The Green Scapular and Its Favors
by REV. FATHER MARIE EDOUARD MOTT, C.M.
PART ONE: Biography of Sister Justine Bisqueyburu
Daughter of Clement Bisqueyburu, merchant, and of Ursula Albine d'Anglade, our Sister was born at Mauleon (Lower Pyrenees) on November 11, 1817, feast of St. Martin, was Baptized the following day, and received the name of Justine.
We know almost nothing of her connections and early childhood, unless it be that her mother's kinsfolk lived at Loteron: There she at an early age (for what motive is not known) was intrusted to her maternal aunt, Miss d'Anglade, and to Mr. d'Anglade, who took a great liking to her and at his death left her all his fortune. With them, she grew up, received her First Communion and was educated.
When the time came for her decision as to a state of life, the Divine call came to her, though we know none of the circumstances. All we do know is that she was then twenty-two years old and that she asked this permission of her aunt, Miss d.Anglade, who loved her dearly and who would have wished to keep her. A thorough Christian, however, she would not thwart the designs of God upon this soul and hence let her go, toward the end of August, 1839, to make her postulatum at the hospital of Pau under the guidance of the venerable Sister Vallier.
Her postulatum having expired, she left for Paris to begin her Seminary or Novitiate. Strange to say, she made the journey in care of the saintly priest who was soon to become the confidant of the extraordinary graces with which she was favored, a circumstance willed by a particular design of Divine Providence. This was Father Aladel, Director of the Daughters of Charity who, happening to pass through the city of Pau on his return to Paris, willingly agreed to accompany the young postulant on her journey. She entered the Seminary November 27, 1839, on the ninth anniversary of the famous apparition of the Immaculate Virgin to Saint Catherine Laboure, an apparition to which the Miraculous Medal owes its origin. The good Father Aladel, who was so wisely directing Sister Catherine Laboure in her extraordinary ways, did not suspect that confidences somewhat similar were soon to be reposed in him by this postulant.
After nine months of Seminary training, she was placed in the house of Charity of Blangy (Seine-Inférieurel.)
We should like to have some details of the time spent in the Seminary and the manner in which she conducted herself, but we may draw a fair conclusion from the remarks written about her, in truly eulogistic terms, at the time of her taking the habit: [CT does not have an image of her, regrettably.]
"Sister Bisqueyburu (Justine). Tall. Knows how to read, write, cipher, knows her grammar. Gentle disposition. Is sensible, has judgment and an ardent imagination. Skillful, intelligent, courageous, pious and virtuous. Fit for school."
As one can see, her piety had not escaped the eyes of her Directresses who, in these remarks, had condensed the results of their observations. But the First Directress alone, Sister Buchepot, had been able to see, from receiving the communications of the young Sister, to what degree her soul was united to God. Favored as she was from the beginning of her Seminary with extraordinary graces, of which we shall speak at length in part two, she knew how to keep them secret and spoke of them only to those charged with her direction.
The remarks written at the time of her receiving the Habit end with these words, "Fit for school." And, in fact, her first employment on leaving the Seminary was that of school teacher at Blangy, a small place situated in the Department of Seine-Inférieure. Yet she did not stay there long, for in 1841, we find her in the House of Charity of Notre-Dame parish at Versailles, where she remained until 1855. It was there she made her first Holy Vows. There also she had the opportunity of spending herself unreservedly in the practice of charity, revealing the extraordinary aptitude with which she was gifted for the care of the sick. Her good Superior, Sister Le Pelletier, was afflicted with a cancer on the tongue which caused her cruel sufferings and required delicate attentions most repugnant to nature. Sister Bisqueyburu considered herself happy to bestow this care upon her and did so with great affection. Night and day was she at the bedside of the venerated patient, endeavored to soothe her pains and anticipated her last wish; and when the moment of supreme separation arrived, her filial devotedness inspired her to render less painful the ever-momentous passing from time to eternity.
When the Crimean war broke out in 1854 and military authorities made an appeal to the devotedness of the Daughters of Charity for the nursing of the wounded soldiers on the battlefield, the Superior readily complied with her expressed wish to be employed for that purpose. She left for Constantinople in 1855 with the other Sisters destined to the same charitable functions, and, like them, she devoted herself unreservedly to this work.
The devotedness of the Daughters of Charity in the painful labor of the ambulances, aroused an admirable enthusiasm in those who witnessed it regardless of religion or nationality, and provoked a generous emulation, even within the ranks of schism and heresy.
An English lady, Miss Nightingale, who had been for a long time at the head of the Anglican Association of Charity in London, conceived the thought of endowing her country with an institution similar to that of the Daughters of Charity. She even went to Paris for the purpose of an interview with Father Etienne, their Superior General, begging him to show her the rules and organization of that Community that she might take a copy of them. After having obtained all that she wished, she left full of confidence in the success of her enterprise.
At her return to France in 1856, Sister Bisqueyburu was given a duty which was like the sequence of the one she had efficiently fulfilled in Constantinople. She was placed at the military hospital at Valde-Grace in Paris, where she remained two years. One of the Sisters who lived with her at that time and later was placed under her charge at Rome -----Sister Bergasse-----testified that she was deeply devoted to her patients and that she possessed all the qualities of a true servant of the poor.
Qualities as precious as hers determined Superiors to place her at the head of an establishment. The one first entrusted to her in 1858 was the Military Hospital of Rennes, which she was commissioned to open. But she remained only a few months and the last days she spent there were very painful, for, a month before her departure, she had received an order to be in readiness to be sent to Algiers at the first signal, and at the same time she was to keep the most absolute silence about it. The secret was indeed well kept, but the affectionate heart of the new Superior suffered from it. As she dearly loved her companions, as well as the hospital which she had put in excellent order, the thought of the impending separation was most painful to her and her grief was so much the greater as exteriorly she was not to betray the least sign of it. In this circumstance she revealed great strength of character, and when the order for departure arrived she at once complied with it and knew how to leave without commotion.
At Algiers she was placed at the head of the Dey's Military Hospital, a very important house which necessitated a sure and firm hand to direct it, together with a kind and motherly heart that would be guided by correct judgment. Sister Bisqueyburu showed herself equal to her task during the nine years she held this office, from 1858 to 1867.
One of her companions who had the great privilege of spending seven years under her direction at Algiers, and who became Superior of an important house in foreign lands, gave us the following statement of this epoch of her life under the date of March 22, 1907, less than four years after the death of the Sister:
"I am trying to recall memories of long ago of this fervent soul whom I had the happiness to know and to love in our Lord.
"On leaving the Seminary, I was for seven years under her direction. I was constantly thanking God for it, for, in the midst of the duties of that large hospital of the Dey at Algiers. I could fancy myself still under the direction of the saintly Sister Buchepot, our dear and venerated Directress of the Seminary.
"Sister Bisqueyburu was a living rule. She drew our attention to the military exactness we had the opportunity to witness on the part of the nurses and patients in order by a comparison to inspire us with a greater, higher and more supernatural fidelity to our Holy Rules, of which she gave us a perfect example herself.
"Everywhere the first in the accomplishment of duty, she surpassed us in the practice of humility and mortification.
"Under an austere exterior appearance lay hidden a great kindness of heart. The illness of one of her companions was to her a most painful trial and when the patient died she was inconsolable.
"In 1886, eight of our sixteen Sisters were stricken with cholera within less than forty-eight hours and three died immediately, This good Sister multiplied herself in order to attend to them all and at each new death she offered herself to God as a victim, begging Him to spare her companions. Thus long ago did Saint Louise de Marillac. Her grief was truly painful to behold, and our worthy Director, the Very Reverend Father Doumercq, had great difficulty in cheering up this otherwise energetic soul. Five successive times I have seen her maternal heart submitted to this trial. It was really heartrending. And yet her resignation to God's will was perfect.
"Her esteem for our dear vocation was so deep that she could not understand the slightest hesitation on our part in the duties and sacrifices she imposed upon us.
"For our venerated Superiors she had a respect and obedience inspired by her great spirit of faith and she was prompt in executing not only their orders, but their least wish. Likewise, civil authorities, military officials, doctors and administrators placed an entire confidence in her.
"In the beginning, she had numberless difficulties, finding herself at variance with many prejudices which she succeeded in overcoming, adjusting everything with much wisdom and firmness, for she knew how to convert the sentiments of those most opposed to her into admiration for her virtuous and saintly life. The strength necessary was the outcome of her solid piety, her unreserved confidence in God and her tender devotion to the Most Holy Virgin. But nothing would ever make one suspect that she had been the object of supernatural favors.
"In 1867, Superiors sent her to Italy in the service of the Pontifical Army which, with so much heroism, was devoting itself in defense of a cause, alas! already despaired of.
"After spending three days and three nights on the battlefield of Mentana, she went to Rome to equip and organize three ambulances; that of the Quirinal, that of Saint Agatha, and another whose name escapes my memory.
"On this new field of action, where she displayed the same zeal as at Algiers, God had several consolations in store for her. Pope Pius IX, who soon appreciated her valor, often saw her and gave her more than one token of his fatherly kindness. He even sometimes allowed her to accompany him in his walks through his private gardens. Msgr. de Merode, who occupied a superior rank at the Pontifical Court, also held her in the highest esteem.
"She was very far from taking pride in these favors. She never even spoke of them, but it is probable that God permitted them in compensation for what she had suffered at her departure from Algiers."
In 1868, she left Rome to take the direction of the Hotel-Dieu of Carcassonne, where God granted her a great consolation. She received the visit of the Very Reverend Father Doumercq, Director of the Daughters of Charity in Algiers, who happening to pass through Carcassonne, came to see her.
The Hotel-Dieu of Carcassonne was her last mission. She remained there thirty-five years (from 1868 to 1903), giving there, as she did in other places, the example of many virtues and accomplishing much good. June 16, 1868, Tuesday in the octave of Corpus Christi, she was installed Sister Servant of the Hotel-Dieu of Carcassonne by Sister Roche.
Many adjustments were necessary in this establishment when she took charge of it. Yet without being discouraged by difficulties, she resolved to re-establish order, and courageously set her hand to the work which, with the help of God, she brought up to ex- cellent standards.
The following was written to us, May 18, 1907, by one of her companions who lived with her during the last seven years of her life:
"Sister Bisqueyburu, very intelligent, and of a quick and ardent disposition, took personal interest in all the details of the house; making her rounds through the duties in the twinkling of an eye, visiting the sick in their wards, having for each a cheering word and devoting herself untiringly to the service of God and the poor.
"From the start, she undertook to put in good condition the old Hotel-Dieu of Carcassonne, which was very delapidated at her arrival. She had the floors of the corridors repaired, as they had suffered from the dampness that arose from the earth. The large stairway leading up to the second floor was built and iron beds were procured for the poor sick who had been very uncomfortable heretofore. Near each bed she had a red marble slab fixed for the convenience of the service, she even furnished the section reserved for the officers at her own expense, had gaslights put everywhere and had a clock set in top of the cupola. As previously it had been very poor, the usual fare of the patients and the Sisters was improved under Sister's watchful direction.
"The chapel, which had just been built, lacked the barest necessities. It was the pious Superior who supplied it with linen, sacred vessels, feast day vestments and all the objects required by the liturgy. She organized a choir and selected as an organist a young girl who had suffered from reverses of fortune and whose musical talent could be used to her benefit.
"The administration of the Hotel-Dieu, whose extreme ideas were in opposition with hers, furnished her with the occasion of displaying a great patience, to which she united deference in their regard, but not to the exclusion of firmness when duty required it, and she at last triumphed over the great difficulties first encountered. In consequence, they esteemed her to such a degree that she possessed their respect and veneration. She was consulted by them in many matters and by degrees they entered into her views. Thus she had the consolation of seeing the Crucifix put back in its place of honor in the wards from whence it had been taken. At the same time public prayers which had been suppressed in the wards were resumed.
"The doctors likewise appreciated her devotedness, her virtue and particularly, her exactness in carrying out their orders.
"Besides this, she was pleasant to deal with, and secular persons, as well as members of the clergy with whom she was acquainted greatly enjoyed even a slight contact with her."
Another companion of hers, Sister Moy, who for twenty years lived under her, in a similar manner eulogized her:
"She loved the poor sick dearly with a maternal love. It was a happiness for her to visit them, to listen to their commplaints and to relieve them whenever she could.
"Her vigilance was remarkable, and as she was quick on her feet one would have thought she was everywhere at once.
"Doctors and administrators greatly appreciated her. Persons of the world had recourse to her as to an oracle, and always received from her light, consolation and strength. She did a great deal of good by opening both her heart and her purse to all sorts of woes and needs; but she was very clever in throwing a mantle over her good deeds.
"She was most pious and regular, always up at four o'clock and the first to be in the chapel."
The following may be read about her in a circular letter of the Most Honored Mother, Superior of the Daughters of Charity, January 1, 1905:
"Sister Bisqueyburu, Superior of the Hotel-Dieu of Carcassonne, concealed under an austere exterior and a quick manner a great depth of kindness and devotedness, exercised exemplary regularity and possessed a great spirit of faith. To this all her companions agree.
"She had more than an ordinary devotion to the Blessed Virgin; a devotion which betrayed itself in her words and in the fervor with which she said the chaplet. When a patient refused the succors of religion, Sister Bisqueyburu did not wish that the Sister in charge should complain about it openly, but she herself went before the Blessed Virgin in the Oratory and recited a Memorare and rarely was her prayer fruitless.
"Always up at four o'clock as long as her strength permitted it, always first at all community exercises, a strict observer of silence, Sister Bisqueburu held the Holy Rules in high esteem. But she was not like the Pharisees of the Gospel whom our Lord reproached for laying upon others burdens which they would not touch with their fingers, and if there be Sisters who found her too strict, they must confess that she was still more so to herself than to others.
"She understood her vow of poverty and practiced it with zeal and to perfection, never wasting anything. On her bed of suffering where she spent the last ten months of her life, she still worked whenever her illness permitted it, thus being to her companions a perfect model of a true servant of the poor. Yes, dearly did she love her poor and the thought of having one day to leave them at her departure from Hotel-Dieu, rent her heart. Our dear Lord wished to spare her that supreme sorrow by recalling her to Himself before the secularization of an establishment which for many years had witnessed her devotedness."
Sister Naude, to whose testimony we have already referred, wrote May 7, 1907: "How can one speak in adequate terms of a life filled with years dotted with unusual incidents, especially in the beginning; years replenished with good works? How is it possible to give an idea of her solid virtue, sincere piety, a will strong in spite of the multitude of various events with which it had been in conflict, a patience amazing in so lively and impressionable a temperament as was hers?"
Another of her companions, Sister Corboz, who had been Sister's assistant in the later years of her life, wrote June 10, 1907:
"I shall give you very simply what I have remarked in this worthy Sister. She was of a reticent disposition and if some persons have judged her less favorably, it was because they had neither sufficiently studied nor understood her.
"Severe toward herself, she sometimes seemed to be also with regard to others, even her companions when she thought they did not evince enough zeal for their perfection. Her keen eye noticed the least defect, the
slightest resistance, which she reproved rather severely. But her severity soon changed into an unequalled sweetness as soon as she perceived that her admonitions were sincerely turned to profit. In consequence, she several times told me: 'I have been severe toward my companions yet I never ceased to love them'. And more than one act of charity confirmed the truth of this statement.
"Her regularity, piety, and love of duty were exemplary and even in the most painful moments of her community life she was never heard to utter a complaint. She was most attached to her Community and filled with respect toward superiors from whom the least attention caused her a true happiness."
From the beginning of her vocation, this worthy Daughter of Saint Vincent had been the object of supernatural favors from the Most Holy Virgin, which we shall make known in the second part. Her humility managed to keep them completely secret for a long time; but in her last illness her companions succeeded in making her admit several revealing details. She regretted it as soon as she was aware of it; but without doubt God permitted this avowal so that we might have a full assurance of the authenticity of these favors.
Something of this secret, however, had transpired, though it cannot be told how it happened; for one day when she still was at Algiers, some of her companions having gone to see good Father Girard, Superior of the Ecclesiastical Seminary, the conversation fell on the Miraculous Medal, the Scapular of the Passion and finally the Green Scapular which already had worked wonders in the conversion of poor sinners. "At any rate," they said, "if for the Green Scapular there were visions, the secret has been well kept, for nobody knows who the happy seer is."-----"But," answered good Father Girard,"that privileged soul is your fervent Sister Servant . . .; oh! that does not mean you should go and publish it broadcast." And they were faithful to the latter recommendation.
On her part, Sister Bisqueyburu skillfully eluded the pointed questions which at times were addressed to her.
"On several occasions," said Sister Naude, "we tormented her to make her admit it was she who had the vision. She never could be trapped and dismissed us in a manner that discouraged any further quizzing."
"During the last years of her life," said Sister Brun, another of her companions who had spent eighteen years with her, "we used often to speak to her about the happiness of souls favored with visions of the Blessed Virgin. We then more particularly dwelt on the Green Scapular which she recommended us to use with the patients in enmity with God, which, by the way, always proved successful. When we had a patient whose condition was critical, we recommended him to the prayers of our good Superior, made use of the Green Scapular and were always heard.
"But when we tried to find out to whom the Blessed Virgin had revealed that scapular, she either smiled or referred us to our Superiors for better information, or she simply said: 'You bother me; leave me alone with all your visions. It is not well to believe too readily all that sort of thing.' "
But toward the end of her last illness, God permitted that she should be unaware of the purpose of certain questions addressed to her, thus betraying herself unconsciously. That illness lasted a long time affording her an opportunity for the practice of many virtues to the great edification of those surrounding her.
To make sure of not missing any of the exercises of piety prescribed by the rules at the time appointed for them, she requested two of her companions to come and recite them aloud near her bed, and she joined with them the best she could. Moreover she kept in touch with all that was going on in the house and she still directed it by her orders and advices.
"When her condition grew worse," wrote Sister Naude, "we should have liked to speak of her about receiving the Last Sacraments, and yet, in spite of the saintly disposition we saw her in, the courage to do so failed us. We would have liked her to ask for them herself. But she very likely did not believe her state so alarming, and did not think of it. I therefore resorted to the following scheme: I slipped the Green Scapular under her pillow, saying to myself: 'If she is the one to whom this scapular was revealed, the Blessed Virgin will not permit that her privileged daughter should leave this world without the succors of religion.' At once, wonderful to say, she asked for a priest and received the Sacraments with the deepest piety.
"This was two weeks before her death and during these last days, so painful for her, she edified us all by her patience, her gentleness, her kindness with regard to all.
"Her weakness was as great as her emaciation and her life could be prolonged only by means of constant stimulation.
"As she felt her end drawing near, she frequently raised her eyes to Heaven saying:
'Heaven! . . . Oh! Heaven . . . Heaven!" And her look seemed to say: 'Will that beautiful Heaven be mine?' She dreaded death, not that she was afraid to die, but, as she expressed herself, she feared to appear before the Sovereign Judge void of merits. 'What?' said one of her companions to her. 'Do you count as nothing those sixty-four years you spent in serving God and the poor?'
" 'It is true,' she replied, 'but what are they worth, these works? I have been the object of so much adulation! Did I not receive my reward here below?'
"But her fears soon vanished and she henceforth spoke of nothing but Heaven and the Blessed Virgin.
"She often repeated to us: 'Do love the Blessed Virgin, love her much. She is so beautiful!' 'Sister, one would think you had seen her,' said Sister Louise to her. But instead of answering, she repeated: 'Love her much. She is so beautiful!' 'But what must we do to love her?' 'You must imitate her virtues.'
"I then ventured to ask her some questions of which she did not notice the purpose and which she answered without being aware that she was revealing a secret kept for more than sixty years. 'What was the color of her dress?' 'White.' 'And her mantle?' 'Blue.' 'How did she wear her hair?' 'It was hanging loose about her.' And she illustrated every statement with a gesture, whilst her eyes seemed to behold sweet visions of the past.
"I showed her the Green Scapular and she at once said: 'Yes, that's it exactly.' And she piously kissed it.
"I also asked her whether the Blessed Virgin had appeared to her at Carcassonne too. But then she became aware that she had given herself away, and she replied in a tone not very gracious: 'I don't know,' adding: 'Why did I say that anyhow?' And as if to destroy the favorable impression produced upon us by her revelation, she quickly said: 'I am nothing but a conceited creature, and Father Aladel who knew the whole thing told me I was deluded. Do not bring this up any more. Leave me alone.' From that time she refused to speak of it."
And shortly after, on September 23, 1903 (anniversary of St. Vincent's ordination to the Priesthood, in 1660), she sweetly surrendered her soul to God in the sentiments of deepest piety, being in the eighty-second year of her age and the sixty-fifth of her vocation, leaving a perfume of sanctity behind her. There is no doubt that she now in Heaven beholds with happiness the august Virgin who so often deigned to appear to her in this place of exile!
This was the conviction of the Sisters who best knew her and had come in closest contact with her. Three days after her death, one of them wrote to Sister Naude: "Oh! let me weep with you! It is such relief to be able to pour the abundance of one's heart into the heart of a friend! Yours, dear Sister, understands mine, and they both had for the dear departed the same affection, the same veneration. Now they share together the
same sorrow . . .
"How I love to recall her humility, fervor, regularity! Ever in the path of duty, strong and noble in the hour of sacrifice, in sufferings, in all sorts of sorrows, she was for us the type of a true Daughter of Saint Vincent de Paul . . .
"Now she, is in Heaven and gazes in holy rapture on Him Who here below possessed all her love, Who was the ultimate Object of all her actions. I am sure that her happiness has not bereft her of the memory of those who weep her loss. We have in her a very powerful advocate in Heaven."
How much must her glory in Heaven be increased by that train of souls whose salvation was wrought through the Green Scapular revealed to her by the Immaculate Heart of Mary!