The Priest of The Miraculous Medal, Father Aladel by M. J. Egan. Part 1.

I. FATHER ALADEL was born at Les Termes, in the department of Cantal, Southern France, the 4th May 1800. It was fitting that he should be born in the month of Mary as he was one day to become one of her most devoted servants. He received at his baptism the names John Mary; the former after the “the beloved disciple,” the latter in honour of Our Lady.
His father was a small farmer who had to work hard to support his family. As the children grew up they assisted him in the farm work. The same field was sometimes used partly for tillage and partly for grazing, so someone had. always to be present when the cattle were turned in to graze on the pasture, to prevent them from trespassing on the tillage. This was John’s duty, and as he was engaged on the work for hours at a stretch, his father gave him religious books to read, among which were the lives of the saints of his own country. His days were spent in ideal surroundings. He had only to lift his eyes from his books to see the beauty of Nature everywhere- a reflex of the uncreated beauty of Nature’s God. In the month of May for which he had a special love, the orchards were white with blossoms, “the fragrant snow of spring,” and the, cream and rose blossoms of the horse-chestnut, crowded close together, reminded him of the array of candles on the High Altar for Benediction. All around him a great silence reigned, broken only by the occasional bleating of sheep, the lowing of cattle, or the song of birds. He loved the silence and the peace of the great open spaces where the zephyrs blew; causing the growing corn to bend gracefully as if bowing in lowly reverence and homage to its Creator.

The Aladel family lived in frugal comfort. In the home, which was furnished with artistic French taste, there was order and cleanliness. Outside, the roses clambered over trellised arbours, and the lilac and laburnum perfumed the neatly kept garden.

John’s parents were good, pious Catholics, whose great aim was to encourage their children by word and example in the practice of their holy faith. During-the long winter evenings the father taught them their prayers and instructed them in Christian doctrine, and the work of the day was brought to a close by the recitation of the Family Rosary. It was in this ideal Catholic home and in this religious atmosphere that John Aladel was brought up. Here was laid the foundation of those eminent virtues and qualities for which in after-life he was distinguished. The leading characteristics of his boyhood days were his great devotion to Our Lady (he was often seen saying the Rosary on his way to and from the fields), his love of reading spiritual books, his studious habits, and his love of solitude.

He received his elementary education at Saint-Flëur, a few miles from his own home. Here he made his First Communion for which he had prepared with great diligence, earnestness and piety. He always looked back on the day of his First Communion as the happiest day of his life. He then consecrated himself to Mary Immaculate. It must be remembered that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception had not then been defined. During this period his vocation for the priesthood was clearly shown, and his whole aim was to acquire the knowledge that would be necessary and useful to him as a priest. He attained brilliant success as a student, and his talents were acknowledged by all, yet he was never known to boast. He was thoughtful and serious, but not dour and was a general favourite. The habit of concentration, which he cultivated, contributed much to his success.

Having graduated with distinction in the preparatory school, he was admitted to the Diocesan Seminary, which was also situated in Saint-Fleur, in the month of November, 1817. Four years later, when he was in the second year of the theology course, an event occurred which changed the whole course of his life. Having read the life of St. Vincent de Paul, he began to evince an interest in the Congregation of the Mission.

Gradually, young Aladel’s interest in the Congregation increased, and rightly regarding a vocation to the religious life as a favour that must be merited, he prayed every day to the Blessed Virgin to obtain for him the grace of admission to the Congregation of the Mission. In return for such a great favour, he promised to serve her more faithfully all his life. His desire to enter the Congregation was greatly increased, when he learned that the Children of St. Vincent de Paul had from the beginning a particular and special devotion to the Immaculate Conception. After a period of prolonged and anxious consideration, he decided to ask for admission, and had now to face the practical difficulties following on that decision. In order to obtain the permission of his Bishop it was necessary to advance weighty reasons for his action, but to the credit of the Bishop, it must be stated that he placed no obstacles in the way of this young man, who was obviously actuated by the highest motives. So, Our Lady, to whom he committed his cause, enabled him to surmount all difficulties.

There was, however, a further and more painful trial in store for him. He had come to this decision without consulting his parents. He knew that his departure from Saint Fleur to Paris, would be a cause of great disappointment to them. It was their dearest wish to have him a priest in his own diocese, and to accomplish this, they were prepared to make great sacrifices. It grieved him to disappoint his parents whom he dearly loved, but he felt bound to respond to the call of God, so clear and unmistakable. “Follow Me sounded in his ears, and it was a matter of duty for him to obey that call. Distressed at disappointing his parents he confided his troubles to a fellow-student and friend. To his surprise, he found that his friend had also decided to ask for admission {o the Congregation of the Mission, and was experiencing the same difficulties as he himself. They made no hasty decision, but prayed to God for light and guidance. They also consulted their superiors, and, finally, with their approval, it was decided that the two students should write to their respective families, and inform them of” their resolution. This was accordingly done and, without seeing their parents again, they set out for the Mother-House of the Congregation, St. Lazare, Paris, where they were received on the 12th November, 1821.


Aladel’s first impressions of the Mother-House were not favourable. There was no chapel, and the studies were badly organised. This condition of things can be accounted for by the fact that France was only then recovering from the disastrous effects of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. In 1790 the Congregation of the Mission was, like all other religious communities, suppressed and the priests expelled. Some were put to death, others donned lay attire and went into hiding, and some escaped to foreign countries. It was only in 1804 that the survivors, few in number and old, crept back timidly from their hiding places to resume the work which had been so rudely interrupted. They did not return to the old Mother-House knownas” St. Lazare,” but to new premises in the Rue de Sevres which lacked the facilities of the old establishment. This explains the disorganisation which existed when John Aladel arrived at the new Mother-House, which was also dedicated to St. Lazare.
Some of the students, disheartened, returned home. Not so young Aladel, whose strong, resolute character would not allow the first breath of adversity to divert him from his purpose. He faced all difficulties and overcame them. Bringing to his studies the same sustained effort that distinguished him at Saint-Fluer he met with the same success. After two years study he was allowed to take the four Community Vows—Poverty, Chastity, Obedience and Stability—and his joy was complete when, in 1824, he was ordained priest. Henceforth, we shall know him as Father Aladel.

Had his own personal wishes been consulted, he would have expressed a preference for Missionary work, but he was appointed, instead, Professor of Philosophy in the Seminary at Amiens. At the end of a year however, he was recalled to the Mother-House and the opportunity, for which he longed, was given to him-he was sent on the Missions. For the Apostolic work now entrusted to him, he had long prepared, with his customary thoroughness and efficiency. He who would sanctify others must himself be sanctified, and Father Aladel had sanctified himself by prayer and mortification. . The beauty of his interior life and his deep spirituality are revealed in the following extract taken from notes which he had written for his own guidance.

“I will practise humility, re pressing promptly all thoughts of pride and vanity, opposing them by sentiments of self contempt. To God alone be the glory of my works, and of my sufferings, I will devote myself to the humble submission of my will in perfect obedience to my superiors, and to an exact observance of the Rule. I want to find my happiness in being forgotten by creatures; to study my defects, in order to correct them; and to know my innumerable weaknesses, so as to feel humble. I will do all for the love of Jesus and Mary.”
His success as a missioner was phenomenal; nevertheless at the end of a year he was recalled to the Mother-House and at the early age of twenty-eight he was appointed Spiritual Director to the Sisters of Charity in the Rue du Bac. As Director, he had certain fixed principles to which he faithfully adhered. His method was to guide his penitent, not by extraordinary means, but by making her reach perfection along the ordinary road of service of the poor, for there is but” one royal road to Heaven, the way of the cross. He was distrustful of anything that was out of the ordinary. It is well to bear these facts in mind in view of subsequent events.

He celebrated Mass at an early hour each morning, in the chapel of—the Rue du Bac, and then walked back to St. Lazare, where he heard confessions until 11.30 am. It was usually mid-day before he broke his fast. He conducted spiritual exercises in the various houses of the Sisters in Paris, and attended Conferences at St. Lazare. He regarded time as so precious that he did not wish to avail even of the recreation hour, and it was only under obedience that he joined his confreres during, the short period of relaxation. His love of solitude and silence was such that, when not engaged on his priestly duties he retired to his own room for study and prayer. He seemed to have constantly before his mind the maxims laid down. By St. John of the Cross:

“Wisdom enters through love, silence and mortification.”
“Keep silence and have continual converse with God.”
“Walk in silence with God.”

Leading such an active, busy life, how could he observe silence? He did so by setting apart a sanctuary in his heart, which he consecrated to silence. The door of that sanctuary was closely curtained, so as to exclude the least possible sound from the outside world, and within it he conversed continually with God, without fear of distraction or interruption. Freed from things of earth, his soul soared to heavenly heights and traveled far on the path of Christian perfection.

It was no wonder then that this young chaplain, so recollected and grave, so earnest and zealous, so austere and holy, gained the respect and confidence of his spiritual subjects. It seemed indeed as if he were specially raised up by God to accomplish some great mission in the world. And so it was.


Father Aladel, as chaplain, took an active part in the processions and religious ceremonies connected with the transfer of the holy relics of St. Vincent on the 25th April, 1830, from the Community Chapel in the Rue du Bac to the new Vincentian Church in the Rue de Sèvres. One of the religious exercises was a Novena conducted in the latter church.
The Novena had only just ended when a young novice came to Father Aladel and related to him a very wonderful story. The name of the novice was Catherine Labouré, who had arrived at the Mother-House on the 21st April. She said that she had seen the heart of St. Vincent in the Community Chapel on three consecutive days during the Novena above the place where the relics had rested. On the last day of the Novena she again saw the heart, and she understood that great misfortunes would overwhelm France; that the King would be deposed but that the two Vincentian communities would be preserved from harm. Her Director, who was noted for his prudence, told the novice that this was a delusion and advised her to banish all such thoughts from her mind.

But Divine favours to Catherine did not cease. On Trinity Sunday Our Saviour appeared to her during Mass as a King with a cross on His breast. At the reading of the Gospel the cross slipped to His feet and all His kingly jewels fell from Him. She understood from this that the King of France would be dethroned. She again went to her Director and informed him of this revelation, but he only repeated his previous advice that it was a delusion. He began to have fear for the sanity of this young visionary.

Father Aladel heard nothing more from Catherine until she came to tell him of further revelations made to her on the night of the 18th July. She told him that the Blessed Virgin had appeared to her in the chapel and conversed with her for two hours, during which Our Lady said that a mission would be entrusted to her; that she should tell her Director everything; that she would see certain things, and that she should give an account of them to him. Our Lady also revealed to her that misfortunes were about to overwhelm France, that the throne would be destroyed, and that the whole world would be convulsed by manifold calamities. Father Aladel listened to her story with coldness and indifference; again told her that it was a delusion or dream, and sternly advised her to think no more about it. The fact that the King was dethroned on the 30th July did not shake Father Aladel’s unbelief.

Months passed and the Director thought that the incident of the revelations had closed. To his surprise, however, Catherine came to him again with an account of another vision which took place on the evening of the 27th November. She told him that she was in the chapel for the evening meditation when she again saw the Blessed Virgin in the Sanctuary. There appeared about Our Lady an oval on which was written in letters of gold: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” On the reverse side was the monogram of the Blessed Virgin composed of the letter “M” surmounted by a cross with a bar at its base, and under the “M” were the two hearts of Jesus and Mary: one was encircled by a crown of thorns and the other pierced by a sword.

A voice said to Catherine: “Have a medal struck after this model. All who wear it will receive great graces, especially if they wear it suspended round the neck. Graces will be showered on all who wear it with confidence.”

But Father Aladel did not believe this story either, and repeated the same advice as before. After a time, however, there were signs of weakening in his opposition, for one day he asked his young penitent was there any writing on the reverse side of the medal. She replied that she had not seen any writing. “Then,” said he, “ask the Blessed Virgin what she wishes to be inscribed on it.” Catherine promised that she would do so, and after some days she heard during the meditation an interior voice saying:

“The ‘M’and the two Hearts say enough.” She duly informed her Director, but he still took no action.

At the end of her year’s novitiate, Catherine was transferred to the Enghien Hospice for old men; but Father Aladel still remained her Director as he was chaplain to that institution also. Seven months passed and nothing was done. Then one day Our Lady informed Catherine that she was displeased because her commands were not carried out. “But dear Mother,” said the Sister, “you see he (the Director) does not believe me.” “Do not fear,” was the reply, the day will come when he will do what I desire, for he is my servant and he would not wish to displease me.”

When the Director heard this be was very much troubled and said to himself : “if Mary is displeased, it cannot be with the young Sister, who in her position is powerless to do anything, so it must be with me.”

In these circumstances he could no longer take on himself the responsibility of rejecting the communications made to him by his penitent. So he consulted his Superior, Father Etienne, without however disclosing the name of the Sister, who desired to remain unknown. It was then decided that such an important matter should be submitted to the Archbishop. Accordingly the two priests called on Monsignor De Quelen, Archbishop of Paris, to whom a detailed account of the visions was given. Having listened with great interest to the wonderful story, His Grace said that he could see no objection to having the medal struck, as it was in no way opposed to the Catholic Faith. On the contrary it was conformable to the devotion of the faithful to Our Lady that he felt it would contribute to her honour, and he requested to have some of the medals sent to him.

Ecclesiastical authority having now been obtained, Father Aladel took steps to have the medal struck. The was however, considerable delay, and it was not until the end of June, 1832, that the first lot of 2,000 medals was received. The Director gave one of the medals with his own hand to Catherine as if to make an amend honorable to her of his prolonged opposition. Her only remark was: “It must now be propagated.”

As requested, some of the medals were sent to Monsignor De Quelen, who was then much troubled about the spiritual condition of Monsignör De Pradt, an Archbishop who had fallen into serious error and had incurred the penalty of excommunication. His Grace had done all in his power by prayer and personal appeal to secure Mgr. De Pradt’s conversion, but without avail. So when he received the medals he determined to make a final attempt to reconcile the wanderer to the Church. Taking, one of the medals he went to visit him, but was refused admission and returned home. Soon afterwards he received a message requesting him to return, and the Archbishop again went to De Pradt’s house where he was received with courtesy and respect. The unhappy man retracted all his errors, expressed deep sorrow for the scandal he had caused, and was there and then reconciled to the Church. Later the same evening he received the Last Sacraments and died that very night in the arms of the Archbishop. This, a death-bed repentance, is the first miracle attributed to the medal. His Grace informed Father Aladel at once.

There was now no longer any room for doubt or hesitation. The medal must be made known to the public, so Father Aladel wrote a pamphlet in which he gave a detailed account of its origin without in any way indicating the Sister to whom Our Lady had appeared. The book was eagerly read and in the first year alone six editions were published. A tree picture of the rapid spread of the medal may be obtained from the following extract from his book: “The medals of the Immaculate Conception were propagated in a truly marvellous manner, among all classes and in all provinces. We received the most consoling accounts from every side. “They are reviving fervour in both town and country, we are assured by priests, themselves filled with the spirit of God; while distinguished prelates testified to their sure confidence in these medals which they looked on as a means designed by Providence to revive the enfeebled faith of our country. And truly they are reawakening it day by day in many hearts in which it seemed extinct. They are restoring peace and unity in families rent with discord; in fact, none of those who wear them fails to feel their salutary effect. In all parts of France there appears a growing eagerness among the faithful of all ages and conditions to procure the miraculous medal. Indifferent Christians, hardened sinners, Protestants, unbelievers, the Jews themselves, beg for it, receive it with delight, and wear it with devotion. Nor is it propagated in France alone; it has spread rapidly over Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Belgium, England; America, the East, reaching as far even as China. In Naples, no sooner was it known than the Cathedral chapter made application for it at one of our houses; the King had a number struck in silver for himself and his court and family, and ordered a million for distribution during the outbreak of cholera, with the result that it is held in honour in nearly every house and many of the churches. In Rome the Generals of the Religious Orders took an active part in the propaganda, while the Holy Father himself placed the medal at the foot of the crucifix and gave it to people as a special token of his blessing.”

It is, perhaps, desirable” at this stage to be clear as to the precise meaning of the word “miracle.” A miracle may be defined as a wonderful thing performed by supernatural power as a sign of some special mission or gift and explicitly ascribed to God. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that “those effects are rightly to be termed miracles which are wrought by Divine power apart from the order usually observed in nature, and they are apart from the natural order because they are beyond the order or laws of the whole created nature.”

In the Christian view of the world miracles have a place and a meaning. They arise out of the personal relation between God and man, and are so interwoven with our religion, so connected with its origin, its promulgation, its progress, and its whole history that it is impossible to separate them from it. Beyond the sphere of nature there is another realm of existence peopled by spiritual beings and departed souls. Both realms are under the over-ruling Providence of God. A miracle is a factor in the Providence of God over men. Hence, the Glory of God and the good of men are the primary and supreme ends of every miracle.
In the Scriptures and Church history we learn that inanimate objects are instruments of Divine power, not because they have any excellence in themselves, but through a special relation to God. Thus we see that the medal, an inanimate object having no excellence in itself, is made an instrument of Divine power. The miracle is due to the intervention of God, and its nature is revealed by the utter lack of proportion between the effect and what are called means or instruments.