09 - Mother Thérèse in Her Humanity

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The good Lord, she told me, often leaves saints with external faults.[1]

Once [Father Terme] wrote to the Sisters at Aps: "I am on a mission with a Reverend Father who is a second St. Regis; I see however that the saints are not without defects and the good God permits that they sometimes cause suffering to others. Note, my Sisters, that in the life of the Saints one only speaks of their virtues and their defects are passed over in silence. Come on, courage! It is necessary that ours be a means to help us to sanctity ourselves and to become great saints." [2]

In reading the life of the saints, one can be tempted to idealize them and to forget that they too had faults, and also that they were simply human: they laughed, were impatient, were angry ...

All her contemporaries agreed to describe the seriousness and the recollection of Mother Thérèse. But it is also good to see her in a more human light which makes her closer to us. If she were like us, if her path to perfection was the work of a lifetime on her nature, then holiness is possible for us too.

This month, it is therefore Mother Thérèse's humanity that we want to highlight with some testimonies.


A “grumpy beneficent” character that she had to tame

Mother Thérèse was extremely frank […] She learned from our Catholic Ardèche, her province, the horror of disguises and finesse. […] I heard from the Reverend Mother Bertier, Superior of the House of Fourvière, that Mother Thérèse had in her way of being what she called "a grumpy beneficent" and that this weakness gave her many opportunities to humiliate herself. I understood this to mean that, by wanting to do a good deed, she put a rough shape on it. […] It took a heroic force to contain her nature at this point, to remain ever silent without ever manifesting any complaint, or any kind of recrimination or criticism […]. She watched herself in all her relations with all the sisters, with a mother's heart that remained with her and which was not put to use. I am convinced that she needed constant self-monitoring and extraordinary energy in order not to take on the role of mother. I also saw her strength in this mortified attitude, which was permanent in church. In my relationship with her, I never saw a moment of nonchalance.[3]

Her diligence for needlework we have always noticed, this kind of – I would not say indifference, but disinterest of what was happening around her… It cost her a lot and was the result of continuous efforts, because Mother Thérèse had a lively nature, ardent and active. Her slow, almost composed approach was the fruit of an energetic will. She did not forgive easily the young nuns for walking quickly and loudly. "That's it," she said, "blow your veil over your shoulders." Or:" It's nice for a nun to look frivolous like the people of the world ". […] When I first knew her, her judgment was severe; she did not make the distinction between age, character, or difficulty. Little by little, as God entered her soul, the Mother took something of the gentleness of Our Lord; she became compassionate. […] Under a rough bark, the venerated Mother hid a heart of gold. She was - forgive me for the comparison - a grumpy beneficent, always ready to do a service, to relieve, to serve those who were sick, to console those who were sick, to console those who were in pain. [4]

Until the last years of her life, Mother Thérèse had retained a certain external abruptness that took nothing away from the goodness and delicacy of her heart and was only in form. Yet, one of her former companions of the early days had a frank talk with her. After she made the remark of it, we saw her at the age of about 75, transform herself completely, and become of a meekness and humility which provoked our admiration and proved to us, that at any age, we can correct ourselves, even on the slightest imperfections. [5]

The Desire to Improve

Those exterior defects, which it is well not to overlook for the sake of edification can, however, be easily corrected with a little goodwill and vigilance over yourself, and especially with attention to the presence of God, under Whose eye we are always laboring. [6]

Tomorrow, then, I return to community. Please God that I may have left in this solitude all these defects which before were such an exercise of patience for my superiors and my sisters. I desire and beg of our Lord that He may give me this grace and be my strength and my light in the future. You, too, Reverend Mother, please ask it for your poor child. [7]

After the death of Mother Payan, everyone made their novena to her. Mother Thérèse once said: "I also made a novena, I don't know if I succeeded; I asked to be kind, I don't know if anyone noticed it ", and she laughed. She feared that she would not be kind enough for the community. [8]

At recreation, she had made a remark that she regretted: "God, she said to me, often leaves external faults to the saints" and she told me an edifying trait of the person we had spoken of. / It is necessary, she said, to pass through all the infirmities, the things often little edifying. It is necessary to go through it, and then go always straight to God.[9]

 An inspiring reading for Mother Thérèse: Fr. Claude-Francois Milley SJ

“It is necessary to work to suppress these external traits which are marked by impatience, bad mood, sour words, a dissatisfied air; and while waiting for this to be done, do not be discouraged, it is not only you who will do it, it is God with you: He knows you're not capable of anything good in your heart, and you'd be very sorry if you didn't know it yourself. Nothing must console you so much as the humble sight of your weaknesses: they make you feel that God alone is Holy, only Good, only Powerful, only Perfect, and that it is only on Him that we must count, since everything else is miserable. This is the fruit of our miseries and weaknesses.” (Letter 25)

Fragments of selected letters from RP Claude-François Milley, of the Society of Jesus, Poissy, Olivier-Fulgence, 1845.

A book that belonged to Mother Thérèse and which “delighted her very much”.

From a person who lived an intimacy with Mother Thérèse:

[She] once told me on the subject of abandonment that "the letters of Fr. Millet, if I remember correctly, are the ones I prefer". She was led to tell me so because one day she brought me this little book and gave it to me as "a little consolation". This holy Mother who felt the need I had for this virtue had taken this little gift as a means, the only one that came to me from her, to work on this subject.

(manuscript of Anne Marie Desgrands OPSCJ, "Notes on the memory of the Reverend Mother Victoire Thérèse Couderc. Work written at the request of the Postulator of the Cause of the Rd. Mother Thérèse Couderc before all depositions", Fourvière, March-June 1920 ).

Impatience and Exasperation

Another day, being in the visiting room with one of her priest nephews – I was working there near the visiting room at the time of departure – saying goodbye to her, the nephew said to her:

- Aunt, I would like to ask you something. Allow me.

- Whatever you want, if I can, I will [but] I have to know what it is first. 

It is your portrait.

- Shut up! Look instead at the image of Our Lord, it will be better than all nonsense, and then these things do not depend on me, it requires the permission of the Superiors. It is not necessary.

- My aunt, I will ask them if you agree. They will not refuse me.

- It is not worth bothering Superiors for nonsense.[10]

The same humility did not miss any opportunity to stand out. Our Most Reverend Mother General returning from Rome said to Mother Thérèse: We saw the Holy Father and spoke to him about you - Oh! Mother Thérèse said with gesture and an air of contempt, it was really interesting to talk to him about it! [11]

She no longer seems to know that she is our foundress and the first religious of the Retreat, and she says to you with the greatest seriousness: "What charity in this house to support a person like me! I don't do anything and I make it difficult for everyone; I don't understand why they keep me! " And one day I answered her "but, my dear Mother, what you are ... you are all for us because without you we would not be here!" ... She looked at me and then turned her back and shrugged her shoulders with an air of disdain for my stupidity.[12]

This good Mother understood nothing of modern complacency; the present fashion made her indignant. Once, she was quite shocked by the short dress of a little girl who had been taken to recreation and gave her a real reprimand, and so to satisfy Mother Thérèse, we covered the little girl's legs with a handkerchief until the end of recreation.[13]

Her attitude during prayer and before the Blessed Sacrament was a silent exhortation; the slightest lack of respect or recollection in the chapel seemed unforgivable to her. Once, during Vespers, the novices laughed and the psalmody was interrupted. I clearly recall the holy indignation of Mother Thérèse who left her place and went to administer to the culprits a correction of fact (Office book strokes) that redoubles their hilarity ... A few days later, it happened again, alas! and this time the contagion reached the serious Mother herself who then laughed heartily at her little humiliation.[14]

She could not forgive herself for her impatience

She never asked for anything and complained about anything. If she had sometimes showed natural inclination, she did not forgive herself. Once (I was assistant in the linen room) I brought in her room with her Saturday package a flannel that had been lengthened with a big new strip. Mother Thérèse was upset. Did she think it was lavish? "What good is it? It's a coat now as well as a flannel”. I took the flannel. On Monday, when I came back to get her things she said to me: 'Dear Sister would you give me back this flannel, I will wear it like this.'

How often, in community relations, we have seen her reproach herself small movements of nature which were barely perceptible to others. She did so with touching humility, and doing so, it let us see until her death the temper and vigor of her soul.[15]

For years she faithfully took care of Mother Payan, serving her with the most maternal devotion. At times, this poor patient was not well aware of what she was doing. Once, Mother Thérèse scolded her for making a big noise during the Benediction. In the evening, Mother Thérèse was found feeding her while she knelt beside her. As the Superior was astonished to see her this way, she urged Mother Thérèse to sit down. She replied: "No, I gave a severe reprimand to Mother Payan, as if she were guilty of the fact that I reproached her, while she was unconscious. In this, I lacked patience and respect by taking it up too much, and I wanted to punish myself by kneeling to make her eat in order to redeem my fault."[16]

She very harshly appreciated all her shortcomings, as well as the sharpness of her words, and certain reflections (just but somewhat severe) during recreation. Once, at recreation, she thought she had made a harsh remark about the community. After that, I found her crying in her room and sobbing so much that she could not answer my questions; Finally, she bitterly accused herself and told me that her lack of charity was such a bad example that she thought it would be better not to show up at recreation anymore! And, really, the breach had not been noticed by anyone. [17]

Avoiding marks of distinction by all means

When we write to her, we make her suffer; greeting her on her Feast is an exercise of finesse in which the Holy Mother always has the upper hand; and when the time has passed for the missed thing, she looks at you with a good, clever smile that seems to say: you are defeated and I have peace until next year! [18]

To wish her a happy feast, it was necessary to use tricks; and still it was not always possible. One year, on the eve of St. Thérèse, distrustful of what was about to happen, she began one of her long stations of the cross immediately after supper. The Reverend Mother de Gaudin, not seeing her leaving the chapel, sent one of us to pick her up. 'Tell Our Mother,' replied Mother Thérèse, 'that I will speak to her tomorrow morning,' and she continued her stations. We couldn't have insisted without hurting her. Recreation passed and, when we all entered the choir for the evening service, Mother Thérèse came out seriously, feeling that danger was being averted. Every year, the letters she received for her feast (St. Thérèse) overshadowed her humility: “Why is this done? She said to the Reverend Mother de Gaudin. I'm not a superior. Thank these good Mothers, but tell them not to bother to write to me; they have enough to do."[19].

Playful remarks”: Humor and Good Words

I was her nurse for eight days at a time when she had the flu. Maybe I have never had such a good time. She was so easy to treat, always happy. And, with her look of gravity, she always found a word to make me laugh. [20].

In general, and even in recreation, Mother Thérèse spoke little. But on occasion she threw a small touch of playful remarks which made it clear that despite her usual recollection she took part in recreation. [21]

One day, the novices, carrying linens, were noisily descending the stairs. Mother Thérèse, leaving her room, looked astonished: 'Ah! Sorry, I thought it was a regiment of soldiers! " and she tempered the too noisy ardor of these youth. Mother Thérèse did not fail to bring her share of joy and spirit to recreation. When Sister Madeleine arrived in the house, the practice was for a Jesuit to come to hear the confession of the Community members every week and for a secular priest for Ember Days. Very soon after, the Superior submitted this fact to Monsignor and the order was changed.Another secular priest was appointed for the weekly confession and a Jesuit for Ember Days. Mother Payan regretted the change of the 1st secular priest, and when he once came to visit the house and stopped at the chapel, she wanted to confess, but not wanting to do it alone, she pushed her neighbor, Mother Thérèse, into the confessional. Mother Thérèse, who was very closed to Mother Payan, brought joy to recreation mimicking the gestures and actions of Mother Payan. (In agreeing to confess to this priest, Mother Thérèse, who did not intend to do so that day, showed a great charity towards Mother Payan). [22]

Good and indulgent towards young people, she is our joy in the little witty comments with which she enlivens our recreation from time to time. It must be said that we are a little noisy sometimes; [when] we have been in silence for several hours, there is a necessary moment of relaxation... the other day, [Sister] de Krenznach, with a somewhat untimely enthusiasm, hurried towards the foot warmers, and bang bang, turned them over with great hoots of laughter familiar to you. Mother Thérèse arrived from behind, controlling herself in the Lord, and gave herself immediately the job of covering the glowing fire. Taking the bucket from the hands of the poor contrite Sister, she uttered the sorrowful exclamation: "Oh! How rowdy you are!" "It’s true Mother, and I’m sure you don’t like me when I make such a row?" And as if our Holy Mother regretted her sharp retort, she stood up and looked at her with great goodness and a slight smile: "Oh! I always like you, what I don’t like is your rowdiness." Isn’t that just delightful?[23]

In a great public need, it was ordained in the diocese of Lyon to sing the Litanies of the Saints; what was performed at Benediction by some religious of the choir; it was very poor and Mother Thérèse remarked at recreation with her ordinary frankness: 'It sounded like you wanted to bury the motherland!'

The next day (it was perhaps the following Sunday) they put in the choir all those who could sing. It was much better and I think that our holy Mother was satisfied. She was perhaps wrongly reproached for not loving music. […] The above happened around the year 1873. [24].

Our venerable Mother Thérèse did not want exaggeration in words, even in the expression of the best sentiments. [… ] Mother de Lafarge said: Lord, take away everything from me but give me souls! Mother Thérèse replied: “Eh! what will you give to souls if God takes away everything from you?” [25]

She was indulgent about our comings and goings around her in the community room where she noticed everything. I remember that once, at recreation, she imitated the busy air of one of ours, wiping the desks, whose actions were indeed those of a chambermaid rather than a religious. The lesson was understood, for she had put all the laughter on her side ... these vivid appearances, confined to the grotesque, hardly resembled her!

[She was indulgent] except when the music tired her too much; [then] she made her remarks. Thus, in the Canticle of Ascension, in which repetitions never cease - "When will you call me ... in the heavenly sojourn" - brought her out of her usual calm! This"When Will You Call Me" seemed too annoying. 'And call me when you will, Lord,' [she said] smiling, not seeing the need to repeat this musical phrase. Music was a very meritorious exercise for her. She did not really like it, at least in the chapel, because it troubled her holy prayers and her passive contemplative path ... poor Mother! We made her suffer! because we were all musicians and a little noisy; and according to the degree of the Feasts, the more solemn, the noisier they were. [...] Like St Ignatius, who did not like superlatives, she noted without mercy any exaggeration! See the attached letter where I once told her that I was crucified, like Our Lord, then like St. Andrew, and finally like St. Peter, upside down, feet in the air, in our Touraine [a French province where the Mother was writing from]; that is to say the reverse of common sense. The irony pierces a little in her lines. She wanted us to be saints, that's all…[26]

The letter in question reads as follows:

Now, allow me to tell you, dear Sister, that you would have made an excellent begging sister in a mendicant order, or possibly another St. Jeremias; requests and lamentations form the contents of your kind and dear letters; I sympathetically share all your distress and the martyrdoms you tell me you have already suffered; and yet you are not very much to be pitied, to my mind, for three martyrdoms must necessarily have enriched you with three palms and three crowns, which are not to be despised. But be careful, for I find it hard to believe that they could have been as painful as those of the saintly personages to whom you dare to compare yourself – St. Peter, St. Andrew and their good Master Himself, Who is also ours. They did not get off as cheaply, since it cost them their lives, and you, to our great satisfaction, have survived your tortures! May God be blessed for this, and may He give all of us the grace to make good use of those little pinpricks which we meet on our way, while waiting for a time when we shall be counted worthy to endure harder blows.[27]

Love of animals and recollection

Her kindness even extended to animals. One day, outside, the chickens made such a noise, that we hardly heard each other. She sent Sister Philomène to see what was missing. "Oh! Mother, it is nothing, there are four or five of them waiting to lay, there is only one nest and they are fighting for it, that is the whole cause of the disturbance "-" But Sister, make a nest for each one! "Often the holy Mother herself gathered grass, gathered debris to feed these little creatures of God and threw it to them to silence them. [28]

A nightingale had taken up residence in a tree in the garden, quite close to the chapel; and from there each morning it strove to modulate its chords at exactly the same time as our meditation. One day, during recreation, we were speaking of this bird’s songs, and one of us said they brought her to devotion. "For my part, said Mother Thérèse, I fear that in wanting to listen to the nightingale, we might not hear the Good God anymore". The following morning the nightingale had flown away, and we never heard it again at that time. Mother, a young Sister said to her, you advised it of course to leave? And the holy Mother merely smiled without adding another word.[29]

She had a great love for silence, recollection, seeking solitude, alone with God alone, enemy of noise and company; I believe that she did not lose the presence of God for a moment. [30].

[1] “Memories of Mother Thérèse gathered by Mother d'Esparbès on a trip to Lyon and La Louvesc with Our Most Reverend Mother Marie Aimée Lautier”, June 1881, presented at the trial on August 24, 1929.

[2] “Notes on the Congregation” by Mother Grégoire, in Our Origins (p. 57 in the French version).

[3] Marie Desgrands, ordinary trial, Lyon (1920).

[4] Mother Caroline de St-Privat, "Notes on Our Venerable Mother Thérèse".

[5] Mother Gabrielle Neveud, written memories, 23 Oct. 1911.

[6] Letter to Madame Stéphanie du Plessis, temporary professed, 18 May 1880.

[7] Letter to Our Mother de Larochenégly in Paris, from Montpelier, February 13, 1864.

[8] Sister Rüffinier, diocesan trial of Malines, 1920.

[9] “Recollections about Mother Thérèse gathered by Mother d'Esparbès in a trip to Lyon and La Louvesc with Our Most Reverend Mother Marie Aimée Lautier”, June 1881, presented at the trial on August 24, 1929.

[10] Sr Philiberte, Written recollections.

[11] Recollections of Sr. Madeleine, May 1926.

[12] Memories of Mother Marie Hallez, Turin, 3 August 1883.

[13] 13 Mother Marie de Vaines, diocesan trial of Mechlin, 1920.

[14] Mother Gabrielle de La Chapelle, “Souvenirs de la Mère Thérèse”, Paray-le -Monial, 1887; Mother G. de La Chapelle lived with Mother Thérèse only at the beginning of her novitiate in Paris, rue du Regard, where she entered in October 1855.

[15] Mother Marie de Vaines, diocesan process of Malines, 1920.

[16] Mother Victorine de Gaudin, "Souvenirs sur notre vénérée Mère Thérèse", produced at the trial in Lyon on

March 17, 1922.

[17] Memories of Mother Marie Hallez (from Turin, 3 August 1883, and from Milan, Holy Saturday 1887); she lived with her in Lyon from late 1878 to late 1882. With the addition of Ms. d'Anne Marie Desgrands OPSCJ, "Notes concernant de la mémoire de la Reverende Mère Victoire Thérèse Couderc", 1920.

[18] Memories of Mother Marie Hallez, Turin, August 3, 1883.

[19] Mother Marie de Vaines, diocesan trial of Malines, 1920.

[20] Sr Mélanie Desruol’s Recollections.

[21] Memories of Sister Philomène, April 1887.

[22] Memories dact. of Sr Madeleine, May 1926.

[23] Letter from Mother Amélie du Pavillon to Mother d’Esparbès, Superior in Paris, 28th November 1879 (extract). Document produced by Mother Irène Maranzana, archivist, before the apostolic process in Lyons (1929).

[24] Written memories of Mother Geneviève Faure.

[25] Mother Faure, Written memories.

[26] Mother Césarine de Ferrari, notes on Mother Thérèse produced at the trial in Lyon on March 17 1922 (She lived with her for 7 years in Lyon.).

[27] Letter to Mother Césarine de Ferrari to Tours, from Lyon, 28 décembre 1869.

[28] Sister Rüffinier, trial of Malines, 1920, and Memories dact. of Sr Madeleine, May 1926.

[29] “Notes on our venerated Mother Thérèse” by Mother Emilie de Roatis (extract). Document produced by Mother Irène Maranzana at the apostolic process in Lyons (1929).

[30] Sr Philiberte, Written memories.


Excerpts from a "Histoire de sainte Thérèse Couderc racontée aux enfants" illustrated with collage.