Newsletter No. 56 December 1st, 2011

Dear Friends,

On Sunday, October 2nd of this year Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, Cardinal Secretary of State of the Vatican beatified Mother Antonia Maria Verna in a ceremony at the cathedral of Ivrea, Italy, the diocese where The Work of Infinite Love has its headquarters. Although Mother Antonia was not a member of the Work of Infinite Love, she has a special connection with Mother Louise Margaret because in 1912 Bishop Matthew Filipello asked Mother Louise Margaret to write a biography of Mother Antonia. She did so within a few months, although she was still superior of her community at the time. Mother Louise Margaret wrote the biography in French. It was published in Italian in 1913 with the title, “Brevi Cenni sulla Vita de Antonia Maria Verna” [Short Notes on the Life of Antonia Maria Verna].

Although our interest in this biography is more in what it reveals about Mother Louise Margaret than what it says about Mother Antonia Maria Verna, here are the basic facts of the life of Mother Antonia. She was born on June 12, 1773, in Pasquaro, a suburb of Rivarolo, about half way between Ivrea and Turin. Her order’s USA web site says, “At the age of fifteen, she consecrated herself to God. Antonia’s mind was fixed on only one thing: to serve our Lord and his people, especially the children, the poor and anyone in need” ( ). She gathered other women about her who were interested in the same thing. After two failed attempts, “On November 27, 1835, she and her fellow sisters received the diocesan approval of her Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception” (ibid.). Mother Antonia passed away on December 25, 1838. Her sisters, who are sometimes called the “Sisters of Ivrea,” have a Montessori school in Bullskin Township, near Mt. Pleasant, in the diocese of Greensburg PA.

Some sections of the biography of Mother Angela reveal Mother Louise Margaret’s own spiritual life. At the end of the biography she wrote: “The Holy Spirit, as we have seen, poured an abundance of His gifts into the soul of our pious heroine. He capped them off with the gift of true Wisdom, which is nothing other than Love!

“St. Bernard says somewhere: ‘The gift of Wisdom is a very flavorful taste, and a delicious pleasure that the soul feels in thinking about God. This superlative gift spreads such a sweet taste of God, of all that is for Him, or comes from Him, and of all that he demands, commands and desires that nothing seems difficult or painful to the soul that has received it.’ This taste that transforms everything, is it not Love?

“By the gift of Wisdom, the Holy Spirit lights in souls the divine flame that brightens them with heavenly lights and at the same time embraces them with an ardent charity.”

Fr. Pierre Vignon wrote about this in the Sept-Dec 2011 issue of “Béthanie du Sacré-Coeur,” the French-language newsletter of the Work.

Let us now return to the autobiography of Mother Louise:

“There was an intense cold on the top of that hill on this December evening. It had stopped snowing, but an icy north wind picked up the big flakes that covered the ground and threw them in our face. At this late hour, 6:00 PM, the building sites were deserted and closed. Mr. Clavier discovered the guardian’s house and went to knock there. Someone came to open the door. They haggled for a moment. Then the man came with an enormous lantern and a bunch of keys, and signaled us to follow.

“We entered the building site and descended an outside flight of stairs. A key turned in a lock and we found ourselves in the crypt. The darkness that reigned was broken only by light from the lantern and, here and there, by red-hot rumbling stoves to dry the walls. Mr. Clavier put my arm under his. The guardian went ahead of us, repeating in a monotone and guttural voice the explanations that he was accustomed to give to visitors. I admit that I paid little attention. From all the stones of this edifice higher and more penetrating voices were pouring forth that spoke to me of the love of Christ, of the predilections of His Heart, of the passionate desires He has to be loved by His creatures. We passed slowly through the depths of the crypt without saying a word. We entered the vault prepared for the body of the archbishop of Paris.

“Then, going up an interior staircase, we entered the church. At that time it was far from finished. Only the apse was done, and its outer walkway, which had been separated from the sanctuary by boards, was set up for services. The vault over the nave and the choir loft had not been constructed yet. The guard had us stand at the very place where the main altar should have been and it was a strange and moving sight to see this large dark church with high walls and no vault except the snow-charged clouds in the night sky.

“Along the outer walkway we came upon a chapel where the Holy Sacrifice was sometimes celebrated on a wooden altar surmounted by a large statue of the Sacred Heart. I knelt down there for a few seconds to pray. Mr. Clavier remained standing at my side. I confided to the Divine Heart of Jesus all that filled my soul; my dear family, my vocation, France, the Church, souls, especially this soul that was so close to mine here, but separated from God for nineteen years by unbelief and pride!

“As I was praying for this soul I sensed that God gave it to me, i.e. that He was putting it in my hands in some way so that I, in my turn, could return it to Him. I also understood that I should not only contribute my work and effort for the conversion of this soul, work and effort that was quite without power, but that I should in addition, and most of all, suffer for it. The value that the creature’s suffering acquires when it is united to Christ’s suffering was shown to me. I grasped that, if prayer has so much power over the Heart of God, sacrifice and suffering, united to the sacrifice and sufferings of Jesus, are even more powerful! All this was shown to me in an instant.

“I did not want to prolong my prayer, which I would have done so gladly otherwise, for I had made it a rule never to annoy or tire Mr. Clavier with my devotions. A few minutes later we left the basilica, which I was not to see again. The guard offered us holy cards. I asked Mr. Clavier to take one for me. He did, and he took one for himself. A long time afterwards I saw among his books this small holy card, which he was keeping doubtlessly, not for piety’s sake, but maybe as a remembrance of our rides through Paris. This holy card had a picture of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre on it, with its arms open as if wishing to attract and press to itself all miseries and repentances. Nineteen months later the divine Mercy would indeed open its heart to this soul!

“We did not arrive at my aunt’s until 7:30 PM, where we were again with my mother and my sister. After our visit to Montmartre my future brother-in-law was even more affectionate toward me, full of delicate courtesies and respectful attentions. He did not undertake to fight my vocation with words, which I would have known how to refute. Instead he seemed to make it his duty to keep me in the world by surrounding me with tenderness and happiness.

“The next day we left Paris and went to Provins for several days to show my sister’s fiancé to my grandmother. This good grandmother of more than eighty-five years of age had retained the full use of all her faculties, but for the past two years a general rheumatic condition had completely crippled her and she could no longer move beyond her armchair and her bed.

“Following the 1889 Exposition influenza, which was called Dengue Fever in the beginning, made its appearance in Paris and soon afterward in almost all of the provinces of France. During the three weeks of our stay in Paris we were able to see the ravages of the new disease. The personnel in the shops were reduced to half. The poor employees, hardly recovered, would take up their positions again, while still outdoing one another in coughing. Others dragged themselves about, half-sick and haggard, and you found sick people in nearly every household.

“On the day of our departure from Parish my mother and my sister felt a touch of the disease. Therefore, on our arrival in Provins, Mr. Clavier, exerting his authority as doctor, ordered them not to leave the house, lest they see their illness increase and they would be unable to leave for Valence, where preparations for the marriage were calling us in all haste. Only three weeks separated us from the appointed day.

“There were, however, a crowd of relatives and friends in Provins to whom Mr. Clavier needed to be introduced. I was also given this task and for three days I took him everywhere and introduced him, all the while announcing my sister’s wedding and taking my mother’s place. Both of us, dressed formally as we were, looked, in fact, like an engaged couple making pre-marriage visits because, although he was already thirty-six years old, he seemed very young. He found that amusing. So did I.

“Once the visits were over Mr. Clavier left for the Jura Mountains and we were going to leave for Valence. My mother and my sister were cured by the time I felt an attack, in my turn. Fortunately the disease did not settle in my chest, which was my weak spot. I suffered much with stomachache and headache and I had such a fever that my mother did not know what to do, since my brother-in-law was calling her to Valence as soon as possible. But, since I did not see any real danger in getting underway, I told my mother that I could leave on the following day.

“In the evening I tried to get up and I got sick, but my mother was not there and did not know anything about it. The next morning I asked God for grace. I got up. My mother helped me dress. I went to say goodbye to my good grandmother, whom I had not yet told about my plans and who was expecting to see me again. Then, with nothing in my stomach for the last thirty-six hours and shaking with a terrible fever, I left with the resolve not to let my state of suffering be noticed. In the train it only got worse. My hands and feet were ice-cold, I was shivering with fever, and my illness was so great that I thought I was coming down with typhoid fever.

“About 5:00 PM, being at the end of my strength, I resolved upon an energetic step. I liked vigorous measures. We were at Dijon. My mother and my sister got off the train and went to the station buffet to have dinner. I followed them. I ordered a cup of boiling-hot tea and a glass of rum. I mixed the two and drank it. Almost immediately my fever was radically reduced. My chills left and, on getting back into the train, I felt much better. We arrived at Valence at 1:00 AM. I took care of myself a bit for two or three more days and I was cured.

“My sister’s marriage took place on January 6, 1890, a fortnight after our return. I did not intend to practice mortification regarding my wardrobe for the occasion. I had a pink dress made because I liked pink very much and it fit me well. I dressed as well as I could, as much to honor the newly-weds as to satisfy my mother, and because I liked everything that went well and was nice. I had as best man the groom’s youngest brother, Henri Clavier, who was twenty-four or twenty-five years old.

“My good mother was a bit sad, seeing that she was about to lose both of her daughters. My sister had never been the cheerful type. The majority of our relatives, because they lived far from Valence and were more or less suffering from the flu, were not able to come this far to the wedding. All this together could have cast a shadow of sadness over a ceremony that is ordinarily joyous. I believed that it was my duty to counteract all this, and I forced myself to spread cheerfulness all around.

“The dining room in our house was too small, so the dinner took place at the hotel. After dinner there was supposed to be a concert, comedies, and a dance at home. By some misunderstanding too few carriages came to pick up the guests after dinner to take them from the hotel to my mother’s. We first of all let the newly married couple and close relatives leave, while six of us stayed at the hotel for the second trip. The six were my brother and his maid of honor, a young cousin of my brother-in-law, a young girl friend, Henri Clavier and I.

“When the carriages came to pick us up, I proposed to this joyous crowd a little excursion, which was accepted with enthusiasm. I had asked my mother for permission beforehand, so I took the young people to visit the newly-weds’ apartment.” (To be continued)

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Vergil Heier, C.M.M.

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Lady of Grace Monastery,
23715 Ann Arbor Trail,
Dearborn Heights,
MI 48127
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