To return to the ecclesiastical commission which opened at Pellevoisin in January, 1877. The result of the enquiries of this body was such as to leave no doubt in the minds of the majority of those who took part in the deliberations, that the events under consideration were of a distinctly supernatural character. Out of fifty-six ecclesiastics assembled, the voices of fifty-five were unanimous to this effect, one alone refrained from giving an opinion.
Mgr. de la Tour d'Auvergne forebore pronouncing a doctrinal decision on the subject at once, refraining in this matter, as Mgr. Brouillard, Bishop of Grenoble, had refrained for five years in the matter of La Salette, and as Mgr. Laurence had done for four years in the case of Lourdes. The Archbishop of Bourges told Abbe Salmon at the time that a doctrinal decision favourable to the events at Pellevoisin, pronounced at once, would, in his opinion, follow too closely upon the events themselves. Within two years from that time, Charles-Amable Prince de la Tour d'Auvergne, had gone to his reward.
But if the prelate did not speak at once with the weight of ecclesiastical authority, he was pre pared to act in another manner. Being in Rome the year following that of the Apparitions, he laid before the Roman Congregations, charged with the consideration of such matters, a detailed account of the events of which Pellevoisin had been the scene. The Congregations proved favourable to the cause represented by the Archbishop; Pius IX. was no less so. In blessing the prelate, the Pope especially blessed the work in which Mgr. de la Tour d'Auvergne was about to engage. This work was the foundation of a confraternity at Pellevoisin, in consequence of the events that had taken place there the previous year. Already a number of the faithful were asking for an association of the kind ; already, since Estelle Faguette's visions, a marked increase of devotion to the Sacred Heart and to the Blessed Virgin had radiated from Pellevoisin through the country round ; and already, the newly revealed scapular had had time to spread considerably.
On his return to his diocese, the Archbishop of Bourges founded the Confraternity of Our Lady of Pellevoisin, drawing up the statutes for it as they now exist, and placing it under the invocation of the " Mother-all-Merciful," according to the words of one of the Apparitions : " Je suis toute misericordieuse." In conformity with the statutes of the new association, each member was expected to wear the scapular of the Sacred Heart according- to the model presented by the voyante to Mgr. de la Tour d'Auvergne as having been revealed to her in the ninth Apparition. This scapular consists of two squares of white flannel, some four inches long by three wide, one displaying a red heart in relief with certain insignia of the passion, and the other, the figure of the Blessed Virgin, according to Estelle Faguette's visions.
On the 9th of the following September, the first anniversary of the revelation of the scapular, Abbe Sautereau, representing on the occasion Mgr. de la Tour d'Auvergne, solemnly blessed the room at Pellevoisin in which the Apparitions had taken place, and then celebrated the Holy Sacrifice within it. On the same day, the statue of Our Lady of Pellevoisin, the " Mother-all-Merciful," was carried in triumph through the burgh, followed by the inhabitants and a number of priests.
Mgr. Chigi, the Papal Legate in France at the time, was one of the first to become a member of the new Confraternity and to wear the scapular.
The association, for the manner in which it had spread, may be likened to the grain of mustard seed of the Gospel. It quickly made its way into America and Oceania. The Marist Fathers have, from the first, been among its foremost promoters. Certain prominent Jesuits have also worked in the same direction. The Rev. Miehel Fessard, S.J., who died a few years ago in the odour of sanctity, was one of these. Another well-known Jesuit, the Rev. Father Pichon, is doing wonders in spreading devotion to Our Lady of Pellevoisin in Canada. So also are a number of members of the Congregation of the Clercs de St. Victor, who, scapular in hand, go readily to the task of making converts in the new world.
Those who evangelize at home and abroad by means of this ensign of the Sacred Heart may say with truth, " We have found a vein of gold in the Church of God," thus borrowing words used by Father Faber, of the Oratory, half a century ago in reference to his Confraternity of the Precious Blood.
Leo XIII., following in the footsteps of his predecessor, has given repeated proofs of his approval of the devotion inaugurated at Pellevoisin in 1877. On different occasions during his episcopal jubilee he blessed the scapular in presence of the representatives of Catholic France. Each year he sends his blessing to the pilgrims assembled at Pellevoisin on September 9th. In April, 1892, he presented the sanctuary of Pellevoisin with a magnificent candle, which had his arms engraven thereon, and which he had received the preceding Candlemas from the White Fathers in Rome in the name of Cardinal Lavigerie.
In the December of the same year, by virtue of a Brief, his Holiness granted indulgences, plenary and partial, to all who take part in the annual pilgrimage. In 1896 he raised the Confraternity to an Archconfraternity with power of affiliating to itself other confraternities of the same name in France. The Papal Brief granting this privilege commences : u Following in the steps of our predecessors, the Roman Pontiffs, we are accustomed to raise and to enrich with especial privileges and titles of honour, pious associations of the faithful, in order that these may develop in the Lord, when by holy bishops our attention is favourably drawn to such as being able to benefit abundantly the Christian community. Among such associations, we think with justice and right, according to the forcible testimony of the Archbishop of Bourges, should be numbered the Confraternity canonically established in his diocese under the invocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother-all-Merciful, in the parish church of the locality commonly called Pellevoisin."
This Brief was followed by another, dated three days later, granting ten plenary indulgences in the year, for a period of ten years, to members through out the world of the Archconfraternity just erected.
The days for gaining these indulgences were left to the choice of the Archbishop of Bourges. Mgr. Boyer accordingly selected the day of putting on the scapular for the first time, February 14th, February 19th, the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Feast of the Sacred Heart, July 2nd, September 9th, September 15th, November 1st, and December 8th. It is worthy of notice that, with the exception of the feasts of Corpus Christi and of the Sacred Heart, and of the day of first putting- on the scapular, the other seven days chosen were the anniversaries of the most important of the Apparitons. This fact is of value to apologists of the devotion.
In August of the same year, Leo XIII. attached an indulgence of two hundred days to the prayer to Our Lady of Pellevoisin, which prayer is based on some of the leading facts of the Apparitions. The prayer is as follows: “ O Mother-all-Merciful, thou comest to us with hands extended and laden with graces, in order to draw us to thyself and overwhelm us with thy favours. We there fore hasten to the odour of thy perfumes sweeter far than that of roses. Cover our eyes with the veil of modesty, gird us with the girdle of purity and penance, bind us to thy service by the links of a faithful love, and lay upon our hearts the sacred image of the Heart of thy Divine Son. May this image be the pledge of thy most powerful protection until the moment when we go to rest for ever in the bosom of God."
SINCE the miraculous restoration to health of Estelle Faguette, there have been other remarkable cures at Pellevoisin, as well as elsewhere, in connection with the devotion of which Pellevoisin is the centre.
From the already lengthy list we will choose a few.
One of the earliest, as it is one of the most striking, is that of Sister Louise-Marie de la Croix, touriere of the Carmelite Convent of Blois. This religious had been a great sufferer for thirty-three years. Her condition had become worse with time, and by medical men, including her ordinary medical attendant, Dr. Aubry, of Blois, had long been considered hopeless. She had gone on pilgrimage after pilgrimage to various shrines, including that of Pellevoisin, but with no result as far as her health was concerned. It is true that on these occasions she had not asked for her restoration to health, preferring, as she tells us, to remain in her state of suffering, in the case of that state being more acceptable to God. All she had asked for herself had been strength to bear her sufferings.
These sufferings in their physical aspect took the form, for the most part, of swelling of the legs and of acute pains in the head and in the region of the heart. She was often compelled to keep her bed for months together. In fact, towards the end the greater part of her time was spent in bed. During these periods of prostration her state rendered frequent communion in her case impossible. How she suffered from this spiritual privation may be gathered from her own words: "To be debarred from receiving my God was to me a source of far keener suffering than anything else I had to endure."
Early in September, 1880, we find her preparing to pay another visit to Pellevoisin. She had begun a novena, which was to end on the 8th, at the shrine of the Mother-all-Merciful. A fresh chaplain, in the person of Abbe Preville, having recently been appointed to the Carmelite Convent of Blois, this priest asked Sister Louise-Marie if she was going to Pellevoisin with the object of obtaining her cure. The nun replied in the negative, adding that the sole aim of her pilgrimage was to obtain strength to bear her sufferings.
The chaplain then gave her to understand that he was not a believer in the Apparitions of Pellevoisin, but advised her, nevertheless, or rather, in a spiritual sense, ordered her, to go and ask for her cure at the new shrine, and to ask it, moreover, as a sign that the Blessed Virgin had really appeared on the spot; adding that, were that cure to be granted, he, too, would become a believer in Pellevoisin and would go there on a pilgrimage of thanksgiving.
The sufferer obeyed, according to the spirit of the command laid upon her. At Pellevoisin, on September 8th, the day on which her novena ended, she contented herself with laying before her, whom she was invoking as the Mother-all-Merciful, the wishes and intentions in her respect of her spiritual director.
Heaven's answer came at once. After having received her God in His Eucharistic form, the almost life-long sufferer rose a sound woman. Her cure was complete and all-convincing. It has been lasting. Never from that day to this has Sister Louise-Marie experienced the slightest return of the terrible infirmities from which she had suffered for thirty-three years. A marble ex voto in the chapel of the Apparitions records her cure.
Dr. Aubry, of Blois, in reference to this case, was heard to say more than once in the hearing of members of the Carmelite community: "Sister Louise's cure surpasses me. Humanly speaking, that cure was impossible." To the good Sister herself he said : "You owe a debt of gratitude to the Blessed Virgin, for neither I nor anyone else could have cured you."
In September, 1902, we met at Pellevoisin this privileged person, and heard from her lips the account of her cure in 1880.
Six years after this cure, the humble Carmelite touriere who had been the object of it was brought face to face at Pellevoisin with another marvellous cure in the person of her niece, Madame Rongeaux, of St. Die. This person had been a great sufferer from rheumatism, affecting particularly the heart and one leg, and had been reduced by it to the state of a helpless cripple walking with a crutch. She says that for a year her sufferings had been incessant, and that medical aid had brought her no relief.
In September, 1886, she went to Pellevoisin in the hope of obtaining her cure. It was September 9th, the day of the annual pilgrimage, and some thousands of persons were gathered together there. Madame Rongeaux was assisting at High Mass in the parish church of Pellevoisin, which was full, when suddenly, at the moment of the elevation, a sense of interior conviction told her that the cure she was asking for with such intensity of faith and hope was granted. In truth, from that moment she was to experience no more rheumatic pains in heart or leg. She left her crutch at the shrine of Pellevoisin. Her aunt, Sister Louise-Marie de la Croix, a witness, as has been said, of this cure, and communicating with us on the subject in September, 1902, testifies that Madame Rongeaux has never in the intervening" years had the slightest return of the rheumatic affection of which she was suddenly cured at Pellevoisin in 1886.
Another interesting case is that of Lucie Noirot, a hard-working mother of a family living in Paris. We find this woman, in the spring of 1891, though still comparatively young, reduced to the last extremity. She had been ill for the preceding five years, suffering from different diseases, including two internal tumours. She had been twice an inmate of the Lariboisiere Hospital, remaining there two months each time, but without deriving any benefit. While there she had been attended by Doctors Berger and Perrier, and had been found to be suffering not only from the internal tumours already mentioned, but from a suppurating salpingitis besides. The doctors had refused to operate upon her.
In April, 1891, she put herself under the care of Dr. Pean, of the Saint-Louis Hospital, the first specialist in France for diseases of the kind from which she was suffering. The eminent surgeon's diagnosis of her case was exactly the same as that of the doctors of the Lariboisiere Hospital had been. While under treatment at the Saint-Louis Hospital, she was twice taken to the operating-room, and twice sent back, as not being in a state to be operated upon. On the last occasion, Dr. Pean told her plainly that she was too ill to undergo the operation in question, that this operation would be attended with considerable danger, and that her case was not only an exceedingly critical one, but also an exceedingly interesting one to science. He, moreover, told her that he wished to take it in hand himself, and to operate upon her at a private clinique of his own a little later on.
The great Paris doctor then went out of town for some weeks.
In the meantime, Lucie Noirot, unable to sleep, at times unable to move, subject to constant vomiting, and suffering continually, felt herself to be given over by science. Young children were around her, and she was almost destitute. In this emergency; coming in contact with persons who spoke to her of the National Pilgrimage to Lourdes, for which preparations were then being made, hope revived within her, and she, too, wished to go to Lourdes. Her request, however, to join the necessitous sick of the National Pilgrimage, was sent in too late that year, and she was told that she would have to w^lit until the following summer. She was resolved not to wait in this her attempt to obtain her cure direct from Heaven. She says naively in her account that the Blessed Virgin intended to cure her that year, and so brought her in contact with some one who spoke to her of a pilgrimage to Pellevoisin, preparations for which were then being made.
The name of the site of pilgrimage was not quite unknown to her, since she admits having been struck some time before by the beauty of the statue of the Mother-all-Merciful in the basilica of the Sacred Heart at Montmartre, and says that after wards she had invoked the Blessed Virgin under that title. It may here be mentioned that this statue was the first one of the Blessed Virgin to make its way into the Church of the National Vow.
In short, Lucie Noirot joined the annual pilgrim age to Pellevoisin, and left Paris on September 7th with the other pilgrims, taking with her a medical certificate as to her state, signed by one of the doctors of the Saint-Louis Hospital.
On arriving at Pellevoisin, her first act was to pray for a few minutes at the shrine of the Mother-all-Merciful. Then she went to bed. Contrary to her habit, she closed her eyes in peace and slept, to awake a little later free from pain and with an indefinable impression that her infirmities were at an end. She awoke those around her to tell them of this her joyful conviction.
The following morning, with something of weak ness still about her, and perhaps fearing lest her impression of the previous night might have been a delusion, she went to the Chapel of the Apparitions and there prayed long and fervently.
Kneeling before the statue of Our Lady of Pellevoisin, the following words, coming from her heart, went to form her prayer: " Do not, good Mother, let me go away from here without being cured. You know that I have young children. What will become of them if I die ? Send me other sufferings if you will, but, oh ! cure me now, and the rest of my life shall be spent in helping to make you better known."
"The Blessed Virgin heard me," says the sup pliant, "for, from that hour, I experienced no further suffering ; and the doctor on examining me when 1 came buck to Paris, could discover no trace of my former diseases." This was true. Whether the radical cure had taken place in the night time, or whether it took place the following morning at the shrine, it would be difficult to say. Certain it is that Lucie Noirot became at once a sound woman, that she returned home in good health, and that after undergoing a strict medical examination, no sign of the complicated state of disease that had been so near bringing her to the grave, could be detected. She was able to begin work at once.
More than ten years have passed. Face to face with this person recently, in her humble Paris lodging, 10, Place Danecourt, Montmartre, and seeing her full of life and vigour, we heard from her lips words to the following effect: " Not for the wealth of the world would I forego my conviction that my cure was miraculous, and that it was brought about by the intervention of the Blessed Virgin, invoked as Notre-Dame de Pellevoisin."
The case of a nun, Sister Adelaide, of the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception of Bazancais, deserves dwelling on as presenting more than one interesting feature.
In June 1886, this religious was declared by a medical man of Clermont, to be suffering from a cancerous tumour in the breast, and an immediate operation was deemed necessary, the doctor saying that a substance as big as his fist would have to be extracted.
Matters had gone so far, with respect to the operation, that a room in the hospital of Clermont had been engaged for the purpose by Sister Adelaide's superiors, and even the medical fees had been agreed upon.
In the meantime, Sister Adelaide refused to be operated upon. As soon as she heard her doom pronounced by medical science, she turned all her thoughts heavenward and began invoking incessantly the Blessed Virgin, as Our Lady of Pellevoisin, to save her from the doctor's hands. This went on for a month. At the end of that time, we find her at Orleans with her superiors awaiting another medical examination, which took place July 17th. Two medical men, a physician and a surgeon, were then called in to pronounce upon the case. These did so by saying that an operation would be useless, and by giving to understand that the sufferer had but about five weeks more to live. They added that, in the case of the operation proving successful, the cancer would certainly come again.
On this, Sister Adelaide was removed to the mother-house of the congregation, as it was thought, to die. Before the end of the month she was ordered to Pellevoisin, with the object of trying to obtain her cure there by prayer. She gladly obeyed, since she had not ceased invoking to this effect the Blessed Virgin as Our Lady of Pellevoisin, since her first condemnation by medical science in the previous June.
The answer from Heaven did not come at once, but four months later, when Sister Adelaide paid a second visit to Pellevoisin with the same object. This was on September 3rd. Then, suddenly, the cure was effected. The nun, on this subject, says : “ I knew that I was cured, my strength suddenly came back, and I experienced a great sense of joy." Such were her personal impressions. The bare physical fact of the case was that, then and there, the cancerous tumour disappeared, leaving behind it no trace. Sister Adelaide continues: " Great was the emotion of my fellow religious on seeing, not only that the tumour had disappeared, but that it had done so without leaving the slightest scar." The affected part, which had now regained its natural form and appearance, had previously presented the aspect of a huge double tumour, repulsive to look at, and continually discharging in different places.
Sister Adelaide was at the time fifty years of age. In a letter which we received from her, dated November 9th, 1898, she says : " It is now more than twelve years since I was the object of this cure, and I have never since experienced the slightest pain or inconvenience in the part that had been so terribly affected." She says moreover : " While dreading the operation on the part of doctors, I had never ceased asking the Blessed Virgin to take the matter in hand for me herself."