady. New York P. J. Kennedy & Sons, 1958.

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