Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 66(3) Aug 2016
Great Medical Lives
St Catherine Labouré:
Seeing The Face of
Christ in The Sick and Suffering
Catherine was a girl from the countryside of Burgundy, the 8th in a family of 10 children. Orphaned at 9 years old, she decided to replace the mother she had lost with our Heavenly Mother, Mary. This act of faith would be a foundational event in her privileged relationship with “Heaven.”
Most of us know that St Catherine Labouré saw Our Lady in Paris in the 19th century. It was to her, in1830, that Our Lady revealed the Miraculous Medal which was promulgated after 1853 and is worn by millions of Catholics every day around the world.
Somewhat fewer of us know what happened to St Catherine Labouré after that.
At the end of January 1831 she was sent to serve in a home for the elderly in Enghein, the poor of the neighbourhood, the marginalised etc.
During 46 years of untiring service she was a harbour of peace for everyone, looking out for the elderly with unusual generosity, especially those who were the most disagreeable. She gave equal attention to the sick whom she attended during their agony. “I saw the face of Christ in each one”. She was a “visionary” but above all a “believer” which was shown heroically in unexpected and difficult situations, notably during the Commune, which was a time of great suffering in France: all is for God.
She saw the face of Christ in each patient for whom she cared.
It is a “medical fascinoma” that St Catherine’s body is incorrupt and can be seen in in the Chapel where our Lady appeared in the convent at the Rue du Bac, Paris. It is well worth a visit. Just up the road are the remains of St Vincent de Paul who was also incorrupt for many years, but whose body has now decomposed.
It is, as we know, very rare for bodies to fail to rot after death, although there is a string of saints for whom this has happened including St Bernadette, St Rita, St Cecilia, St Francis Xavier (his body remained incorrupt despite being placed in quicklime or Sodium hydroxide to rot it down especially fast for the journey back from China. It is reported that incorrupt bodies remain as fresh as if they have only just died. We would welcome articles on the incorrupt.
St Catherine, pray for all those who care for the sick and elderly
Dr Adrian Treloar
MRCPsych, FRCP, MRCGP is a Consulant in Old Age