The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – Blessed Marie Madeleine Postel

statue of Saint Marie-Madeleine Postel, date and artist unknown; Church of Saint-Mathurin, Guilberville, France; photographed on 18 November 2011 by Xfigpower; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsA heroine in the true sense of the word was the Blessed Marie Madeleine Postel. History can present few women who possessed the great courage and strength of soul shown by the Blessed Madeleine. She was born on 28 November 1756, at Barfleur, a little seaport of Normandy. Even in her earlier years she manifested a truly remarkable sanctity. When, at the age of nine, she received her First Communion, she made a vow of virginity, promising to devote her life to the service of God and the neighbor. From that time she communicated daily and practised the severest penance. Once, when told that two young men were about to fight a duel, Madeleine, then only a school girl, gathered her schoolmates and knelt to pray for the frustration of the wicked deed. Suddenly, and as the first blow was to be struck, the duelists extended hands to each other in reconciliation. The father of one of them went to Madeleine to thank her for her efficacious prayer, for he could not explain the unexpected reconciliation except by intervention from above. When she was eighteen the saintly young woman opened a school for the poor in her native town. The free time of the day and a great part of the night she spent before the tabernacle. What courage and strength she thence derived was proved in the days of the Revolution. She gave priests shelter and protection in her house, kept the sacred vessels and vestments there and also the Holy Eucharist. In the darkness of night she assembled the faithful in her house or in some other retired place for the celebration of the Holy Mysteries. She went about encouraging the weak, visiting the sick, and secretly bringing priests to them. She even obtained permission to carry the Holy Eucharist to the sick, since it was dangerous for priests to do so. Bailiffs frequently came to surprise the priests or to obtain evidence of unlawful behavior against her; and it was an evident miracle that they always blindly passed the plainly visible door of the secret chapel. For years this intrepid and valiant virgin was the guardian of the Most Holy at Barfleur and took care that the people should not be altogether deprived of the consolations of religion. At length when, in 1801, divine service could again be held in public, she celebrated the first Holy Communion of all the boys and girls whom she had prepared. Unfortunately the new pastor became jealous of the successful activity of Madeleine Postel. In 1805, therefore, she left her native place never to revisit it again.

She found a charitable reception and assistance from a priest in Cherbourg and revived with new zeal her apostolic activity in behalf of girls. Two years later, with three companions, she made perpetual vows. This was the beginning of the School Sisters of Mercy. But only the energy and confidence in God of a Postel could persevere in the work under the storm which arose against them; and finally she had the consolation of obtaining for her sisters the old and quite ruined abbey of Saint Sauveur le Vicomte. The venerable woman, now eighty-two years old, worked like a laborer in the restoration of the building to bring back to its pristine splendor the house of God. Her strong faith, her great love of virginity and her practice of penance so severe that nature shrinks from the thought of it are a sharp rebuke to our effeminate generation. She stands before us like a heroine of the days of the martyrs. When she died on 16 July 1846, no one thought of praying for her but only to her. Her beatification took place on 17 May 1908.

– this text is taken from The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century: Saintly Men and Women of Our Own Times, by Father Constantine Kempf, SJ; translated from the German by Father Francis Breymann, SJ; Impimatur by + Cardinal John Farley, Archbishop of New York, 25 September 1916