Saints of the Day – Catherine Labouré

Saint Catherine LaboureArticle

Born at Fain-les-Moûtiers (near Dijon), Côte d’Or, France, May 2, 1806; died in Paris, December 31, 1876; beatified in 1933; canonized 1947; feast day formerly December 31.

Though Saint Catherine was called a “silly old thing” by the Republic, and as “matter of fact, unexcitable, insignificant, cold, and apathetic” by her superiors, you should know her story if you are one of the millions of Catholics now wearing a Miraculous Medal.

She was baptized Zoë Labouré, daughter of a yeoman farmer in the Côte d’Or. Without complaint she took over the running of the household at age 8, after the death of her mother and the departure of her elder sister, Louisa, to join the Sisters of Charity. After a few years, she worked as a waitress in her uncle’s café in Paris. For this reason she was the only one in the family who never learned to read or write.

From the age of 14, she felt called to the religious life, to follow her elder sister. Overcoming opposition from her father, she was finally allowed to join the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul at Châtillon-sur-Seine in 1830 (age 24), taking the name of Catherine. She was a model sister, practical, and unemotional by temperament.

After her postulancy, she went to a convent in the rue du Bac, Paris. She arrived several days before the translation of relics of Saint Vincent from Notre Dame to the Lazarist Church in rue de Sèvres.

Almost immediately she began experiencing the series of her famous visions of the Blessed Mother. In one of them the Blessed Virgin told Catherine that within her lifetime the archbishop of Paris would be brutally put to death. (This indeed happened in 1871 with the death of Msgr. Darboy.)

The first of three major visions took place three months later. She was awakened about 11:30 p.m. on July 18 by a “shining child,” who led her to the chapel. Our Lady appeared and talked with her for hours, telling her that she would have to undertake a difficult task.

On November 27, Mary appeared in the same chapel in the form of a picture, standing on a globe, with shafts of light streaming from her hands, surrounded by the words “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!” The picture turned around, and on the reverse side appeared a capital M with a cross above it and two hearts, one thorn-crowned and one pierced with a sword, beneath. Catherine heard a voice asking her to have a medal struck, promising that all who wore the medal would receive great graces. This or similar visions were repeated several times up to September 1831. From that time until her death, Catherine led a life that was outwardly uneventful tending the sick.

Catherine confided in her confessor, Father Aladel, and he, convinced of her sincerity, persuaded Archbishop de Quélen of Paris to give permission for a medal to be struck. In June 1832, the first 1,500 of the millions of medals to be made – now known to Catholics as the ‘Miraculous Medal’ – were struck.

The popularity of the medal grew, especially after the conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne in 1842. Alphonse was an Alsatian Jew who, having been persuaded to wear the medal received a vision of Our Lady in the church of Sant’Andrea delle Frate at Rome, became a priest, and founded the religious congregation known as the Fathers and Sisters of Zion.

In 1836, the archbishop initiated a canonical inquiry into the alleged visions. Catherine refused to appear, wishing her identity to be kept a secret. Father Aladel pleaded to be allowed to keep her name anonymous. The tribunal, basing its opinion on the stability of her confessor and Catherine’s character, decided to favor the authenticity of the visions.

After her year of extraordinary grace, Catherine was sent to the convent Enghien-Reuilly on the outskirts of Paris. There Catherine served as portress until her death, engaging in menial tasks such as looking after the poultry and overseeing the aged living in the Hospice d’Enghien. Not until a few months before her death did she speak to anyone about the visions except her confessor; she confided in her superior, Sister Dufé.

Saint Catherine Labouré was not canonized because of the favor God showed her through this apparition. Her sanctity was revealed through her self-effacement and humility, through her seeking holiness in the little things of everyday life. Her incorrupt body remains in the convent chapel at the rue du Bac, where miracles were reported at her tomb (Attwater, Attwater 2, Benedictines, Bentley, Coulson, Delaney, Engelbert, Farmer, Walsh, White, Yves).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 19 August 2020. Web. 27 November 2020. <>