The Miraculous Medal, given to the world by the Blessed Virgin through Saint Catherine Labouré on 27th November 1830

The incorrupt body of Saint Catherine Labouré rests beneath the very spot upon which the Blessed Virgin appeared to reveal the design of the Miraculous Medal

The Church of Sant’Andrea della Fratte in Rome, where the Blessed Virgin appeared to Alphonse Ratisbonne – a bust in his image is to the left of the photograph. A bust of St Maximillian Kölbe is on the right.

Father Alphonse Marie Ratisbonne

Sometimes you can simply feel the holiness of a particular place. For me, such a place is the Chapel of the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity at 140 Rue du Bac, Paris. Here, in 1830, the Immaculate Virgin descended from Heaven and, appearing to Saint Catherine Labouré, gave us the Little Medal of the Immaculate Conception – or, as it would become affectionately known to everyone, the Miraculous Medal.

I first visited this Chapel in the autumn of 1995 and have done so on various occasions since then. Those visiting with me have always commented that they, too, could feel something special or heavenly about this place, even people who do not share the Catholic Faith.

Young Sister Catherine had been asleep on the night of 18th July 1830, when she was awoken by her Guardian Angel in the form of a young child. He told her to dress quickly and come to the Chapel – “the Blessed Virgin is waiting for you”. Catherine did as she was commanded. She describes what then took place –

“I hurriedly dressed and went to the side of this child. I followed him wherever he went. The lights were lit everywhere. When I entered the Chapel, the door swung open; the child had barely touched it with his fingertips. The candelabras burned brightly, as for Midnight Mass. However, I did not see the Blessed Virgin. The child led me to the sanctuary and there, I knelt down.

Near midnight, the child said to me ‘Look, here is the Blessed Virgin’. I heard a  noise like the rustling of a silk dress. A very beautiful Lady sat in the Father Director’s chair. The the child repeated in a  strong voice, ‘Here is the Blessed Virgin’.

Then, I sprang toward Her, falling on my knees at Her feet, at the steps of the Altar, and putting my hands on Her knees. I remained there I don’t know how long; time passed, the sweetest moments of my life. The Holy Virgin told me how I should act toward my Director and confided several things to me”.

To no other visionary was given this privilege of actually touching the Blessed Virgin so intimately and for so long, although at Lourdes, Saint Bernadette was granted the honour of kissing the foot of the Blessed Virgin as She stood in the niche above the child.

Appearing again in November that year, the Mother of God gave Catherine her mission – to have a Medal made according to the model being shown to her, and to have this distributed throughout the entire world. Despite various obstacles, within a few short years this mission was fruitful – the Medal was made and was given out; more than ten million Medals in ten years. And very quickly, the miracles began, particularly miracles of conversion. Catherine remained silent about all of this for the rest of her life – the Sisters in the convent knew that one of them had been granted the honour of seeing the Blessed Virgin, but they had no idea which Sister it was – only on her deathbed did Catherine finally reveal that she was the Sister in question. For this reason, Catherine has been called ‘the Saint of Silence’.

One particular miracle of the time is worth mentioning here. It concerns Alphonse Ratisbonne, a Jewish banker who was well known as having a great hatred of the Catholic Church. Travelling in Europe, he had finally arrived in Rome to see the sights and the great artworks. Whilst there, he visited an acquaintence, and was introduced to his brother, the Baron de Bussières. In the course of their conversation, the Baron spoke to Alphonse about the Catholic Faith and gave him a Miraculous Medal. Remaining polite and forced to accept the gift, interiorly, Alphonse was furious. Shortly afterward, the Baron discussed Alphonse with a friend, the Count de la Ferronays, asking the Count to pray for Alphonse’s conversion. The Count died very unexpectedly the following day. Baron de Bussières persuaded Alphonse to come with him while he made arangements for the funeral, and so they arrived at the Church of Sant’Andrea della Fratte; the Baron went to talk to the Priest, whilst Alphonse busied himself by walking around and looking at the art work. He found himself standing at a side Altar in the Church when something miraculous occurred. When the Baron returned, he found Alphonse kneeling before the Altar, weeping and asking to be baptised Catholic. Alphonse describes what had taken place –

“I had only been in the church a short while when, all of a sudden, I felt totally uneasy for no apparent reason. I raised my eyes and saw that the whole building had disappeared. Only one side chapel had, so to say, gathered all the light. In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the Altar. She was grandiose, brilliant, full of majesty and sweetness, just as She is in the Miraculous Medal. An irresistible force attracted me to Her. The Virgin made a gesture with Her hand indicating I was to kneel.”

In the course of the vision, Alphonse had been infused with a knowledge of all the Truths of the Catholic Faith. Five years later, he was ordained a Jesuit Priest, and he went on to found a religious congregation called the Order of Our Lady of Sion, dedicated to the conversion of Jewish people. He died in 1884.

A few years ago I was speaking with one of the Sisters of Charity and she told me a story. A few years beforehand, a young boy from South America had been brought to the Chapel by his mother. The child had an inoperable brain tumour and the mother had brought him to this holy place in the hope of being granted a miracle through the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin. They attended Mass in the Chapel. During Mass, the child got up and walked down the aisle to the chair which the Blessed Virgin had sat upon all those years ago, the night She first came to visit Catherine. At that time, this chair sat just beyond the altar rails, slightly to the left – it now sits further over on the left hand side of the Sanctuary  The child approached the chair and rested his head upon it for a few minutes, then silently returned to his seat beside his mother. Of course, she was mortified and after the Mass, she asked her little son why he had embarassed her in this way. The child replied –

“The Lady sitting in the chair asked me to come to Her and to rest my head in Her lap.”

Not surprisingly, further medical investigations after this could find no trace of the brain tumour which had brough the child and his mother to this holy place, to beg God for a miracle.

As I said, this is a holy place. Miracles of grace and of nature still take place there, even now, even today in this age where rationalism, science, logic and the tangible take precedence. 

Is there someone for whom you are praying? Do you have a particular issue that you need help with? Ask the Blessed Virgin for Her motherly help and intercession – the Lord refuses Her nothing.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee.