Mother Isabel of the Sacred Heart – Her Life in the World

cover of the ebook 'Mother Isabel of the Sacred Heart', by Sister Agnes of JesusWhen in my heart the newborn flame was lit
Thou claimed’st for Thine own the love that burned:
Thou only Jesus, couldst content my soul
As for a love unlimited it yearned.
– Teresa of the Child Jesus

Yvonne Daurelle – our Mother’s name in the world – was born on January 29, 1882, at Epinac (Saone-et-Loire). Her family, were making no settled stay in that part of France and the child was taken from Epinac to Macon, from Macon to Ja Ferte-sous-Jouarre (Seine et Marne) thence to Paris, and finally to Provence, so that in after-times she did not know which to call her home. Sunny Provence was her favourite, with its Alpes Dauphinoises, whose rugged grandeur contrasts with the verdant and charming country. In after-life the remembrance of its beauties untouched as they came from the hand of the Creator, led her to praise more fervently His infinite love for sinful man.

At three years of age, the child lost her mother whose place was taken by her mother’s sister. The aunt and her two sons vied in petting the three orphans – for Yvonne had two brothers living; the third had died when he was eighteen months old, soon after his mother’s death.

Monsieur Daurelle left Macon with his children and settled in Paris. He always spent Sunday with his sister-in-law, to the delight of his little daughter who was extremely fond of him. However, this pleasure did not last long, as when she was five and a half he went to Tonkin and she only saw him thrice for a month or two at a time before she entered Carmel.

His absence, and the loss of her mother which she felt keenly as she grew older, made a profound impression on the child. High-spirited as she was by nature, she began to brood and give way to melancholy fancies; she thought that “life was long and very sad.” None the less, the young philosopher was the life and soul of all the children’s games so long as they were boys’ sports, such as battles pretending to be savages, boxing with her brothers, and on wet days, toy-soldiers, billiards or cards.

When Yvonne was old enough to begin lessons she found them very tiresome. The school-room seemed a prison, especially on spring days when the blue sky and the birds’ songs made her pine for the open air and freedom. She was very intelligent and held her own with the best although she only studied enough to avoid being kept in or given impositions.

At eleven years of age another change took place in her life. Her widowed aunt married Monsieur du Fay and the little girl became a boarder instead of a day-scholar at the school. The affectionate girl, who was greatly attached to her foster-mother, suffered keenly. She was tortured by groundless fears that her aunt would care for her no longer, that she had lost her mother for a second time, and as she was not religious, she could not at first over-come her grief although she was shortly made godmother to the little cousin who became her pet later on.

On May 28, 1893, Yvonne made her first Communion. She felt neither devotion nor fervour, solely the reverential fear in which her religion consisted.

“The words ‘Love of God’ had no meaning for me,” she owned. “I thought it was a figure of speech for adoration. If only I had been taught how good God is and how He loves us, I am sure that my heart would have responded to His love.”

Her lifelong regret at having spent her childhood and early youth in ignorance of divine love aroused her zeal on behalf of children. She longed to write an attractive history of the Saints suited to their understanding and brought out a pamphlet, “The Secret of Happiness for the Little Ones” which has done great good to parents as well as in the nursery. Yvonne spent the greater part of her fourteenth and fifteenth years in Paris. It was there that she came across Lamartine’s later “Meditations.” Hitherto, though passionately fond of reading, she had confined herself to books suited to her age, preferring tales of adventure which transported her to other countries and peoples, and, although she did not know it, taught her far more than her half-hearted study at school. The volume worked a revolution on her enthusiastic character and ardent, dreamy imagination. Human love dawned upon her, full of charm, like an oasis in the desert. From that time she cared little for the worries of daily life, for she looked forward to full compensation when she met with a heart at one with her own. As she said in after-life: “The embodiment of beauty on which my imagination dwelt was Jesus, the most beautiful among the sons of men. The sympathetic heart which alone could respond to my impulses of affection was the Sacred Heart. The bliss which springs from love for which I longed was that reserved by the Blessed Trinity for its elect.”

In fact, the young girl was unsuited for this world’s affections and on the rare occasions when she by chance met the heroes of her fancy she felt chilled and disappointed. They no longer pleased her when they ceased to be imaginary. This new phase had unfortunate effects upon her conduct.

“I had been fairly pleasant to live with until now” she told us: “for it was natural to me to dislike what was wrong and to be attracted by what was noble. From that time, the more or less commonplace realities of daily life jarred upon me perpetually, and those around me suffered from my bad temper in consequence. I repaid kindness and attentions with indifference or even with irritability. When old enough to make some return for the devotedness of my adopted mother, I selfishly shut myself up in my room where I indulged in foolish dreams and in reading and writing about frivolous subjects.”

From dwelling in this imaginary world, the young girl developed an absurd desire for glory. After her twentieth year, when describing her defects, especially her pride, she wrote: “I always thought that I should be somebody. Apparently she thought so now, judging from her behaviour. She took in a little magazine called Moniteur Litteraire, which asked some questions every month of its young readers and published the best answers. To the query: “Do you think that, as some astronomers declare, the world will be destroyed by contact with the comet which is coming?” Yvonne sent the astounding reply: “No; the comet will do us no harm, for I have a presentiment that my name will become famous, so the world must last long enough for my fame to be established and to be made known to the ends of the earth.”

Later on, after having read Franyois Coppee’s La bonne Souffrance, she had the audacity to forward to the author an original drama in verse with a letter, in which she said: “I wish to be the writer for whom you long, who, like a second Chateaubriand, is to revive French literature.” Of course what appeared extraordinary self-conceit was in reality rather simplicity than pride.

Yvonne disliked living in town: Paris, with its heat, its dust, and its feverish excitement seemed to her an “image of hell.” She delighted in the country, far from the gaiety of towns, although she would have been admired, for she was pretty and very good style. She liked to be well dressed without being coquettish or studied. When people spoke of the want of modesty in the fashions of to-day, she was glad to be able to say to herself: “I never wore a low-necked dress.” The theatre was the only thing that made her regret town, but she consoled herself with her books.

She was now nearly seventeen, and her mind, too serious to satisfy itself with frivolous reading, turned to more solid matter.

“It did not make me better or draw me nearer God,” she averred; “but my dreams became less sentimental and I sometimes tried to fathom the great mysteries of eternity.”

At this period in her life, God enlightened her with His preventing grace. On March 7, 1899, at Noves, in Provence, Yvonne, after having read the chapter on enthusiasm in L’Allemagne, by the Protestant authoress Madame de Stael, was strolling about the garden. It was five o’clock, and while watching the splendid sunset, she meditated unmoved upon the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity. Untouched by love, she strove to picture to herself the existence of the Three in One, when suddenly she stopped: her heart felt the divine contact: earth and time seemed nothing to her any longer – her soul was filled with esteem, love, and longing for heavenly things.

“I have never lost that longing,” she wrote just before she died: “God has implanted it in my heart like a dagger, cruel yet rapture giving, at once my torment and my comfort: it acts as a spur to goad me on in the spiritual life that I may swiftly reach the goal of my desires.”

The influence of the grace of her conversion was permanent: at nineteen the young girl felt that she had a religious vocation, and later on, that it was for Carmel. She had become very devout and communicated several times a week; all her natural ardour was centred on God.

Her director, a venerable Jesuit Father, was so impressed by the marvels worked in her soul that, at a meeting of the children of Mary from which she was absent, he compared the fervour of her love to that of Saint Teresa.

The devil, jealous of the truth which brings peace and liberty to souls, made a fresh effort. Yvonne eagerly read Saint Teresa’s works, misunderstood them, and became, to use her own expression, “a thorough bigot.” Melancholy and unendurable in society, she was constantly haunted by the words: “No one can become a saint without undergoing great labours and trials.” She sought these extraordinary “labours and trials” by rashly inventing ways of torturing herself night and day, besides which she spent long hours in prayer, never spoke an unnecessary word, affected an austere manner, and when she was justly criticized and taxed with exaggeration and her behaviour was laughed at, instead of changing people’s opinion by acting with simplicity, obedience, and self-forgetfulness, she offered it to God as a “great trial,” found at last and endured for love of Him.

Under this mistaken idea, she wished to quit the world at once, and when her relations declared that if she left them before she came of age the police would be sent after her, she gave way to despair. How she thanked God, later on, for the delay over which she had grieved so bitterly!

At the end of 1901, Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus came to her aid. Yvonne cried as she read her life and resolved on taking her as her guide and model, offering herself as she had done as a holocaust to all-merciful Love, and declaring with her: “I, too, have found my vocation – my vocation is love!”

Henceforth the Carmel of Lisieux was her promised land in which she wished to live and die; it shone, in her imagination, like another Thabor. There would she set up her tent in her earthly exile; there would she taste the sweets of voluntary poverty so long desired.

“Poverty,” she wrote some time later, “freed me from the superfluous possessions which troubled and depressed mo. I loved Jesus and felt ill at ease amid the comfort that surrounded me: love wants to resemble the beloved, and I longed to live like Him 1 loved, so that having shared His earthly lot I might share His lot in heaven too. Above all, 1 hoped that after learning by experience what was His exterior life as a poor artisan, I should have a deeper and more intimate knowledge of His interior life.”

As the young girl expected to meet with difficulties and complications about entering Carmel, she asked her director to manage the matter. In spite of her entreaties he would not press it, and waited until she was almost twenty-one before writing to us. His letter praised the postulant so highly that we felt very little misgiving about her delicate health. We had decided upon receiving her after Easter, when Monseigneur Amette, then Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, visited us on his way to Avignon and expressed a wish to see her. In spite of difficulties, she resolved to call on him. On reaching the Archbishop’s palace she found the principal door opened for the entrance of an episcopal carriage. She took the opportunity of looking in and saw several ecclesiastics standing on the threshold. One of them turned towards her and beckoning her, said: “This young lady has come to see me. I recognized you from your portrait,” added Monseigneur, as he drew her into the palace. The result of the interview was that Yvonne’s reception was postponed indefinitely on account of her family’s opposition.

The poor girl returned to Noves in despair. Feeling that the disappointment was undermining her health, she wrote to us towards the end of the year, begging us to receive her as she would die of grief if she waited much longer.

We suggested that she should make a three days’ retreat with our out-sisters. She received the letter on the fourth of January and started for Lisieux next day. Her aunt accompanied her as far as Avignon where they parted in tears, realising that their separation would be final. The fervent postulant called at the convent on the eighth of January, and made a most favourable impression on us. Her perfect breeding was evident. Her letters and the clever society in which she had lived had made us fear that she would be proud and supercilious, but we were pleasantly surprised at finding her the very opposite.

Her extreme frankness almost cost her her Carmelite vocation. From a remark dropped by a doctor who did not know that she was fretting because she could not become a Carmelite, she thought she was neurasthenic and told us so in all simplicity. We at once took alarm. It seemed useless for her to make a retreat outside and we advised her to apply to the Visitation community at Caen, telling her that it would be rash to embrace so austere a rule as ours. She wept bitterly and departed broken-hearted. However, her frankness brought her back to Lisieux the same evening. She had said to the Superior: “Reverend Mother, I dislike both your Order, Saint Francis de Sales, and Saint Jane Chantel, but I have determined to overcome my aversion for them if it is the will of God.”

The situation was difficult, for although exceedingly sorry for the poor girl, we had decided upon sending her back to her family. Next day, she made her first and last pilgrimage to the grave of Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus, begging her protectress to help her. She felt as despairing as ever, but paid a visit on her return to Monsieur Guerin, Sister Teresa’s uncle, who became much interested in her. He took her to see a doctor next day and on being assured that she was not neurasthenic and that her health offered no obstacle to her becoming a Carmelite, he pleaded her cause with us warmly.

Yvonne was very joyful when she parted with Monsieur Guerin. She was reminded of a like episode in the life of Sister Teresa. “For three days,” Yvonne said, “I was plunged in the deepest gloom, but on the third day I left her uncle as she did, in the hope of being received at Carmel, and the sky, which had wept for three days, was cloudless.”