Miraculous Medal
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a young nun was
privy to several apparitions of the Virgin Mary. In the second
one she was told to create a medal, the use of which has since
become one of the most popular among the many approved
practices available to members of the Roman Catholic Church.
The story of the Miraculous Medal begins with the arrival of
Catherine Labouré (1806–1876) at the Convent of the Sisters
of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in Paris, France, in 1830. Just
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four days after her arrival, she had the first of a series of visions,
though not of Mary.
On the evening of July 18, she went to bed praying for a vision
of the Virgin. She was awakened around 11 P.M. and instructed
by a child dressed in white to go to the chapel. There
Sister Catherine had her first encounter with the Virgin, in
which she was told that she was being given a mission that
would entail much suffering on her part. She was also instructed
to tell no one but her confessor. The Virgin had predicted
some hard times in the immediate future for the Parisian clergy,
but noted that the convent would not be disturbed. In fact,
within a few days revolution broke out in Paris. The archbishop
was forced into hiding. She also predicted that in some 40
years, the ruler would be forced off the throne and the thenArchbishop
of Paris killed. These events occurred during the
Franco-Prussian War.
On November 27, the second vision of the Virgin occurred,
also in the sanctuary. Mary appeared dressed in white and
standing on a globe. A smaller globe held in her hands was
raised and then disappeared. Mary then dropped her hands to
her side and extended them forward with the palms forward as
if offering a blessing to the world. Rays of light flowed from her
hands and she told the young visionary that they represented
the graces she would bestow on all who but asked. Then, an oval
of golden letters appeared around the Virgin spelling out a
brief prayer. Then the vision changed and she saw a large M
surmounted by a cross. Below were the Sacred Hearts of Mary
and Jesus. She was given the instruction to have a medal struck
after the fashion of what she had just seen. Graces would come
to those who wear the medal. This vision was repeated in December,
and in the following March, but Sister Catherine’s confessor
was somewhat cold to the idea. Finally, after the vision
reappeared in September, he conferred with the archbishop of
Paris, who ordered the medal struck.
The first of the Miraculous Medals, as they came to be
known, appeared in 1832, and the first ‘‘miracle’’ attached to
them concerned the former archbishop of Malines, who had
fallen from his faith and was dying. The archbishop of Paris
presented him with one of the new medals, and shortly thereafter
the archbishop recanted his errors and died reconciled to
the church. As stories of other miracles arrived at his office, the
archbishop became its enthusiastic backer. Meanwhile, Sister
Catherine was sent to a hospice outside of Paris where she
worked with the poor for the next 46 years. No one but her confessor
ever heard the story of her visitations from Mary. She was
not called to testify at the formal inquiry made in 1936. She did
write her account of what occurred in 1856 and added to it
shortly before her death. In 1875, she also made known the
events to her very surprised Mother Superior and added that
Mary had requested a statue of her with the globe in hand be
placed in the convent chapel.
Sister Catherine became Saint Catherine in 1947. The
church instituted recognition of the apparition in which the Miraculous
Medal first appeared for November 27. Millions of the
Miraculous Medal have been distributed, and many copies of
the statue at the convent in Paris can now be found in Catholic
churches around the world.
Sources
Dirvin, Joseph I. St. Catherine Labouré of the Miraculous Medal.
Garden City, N.Y. Doubleday Echo Book, 1965.
Englebert, Omer. Catherine Labouré and the Modern Apparitions
of Our Lady. New York P. J. Kennedy & Sons, 1958.
Sharkey, Don. The Woman Shall