Eucharistic Crusade

Saint Thérèse Couderc {1805 - 1885}

Many saints and holy persons had to suffer a very great deal before they ever went to Heaven.  St. Thérèse, known in earlier life as Marie Couderc, is one that fits well into this class of people.  She began a great work, became a great leader, made the work a success and then got thrown out by those she had loved and helped!

Marie was born in Sablières, France, on February 1, 1805, and was baptized the following day on the Feast of the Purification.  Her parents were very wealthy but in spite of all they had, they were very good Catholics.  Her father, Claude Couderc, was very well educated and governed the community in which he lived, for forty years.  He was born in 1780, during the terrible French Revolution and lived in a huge white mansion in Sablières.  During the Revolution, the house served as a hiding place for faithful priests, being hunted down for being good Catholics. 

The mansion had some secret rooms, which were used as chapels. Here, Mass was said for those who were trying their best to remain faithful Catholics.  As a boy Claude often served the secret Masses, which were said by these holy priests.  He also had to stand guard by a window, in order to warn the priests and people about any spies that were coming near the property.

In 1801, Claude married Anne Méry, an excellent Catholic lady who was gentle, kind, lady-like and well mannered.  They were blessed with twelve children but two died at an early age.  Eight boys and two girls survived, Marie being the eldest of the girls. 

As a child Marie was surrounded by a loving family and led a happy innocent life.  She received her First Communion in 1815, on Pentecost Sunday, when she was ten years old.  During the next seven years of her life Marie kept herself busy, helping her mother and taking care of the children. 

As a girl she did not receive much schooling.  She was always a very prayerful and devout Catholic and would often get up during the night, to beg God to help her to love Him with a greater love.  Marie was not afraid of making sacrifices either.  She followed her mother’s example and loved to attend Mass and visit the Blessed Sacrament.  On Sundays and once during the week, she would walk for one and a half hours to the parish church to pray, hear Mass and receive Holy Communion.  Making the trip back, she would often get home only around 3:00 in the afternoon, having been without food during that time. 

In 1822, when Marie was seventeen her parents sent her to a boarding school in Vans.  She remained there for three years until she was twenty years old.  Then during Lent of 1825, her father came to take her home because he wanted her to go to the parish mission in Sablières.

Fr. John Terme was the priest who was going to preach the mission.  He was a holy priest that had worked very hard to get himself ordained.  When growing up he was like another Don Bosco.  His parents were poor, with hardly a penny to spare.  As a boy, John had very little schooling, but he was very intelligent and was determined to become a priest. 

God helped John to complete his studies and in 1809, he was finally able to enter the Grand Seminary, at Viviers, France.  He was an excellent seminarian; humble, pure, pious and obedient.  His friends there liked him very much and used to call him "another St. Aloysius."  He was finally ordained a priest when he was twenty-three years old.

Marie met Fr. Terme during the mission and after talking to the priest about her vocation, the good priest asked Mr. Couderc to allow Marie to become a nun in the new community he had founded.  Permission was given and Marie left to be a nun and took the name of Thérèse.  Fr. Terme lived near the Shrine of St. Francis Regis.  There he built a hostel for women pilgrims and asked Sr. Thérèse and two other nuns to manage the place.  Then the priest had all the sisters move from Aps to the shrine and told Sr. Thérèse to be their Novice Mistress.  When Thérèse was twenty-three, she became the Superior of this little community called the “Religious of St. Regis.”  She trained the Novices, organized and ran the community and trained teachers for schools.  Dozens of women flocked to the convent to visit the Shrine of St. Francis Regis.   The hallways were crowded with mattresses and the pilgrims were often too noisy. 

But Mother Thérèse wanted the sisters to be true religious, not just innkeepers.  She asked Fr. Terme if they could accept only those pilgrims who would agree to stay at least three days.  She also wanted the pilgrims to pray some special prayers or to make a nine day novena. 

The priest granted her permission and God blessed their efforts.  Now there was silence and prayer! Then Fr. Terme came up with an even better idea.  After directing a retreat, using the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, he decided that the Sisters of St. Regis should give these devotions, instead of the prayers and novenas.  All went well under Fr. Terme’s direction, but after the rose comes the cross, and before long the holy priest died. 

Soon after, Mother Thérèse was walking the thorny road to Heaven.  The sisters were divided in their thoughts and the community split into two groups.  One group decided to keep their title of the Sisters of St. Regis and continue their teaching apostolate.  The other group became the “Religious of the Cenacle,” and different Jesuit priests came to help form these sisters in their role of giving the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

In the spring of 1837, Mother Thérèse consecrated herself to Our Lady and at the same time hand over her role as Superior saying, “Dear Mother, if you wish me to keep the title of Superior, it will be only a title….. Whenever I have to instruct, correct, console or make any important decisions, I will ask your permission.” 

On January 6, 1837, Mother Thérèse and Mother Prost made their perpetual vows.  The retreats increased rapidly and plans were made to build a new chapel and a new convent.  In this same year a lady promised to provide the money for the building of the new chapel.  The chapel was built and the woman’s family refused to donate the money.  There was a law suit and the sisters lost the case.  Now they had to come up with the money another way, to pay for the newly built chapel.

The community of nuns as well as outside friends blamed Mother Thérèse for the whole affair.  Because of this mishap, most of the sisters wanted to elect a new Superior.  On September 24, 1838, a widow of a big family entered the Novitiate, and one month later, on October 24, 1838, this same sister was named the new Superior General by the Bishop!  Three days later Mother Thérèse resigned.

This new Superior, who hardly knew the first thing about being a nun, put the convent through a terrible trial.  She and made the rules more lax, and borrowed money to buy beautiful things for the convent.  Many nuns and outsiders were shocked at this new turn of events, but Our Lady was watching of the little community.  When Fr. Renault found out that things were going badly at the convent, he replaced the young Superior with another sister, Mother Contenet.  But poor Mother Thérèse was not allowed to give retreats and had to work in the garden and other places.

Mother Contenet was a devout religious and Superior, who was full of energy.  She made some mistakes as Superior and sent some to the older nuns away from the community.  Soon only two older nuns were left, Mother Thérèse and Mother Josephine.  Also the Novices were made to believe that Mother Contenet and not Mother Thérèse was the real foundress of the “Sisters of the Cenacle.”

Mother Thérèse spent many years at the convent in Fourvière, being in charge of the manual labour.  She describes some of these trying times….. “We gathered up pieces of black bread which a man used to throw beside the convent wall.  At night and early morning we had only one lamp in the hall to give us light to dress by and we had very poor light to work by at recreation.”

Holy Mother Thérèse was Superior for a short time in Paris and Tournon.  She was very spiritual and told the nuns, “Great trials make great souls and fit them for the great things which God wishes to do through them.” * * * “Let us say bravely and confidently: God is sufficient for me!” * * * “We should never allow even one thought of sadness to enter the soul, because we have within us, Jesus, the Joy of Heaven!”

In 1859, Mother Thérèse gave herself completely to God.  In 1864, God made her understand that souls would not do enough prayer and penance.  She wanted to save souls and she firmly believed in self surrender.  Mother Thérèse said, “There is sweetness and peace when one gives himself totally to God, and by doing this, the soul finds Heaven on earth!”

Mother Thérèse spent the last ten years of her life in much suffering of body and soul.  In 1875, she offered herself to Our Lord as a victim soul.  Day after day, but especially on Thursdays and Fridays, she shared Our Lord’s Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.  She would stay in the chapel near the altar and weep for hours on end, saying over and over, “Have pity on me Dear Lord, have pity on me!”

Her sufferings increased and by 1885, Mother Thérèse had to stay in her bed.  In her pains she suffered patiently and suffered with great peace of soul.  The Poor Souls in Purgatory would often come to visit her and they would sing with great love and humility, the “Te Deum.”  On September 26, 1885, Mother Thérèse died, closing her eyes to this world.  She was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970.       

St. Thérèse Couderc, Pray for Us!                  

The End       


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