In a house in Reuilly, a district in the southeast of Paris, the Duchess of Bourbon had founded a hospice that served as a home for elderly and sick former servants of the royal family in their final years. It was here, in 1831, that a young Daughter of Charity was assigned. Sister Catherine, known to her family as Zoe, was 24 years old when she arrived. Born to a farming family, she was one of 17 children, ten of whom lived past infancy. Her mother had died when she was nine. By the time she was twelve, she had become the woman of the house, cooking, cleaning, and caring for her family. She never learned to read or write growing up, beginning her schooling when she was 18, mainly so that she could be admitted to the Daughters of Charity, which she was, in 1830.
Assigned to the Enghien Hospice as a novice, she was sent first to the kitchen, where she helped prepare meals for the elderly residents. Soon, she would be moved outside to care for the cows, pigs, and chickens, and later, to do the laundry. The work was tiring, but not too much for a young woman. Rising each day at 4:00, she was always diligent in her mending, washing, and folding.
After taking her vows, she remained at the hospice, continuing in her labors for 45 years, never complaining and seemingly never tiring of it. For a time, she had carried out the superior’s duties, but declined the title. She gladly relinquished these duties to a much younger superior. When others urged her to complain, she led them instead to follow her in humble obedience.
During many turbulent and dangerous times, Catherine’s calm reassured her sisters. When the Commune in 1870 arrested and killed clergy and religious, and threatened to burn down their house, Catherine somehow knew they would be safe. Indeed, throughout her life she shared small visions that later came to pass. She was so unassuming that people hardly noticed her prophecies until years later.
It was not until her final days that the great secret of Catherine’s life would become known. In 1830, at the Motherhouse on rue du Bac, young Catherine had been visited by the Blessed Virgin. She had laid her head on Mary’s lap and received instructions to have a medal struck. During Catherine’s lifetime, millions of medals had spread throughout the world – Catherine herself often gave them out. Stories of miracles and of the apparition were well-known, but nobody knew the identity of the young Daughter of Charity who had been chosen by the Queen of Heaven.
When it was revealed that Catherine had been the one chosen by Mary, nobody who knew her was surprised. Of course, it was her; of course, it was the one who washed laundry for 45 years. Of course, it was the one who had arrived as an illiterate farm girl, the one who asked nothing for herself. This vision had been her greatest gift, and like all gifts from God, she knew it was given only to be shared.
Do I make a habit of sharing generously the time, talents, and treasure I have received from God?