Amongst the conversions effected through the Miraculous Medal one of the most remarkable is that of the Jew Alphonse Ratisbonne.
Alphonse Ratisbonne, a Jew of good family found himself in Rome in 1842 on his way to the East. At the time he was much embittered against Christianity in consequence of the recent conversion of his brother Theodore, who was already a priest in Paris. It happened, however, that Alphonse Ratisbonne had several fervent Catholic friends in Rome at the time. One of them, a Baron Theodore de Busniere, induced him, at first against his will, to accept the gift of a Miraculous Medal; another, the Marquis de la Ferronays, whom the readers of Recit d'une sceur will remember as the father of Mrs. Augustus Craven, died suddenly, after predicting that M. Ratisbonne, for whom many prayers were being said, would become a Catholic. Next day M. de Busniere met Ratisbonne in the street and asked his friend to wait for him in the church of S. Andrea delle Fratte, whilst he went into the sacristy to arrange for the funeral of M. de la Ferronays. After a delay of twelve minutes M. de Busniere, on leaving the sacristy, found Alphonse Ratisbonne prostrate on his face in the chapel of St. Michael. When he raised himself, all that he would say was: " How M. de la Ferronays must have prayed for me." He then took out the medal, which he had received so reluctantly, kissed it again and again, saying: " How good God is; what joy until now unknown ! How great is my happiness! How are they to be pitied who do not believe !" He demanded to be taken to see a priest, and then falling on his knees, once again pressing the medal to his lips, declared aloud : " I have seen her —I have seen her." He then made the following statement: " I had been but a minute or two in the church when I became a prey to an indescribable feeling of distress. When I looked up the whole building around me seemed to have disappeared. I could only see one chapel, which had, as it were, gathered all light unto itself, and there in the midst of the light, standing on an altar, beautiful and majestic, was the Blessed Virgin Mary as represented on this medal." (It may be well to say that there was no picture or statue of our Lady in this chapel.) " I was drawn towards her as by an irresistible impulse. She made a sign to me to kneel down, and then seemed to say : That is well' (C'est bien). She did not speak, but I understood everything."
As a matter of fact, it was discovered that this Jew, whose soul had less than a short hour ago been filled with rancour against the religion which he hated so bitterly, though he knew nothing of its true teaching, was suddenly so well acquainted with the Mysteries of Catholicism that he needed no further instruction, but could be baptised immediately. It is a conversion which in its instantaneousness recalls that of the great son of Israel, who stricken down on the road to Damascus, full of bitterness against the followers of Jesus Christ, received in a moment from our Lord the knowledge of the sublime truths of which during the rest of his life he was to be the Apostle. The same Most Holy Virgin who had enlightened Gregory the Wonderworker with the Creed, taught in a moment her servant Alphonse Ratisbonne all that it was needful for him to know of the Heavenly Doctrine. Pope Gregory XVI. caused a canonical investigation to be made of all the facts, with the result that Cardinal Patrizi made a public declaration that " the perfect and instantaneous conversion of Alphonse Marie Ratisbonne from Judaism to the Catholic Faith was a true and signal miracle wrought by the all-good and all-great God through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary."
M. Ratisbonne followed the example of his brother Theodore in becoming a priest. Together the two brothers founded the work known as that of our Lady of Sion, from which were born two religious congregations, one of men, the other of women, now spread all over the world, devoted to prayer and good works for the conversion of Israel to the Faith.