the Carmel

Biography of Sister Marie-Madeleine of the Blessed Sacrament

Mélanie Lebon 1869-1916, converse sister

Mélanie - Marie - Françoise Lebon was born in Plouguenast, a small town in the Côtes-du-Nord, the eighth of eleven children. The poverty of his family is such that it reaches the limits of extreme misery. From the age of five, the little girl guarded the cattle on the farm while praying. And she dreamed of solitude and peace, imagining herself retired one day to the heart of a deep forest to remain hidden there and pray at her leisure.

Weakened by malnutrition, at the age of twelve she fell ill, her days seemed numbered and her mother made a wish to Notre-Dame de Tout-Aide [whose shrine is located in Querrien, in the town of Prenessai]. The child heals.

At 14, she was placed as a servant in Saint-Brieuc and had to defend herself against the importunities of a seducer. She entrusts herself to Mary in an instant prayer.

She was 22 when, walking with a friend, in the streets of Saint-Brieuc, she passed in front of the Carmel of this city. “Is it prison, she asks? She then learns about Carmel and the life of the Carmelites, and her destiny seems to her all mapped out: she will be a Carmelite.

But the Carmel of Saint-Brieuc is full while that of Lisieux would really need a lay sister. She therefore arrived in Lisieux with her very poor luggage on July 22, 1892. There she joined a group of three lay sisters: Sister Marie de l'Incarnation (64 years old), Sister Saint-Vincent-de-Paul (51 years old) and Sister Martha of Jesus (27 years old). She is 23 years old.

The lay sisters devoted themselves primarily to the domestic service of the monastery (cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.). They lived in enclosure, attended part of the choral office, but the breviary was commuted for them into a certain number of Paters to recite. At the Chapter, they did not take part in the votes.

As she had no family in Lisieux, Mr. Guérin agreed to sponsor her, it was he who led her to the altar on the day of her taking the habit on July 7, 1893. Sister Marie-Madeleine calls her “godfather” and calls herself her "goddaughter", this is how she signs the community letters of June 13, 1894 and December 20, 1895. Her godmother was Mme de Virville, the sister-in-law of Mother Marie de Gonzague.

She had as Mistress of the novitiate Sister Marie des Anges (July 1892-February 1893) then Mother Marie de Gonzague assisted by Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus (from 1893 to 1897) finally, again Sister Marie des Anges who presents her as follows: in 1893: “Sister Marie-Madeleine, postulant who will soon take the habit; excellent Breton girl, loving God and work with all her heart.”

She appears to her sisters as intelligent, active, capable, but withdrawn, with a restless character and precarious health. She made her profession on November 20, 1894.

Sister Marie-Madeleine and Thérèse

Thérèse had been in Carmel for more than four years when Sister Marie-Madeleine crossed the fence. There is little in common between the young girl from Les Buissonnets, brought up in a certain comfort, always surrounded by warm affection, and the young Breton girl brought up the hard way, subjected from a young age to the harsh law of mercenary work. The very virtue of Thérèse created additional embarrassment in this woman abused by life: "I fled even to her gaze for fear of being guessed at", she would say again: "I fled from her, it was not lack of esteem, on the contrary, is that I found her too perfect; if it had been less, that would have encouraged me. She guessed everything that was going on in my soul.

At the Ordinary Trial she will bear this testimony: “It seems to me that she had everything we needed to lead and make us become saints. You could see she did everything she said, so it was inspiring to imitate her.”

And yet Sister Marie-Madeleine admits to being disappointed by the community she discovers. After having suffered so much in the world, she imagined finding paradise in Carmel, she discovers “very imperfect” nuns who are not always faithful to silence or regularity or above all to fraternal charity. She suffers from "lamentable divisions", and she observes that Thérèse never commits the slightest breach. It seems too good to be true, she tries to find fault with her, in the washing, in the dishes, in recreation, in the common works, everywhere... "I have never been able to find fault with her" .

Lucid she adds: “Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus busied herself in preference to doing good to those from whom she expected neither joy nor consolation nor tenderness. I was one of them! From the first days until her death I never felt drawn towards her in a sensitive way... // ... Yet she did not abandon me for that, on the contrary, she showed me a lot of kindness.. // ... confidence in order to give me some for her too... // ... Never have I seen her in a bad mood; I have never been able to guess in her a feeling of anger against me, although her charitable advances have never been repaid by me, owing to shyness.

Thus Thérèse did not manage to capture the confidence of Sister Marie-Madeleine who simply agreed while affirming her admiration. No, definitely, the current was not flowing...

And yet Thérèse did her best to help this difficult sister. She had composed a "Little Collection of Aspirations" for her to prepare her for her profession. This collection covers fifteen days and is entitled "Mystical Flowers intended to form my wedding basket". She takes up the method followed by her in 1884 to prepare for her First Communion, one finds there, among other things, this invocation to Saint Teresa of Avila "Saint Teresa, my Mother, teach me to save souls so that I may become a true Carmelite". The whole missionary vocation of Thérèse is found in this simple invocation.

On the occasion of her Profession, Thérèse dedicates to her a poem “Story of a shepherdess who became Queen” (PN 10) of which here are some passages: 
On this beautiful day, O Madeleine!
We come to sing near you
The wonderful and sweet chain
Who unites you to your Spouse
Listen to the charming story
Of a shepherdess than a great king
Wanted one day to fill with glory
And who answered his voice

And yet on December 6, 1896, Mother Agnès was able to relate to the Guérins the echoes of a conversation between Sister Marie of the Eucharist and Sister Marie-Madeleine during which the latter confessed "her invincible repugnance" to open up to Thérèse and Mother Agnès adds “I could not even make you understand how far Sister Marie-Madeleine is from

Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, feeling divined to the bottom of her soul and consequently obliged to make a good war against nature...» The night brings advice, and sometimes bad advice! The next day the promise she had made to her companion to confide in Therese was stubbornly canceled.

After Teresa's death

After Thérèse's death, Sister Marie-Madeleine opened up little by little to her message. She finds a certain serenity and she attributes this change to the prayers of Thérèse who had said to Mother Agnès, shortly before "entering into life": "You will tell her that in heaven I will pray for her and that I will love her as much as the other novices.”

In 1907 she suffered from a boil on one leg, followed by a series of abscesses, she soon had to rely on crutches. Mother Marie-Ange advises him to start a novena to the little sister, it gives no result, but the second novena brings complete healing. Mother Agnès adds that Thérèse's veil was touched on the sick leg and that the cure was immediate. Sister Marie-Madeleine resumed her work in the kitchen until, in 1915, she fell victim to influenza. She was never to leave the infirmary, she kept a picture of Thérèse close to her and said: "I was not in a position to take advantage of her advice in the past, but since she entered heaven, I gave her the care of my soul and how it has changed me! It's incredible, I'm completely peaceful and confident: I don't recognize myself anymore!”

She appeared to everyone patient and resigned to the will of God and died on January 11, 1916, at the age of 46. Having placed her crucifix upright on the bed, she leaned on it until the end, saying: “I lean on Jesus”.

Thérèse's fraternal patience had borne fruit.

P. Gires