The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – Venerable Theodolinde Dubouche

19th century portrait of Mother Élisabeth-Théodelinde Bourcin-Dubouché, artist unknownArticle

(Mother Marie Therese) Environment and education certainly exercise a very great influence on the religious development of a child. In the case of the Venerable Theodolinde Dubouche everything about her tended to extinguish in her every germ of religion. Her parents were altogether dead to the Faith and in her whole environment there was only one clerk of her father’s that had the courage to go to Mass on Sundays. If in spite of this Theodolinde felt a great attraction toward God from early years – especially in the Most Blessed Sacrament – and also had a great abhorrence of everything evil, we must find therein the effect of a truly extraordinary grace. A strong inclination to self-complacency and independence hindered her at first from following immediately the impulses of grace. She had to conceal her religious practices and her visits to the church from her parents. They made it their object to win her to the ways of the world. She was obliged to learn painting and music and to frequent many places of amusement. Of her life up to her twenty-second year she writes: “At this time I lived in the midst of the frivolous, pleasure-seeking world and daily heard the most scandalous stories. The passions were represented to me as an essential element of life from which one can never escape. Yet not only my will, but even my imagination remained untouched by any impure thought. I knew instinctively what was not good for me, what conversation and what reading I must avoid. I can not describe what was going on within me. I sought solitude and entered into a condition of interior recollection that made me blind and dumb. In society and at the play the external splendor and the harmony of the music gave me pleasure. But in these great dangers God kept safe my innocence. Of certain sins I was as ignorant as a child, and my abhorrence of everything that could inform me about that vice, which according to Saint Paul should not even be mentioned among Christians, was so great that if I heard a speech of double meaning I was – it is still always the same with me – covered with a cold perspiration. My detestation of all that might offend chastity was so vivid that if in my study of painting when I visited museums or conversed with painters, I met with any unbecoming representation, I turned away with that shock which a gaping wound inflicts upon us.” An impulse toward the magnanimous and the ideal was manifest in Theodolinde from early childhood and helped her through many dangers. Interior inspirations of grace urging her to devote herself entirely to the service of God became ever more marked and frequent. But her opposition to frequent communion, toward which Our Lord was, as it were, forcing her, ceased only when she was fifteen. She now desired to consecrate herself wholly to works of charity. A priest advised her to become first an angel of charity in her own family. Here, of course, she met with great resistance, but by her increased friendliness and patience she endeavored to give her relatives a better notion of piety. Many sacrifices were to be made before the good work could be accomplished. For a long time Theodolinde’s mother had been seriously ill and the Sister of Charity in attendance, urged by the daughter, asked her to receive the Sacraments. Theodolinde writes of this occurrence:

“The prayer of the sister was refused and, in fact, very badly received. I was not home at the time and when I returned a scene occurred that can be explained only by Satan’s presence in a soul. My mother denounced me as the author of the proposal, of her sufferings, even of her death. She was so furious with anger that I feared her sudden death. God gave me the grace to remain calm. I knelt at the bedside, begged her pardon, kissed her hands, and then went away. At the feet of Jesus I sought help and strength. My emotion was so vehement that I fainted in the church. But God willed only to try my faith. When I returned home I found my dear invalid calm and well-disposed. She said to me: ‘Since you desire it, go at once and bring the priest to me.'”

It was fifty years since her mother had been at peace God, but her conversion was sincere and God vouchsafed the aged woman two more years of life in which to atone in some measure for her long neglect. After continued prayer and penance Theodolinde brought back to God her father, her sister, and a cousin.

The chief trait of her life was veneration for the Blessed Sacrament. The gross ingratitude of so many toward Our Lord’s exceeding love in the Holy Eucharist impelled her to a heroic return of love. She perceived how much that coldness grieved the Sacred Heart and, reflecting on the pleasure we feel when in our sufferings we find others who understand us and make every endeavor to have us forget our injuries, she considered no sacrifice too great if only it aroused love for Our Saviour in the Eucharist. She planned the organization of a permanent work. But things developed in a manner different from what she intended. She had been firmly determined to enter the Carmelite Order, hoping thus to find help in her life-work. But difficulties arose on every side. She was frightened when her confessor told her she must herself found a Congregation. Circumstances, in fact, forced her to establish one. In the midst of the Revolution of 1848 she founded at Paris the Congregation of Sisters of Reparative Adoration (Adoration Reparatice), which day and night without interruption adores the Most Holy Sacrament. As in all great works, so in this the beginnings were insignificant and the obstacles great. It required a saint’s courage and confidence in God to escape complete failure. Mother Marie Therese, as Theodolinde was now called, showed masterly ability in the training of the souls entrusted to her and filled them with the spirit of sacrifice for the contemned love of the hidden Saviour. This kept the Congregation together and gave it increase in spite of all assaults from without.

Mother Marie Therese also labored with the Venerable Julien Eymard in the foundation of a Congregation of priests of the Most Holy Sacrament. She likewise endeavored to interest people of the world in the practice of reparative adoration.

On 30 August 1863, she was called to the vision of Him for whom, hidden under the species of bread, she had worked so zealously. “I see! I see! I see!” she exclaimed, looking toward heaven as her soul left her body.

MLA Citation

  • Father Constantine Kempf, SJ. “Venerable Theodolinde Dubouche”. The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century: Saintly Men and Women of Our Own Times, 1916. CatholicSaints.Info. 27 March 2018. Web. 21 October 2020. <>