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  • Writer's pictureFr. Scott Haynes

Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal

Fr. Scott A. Haynes

St. Catherine Labouré was born on May 2nd, 1806, to the Labouré family living about 200 miles south of Paris. Catherine was the third youngest of ten children. When she was nine years old her mother died. In this time of tragedy, she turned to Mary, her heavenly Mother, for consolation. One day the little Catherine Laboure was seen standing on a chair embracing the family’s statue of Mary and saying,

“From now one you will be my mother.”

Sometime afterwards her elder sister entered the Daughters of Charity. Catherine rose at 5:00 a.m. each day and walked two miles to the next village for daily morning Mass since there was no priest for their parish church.

One night she dreamt she was in a church and a new priest she did not know was saying Mass. Still in her dream after Mass she called to a sick person and the priest was in the house. He turned and said to her,

“It is good to look after the sick.”

He also said that God had special plans for her and they would see each other again later.

Sometime later Catherine visited a convent of the Daughters of Charity, the congregation her sister had also entered. On the wall of the parlor, she saw a picture and realized it was the priest in her dream, St Vincent de Paul, who founded the Daughters of Charity 200 years previously.

At the age of twenty-one she asked her father’s permission to enter the Daughters of Charity. He refused but relented a few years later and in January 1830 she joined the congregation. A few months after she entered, she was moved to the congregation’s mother house in a street called rue du Bac in Paris to begin her training.

At 11.30 pm on July 18th, the eve of the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, she was wakened by a child of four or five whom she took to be her guardian angel and who led her to the convent chapel where Our Lady appeared to her at midnight. Our Lady sat on the priest’s chair for two hours and invited Catherine to kneel beside her. She gave Catherine a message for herself and all the world,

“Come to the foot of this altar. There graces will be poured out for all who ask for them.” Our Lady told her God had a special mission for her but did not tell her what it was.

Later that year, on November 27th, she received a second apparition of Our Lady when she was praying in the convent chapel at 5.30 pm. Our Lady was standing on a globe with her foot crushing the head of a serpent and there were rays of light coming from gems on her fingers. Our Lady said,

“Behold the symbol of graces that I will shower down on all who ask me for them.”

An oval frame surrounded Our Lady and Catherine could read this prayer in gold lettering on the oval frame,

“O Mary conceived without sin pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

Those of you who wear the miraculous medal know that this is the image on the front of the medal. The frame turned and Catherine could see a cross with a large “M” representing Mary beneath it. Beneath the cross were two hearts, one surrounded with thorns which Catherine understood to represent Jesus, and the other heart was pierced by a sword which Catherine took to represent Mary recalling the words of Simeon in the Temple to Mary that a sword of sorrow would pierce her soul (Luke 2:35).

Those of you who wear the miraculous medal know that this is the image on the rear of the medal. Catherine was told to have a medal struck according to this model. Our Lady said that those who wear the medal properly blessed will have great graces if they repeat the prayer,

“O Mary conceived without sin pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

Following Our Lady’s request, Catherine told no one but her spiritual director about these apparitions. He went to the archbishop of Paris who allowed the medal to be struck. Originally it was known as the medal of the Immaculate Conception but so many cures and miracles were attributed to it that it was called the Miraculous Medal.

In 1831, the year after her apparitions, Catherine was appointed to another convent. No one knew which Daughter of Charity had received these apparitions of Our Lady although Catherine was suspected because of her piety.

In 1876 she felt her life was drawing to a close and she told the mother superior of the Daughters of Charity that she was the sister. When she died the sisters released the news that the sister who had seen Our Lady had died, and though unknown throughout her life she was now the most talked about person.

At the time Our Lady appeared to Catherine in 1830, the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, although widely believed, was not a dogma required to be believed. Pope Pius IX is thought to have been influenced by the apparitions to Catherine in the rue du Bac when he decided to consult with the Church if the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady should be declared a dogma.

He received overwhelming support and on December 8, 1854, declared Our Lady to have been free of sin from the moment of her conception. Four years later, during the last apparition on March 25, 1858, at Lourdes, Our Lady revealed her name:

“I am the Immaculate Conception.”

So, the apparitions in the rue du Bac in 1830 and the Miraculous Medal prepared for the dogma of the Immaculate Conception to be proclaimed in 1854 and the apparition at Lourdes in 1858 confirmed it.

In 1933 as part of the canonization process St. Catherine Labouré’s body was exhumed and found to be in perfect preservation and was removed to the convent in the rue du Bac where it may now be seen behind glass in the spot where she received the request from Our Lady for the medal. In 1947 Pope Pius XII declared her to be Saint Catherine Labouré and called her the ‘saint of silence.’

In 1834, only two years after the first copies of the Miraculous Medal were made and distributed in Paris, news of the medal had traveled throughout France. One person who heard about it was a 70-year-old impoverished widow who had entered the nursing home of Saint-Maur after a terrible fall in August 1833. Not only did she have to drag her left leg, she needed assistance to walk, and she had difficulty sitting and getting back up. When she heard about the medal, in January 1834, she requested one and was filled with hope.

As soon as she received it, in March of that year, she went to Confession. The next day – which was the first Friday of the month – she received the Holy Eucharist and began praying a novena to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. She also venerated the medal, which she wore around her neck, 20 times a day.

She was suddenly free of her pain by the seventh day of the novena. Everyone at the nursing home was shocked when she began walking without assistance. After having received the miraculous cure, she was even able to climb stairs and kneel.

By 1836, news of the medal had spread throughout Europe. In January of that year, a priest in Italy secretly slipped a medal into the pillow of a 27-year-old man who had become indifferent about his faith. Even though he was dying from pneumonia, he didn’t want to turn from sin and return to his faith and family.

Since the priest and a chaplain had failed to convince him to do so, the priest hoped to return after giving the young man time to reflect on what they had said. Before the priest returned, the young man reconciled with his mother and asked her to call the priest, because he wanted to reject the sins of his past and return to his faith. When the priest showed him the medal and gave it to him, the young man began devoutly kissing the medal. With remorse, he confessed his sins and received absolution, and he also received the Last Rites. But to everyone’s astonishment, he began feeling better and made a full recovery within a few days. He kept the medal and frequently kissed it with great devotion and gratitude to God and Blessed Mother.

Despite the miracles associated with the medal, many people don’t believe it can make such a difference. Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., was one of those people. Not long after he had been ordained, a Vincentian priest encouraged him and others to promote the Miraculous Medal, because Blessed Mother really does work miracles through it. Although Fr. Hardon ordered a free pamphlet on how to bless the medals and enroll people in the Confraternity of the Miraculous Medal, he didn’t get one for himself.

But later, in 1948, when the United States priest encountered a ten-year-old boy who was in a coma after a sledding accident, he decided to see if it would help. A sister who worked at the hospital found one and a ribbon the priest could use to hang it around the boy’s neck.

Even though the boy had been diagnosed with inoperable permanent brain damage, the priest read the prayer that enrolled the boy in the Confraternity of the Miraculous Medal. As soon as he finished the prayer, the boy opened his eyes and asked his mother for ice cream. It was the first time he had spoken in nearly two weeks. New x-rays showed the brain damage had disappeared, and the boy was released from the hospital after about three days. Like the boy and his family, the priest’s life and his belief in the medal were forever changed.

Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, pray for us!


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