"Sister! Sister! Sister!"
An urgent voice woke Catherine Laboure from her deep sleep. She blinked several times. Radiant light filled her convent bedroom. The light came from a beautiful child about five years old, dressed in white. "Come to the chapel," said the child. "The Blessed Virgin is waiting for you there."
Obediently, the young Sister of Charity followed the child. She marveled as the chapel door, usually locked, opened at a mere touch of the child's fingertips. Entering the sanctuary, Catherine heard the rustling of silk. She looked toward the altar and beheld a beautiful woman seating herself in a chair. The child told her, "This is the Blessed Virgin."
Catherine, who had lost her own mother at an early age, threw herself at the feet of her heavenly Mother and placed her hands in her lap. How could this be happening to me? she wondered. This is 1830 France!
"My child," said the Blessed Virgin, "the good God wishes to charge you with a mission."
Overwhelmed with joy, Catherine listened to all that the Mother of God had to tell her. France would undergo many political and religious turmoils, warned Our Lady. But throughout those and other difficulties, anyone who asked for graces at the foot of the altar would be granted them.
Two hours later, Catherine watched with sweet sadness as the Blessed Mother disappeared from sight. Only later did she realize that she had not learned what her "mission" was to be. She trusted that God would reveal it eventually. Four months later, He did.
On November 27, 1830, while praying alone in the chapel, Catherine heard the familiar rustling sound again. Turning her head to look, she saw the Blessed Virgin standing near a picture of St. Joseph. Rays of light, symbolizing graces, streamed forth from rings on all her fingers. She stood on a globe, crushing the head of a serpent under her feet. Then slowly an oval frame appeared around her, on which were written the words: "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee."
At the same time a voice said to Catherine, "Have a medal struck after this model. All who wear it in confidence will receive great graces. They should wear it around the neck."
Then the apparition turned around, revealing what the back of the medal was to look like. Catherine saw a large M in the middle of the oval. Above the M were a cross and bar. Beneath the M were the hearts of Jesus and Mary. One was crowned with thorns; the other pierced by a sword. Encircling all of this were twelve stars. Then the apparition vanished.
In spite of the many extraordinary events taking place around her, Catherine's life after the visions remained quite ordinary. The sisters who lived with her never guessed she had been the one who had seen the Blessed Virgin. Catherine spent the next forty-six years caring for the elderly and sick. Only when she was close to death, after first obtaining permission from Our Lady, did she tell the others that Mary had appeared to her.
* * * *
Today the chapel where the apparitions occurred is one of the most popular religious shrines in the world. They even still have the blue velvet chair in which Mary seated herself during her apparition. Millions of people around the globe wear the Miraculous Medal as a testimony to their faith and the power of trusting prayer.
In 1933, 57 years after her death, Catherine's body was exhumed as part of her beatification process. It was found to be incorrupt--as fresh as the day she was buried. St. Catherine's incorrupt body is on display at the Sisters of Charity Mother House in Paris.
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.