2006 Mar/Giving Alms

In our own days we find in Catholic countries most illustrious examples of unbounded charity among the poorest classes of laborers. At St. Etienne-la-Varenne, in the south-east of France, lived a country girl named Magdalen Saulnier. “Pious from her cradle, she used to distribute every day to the neighbouring poor part of the provision that she received for herself to take into the fields; though of a weak constitution, she used to walk long distances to visit other poor and give them alms, which she had begged from the rich. During fifteen years she supported in this manner a poor blind man and his idiot daughter, daily visiting them, though they lived a league and a half from her home A poor woman afflicted with leprosy in the hamlet of Grandes-Bruyeres had no one, during eighteen months, to come near her but Magdalen, in whose arms she breathed her last, hi 1840, during the inundations of the Rhone, she narrowly escaped being drowned while conveying her daily provision to another poor woman in the Grange-Macon; and, when reproached for her imprudence, she replied, ‘Why, what would you have me to do? I had not seen her the day before’. In the depth of winter, in 1835, she had discovered a poor woman, named Mancel, living far away in a hut, more like a wild beast’s den than a human habitation. This poor creature was ill, and Magdalen would not leave her alone. Toward the close of a long night, a thick snow covering the ground, she lighted some sticks, which caused so great a smoke that she opened the door to let in fresh air, when a wolf stood ready to dispute with Death its prey. It required all her efforts, aided only with a large stone, to keep the door closed against the furious animal, which howled and struggled for entrance till the dawn. Some hours after, the woman expired. Then Magdalen, fearing that the wolf would return, took up the body on her shoulders, and carried it to the house of the nearest peasant, who received it till the burial took place.”

What an example is here in this poor girl whose whole life was consumed in the incredible hardships of a field laborer for the wives and daughters of our laboring classes in town and country. There is not a narrow street, crowded with tenement houses, in any one of our large cities, nor a manufacturing population in any of our great industrial centres, in which every woman who reads these pages cannot find some poor mother more burdened than herself; some factory girl, sparely clad and poorly fed, who is an angel of good counsel, comfort, and all manner of help to her companions. Travellers over a sandy and treeless waste often chance upon green and shady spots rising like islands of the blessed in the midst of an ocean of death and desolation. When they come to examine what had made these fairy spots so beautiful, they find a spring of living water gushing up from the bosom of the earth, overflowing its native spot, causing the grass to grow and the shrub to flower and the tree to take root and thrive, and thus the green carpet spreads round about that cool spring, and bird and beast and man himself hasten gratefully to enjoy the shade, the refreshing waters, the loveliness and repose of the spot. Examine well, in these moral wastes so frequent and so hideous amid our civilization and our Christianity, what is the source of the sweet and sanctifying influences you discover in certain neighborhoods: you will be sure to trace it to some womanly heart, in the poorest of hovels frequently, and not seldom in the coldest and most naked of garrets.