The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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October 13, 2000 Issue
Saint of the Day

This saint believed in getting to the Heart of the matter

St. Margaret Mary started devotion to Sacred Heart

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

In St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, he writes that God sent the foolish, the weak and the ordinary to confound the wise, the strong and the noble. The life of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque demonstrates that.

For somehow, this 17th century nun turned a series of revelations that were scorned by many into a practice that after more than 300 years is still observed: the feast of the Sacred Heart and reception of Communion on nine successive first Fridays.

St. Margaret Mary was born July 22, 1647, at L'Hautecour, Burgundy, France, to Philiberte (Lamyn) and Claude Alacoque. After her father died when she was eight, she studied at the Poor Clares school in Charolles. The nuns were impressed by her piety - they even allowed her to receive her First Communion at age 9, rather than 14, as was the custom - and she was attracted by their way of life.

During the next five years, while she was bedridden with rheumatic fever - ages 10-15 - she developed a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

After refusing to marry, she entered the Visitation convent at Paray-le-Monial and made vows in 1672. She had visions of Christ from the time she turned 20, including a series of revelations that began on Dec. 27, 1673, and continued for 18 months.

She said Christ told her that he wanted her to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart, including starting a feast and observing the Nine Fridays and the Holy Hour.

The illustration of the Sacred Heart familiar to Catholics depicts what she saw: "The divine heart was shown me on a throne of flames. It was more resplendent than the sun and transparent as crystal. The heart had its own adorable wound, and was surrounded by a crown of thorns, signifying the stings caused by our sins. And there was a cross above it."

At first, her superior, Mother de Saumaise, refused to listen to her, but she finally became convinced when Margaret Mary recovered from a life-threatening illness. However, she was unable to sway others in her community or a panel of theologians appointed to determine the validity of the visions.

Finally, Bl. Claud La Colombière, the community's confessor, supported her. Community opposition ended after the election in 1683 of Mother Melin, who made Margaret Mary an assistant.

As the novice mistress, she had the convent begin privately observing the Feast of the Sacred Heart in 1686. Two years later, they built a Sacred Heart chapel at the convent and soon the feast began to be observed at the order's other convents.

Margaret Mary died on Oct. 17, 1690. Seventy-five years later, in 1765, Pope Clement XIII officially recognized and approved the devotion to the Sacred Heart.

St. Margaret Mary was canonized in 1920. We celebrate her feast on Oct. 17.

Sources: Butler's Lives of the Saints, Dictionary of Saints and Voices of the Saints.

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