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The woman who raised so many saintly girls!

The Mother of the Little Flower

from Moral Portrait of My Mother
Life of Labor

There are many witnesses to testify that mother was actively personified. She was constantly busy with her lace-making, housekeeping, working for her children, and her correspondence. Father endeavoured as far as he could to relieve her, persuading her to accept helpers. But she never thought of herself - she forgot herself entirely.

Her former housemaid, Louise, wrote to the Carmel many long years afterwards: "How many details have come to my mind since her death! For herself, anything was good enough, but for others, it was quite the reverse!"

I myself can still remember her distinctly, preparing every morning an excellent breakfast for all in the house; whereas she was satisfied to snatch a little soup for herself which she swallowed hastily, as she was going about.

Always the last to retire, around 11 p.m., she often rose at 5:30 a.m. She sometimes referred good-humouredly to her "wretched" Point d'Alencon, which was a constant worry to her. On the one hand, she did not wish to leave her workers idle; on the other, it was by this assiduous occupation that she aimed at securing dowries for her children.

She explains her position to Mme Guerin:

"I have another worry that troubles me: my lace business is not going well. I know that will only make you laugh; you will say, 'So much the better, it is time for you to stop.' You are quite right; I would say the same thing, but there is something that prevents me. What is urging me is not to gain more moeny; I have more than I ever desired. But I believe it would be folly on my part to abandon this enterprise, when I have to provide for my five children; I must work for them to the very end. And besides, I am anxious, too, for my working women, to whom I cannot give employment, although others get plenty to do. That troubles me more than anything else.
"My poor Marie feels the whole situation very much, also. She has not a good word for the Point d'Alencon. She repeats that she would rather live in an attic than to earn her living at what it costs me. I admit that she is not wrong. If I were free and alone, and if I had to go through all I have suffered for the past twenty-five years, I would prefer to starve; the very thought of it gives me the 'creeps.'
"I often say that if I endured half of all this in order to gain Heaven, I would be a canonizable saint! I think of my brother, also; if he has the same worries as I, I pity him with all my heart, for I know well what is the price per yard." (Taken from a letter of February 6, 1876)

In all these annoyances and disappointments our father carried half the burden. We find this expressed in a letter to Pauline: "Your father is soon to go to Paris about the Point d'Alencon which isn't going well. He is thinking of taking Marie with him; he imagines that he would get on better if she accompanied him."

On the whole, and more frequently, she complains that the lace-making is going too well; she cannot carry out all the orders which she receives. Hence we find this sigh of regret after a restful trip to Lisieux, where the two older girls had stayed on: "When Marie and Pauline come back home, there will be no further holidays and joys, and they will find it hard. Even for myself, I found it trying to get back to the harness; the work seemed more tedious than usual."

The following year she confided to Pauline: "I long for rest. I have not even the courage to struggle on. I feel the need of quiet reflection to think of salvation, which the complications of this world have made me neglect. And yet I should remind myself of the words of the Imitation 'Why do you seek repose, since it is for work that you are born?' But when your work absorbs you and when you no longer have the energy of youth, you cannot help wishing to be free of it, at least somewhat so. Well, it is with that hope that I live on."

However, when mother was overburdened with care, she had recourse to prayer for a renewal of courage. It was with heartfelt conviction she used to say: "The good God who is a Father never sends His children more than they can bear."

Often she experienced this direct help. Formerly, she had comforted her brother when he was having trials and losses in his business. This proves that in her apparent discouragement she was sustained by a supernatural strength.

Thus, on February 14, 1868, she wrote to her brother: "You must be courageous and not worry so much. I used to be like you when I started my lace enterprise, to the point of being actually ill about it. Now, I am more sensible. I am much less apprehensive, and am resigned to whatever annoying things happen, or may happen. I repeat that the good Lord permits it all that way, and I don't worry any further."

Sometime later on she was to write: "It is over little things that I worry most. Whenever a real misfortune happens, I am quite resigned, and I await with confidence the help of God."

Some months before her death, her optimistic character manifested itself in these lines: "I have scarcely any reason for being glad that time is marching on, but I am like children who do not worry about the morrow: and I, too, am always looking forward to happiness."

A last word on her own work may be summed up in these words of hers: "I am happiest at my window putting together my 'Point d'Alencon'"

With her own personal experience of daily work, the servants were the object of great concern to her; as a result, they remained long in her service. The servants for us were part of the family. It was on that account when it was decided to dismiss the maid who had so wrongly treated Leonie, the poor girl wept so much that she was allowed to stay, to take care of Mamma, whose illness was making frightful progress.

In a letter to Uncle Guerin, my mother summed up her social ideas in regard to the treatment of servants: "It is not always a question of higher wages which is at the root of the attachment of servants to a family. They must feel that they are loved; we should show them sympathy and not be too exacting towards them. When they have a good background, they will certainly render service with affection and devotedness. You know how quick I am, and yet all the maids that I have had loved me, and I keep them as long as I wish. The one I have at present would fall ill if she were sent away. I am certain that if she were offered 200 francs more she would not wish to leave us. But it is true also that I treat my maids just as I treat my own children."

Her woman workers received the same affectionate care and attention. Sunday afternoons, after Vespers, she used to visit those who were ill, taking them material help, together with moral encouragement.

Spirit of Faith and Christian Life

All mother's correspondence points to the great care she always took to give God first place, to consider Him as a Father, and to look on all events from the point of view of faith. Referring to excellent friends of hers, who were very charitable, but who considered God as being too mighty and distant to take a particular interest in our little lives, she wrote: "It makes me sad that such good people should have such thoughts. I believe that the good Lord takes an active interest in us. I have experienced it many times in my life, and how many proofs I have of His watchfulness, which I can never forget!"

She was completely detached from all earthly goods, and it was natural for her to look down on the things of this world. Her soul was attached only to the realities of the future life. I can still hear her reciting passages of poetry which she had learned; it was always poetry with a melancholy tone, because for her this life was truly an exile.

In a letter to her brother, we find an echo of her intimate conversations with her Visitation Sister: "We spend our time together, speaking of a mysterious, angelic world."

When the Sister had gone to her reward mother wrote to Pauline: "My spirit is no longer here below; it is off in the celestial spheres, and I am unable to entertain you with any earthly interests."

Taken from The Mother of the Little Flower by TAN Books & Publishers, Inc.

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