the Carmel

Circular of Sister Marie-Philomène

Noémie Colombe Alexandrine Jaquemin (1839-1924)

Peace and very humble greetings to Our Lord who, on the eve of his Epiphany, manifested himself in his gentleness, we trust him, to our dear Sister Noémie, Colombe, Alexandrine, MARIE-PHILOMÈNE DE JÉSUS, dean of age and profession of our Community. She was eighty-four years, two months, nine days old, and of religion thirty-nine years and two months.

In our little circular of last November 11, my Reverend Mother, we told you that our Carmel, in the time of Blessed Thérèse of the Child Jesus, had exemplary nuns. The one whose life we ​​are going to briefly retrace is certainly of this number and does not hold the slightest rank. His characteristic note was humility and simplicity. We can apply to her the praise addressed to the Holy Apostles by the author of the Imitation: "She passed through this world without complaining, pure of all artifice and of the very thought of evil."

Our dear Sister was born in Langrune, in the diocese of Bayeux, on October 28, 1839, under the roof of an honorable craftsman, a carpentry contractor, which she took advantage of as a title of nobility. In his eyes, it was a privilege to have spent his childhood in a workshop which reminded him of that of Nazareth.

His parents, very Christians, had six children; Noémie was the third in the family. Two brothers followed her, she was godmother to one of them who died in the cradle; the second consecrated himself to God in the priesthood and preached the Taking of the Habit of his Carmelite sister, being then parish priest of an important parish in Caen where, still very young, he died shortly afterwards, enjoying general esteem.

Noémie's two older sisters established themselves in the world. The youngest, mother of ten children, endowed Heaven with four little angels, offered a priest to the Church - the one who brought Holy Communion to our Blessed on July 16, 1897 - and gave her two daughters to the convent of the Virgin. Faithful, where they still devote themselves and are distinguished by their piety and their precious aptitudes. How much the Carmelite aunt, “aunt mamma”, as they called her, loved them, as well as her other nephews, grand-nephews and nieces, and how much they all repaid her!

It was in the shade of the sanctuary of Notre‑Dame de la Délivrande, in the chapel of the Faithful Virgin, that our dear Sister heard the divine call. However, the light was incomplete; Noémie thought vaguely of the convent of the Holy Family, of which she knew the Superior General, Mme de Nicolaï, who was very devoted to her; but in the end, she remained hesitant. Her director, a Father from Délivrande, recognized in her the vocation of Carmel, the young girl found herself unworthy of it, and the years went by... Finally, the director imposed himself. He wrote to the Reverend Mother Marie de Gonzague, then prioress of our monastery, telling her that she would not have to repent of receiving a thirty-six-year-old postulant, because, he said, "she is a treasure of virtues and humility personified". His entry took place in October 1876.

But the very fervent postulancy of Sister Marie-Philomène of Jesus was about to end, when her mother fell seriously ill, and the poor child could not be dissuaded from this obsessive thought, that it was for her an imperious duty. of conscience to go and assist him in his last moments! Scarcely had she crossed the threshold of the cloister when an admirable letter from her priest brother arrived, conjuring her not to give in to a temptation which, without a doubt, would close the doors of Carmel to her forever! Alas! it was too late.

On the other hand, kneeling next to her dying mother's bed, what was Noémie's disillusion when she heard these words pronounced in a tone of sadness and astonishment: “It's you, my daughter! How ! so you have left your convent! You were, however, of much greater help to me in the cloister than at my side...” When the unhappy child had closed her mother's eyes, she made touching entreaties to find her place in Carmel; but this place, it was necessary to wait for it nine years! Our holy Mother Geneviève would even have remained inflexible, if Mother Marie de Gonzague had not pleaded so well in favor of the fugitive, that she finally won her case, and had her re-entered the Holy Ark, on November 7, 1884. She was forty-five years old.

Sister Marie-Philomène of Jesus liked to recall this phase of her life which humiliated her deeply, but nevertheless left her very simple in her confusion. Lately, she kept repeating to us, with her good, sympathetic air: “I believe that the good Lord has permitted everything for my good and that I have not offended Him; he had his designs. Oh ! is it not, my mother? He is so good! »

Our little saint joined her in the novitiate and was not long in discerning in her a soul very pleasing to the Lord. “What do you think of our two very different vocations? Sister Marie‑Philomène asked him one day. You who give yourselves so generously to God at fifteen, and I only at forty-five! - I think, replied the Blessed, that the good Lord chooses fruits of all seasons. Isn't it the pleasure of a Garden that the diversity of flowers and fruits? You should have heard our good Sister repeat these words which had consoled her so much!

And truly this autumn fruit had an exquisite flavor, not only for the Master of the garden, but for the whole community. The life of our dear Sister, truly hidden in God, in ignorance of created things, and even most often of what was happening around her, was nothing but a perpetual holocaust of love, of action of graces, of zeal for the salvation of souls, finally of fraternal charity and complete forgetfulness of self.

Its director had been right. It was indeed "humility personified" and so profound that this model Carmelite was surprised, until her death, by the slightest mark of attention, finding herself too inferior in everything for one can only think of her. She never gave her opinion, nor seemed inconvenienced in one way of doing things rather than another; she considered herself a useless cog in the movement of common life. And yet, what a treasure for certain jobs that our good Sister Marie-Philomène! Not, it is true, by any talent for organization, but by his constant activity and his always meticulous work. Occupied for a long time in the office of the Altarpieces, her tall figure bent there prematurely under the excess of an overwhelming task. And what sacrifices she then knew how to impose! How many recreations spent tossing and turning the iron on the stove, far from the company of her sisters whom she loved so much! 

It was at his request that Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus composed the verses entitled: "FOR THE SACRISTINES OF CARMEL AND THOSE WHO MAKE THE ALTAR BREAD" And she sang them, in her solitude, with the poetry "A my guardian ANGEL”, which she had also requested.

When the community, overloaded, abandoned this job, our dear Sister devoted herself to the wheel and especially to the dressmaking where she rendered the greatest services to the first officers; but when they told her, she didn't want to believe it and always repeated with the utmost conviction: "You say that out of charity, but I am very grateful to you for putting up with me and finding me work." »

Of real dignity of bearing, but without physical beauty, she nevertheless wore on her face such an expression of kindness and peace that her features, reflecting her beautiful soul, became pleasant to behold. She had no idea and confided to us more than once that she would have been happy to feel better endowed in all respects; "Nevertheless," she added, "I love as much as possible God's plans for me, out of submission to his good pleasure." Forgetfulness, self-contempt, were, as we have said, my Reverend Mother, very remarkable in our humble Sister. Let us give you an example:
About ten years ago, the vision in his left eye suddenly went black. It was at the hour of awakening and this faithful Carmelite came to prayer and to the Hours as usual; then approaching us with a serious air: "My Mother, I have something to confide to you which will cause you pain"; and she told us about the accident. So as not to frighten her, we did not seem too worried and tried to encourage her with a few words of compassion. Then, smiling with that good smile which was peculiar to her and had so much charm for us, she exclaimed: “O my Mother, what a relief for me to see you take it like this! I only cared about your concern. If I was young, you might want to have me consulted and treated, but at my age, it is quite useless. I'm going to ask God to keep my other eye for me, which will allow me, I hope, to work just as much. That's what matters. And she left, leaving us in admiration.

If our modest Sister lacked the benefit of a developed education, she at least possessed, to a very high degree, that supernatural science which enables pure hearts to approach God and, so to speak, to see him. Following the example of our Mother Saint Thérèse, the interests of her glory preoccupied her solely, and she never tired of praying for the conversion of sinners. “What are all the misfortunes of the earth, she often said, compared to the loss of a soul for eternity! »

One day, a long time ago, we had to announce to him the death of a very dear relative, who had abandoned his religious duties and apparently did not recognize himself at the supreme hour. At this news, terrible for her faith even more than for her heart, she suddenly assumed an expression of such great pain and uttered such sighs that we wondered how she would overcome this inexpressible anguish. She seemed to no longer see us and as if she had gone, herself, to the other world. Clasping her hands and raising her eyes to the sky, she exclaimed “O my God! O Jesus! I adore your impenetrable designs, but I understand, in order to feel it, what your agony has been. There are souls whom you love, whom you have redeemed, filled with graces, and who are falling into hell! Oh ! it's horrible ! And she, who never cried, sobbed; but the manifestations of his poignant pain remained so dignified, and his words assumed such force and grandeur, that we will never be able to forget this incomparable scene. When she recovered, we tried to console her, reminding her how many prayers and sacrifices she had offered to God for the salvation of this soul, and assuring her in the name of our Blessed Thérèse, to whom she had especially confided, that divine mercy, despite appearances, had certainly enveloped her at the time of death. But all these thoughts were indeed the echo of his own. Without a doubt, the death of her relative had only been an occasion for Our Lord, with the aim of redeeming souls, to make her participate in his cruel agony. She could have said after our dear little saint: “I cannot explain to myself what I endure, if not by my extreme desire to save souls. »

In everyday and ordinary life, our young Sisters soon noticed this respectable old woman, always self-effacing, ingenious in being of service, and one of the first where hard work arose. They repeated to each other, in a low voice, the spontaneous eulogy of our Blessed to her address. A novice, in fact, having lamented in front of her to see Sister Marie-Philomène constantly paying for others, when it was a matter of extra work, heard this answer: "Don't pity her, she is well happier than you. The saints who suffer do not pity me; united to the good God, they have the strength to bear their sufferings and even find sweetness there. But for those who are not saints, it is something else; Oh ! that I pity them. »

Driven instinctively towards this generous soul, our angelic Thérèse sought to lead her on her path of trust. “I fear purgatory,” our good Sister said to her one day, in license. And the Servant of God, happy to pour out her intimate feelings, answered him: “My Sister Marie‑Philomène, you are not confident enough, you are too afraid of the good Lord; I assure you that he is distressed by it. Do not fear purgatory because of the pain one suffers there, but desire not to go there, to please the good Lord who imposes this expiation with so much regret. As soon as you seek to please him in everything, if you have the unshakable confidence that he will purify you at every moment in his love and leave no trace of sin in you, be sure that you will not go to purgatory. »

“Well, my Mother, I confess to you, this venerable Sister confided to us recently, I was not convinced and I was thinking inwardly: What is this child telling me with such assurance! it's amazing at his age. I have my confessor and my Mother Prioress to guide me surely. What she affirms may well be true for her, so pure, as for me, poor wretch, I cannot pretend to what she hopes for. »

Our dear daughter, however, had a great deal of respect and attachment, from that time on, for her former and audacious little companion from the novitiate. She liked to be near her in recreation and liked to tell the postulants the following two things:

“It was in 1896, we were talking about Heaven together, and she assured me that she would soon fly there. Ignoring his temptation against faith, I interrupted him:

" Oh ! my Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, I don't understand you! How can you desire Heaven so much, already going to rest after so little work! Just think of the glory you would bring to the good God by living long years, how many souls you could save by your sacrifices! » I will always remember, added our dear Sister, the serious air and the soft accent with which this angel answered me: « You are mistaken, my Sister Marie-Philoinène! Look at Saint Louis de Gonzague: the good Lord could have made him live for a very long time to evangelize the peoples; but he did not want it, because he intended another mission for him, much more fruitful, and this young saint did more good by dying at the age of twenty-four than he would have done by living. eighty years. All the apostolic works, he accomplishes them from the height of Heaven, and it will be the same for me, I feel it. »

The second line is of older date. It is again our venerated Sister who speaks “I lived for a long time in a cell near Thérèse's, in the Chapter dormitory, and every evening, after Matins, she waited for me on the way to smile at me before closing her door. Oh ! that sweet smile! he compensated me for all the fatigues of my day. »

However, it took this chosen soul, to fully enter the path of trust, more than many celestial smiles! To this end, a visit from Heaven was reserved for her, after the Servant of God's death. Waking up one night, around two o'clock in the morning, she was invaded by an impression of ineffable sweetness. , our darling little saint. To respond to so much happiness, seeing the good God so gentle, so merciful, I could only repeat: My God, how good you are! My little Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, how good you are! At one point, our cell was all lit up and I thought I was in Heaven; then this clarity disappeared, along with the intensity of the inner grace. I then regretted not having thought of praying to the Blessed Virgin during the intimacy I had felt with our little Thérèse. Immediately, I very distinctly heard these words: "Don't worry, a mother is never happier than when she sees her children getting along well."

From then on, our good Sister Marie-Philomène understood what had been said to her in the past, by the Blessed. This remarkable and extraordinary grace was, moreover, the only one in his life, with the consolation of having breathed, twice, a mysterious perfume in a moment of trial; but the path of abandonment, of completely filial confidence, in a word, of spiritual childhood, captivated her entirely and irrevocably. She pronounced, with her mouth and her heart, the Offering to Merciful Love and renewed it every day, until the very day before her death when, almost dying, she again asked her devoted nurse to help her “his Offering” and the prayer to obtain Canonization.

On the occasion of this Offering as Victim of Love, she confessed with ingenuous simplicity “to have felt, oh! not to the same degree as Thérèse, of course, but perhaps a little bit, the flame that burned her heart”.

What joy was hers, my Reverend Mother, on August 14, 1921, the day of the promulgation of the Decree on the heroicity of the Virtues of the Venerable Thérèse of the Child Jesus! Reading the Speech of Pope BENEDICT XV, she repeated: “Oh! it is too much happiness for the earth! To know through the Vicar of Jesus Christ that the path of spiritual childhood is the secret of holiness! Now I can go to Heaven. »

We believed that his wish was going to come true, because, the very day after our private celebrations, August 21, at the close of an octave of thanksgiving, our dear dean had to be taken down to the infirmary. She was suffering from myocarditis, and the slightest movement causing painful and dangerous suffocations, we thought it prudent, because of her age, to have it administered. However, she recovered from this crisis and lived for more than two more years, very weakened, and very rarely coming to community, but edifying us more and more in her life as an invalid where she practiced so gently what she had understood the "little Way". Did we ever see a patient more gentle, more helpful, more obedient to the nurse and more united to God in his isolation? Every morning she was taken to the Oratory where she heard Mass and made Holy Communion. Then she was brought back to the infirmary where she first employed all her time, apart from her Office recited in Pater and her various exercises of piety, in still working assiduously for the robery, and, when it was impossible for her, to continue what she had undertaken in the past in her cell, during her hours of free time: sticking hundreds of stamps on the envelopes used by our secretary sisters, and offering to God her very modest occupation "so that each letter may be a ray of truth and consolation, where it would reach”.

This venerated Sister always had on her face an expression of serene joy which did good and on her lips words full of indulgent kindness and gratitude. When we apologized for not being able to visit her, she expressed her surprise: “O my good Mother, I conjure you, do not talk like that! And sometimes becoming more tender, she, so undemonstrative in expressions of affection, took our hands and kissed them, repeating:

“My Mother, my darling little Mother, I know very well that you are not abandoning me, that is enough. I don't want you to worry about me in the least. »

Then came the grandiose celebrations of the Beatification, from which, alas! our poor dear Sister could hardly enjoy, if not in her heart, which was jubilant: "I am not only a Carmelite, she said enthusiastically, but by a completely free favour, I live in the Carmel of Lisieux, the Carmel of our dear little Blessed! »

In the last months, she had her statue close to her, often looked at it and kissed it with effusion: "My beloved little Sister, she sometimes cried, get me, please, to help you to save souls. »

Above all, she repeated, with incredible vehemence for a nature as peaceful as hers: “My God, make yourself known! make yourself loved! » Saint Madeleine de Pazzi wandering through her monastery, throwing her fiery complaint to all echoes: « Love is not loved! could not put more ardor into it.

Our Sisters of the White Veil who helped, in turn, the first nurse, retired each evening; in the deepest edification. "What a saint!" they said to themselves. But this saint ignored herself until the end. If, finding her more tired, we said to her: “You are suffering more today, what could we do to relieve you? she immediately exclaimed: "My Mother, but these are not sufferings!" I have never suffered in my life, the good Lord knows well what I am worth, he has never asked me for anything hard or painful. We shouldn't insist, we wouldn't have been able to convince her.

However, the great sufferings were to come. On December 17, in the afternoon, when we entered the infirmary, she suffered a slight cerebral hemorrhage and paralysis on the left side. Head bent, she spoke unintelligible. They put her to bed with great difficulty, and the doctor called, considered the case extremely serious. However, an unexpected improvement took place and full lucidity was restored to our edifying patient who received, in perfect knowledge, the last Sacraments on December 20.

Previously, we had asked her what she was experiencing, without specifying as physical pain. She, believing that it was a question of the dispositions of her soul, answered simply: “But nothing else, my Mother, than gentleness and gratitude; I want to remain like a little child totally abandoned to his Father, infinitely good, infinitely merciful. And she emphasized these last words in a touching manner. Moreover, she prayed constantly, made the Stations of the Cross in front of her Crucifix, even sang hymns with her nurse, the better to bear her sufferings, and never tired, day and night, of reciting Paters. "You are no longer bound to your Office," we repeated to reassure her; but she answered us: “O my Mother, it does me so much good to say and repeat to the good God: that your will be done on earth as in Heaven! And then, that's what unites me the most to our dear little Blessed, I think only of her... It was her desire here below that the will of the good God be done on earth as in Heaven, and it is still his desire up there. - What joy for you, my Mother! she added, looking at us affectionately.

For two days and two nights, she suffered from very acute pain. - "Finally, do you call that suffering?" we asked him. You can see that Jesus finds you worthy of carrying his cross. "She did not deny our words and simply and gently asked for a little relief, if it were possible... In the little Way, It's allowed..." she moaned. But seeing that nothing relieved her, she left it to the will of God and said to us: “If it is his intention that I suffer a lot, that is of course the best for me. I would so much like to contribute to enlightening sinners with the Spirit of love! But it is not so much by my sufferings as by my loving desire. »

We assured her of the help of her dear little Blessed, as she called her with tenderness, since April 29: “She is going to bring you roses of patience and love. - Oh ! especially love! resumed our dear Sister.

On the evening of Friday, January 4, the day before her death, she received a new absolution, which was to be the last, and the encouragement of our pious chaplain, who was obliged to leave the following day. Since December 17, he had come several times to bring her Holy Communion, or at least, when this Communion was impossible, words which strengthened her and the inestimable grace of absolution. On January 4, the doctor did not judge her worse, on the contrary, and gave us the hope of keeping her for a few more days.

The following night, however, our poor patient could not find rest until four o'clock in the morning when she seemed to be asleep. But around eleven o'clock, this deep sleep did not seem natural to us. We tried to pull him out; she then answered our questions, affirmed that she was not in much pain and fell back into her sleep, the precursor of death.

At two o'clock, there was no longer any possible doubt, and the Community recited in the Choir, after Vespers, the prayers of the Manual, while with the nurse and our Sisters of the white veil, we repeated them near the sweet dying woman who, warned by us, tried to struggle against drowsiness and joined in heartily.

Seeing the end approaching, we warned her again with these words: “Dear Sister Marie-Philomène, you are very close to Heaven, our Blessed little Thérèse is there to take your soul and bring it to God. Do you want to say like her, breathing her last: “My God, I love you. »

She then kissed her Crucifix which we presented to her, and we understood, from the movement of her lips, the name of Thérèse, followed by the suggested invocation, which she never ceased to repeat, at intervals. A few seconds before her death, she opened her eyes, turned them towards us, and then stopped them on a large image of the Holy Face, which inspired her with the most ardent devotion. Then she exhaled slowly. It was four o'clock in the afternoon.

By saying the Subsidy, our souls were filled with peace and rejoiced at having to offer King Jesus for his Epiphany such a precious gift, although seemingly so modest. It was perhaps, in fact, the myrrh of the Magi, but a myrrh perfumed with the perfume of frankincense and rivaling in richness the purest gold.

Our Lord, for his part, treated his wife as a queen. For the first time since the foundation of our Carmel, it was the Bishop of the Diocese, SG Mgr Lemonnier, who celebrated the Mass of Requiem and gave the third absolves. The sacristans discussing this privilege together, one of them twice smelled the perfume of violets, while preparing the sacred ornaments.

In the outer Chapel, where the coffin was laid on the morning of the burial, January 8, the assistants to the 7 a.m. mass, and other pilgrims, were seen piously kissing the mantle of the humble Carmelite, placed on the pall, with the veil, the scapular and the crown of roses. What must you have thought of these honours, dear Sister Marie-Philomène?

And now, we are left with the comforting memory of your sincere humility, and to you, the merit of having practiced it to a very rare degree, the merit also of your constant fidelity to this light, which was given to you in one night of graces, never to doubt the good God, but to always regard him as the most tender of Fathers. Did you not say to us with a naive and delicious persuasion: “I have come to believe that the good God is not only good like a Father, but like a Grandfather; it seems that the older it gets, the better it is. »

You clearly experience today this goodness of the Lord. The star stopped for you on the paternal House of Heaven where you found the One you were waiting for: a Father, your "infinitely good, infinitely merciful" Father, who openly opens his Paradise of delights to the little ones, to the humble heart like you.

Please accept, MY REVEREND AND VERY HONORED MOTHER, the expression of our fraternal respect and have our dear Sister Marie-Philomène of Jesus returned, as soon as possible, the suffrages of our holy Order, adding to it what your charity will suggest to you. . She will be very grateful to you, as well as we, who have the grace to tell us in Our Lord,

Your humble sister and servant,
thank you