I remember, as a teenager, our local parish in Stone Harbor, NJ, St Paul’s, would always host a Miraculous Medal Mission in the Summer months. The town was packed with vacationers seeking the pleasures of the beach and sun and sea, and a quaint little, quiet town on the Jersey shore. The crowd was never standing room only but certainly more than would have been there in the Winter!! Just right. Just right. For quiet, for reflection, in the languid months of Summer, to reflect on the Blessed Mother, and her “fiat/yes”. “Ecce Ancilla Domini, fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum…I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to thy word.”
Zoe’ Laboure’ was born in the Burgundy region of France to Pierre Labouré, a farmer, and Louise Madeleine Gontard, the ninth of 11 living children. Catherine’s mother died on October 9, 1815, when Zoe’ was just nine years old. It is said that after her mother’s funeral, Catherine picked up a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and kissed it saying, “Now you will be my mother.”
She was extremely devout, of a somewhat romantic nature, given to visions and intuitive insights. As a young woman, she became a member of the nursing order founded by Saint Vincent de Paul. She chose the Daughters of Charity after a dream about St. Vincent De Paul. She took the religious name Catherine.
In April 1830, the remains of St. Vincent de Paul were translated to the Vincentian church in Paris. The solemnities included a novena. On three successive evenings, upon returning from the church to the Rue du Bac, Catherine reportedly experienced in the convent chapel, a vision of what she took to be the heart of St. Vincent above a shrine containing a relic of bone from his right arm. Each time the heart appeared a different color, white, red, and crimson. She interpreted this to mean that the Vincentian communities would prosper, and that there would be a change of government. The convent chaplain advised her to forget the matter.
Catherine stated that on July 19, 1830, the eve of the feast of St. Vincent, she woke up after hearing the voice of a child calling her to the chapel, where she heard the Virgin Mary say to her, “God wishes to charge you with a mission. You will be contradicted, but do not fear; you will have the grace to do what is necessary. Tell your spiritual director all that passes within you. Times are evil in France and in the world.”
On November 27, 1830, Catherine reported that the Blessed Mother returned to her during evening meditations. She displayed herself inside an oval frame, standing upon a globe, rays of light came out of her hands in the direction of a globe. Around the margin of the frame appeared the words “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” As Catherine watched, the frame seemed to rotate, showing a circle of twelve stars, a large letter M surmounted by a cross, and the stylized Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary underneath. Asked why some of the rays of light did not reach the Earth, Mary reportedly replied “Those are the graces for which people forget to ask.” Catherine then heard Mary ask her to take these images to her father confessor, telling him that they should be put on medallions. “All who wear them will receive great graces.”
Catherine did so, and after two years’ worth of investigation and observation of Catherine’s normal daily behavior, the priest took the information to his archbishop without revealing Catherine’s identity. The request was approved and the design of the medallions was commissioned through French goldsmith Adrien Vachette. They proved to be exceedingly popular. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception had not yet been officially promulgated, but the medal with its “conceived without sin” slogan was influential in popular approval of the idea. Pope John Paul II used a slight variation of the reverse image as his coat of arms, a plain cross with an M in the lower right quadrant of the shield.
Sister Catherine spent the next forty years caring for the aged and infirm. For this she is called the patroness of seniors. She died on December 31, 1876 at the age of seventy. Her body is encased in glass beneath the side altar at 140 Rue du Bac, Paris.
Catherine Labouré’s cause for sainthood was declared upon discovering her body was incorrupt, which currently lies in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. She was beatified on May 28, 1933 by Pope Pius XI and canonized on July 27, 1947 by Pope Pius XII.
Her feast day is observed on November 28 according to the liturgical calendar of the Congregation of the Mission, the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Paris. She is listed in the Martyrologium Romanum for December 31.
““The Blessed Virgin is waiting for you,” the child whispered.
St. Catherine Labouré, a novice in the Daughters of Charity, was gently woken from her sleep by a small, luminous child beckoning her to follow him to the chapel. It was nearly midnight.
“The Blessed Virgin is coming; here she is,” the child said as Catherine heard the swishing of silk. There she was, the Mother of God.
This nocturnal journey to the chapel in mid-July would be the first of three apparitions where Our Lady would appear to the young Catherine over the course of 6 months. During the second appearance, the Blessed Virgin asked her to have a medal struck of the image she displayed before her, and she began explaining the meaning of the figures to be portrayed.
“These rays are a symbol of the graces that I pour out on those who ask them of me.”
This medal was originally known as the Medal of the Immaculate Conception, but it earned its current name for the many miracles and conversions that came to be associated with this sacramental. This token is not Catholic jewelry; it is an occasion for grace and truth.
“All who wear it will receive great graces, especially if they wear it suspended around the neck. Graces will be showered on all who wear it with confidence.”
The Miraculous Medal is a sacramental that uses words and images to increase our devotion to the Immaculate Queen of Heaven, and its symbols can explain the Church’s teachings on the Blessed Virgin. In a way, the Miraculous Medal is an “infographic” designed by heavenly artists.
Here’s an infographic about this Marian devotion.
“Whenever I go to the chapel, I put myself in the presence of our good Lord, and I say to Him, ‘Lord, here I am. Tell me what You would have me do.’ If He gives me some task, I am content and I thank Him. If He gives me nothing, I still thank Him since I do not deserve to receive anything more than that. And then, I tell God everything that is in my heart. I tell Him about my pains and my joys, and then I listen. If you listen, God will also speak to you, for with the good Lord, you have to both speak and listen. God always speaks to you when you approach Him plainly and simply.”
–St. Catherine Laboure