Sr. Nuala Reflects on St. Marie Eugenie's Canonization

Monday, June 18, 2007

 

The following article was printed on the front page of The Catholic Free Press, the weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts.

Sister Nuala Cotter is the superior of the Worcester community of Religious of the Assumption and an English and theology professor at Assumption College.

Reflection on Marie Eugenie's Canonization:
June 3, 2007
By Sister Nuala Cotter, R.A.

"The earth is a place of glory for God." These words of Mother Marie Eugenie of Jesus, canonized on Trinity Sunday, June 3, by Pope Benedict XVI, set the tone for the three-day weekend of pilgrimage and festivity in Rome. And the Roman skies provided all of us there with a special taste of earth, in the form of rain --buckets of it that poured non-stop onto our heads as we gathered in St. Peter's Square. More than 6,000 friends of Marie Eugenie were there, with as many more for each of the other three blesseds to be canonized that morning: all of us soaked to the skin, all of us waving banners and flags, all of us eagerly listening for the name of our saint and roaring our enthusiasm whenever we heard it, all of us joyfully participating in the ceremony that changed the Assumption's Marie Eugenie, along with Malta's George Preca, Poland's Simon of Lipnica and Holland's Charles Houben, from a holy person bound to a particular country or religious congregation to a holy person offered as a model to the entire Church. To use a word that we hear a lot around here (though usually with far less accuracy), it was an awesome experience. Our Marie Eugenie now belonged to the whole Church in a new way.

She'd come a long way from a childhood more Christian in name than in belief, which had, nevertheless, prepared her for her future as a pilgrim and foundress. Her mother had given her a foundation in the kind of practical virtue that attends to the needs of the poor, while her father had encouraged her love of learning. Both of these qualities would help her to shape her religious family in important ways. But something, or rather Someone, was lacking: Jesus Christ. She found him slowly, first through suffering the divorce of her parents, the death of her mother when she was only 15, the pain of being farmed out to relatives and then through what can only be called providence. At 19, she went to listen to a preacher at the Cathedral of Notre Dame because it was the fashionable thing to do in Paris during Lent. What she heard cut her to the heart and changed her whole life. By the age of 22, she would begin the foundation of what became the Religious of the Assumption.

Marie Eugenie didn't found the Assumption alone; her tremendous gift for friendship led her to attract and reach out to many young people, both women and men, who joined her in the effort: two of the closest were Kate O'Neil, a young Irishwoman who would become her right arm, and Emmanuel d'Alzon, an energetic priest from the south of France with whom she would exchange 4,000 letters over a forty-year friendship. (She encouraged d'Alzon to start the masculine branch of the Assumption, the Assumptionists, founders and sponsors of Assumption College here in Worcester.)

I was thinking about that genius for friendship as I sat dripping in the Square, reflecting on all the people I'd already seen around town, many wearing our distinctive pilgrim's scarf or the navy blue baseball cap with Marie Eugenie's signature embroidered on the side, not to mention all the sisters in the purple and white of the Assumption! All that humanity, come from all corners of the globe, from every continent, all as wet as I was, and just as happy, too. More than 100 years after her death, Marie Eugenie was still gathering people, speaking a word of hope and challenge, offering us a way of friendship and communion with her, with each other, and most importantly, with Jesus Christ.

For Marie Eugenie, friendship with Christ never meant hating the world. Her spirituality led her to see the world, as I've said, as a place of glory for God; she urged her sisters to teach their students to love their times. Not to be complacent about the times -- hardly! -- but rather to love them enough to engage them, to try to transform society, especially through education. It was, perhaps, an unusual stance for a 19th century nun, but it led to the development of the spirit of liberty and confidence which still informs the Assumption today.

I have to confess that I really didn't follow the Mass of Canonization too closely; I couldn't see anything, thanks to the rain and the umbrellas, not to mention the many thousands of pilgrims in the Square with me. At the same time, however, I was deeply aware of God's grace in allowing me to witness the Church's acknowledgement of what her friends have always believed: Marie Eugenie was a saint. Long ago she had said, "I want to give myself, not lend myself, to Jesus Christ;" now the universal Church has given its word that her desire has been achieved. Alleluia!