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Biography of Sr Marie of the Trinity

 

1874-1944

 

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Sister Marie of the Trinity is the youngest novice that Sister Therese of the Child Jesus took care of. Entering the Carmel of Lisieux on June 16th, 1894, she benefitted for three years from the advice of her novice mistress and quickly became her friend and one of her most fervent disciples. Very spontaneous, she reacted with great alertness to the teachings she received; very outgoing, she never failed to record everything she saw and heard. This shows the importance soon granted to her testimony when after the death of Therese, all sought to collect memories about her.


Marie-Louise Castel was born on August 12th, 1874 in Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives (Calvados). She was the thirteenth in a family of nineteen children. Her father, a teacher, had not accepted the laws from 1882 on the secularization of schools and he continued to pray each morning in his class. An uncompromising attitude that displeased the government and blocked his carreer. He then worked with Abbé Roussel, who had founded in Paris the "Foundation of First Communion" at the service of the abandoned children in the capital. Father Roussel used the oratorical gifts of the former schoolteacher to give conferences for the Foundation across France.


Thus Mr. Castel moved to Paris with his family. His boys often played marbles with orphans of the Foundation. As for Marie-Louise, she attended the School held by the Daughters of the Cross on Abbe Groult street for four years. At age ten, she made her first communion in the Saint Lambert of Vaugirard parish. It was May 21st, 1885 - the same day where, in Lisieux, Thérèse Martin renewed hers at the Boarding school of the Abbey. In the afternoon, Marie-Louise received the sacrament of confirmation.
One day while praying before the image of the Holy Face – honored in the family circle - the girl discovered her vocation; she would be a Carmelite.

The Carmel on Avenue de Messine


On April 30th, 1891, she entered the Carmel of Messine Avenue, in Paris, and there received the name Sister Agnes of Jesus. One year later, on May 12th, 1892, she took the habit. At the end of the year, the Carmelite liked a lot the retreat preached to the monastery byFr. Boulanger, a Dominican, provincial of his order.
Unfortunately, the health of the novice was not long in deteriorating. In July 1893, she had to leave the cloister and Mr. Castel took his daughter to Trouville to regain her strength. She took advantage of her stay on the Normandy coast to visit the Carmel of Lisieux and seek some comfort. The fraternal welcome she received there encouraged her to return several times during the summer.
So much so that her prioress in Paris advised her to ask to be admitted to the Carmel of Lisieux. Native air, she said, would probably be more profitable for her than that of the capital. As for Thérèse, the Carmelites of Lisieux had to overcome the reluctance of Canon Delatroëtte, pastor of St. Jacques and ecclesiastical superior of Carmel, but on July 16th, 1894, Louise-Marie crossed the threshold of the enclosure on Livarot street and received the name Sister Marie-Agnes of the Holy Face. Sister Therese of the Child Jesus was responsible for initiating her into the customs of Carmel.

 

A great joy for Thérèse

The arrival of Sister Marie-Agnes of the Holy Face in the novitiate caused Therese great joy. Finally, she was no longer the youngest of the community, since the new novice was her junior. Moreover she seemed so young that Therese later called her "my little doll. " A nickname that well expressed at the end of her life how Therese really considered the novice like her daughter. But Therese never "mothered" her novice; on the contrary, she treated her rather severely and allowed her no caprice.


Thérèse had indeed much to do to help her junior. Her unhappy try in another Carmel did not attract support from the community and her high-spirited appearance of a "little Parisenne" did not look very serious. The day before her entrance, hadn’t she gone for a merry-go-round ride at the Lisieux fair? The new novice found it hard to acquire that modesty of gaze and gesture which was then considered one of the distinguishing marks of a Carmelite.


For proof, just read one of the first paragraphs of the book which then was the basis for training novices, "The exaction paper" [read here]. One can easily understand that a young woman accustomed to wooden horses and toboggans had experienced some difficulty bending to that Rule. Far from keeping her eyes lowered when walking, she loved rummaging around, forcing her novice mistress to tell her that her eyes looked too much like those of a "wild rabbit" .
Therese understood all the better her novice because she herself in her youth loved movement. Let’s remember that her favorite games were the swing and jump rope. But the desire to refuse nothing to the Lord, as well as the desire to use all the humble ways that promote continual prayer, had given her a very great control of herself.

Therese hoped for a similar evolution in appearance and spiritual dispositions of her novice. The progress is sufficient to authorize the clothing of Sister Agnes of the Holy Face on December 18th, 1894, the feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Thérèse wrote two poems on this occasion. Thérèse did not spare her energy to help her novice to progress, but she also knew how to plead her case with sisters of the community that hardly supported her impetuous temperament. “I would wholeheartedly give my life for you to be a Carmelite! “ she said often.


Family concerns


Thérèse did not understand the saints who did not like their family. No wonder she often encouraged Sister Marie-Agnès to speak to her about her family, including her numerrous siblings. We guess that, of the number, one or another worried Marie-Louise. Therese told her, "Entrust them to the good God and do not worry about them anymore. If you worry yourself, God will not worry about them and you will deprive your parents of graces that you would have obtained for them by your abandonment.” Therese tells in Story of a Soul of a grace they obtained by praying together with confidence throughout Lent for Anna, a sister of Marie-Louise.
Sister Marie-Agnes also spoke of the help brought by her father to the Foundation of Abbé Roussel. She had no doubt that Thérèse would become, a quarter century later, the collaborator of Blessed Father Brottier who took over the wonderful Foundation in 1923, giving it a new name: the Orphans - Apprentices of Auteuil.


The Holy Face

The young novice’s mistress took advantage of the slightest occasions to help her novice discover the wonders she discovered herself in the Gospel. Thus Sister Marie Agnes received as a present the day of her twenty-first birthday (August 12th, 1895) a poem (n° 20) in which Therese explained the way she conceived the devotion to the Holy Face:

"Jesus, your ineffable image is the star that guides my steps.
Ah! you know, your sweet face is for me is heaven on earth.


The offering to merciful Love


Entered in the novitiate on December 18th, 1894, Sister Agnes-Marie would have made profession at the end of the year 1895. But Mother Marie de Gonzague, the novice mistress, felt she was not yet ready to pronounce her perpetual vows. The profession was therefore postponed to April 30th, 1896 - after the expected date for elections for prioress. Perhaps she wanted to reserve the honor for herself of receiving the vows of the novice when she would be, she hoped, prioress again.
Therese suggested to the novice not to wait until this deadline to give herself entirely to Love. On November 30th, she proposed that she proclaim the very next day the Act of offering to Merciful Love that she had written in June. Thus on December 1st, 1895, the First Sunday of Advent, the young novice, accompanied by Therese knelt in the Oratory of the community, before the Blessed Sacrament, and made her act of offering. That day, she told later, "I was so flooded with graces that all day I felt sensibly the presence of Jesus in my heart ".


Sister Marie of the Trinity and the Holy Face


1896. The time of the Profession approaches. Two months before, on March 6th - Lenten Friday, where we celebrated the feast of the Shroud - it had been decided that Sister Marie-Agnes of the Holy Face would now be called Sister Marie of the Trinity and the Holy Face.
Why the change? Just because the Norman pronunciation makes little distinction between "Marie Agnes "and" Mother Agnes "(we tend to pronounce "Mare-Agnes"). To avoid any risk of confusion between the names of two Carmelite nuns, it was thought better to give to Sister Marie Agnès another name, that we at one a time considered for Céline.

On April 30th, 1896, five years to the day after her first entry in Carmel in Paris, Sister Marie of the Trinity pronounced her vows. "This day”, she notes in her personal memories, “was more of Heaven than of earth ... Sister Therese of the Child Jesus appeared as happy as me. I seem like Joan of Arc attending the coronation of Charles VII, "she told me. This humble pride of Thérèse is reflected in the demeanor she has in the photograph taken on that day. Therese standing, like a gentle mediator, strong, serene and serious .


To celebrate this happy day, Therese composed two poems. One is written in calligraphy on the back of a holy card of the Holy Face, it is a remake of a John of the Cross text Therese loved and had often commented on to her novices: "A gloss on the divine." (Poem 30). In presenting this picture, Therese pointed out to the young professed what she liked more:

Love, I have experienced it,
Knows how to use (what power!)
The good and the bad it finds in me.

A discreet way to remind her beloved disciple she should never get discouraged by her weaknesses. Conviction that occupied more and more Therese’s heart: we must immerse ourselves constantly in the devouring fire of Love, in order to be purified of mistakes of human frailty that we still have the misfortune of committing.

Meetings of the novitiate


Since the election of the prioress Mother Marie de Gonzague (March 21st 1896), Therese is invested with formal authority over the novices. She refused to assume the duty of novice mistress, which she leaves to her prioress, but she agrees to be her assistant with the five novices who are then in the novitiate. Every day at 2:30, Therese meets the novices half an hour to explain the Rule, the practices, points outs failings and answers questions that a novice may have in the beginning of her prayer life.

What can we do when our mind is overun by distractions?” asks Sister Marie of the Trinity one day. "I too have many,” answered Therese, “but as soon as
I notice it, I pray for those who fill my imagination and this way they benefit from my distractions. "
But above all the novice mistress taught the simple Little Way she had discovered in the Scriptures, the way of confidence to attain love. She imagined parables to make herself better understood, trying to adjust for each novice. Small ways in the service of authentic love.
She also invents tiny ways to overcome some failings in her youngest. Marie of the Trinity still cries too easily. How could Thérèse blame her? Has she herself not suffered that infirmity for a long time? It took a real psychological miracle during Christmas night of 1886 to finally cure her. But waiting for a similar miracle in the soul of the novice,she helps her to fight her excessive sensitivity. One day she imagines a simple way to stop the flood of tears that flowed once again from the eyes of her novice. "Taking from her painting table a mussel shell, Marie will tell later, and holding my hands to stop me from wiping my eyes, she began to collect my tears in the shell. My tears were soon changed into joyful laughter. "

" From now on,” concludes Therese, “I allow you to cry all you want, provided it is in the shell! " After the death of Sister Marie of the Trinity the famous shell was found in her writing desk [see the shell here].

 

A joyaful and great theologian

These "childish acting" does not prevent her from having an open mind, to be interested in many things and thus bring at times valuable information to her novice mistress.
The former novice of Messina Avenue remembers, for example, the dense conferences given in her Carmel on December 1892 by Father Boulanger. Perhaps she had partially stenographed them. We only know that she later recopied them in full in a book of 315 pages.
The novice was very happy to show them to her mistress, as she saw very strong similarities between the Little Way and the doctrine of the Dominican theologian. "What consolation you give me! said Therese, you can’t imagine ... To learn that I am now supported by a scholar, a renowned theologian provides me with an unparalleled joy "! And she asked her novice to share with her all that she remembered from the teachings of this holy religious".

One can easily guess the thoughts of the preacher had found a deep echo in the heart of Thérèse: "See how God is good: with a little love one overcomes him, his justice and mercy! When love is perfect, no more justice, no more judgment, no more court, nothing more than a Father who awaits his children, who wants to take them in his arms and hold them on his heart. "

The novice mistress is not idle. She reads, she composed poems and skits to teach her "little doctrine.". In 1894, she studied closely the large volume of Henri Wallon on Joan of Arc to prepare two plays in honor of the Maid of Orleans. Her new responsibility does not not slow her literary activity. Despite the TB eating away her body, Therese continues to "produce" from April 1896 to May 1897, twenty-six poems and two plays.

In fact the rehearsal of these plays were genuine recreations for the novitiate ... When in "The Flight into Egypt," Therese put in Torcol and his highwaymen, no doubt that the novices gave their heart, when they had to recite certain comebacks! In short, there was an atmosphere in the novitiate. The presence of Thérèse did not engender melancholy. Like Francisco of Assisi, she thought that "a sad saint is a sorry saint!"
Sister Marie of the Trinity was especially sensitive to the message of joy that emanated from the whole being of Thérèse. A joy that was the fruit of her desire to give back her Lord love for love. This love, she sang in a thousand ways. For example in the poem  n° 31 she offers as a birthday present to her novice on May 31st, 1896, the Feast of the Holy Trinity: "I thirst for love ":

"I thirst for Love, fulfill my hope.
Lord, make your Divine Fire grow within me.
I thirst for Love, so great is my suffering.
Ah! I would like to fly away to you, my God!...

 

 

A friendship that deepens

Without the friendship which continued to grow between Therese and Sister Marie of the Trinity we would have been deprived of these beautiful poems in which the greatest saint of modern times has delivered the best of her heart to the smallest of her novices. This friendship was subjected to a one time ordeal. In autumn 1896, there was serious talk of a possible departure of Sister Genevieve and Sister Marie of the Trinity to the Carmel of Saigon. "My heaven was covered with clouds,” says Thérèse evoking this ordeal; “alone, in the background my heart remained in the calm and peace. " The storm passed. Both novices ofTherese remained in Lisieux and continued to benefit from her teaching.


One can even say, without risk of error, that Sister Marie of the Trinity enjoyed a very special relationship with her novice mistress. She was not obliged to "sugar-coat things" when speaking to her, as she sometimes had to do for Sister Genevieve, four years her senior. With Sister Marie of the Trinity, Therese was very "natural ": she could pass along the deepest thoughts of her heart to hers, in a simple style and a jovial tone that suited perfectly the message that the one wanted to transmit and the other had no desire to give up.
In the last months of their life together, exchanges deepened. Therese will even confide one day to her novice the temptations that assail her about the afterlife. Sister Marie of the Trinity is astonished:
- "But these very luminous songs that you have composed contradict what you tell me!”
- "Ah! Thérèse responds with a painful smile, “I sing what I want to believe, but it is without any feeling. I do not even want to tell you how far the night is dark in my soul, lest you share my temptations ... "She hadn’t made me this confidence, later concluded the novice, I never doubted I'd be.

The separation begins


In spring 1897, Thérèse’s health deteriorates seriously [read here about Therese's sickness]. Sister Marie was stripped of her job as a nurse’s aid for fear of contagion. Mother Marie de Gonzague prefers that she is no longer in contact with the sick. Therese sends some very brief notes to her novice to help her to quietly accept this decision: "I understand your pain very well to not be able to talk to me,” she wrote on June 6th, “but be sure that I also suffer from my helplessness and I never felt so well that you hold an immense place in my heart! " ...   Another note from mid-July begins with these words: "My dear sister, I do not want you to be sad. You know what perfection I dream of for your soul. "

On July 15th, eve of the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Sister Marie of the Trinity tells Therese: "If you were going to die tomorrow, after communion, it would be a beautiful death that would console me "! Therese went on quickly:  "Dying after Communion! A great day of celebration! Oh! no, that's not how I want to die! It would be an extraordinary grace and it would discourage little souls, because they could not emulate that. They must be able to imitate everything in me "!

On August 12th, 1897, for the twenty-third birthday of her novice, Thérèse wrote with a trembling hand on the back of a holy card, this final testament, this final farewell: "To my dear little sister. Remembrance of her 23 years. May your life be full of humility and love so that soon you will come where I go, in the arms of Jesus. " Your little Sister Therese of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face.


Three days before her death, says Sister Marie of the Trinity, "she was in such a state of suffering that I was painfully impressed by. She made an effort to smile at me again and, in a voice broken by suffocation, she said:
- "Ah! if I did not have faith, I could never bear so much suffering! I am surprised that there aren’t more atheists who kill themselves "!
Seeing her so calm and strong in the middle of such a martyrdom, I could not help telling her she was an angel.
- " Oh! No,” she replied, I am not an angel ... They are not so happy as me "!
She wanted me to understand, remarked the former novice, they did not, like her have the privilege of suffering for the good Lord ".


After the death of Thérèse


Sister Marie of the Trinity was only twenty-three years old at the death of Therese. To assimilate her teaching and make it bear fruit, a career of forty-six years opens before her. Years that she will spend in remembering more and more the one she called "Little Therese."

Against all odds, the publication of Story of a Soul was an unprecedented success. Every day an impressive amount of mail arrived at the monastery reflecting the posthumous influence of Thérèse. Because of her ability to write, Sister Marie of the Trinity is part of the small team of Carmelites that reply to letters, which continue to grow. But the Carmelites keep a cool head. They are thinking so little of a possible glorification they don’t even keep the letters they receive and which they try to respond to in a way that is not too stereotypical.

Let’s not also imagine a Carmel who only thinks of Therese. Sister Mary of the Trinity herself, who spent a lot of time copying texts of Therese or testimonies concerning her, spent a lot more time copying – with her very steady handwriting – pages of the Bible or of great spiritual writers. We have 11 notebooks in which Sister Marie of the Trinity has copied long passages of her favorite spiritual authors. John Chrysostom (442 pages) and Bernard of Clairvaux (190 pages) occupy the largest share, but there are also Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, the Curé of Ars, Father Pichon, Francis de Sales, Bossuet, Tauler, Francis of Assisi, Dom Guéranger, Msgr Gay, Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity, etc. In 1902, she composed a complete concordance of the four Gospels. A beautiful calligraphied book of 293 pages she offered on 21 January 1903 to Mother Agnes for her birthday. Very good with her fingers, Sister Marie of the Trinity also works well in book binding and baking altar bread. Her relaxation is changing activities.

Depositions of the Process


Gradually however, the idea of ​​Beatification is gaining ground. Sister Marie of the Trinity wrote on August 12th, 1908: "Her cult exploded in the universe, letters and requests abound everywhere. " In 1909, the Process starts. In 1910, the former novice of Thérèse prepares the deposition she must give in the first canonical process which opens on August 3rd and hears her testimony in March 1911.
Sister Marie of the Trinity is thus brought to rethink the "Little Way" of Therese. Hence the beautiful shortcut given, on May 25th, 1910 in a letter to Sister Germaine, Carmel of Angers:
"I believe that this is the first time since the world began that we canonize a saint who did nothing extraordinary: neither ecstasies nor revelations, nor mortifications that frighten little souls like ours. Her whole life is summed up in the single word, she loved the good God within all the ordinary little acts of common life, fulfilling them with great fidelity. She always had a great serenity of soul in suffering as in the enjoyment, because she took all things as coming from the good God. ".

An original fidelity


The desire to imitate her "dear little Thérèse" and follow her "Little Way" never degenerated for Sister Marie of the Trinity in slavish and scrupulous imitation. Thus, the day of her 32nd birthday, she absolutely does not suspect that one day she could be sick a long time like Thérèse.
With it she wants to die " weapons in hand," but she sees herself really "overwhelmed for months by the disease." Nevertheless, fully abandoned to the will of God, she will not be thrown off balance when Therese takes her by the hand to invite her to travel an unexpected route.
In February 1923, a month before the solemn translation of the relics of Thérèse in the Chapel of Carmel, Sister Marie of the Trinity got pneumonia. Shortly after, lupus, from a tubercular origin, is ravaging and slowly disfiguring her face. Her ordeal lasted twenty-one years.

A likeness of the Holy Face


The former novice of Thérèse thinks of her face as a "leper", which configures her more and more with the suffering servant of Isaiah, the adorable Face she had learned to venerate since childhood and that Therese had taught her to look at with love and trust. Like Therese, the former novice is trying to suffer one minute at a time, by reiterating confidently: "I can do all things in him who strengthens me."
The certainty of participating in the redemption of the world allows the sick person, plagued with terrible itching, not to lose her sense of humor. On March 24th, 1936, she used, to write Mother Agnes, a note illustrated with an advertisement for Lune worming medication, a baby who is pouting. And she commented on the drawing with the words: "Here is my head these days with my rabid wolf! Springtime effect probably ... or indeed that good God needs our small suffering changed to love, to compensate the indifference and hatred of sinners. "


The assurance of pleasing the Father by resembling the painful face of his beloved Son was unquestionably one of the driving forces of her strength and her peace. Hence the cry of her heart she leaves in a note of June 6th, 1939: "My God, if I were to be a little less agreeable to you without my lupus, I much prefer to keep it to be fully agreeable to you. "


This Way of Cross, Sister Marie of the Trinity climbs it with the certainty that Therese is near, as she has promised, "When I’m gone, do not think that I will just look at you from heaven. No, I will come down. " A sweet presence that is sometimes made noticeable by a delicious smell of perfume that suddenly invades the room where Marie is. A favor that she still has sometimes at the end of her life. On August 23rd, 1942, after the final bandage of the day, made more painful that night due to the occurrence of bleeding in the neck, she suddenly felt enveloped by a smell of incense. "Therese, she thought, is saying: "I will not abandon you, I will watch over you".

End of the ordeal


On December 8th, 1943, in her infirmary, she had a fall that caused her a very sharp heel pain. We then saw her decline every day. In early January 1944, a flu epidemic was raging in the community and the patient was mortally striken. On January 12th, Sister Marie-Ange asked, "What is Little Therese telling you in the middle of it all "? - "Ah! when she says something,” she replied, I will repeat it to you. She put me in the night of faith and
she leaves me in it. And I do not want to leave it! "
On Saturday, January 15th, the eve of her death, she said to her nurse: "In heaven, I will follow Therese everywhere !" These were practically her last words.

On January 19th, she was buried in the city cemetery.

P. Descouvemont

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